Some people were asking me about how I draw comics so I thought I’d write about it. I have no idea how interesting this is to others, but it’s still a process of trial and error for me and I’m always trying to find out how other artists handle the process. Sometimes what I read or hear makes me think, “Duh! That makes it so much easier!” while other times I think, “Hmm, that seems elaborate and frustrating,” or “Sounds like a LOT of paper use/redrawing.”
Let’s use page 4, Issue 1 as an example from start to finish.
So first, Dave emails me the script and I print it to read. I like to conserve paper, but I draw my initial thumbnails directly on the script page so I need that hard copy. While the comic issue is 24 pages, the script for the issue is frequently longer.
Dave likes to insert photos that evoke the mood or help him “see” what he is writing (I can’t show an example right now because they’d all be spoilers). I hadn’t experienced this before but I really like it because it gives me a much better view into his head and helps me get into the scene better.
Next I thumbnail it with more detail in these rough layouts. I made a template sheet of little boxes to do this, but I had to correct the initial aspect ratio because my math was wrong (ARTISTS!). This is a new step for me; previously I would go straight from thumbnail to working on the full image. It definitely helps me organize the visuals better and solve problems before going to the big page and then having to erase everything. I speak from experience when I tell you how much that sucks.
Now it’s time to go to the big page! I freehand the layout onto the big page and then start drawing in detail. Lots of erasing ensues. In early days, I would just use the straightedge on bristol paper to define the borders. If you look closely at the panel borders in “Stan”, you might notice that they’re all ever so slightly crooked.
With “Dash,” I started using these prelined pages and they are SO much better than my crazy handruling. A few manufacturers make this, but I only use the Strathmore. I refuse on principle to use the Canson Fanboy line of products because I think the name is completely stupid and exclusionary. It doesn’t help Canson’s case that I think Strathmore generally makes better products anyway.
I draw with a non-repro-blue mechanical lead pencil initially, then finish with a Staedtler F pencil. I think a number of artists use H or 2H but I hate how it scores the paper. When I’m drawing regular drawings, I use F to lay out the composition then heavier B pencils to finish.
Next I scan in a batch of pencilled pages, size them down (the gray border is the gutter, the pink is the bleed), and start lettering. This may seem backwards to some, but it really helps me to (a) see the whole page and fix any compositional errors, and (b) make sure I’m leaving enough room for balloons and captions.
Sometimes the opposite happens and I’ve left too much room; drawing more stuff is a much easier fix than erasing or choosing to obscure some detail I really liked. Then I send them to Dave and he sometimes decides to change some dialogue after seeing it in an actual balloon or caption. For the record, I didn’t letter “Stan” but I’ve lettered everything I’ve done since then. I am a serious control freak and it’s extremely satisfying for me to letter my own pages.
Now it’s back to the drawing table for inking! I actually hate the way this page came out so I plan to re-ink it. I’m still experimenting with the best way to do this stage. Inking is so permanent. When I drew “Stan,” I inked directly over the pencils. I liked the efficiency of it, but I didn’t like how perilous it felt, like I only had one chance to get it right or it would be messed up forever (just like this page!). For the first time, I am inking on separate sheets of paper using a lightbox. I know…this method is not efficient.
I’m actually still searching for The Perfect Paper. I was using bristol when pencils and ink were the same, but now that I’m lightboxing I’m using Paris Bleedproof Paper for Pens, with mixed results. I was surprised to learn that a lot of artists who ink their own pencils, draw the pencil very loosely and tighten it up in the inking phase.
They say it’s more “fun” and spontaneous, but even the thought of it immediately makes me anxious so I guess I’m more on the boring side. I need to work out as many visual issues as I can before the permanency of ink, and as you can see that means tight pencils without much deviation.
Color is next. I colored the pitch in basic tones but we just confirmed our flat colorist which is going to be a HUGE help. I colored “Stan” all by myself and it was excruciating. Down the line as “Dash” gets rolling, we may hire a finisher as well. I’d love to be that artist who does it all, but the truth is that as a colorist I am slow and not very impressive. Hopefully with time and practice I’ll get faster and amazing like some of the artists I really admire.