And now we are finally on the page that I recorded my makin’ comics process! Yep, way back in 2010 or whenever this page was drawn (yeah, I’m pretty sure it was 2010. Feels so long ago) I made copies of this page in process so I could show people how I draw my comic from initial thumbnail script to final inks. So click the link to see my very lengthy meandering on how I make my comics, and hopefully it’ll provide some insight into how a cartoonist works! Yay.
Stage one! The Birth of a New Comic:
This is how I write my initial comic scripts. Let me preface this essay with saying this is how *I* work, not how cartoonists should work. I know of other cartoonists who write scripts before thumbnails or do other magical things, but this is how I make my comics. First I get a couple of books of lined notebook paper and start scribbling. I thumbnail as I write my initial script, because comics are both art and writing, and I feel (especially at the important, beginning stage) one should not take precedence over the other. So when I do my first pass at my script, I’m thumbnailing along with writing dialogue, which allows me to think about how the book will be drawn, how the characters will be interacting, how the panels will be laid out, and pace accordingly. Then I go back, adding and crossing stuff out (as you can see on this page, which is the early scene with Daniel and Maggie dealing with her freakout on her first day of school). This makes a huge mess, of course, so when I have to actually type the script up to hand in to my editor, it can be confusing going. It’s how I’ve written all three of my published comics, and how I wrote the comic I’m working on now.
So then I type up and refine the script, and hand it in to my editor at First Second (or SLG, if this was 2007). She looks it over, suggests revisions and whatnot, and we polish the script into a thing of beauty! It’s fun.
Oh, here’s the thumbnail for this actual page:
So as you can see, I changed my mind about the original page layout, adding a reaction take from Maggie at the beginning of the page, before Lucy drags her off.
Stage two! Thumbnail Layouts
This is just a more refined thumbnail, still quite small (I cut a 8 by 11 sheet of typing paper into quarters and draw one thumbnail on each quarter), where I figure out the exact layout of the page. I scan and hand these in to my editor along with the script so she can get an idea of finished artwork. This is just how First Second works, as another publisher that I’m working with right now asked for rough pencils before I went to final inks, but didn’t ask for thumbnails …. it really depends on the publisher what your process with them will be.
And here’s the script for this particular page:
Panel 1: Maggie stares at the hand.
Maggie (turning to Lucy): Again … the what?
Panel 3: Lucy grabs Maggie’s hand, dragging her off.
Lucy: C’mon! I’ll show you!
Panel 4: Lucy, Maggie and Alistair walk up the hill towards the graveyard. Lucy and Maggie are chattering happily.
Panel 5: Alistair is a few steps behind Lucy and Maggie as they walk through the graveyard gates, still talking.
Panel 6: Alistair smiles, partially relieved, partially amused. His sister has a friend.
Panel 7: Lucy plunges eagerly through the graveyard.
Lucy: This way!
Because I’m writing for myself, I don’t tend to describe as much of the visuals as I might if I was writing for someone else. I know how the page is going to look, so I don’t need to tell someone how to draw it. Most of the visual notes I put in here for my editor so she knows what’s going on, and also emotional notes so I can remember what a character is feeling (like Alistair there).
Stage three! Pencils:
This is what my pencils look like. Aren’t they messy and hideous? :D I’m a very rough penciller. I don’t care for my pencils at all, and I think my work only looks finished or decent when it’s inked. I would never show anyone a pencilled comic page unless they were an editor (or you, lovely readers). As you can see, I don’t put a ton of detail into my pencils, because detail will be added at the ink stage. But it’s important to have a solid drawing framework there, otherwise your inks won’t be very good. Also, the frames you see drawn here are the safety and cutoff section of the published comic page, and WOW was that a difficult concept to wrap my head around when I first started being published. Basically, the cutoff is where the page will be trimmed when the book is produced, so you want all your important drawings (along with your speech bubbles) to be within the safety area of the page, to make sure it isn’t cut off when the book becomes a physical object. But then sometimes you want the drawings to bleed off the page (like they’re doing in that final panel there), and it gets horribly confusing. I had a really hard time understanding this … I’m glad it makes sense now.
I draw with a light blue col-erase (animation) pencil. LIGHT blue, NOT non-photo blue, the two are very different (light blue is slightly darker than non-photo blue). I’ve used animation pencils pretty much since I started drawing, mostly because I tend to molest the paper when I draw, constantly rubbing the side of my hand over the drawing. Graphite pencils smudge like crazy, so if I use a graphite, I end up with a giant gray mass. Col-erase pencils are a harder lead, and thus do not smudge. They also don’t erase terribly well, but that’s fine, because the light blue ones don’t scan. That’s right, I don’t have to erase my messy pencil lines at all, I just scan the finished comic page into the computer and end up with a nice ink drawing, no pencil lines at all. Hurrah! This is the ONLY pencil I’ve discovered that behaves this way, as my scanner (I have an A3 Mustek, which is a decent cheap large format scanner, although I don’t think it’s compatable with Windows past Windows XD) will pick up every other colour pencil, even one as light as the orange col-erase.
That was long! But seriously, finding a pencil I was comfortable drawing with and then not have to erase from my comic pages (erasing is a pain, and can sometimes damage the inking) was an exhausting process, and I’m thrilled to finally have a system that works.
Stage four! Final inks: well, just look at the finished page above, won’t you? ;) I ink with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 watercolour brush, size 1, dipping it in a bottle of ink (I use Speedball ink, just because it’s cheap) then carefully tracing over my pencil lines. It’s the same brush Jeff Smith used to ink Bone. I started inking with a watercolour brush in 2009, when I was about half way through drawing Brain Camp … and that is why the latter half of Brain Camp looks much nicer than the first half. The Series 7 brush gives me a wonderful amount of control over the inking, and brings a look of polish to my comics. It was challanging to use the brush at the beginning, but I think my artwork has improved so much since I started using it … I encourage everyone who’s thinking about switching to a brush to consider this type of brush. You will not regret it. Previous to the Series 7, I used the Pentel pocket brushpen, which is a good starter brush, if you’d like to start using a brush but find the dip method to be a little daunting. Personally, though, I don’t think the Pentel compares to the Series 7. The Series 7 is the bomb, yo.
This is the point (after I’m finished explaining my comic making process) where people ask me if I’ve ever considered making comics digitally. There are some parts of my process that could easily be done digtially (like the thumbnails), but there are various reasons why I have no intention of drawing my finished comics on a computer: the hardware is very expensive (I would have to invest in a Cintiq to get the kind of refinement needed to make professional looking comics, and the good ones are thousands of dollars), staring at a computer screen for hours can be wearing/damaging to the eyes, and I prefer a certain look to my comics, and that look is not digital. I enjoy sketching on my tablet PC (it’s great for banging out a quick character design), but it cannot match the control and refinement of a pencil and ink drawing, nor the unique look.
But again, this is MY preference. There is no one way to make comics. Digital, traditional, it’s all good. Traditional is what I like, but if you like digital, that’s great! Maybe I can play around on your Cintiq for a while. They are pretty fun.