Filed under: a plague of lighthouse-keepers, breaker's end, comic artists, comics theory, my comics | Tags: art, cartoons, comics, illustration
Drawing comics is a painful process. I wouldn’t recommend it.
My two new comics; After the Protest and Phoenix are now up for reading, and the first is going to be published in the Winter 2011 issue of LIVE Magazine, alongside feature articles about the youth protests and riots across the world that took place over the last year.
Phoenix was my last-minute entry into the 2011 Northern Sequential Art Competition. The competition requires you to submit a self-contained one-page story for an A3 page. I heard about it three days before the deadline, and after many unsuccessful attempts and much head-scratching I came up with Phoenix and did the whole thing in 24 hours.
The theme of the story perhaps says something about how I feel about comics sometimes. I don’t know if other cartoonists have experienced the same urge to burn things that I felt briefly after completing A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers at the end of four months of work. Thankfully Plague remained intact, but I have destroyed plenty of artwork over the years, and it always comes with wails of protest from friends and family, who insist that one is trashing the Mona Lisa when most of the time it’s actually just a pile of old sketches and juvenile drawings from years before that have no use to you now.
Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Instead, I wanted to post a run-down of my current process for creating comics. My methods have varied wildly over the years and will no doubt change again many times, but since Phoenix turned out to be an almost painless comic to create, I thought it would be the perfect time to show the steps I took to create this page.
1. So I dreamed up this idea, a very brief story with three characters in conflict over an action that one is threatening to take because they feel it is in their interests, but which the other characters don’t want to happen. Classic, very simple story structure. So immediately I sat down with a sketchbook and scrawled the thing out, not caring what the characters look like, not doing any real composition, just getting it down as pictures and words. (On the image above the comic starts at the top-left of the right-hand page. I ran out of space on that page and had to continue on the left-hand page.)
2. Being basically happy with the story (which 99% of the time you won’t be) I went ahead and created a full rough. This was done on a single A4 sheet, the panels were all measured, most of the details were put in, words were finalised, but most importantly, this is the stage where the composition is worked out. For each panel and for the page as a whole, I figure out everything like depth, shapes, light and dark, where speech balloons go, how much environment to draw in, etc. Here is where I get everything right, so that I won’t have to make creative decisions when drawing the final artwork.
3. I didn’t scan in the pencil layouts, but for the final artwork I measure out all the panels, translating precisely from the rough. This comic was drawn at A2 scale so all measurements had to be doubled. Then I lightly plot the positions of all the big shapes across the page that make up the composition. I draw in detail panel-by-panel next, though I’m not as meticulous about penciling in these details as some cartoonists. I feel more confident drawing with the ink afterwards so that’s when the details really start coming out. I use a size 4 Windsor and Newton Series 7 and completely undiluted Sennelier ink, which is very thick and black and will destroy many expensive brushes until you learn how to clean them properly. So I ink it all up, pretty cleanly in this case, starting with the panel borders, and then basically going from panel to panel. This is the mindless-labour part of making a comic really, but it’s still very enjoyable, especially since you can listen to music or audiobooks because you don’t need to concentrate very hard.
4. Finally you scan it in, blast the contrast so it’s all pure black and white, and then colour it digitally if it’s in colour. Colouring probably doubles the time it takes to create a page, but in some circumstances it’s definitely worth it. I create a new layer over my inks, set it to multiply and then colour away using a pressure-sensitive tablet (I can’t tell you how much nicer it is to colour with than a mouse/pad). For this comic I took an image of fire and selected two colours from the image to use. Taking cues from the duo-tone colouring of Seth, I used these two fire colours the represent all the colour and tone in the story.
Like I said, this is one of the most painless comics I have ever made. Somehow it seemed so easy. Most of the time it’s more of a case of tearing my hair out and constantly thinking that I should try a different story. Sometimes I’ll type out a script to work over, as in the case of Ripe, to try to perfect the dialogue, and usually I’ll have to redraft the initial thumbnail stage countless times.
One of my favourite posts from Craig Thompson’s fantastic blog shows the stages that he went through to create a standard page for Habibi. He actually does five drafts of each page, and they aren’t even in colour! No wonder it’s so good.