After thumbnails, I work to size, with a #2 pencil and a smooth lightweight paper. No more small stuff, I rule out my page, and panel edges. I work from loose scribbles, slowly tightening and erasing. Dialogue is quickly scribbled in, to give me a sense of how much space it’s going to take up. Hopefully by now my research is serving its purpose and the drawings are flowing without much time spent comparing to reference. Sometimes a new pose or new way to frame the action occurs to me, and I re-draw that panel on a separate sheet because the panel on the main sheet is too cluttered to easily erase. I’ll composite that panel back in as I work on the tight pencils. This stage takes the most effort, as this is when problems in rendering and structure present themselves. It’s a constant effort for me to slow down, and fix or more thoroughly realize an element that’s troublesome, as it’s my nature to put it off. But if I don’t know how it’s supposed to look, and I try to wing it in the inks, it will only look like crap. It’s taken me a long time to learn that lesson– I’m still learning it! Drawing can be a constant fight against our own inertia. Without an undo button, I’m forced to learn good habits, or get used to publishing crap (or throwing a lot of stuff away).
I’ve got more to say about my process, but it’s going to wait another week to be paired with a comic that clearly illustrates the next step. This comic is a little different from the others in that I produced it in the middle of the week. I was scheduled to be out of town on the coming weekend, and didn’t want to fall behind on the schedule I’d set for myself. So it was produced over a few evenings after work. Consequently, I think it shows how drained I am when I get home; creative work at the end of the day is always more difficult than first thing in the morning for me. It’s one of the reasons we chose to only update weekly. After work and dinner, I don’t want to draw, I want to shoot digital men in their digital face. It easier to destroy than it is to create. (Antonio Banderas said that.)
Good reference material is very important in getting good drawings. When I have to represent a well known game or movie character, I’d better make him or her recognizable. Details of costume, features or location are hard to remember, and reference makes the difference between instant recognition and, “who’s that supposed to be?” If I’m going to draw Red Beret or Baird, I need to find the details and shapes that make them who they are. Even if you play a game religiously, when it comes down to details, you might not remember anything useful. Fortunately, we have the internet to tell us. Unfortunately the internet likes small, blurry images that obscure the detail you seek. The “Large” setting in Google’s image search helps narrow your results to images that might carry enough detail to be useful.
For the record: “Safe Search” is your friend. You have no idea the kind of nasty crap you can expose your brain to with seemingly innocuous search terms. Or maybe you do. I’m not here to judge, you sicko pervert.
This is another early one. I use fake sable brushes (synthetic mixed with sheep works pretty well), a very old pen with lettering nibs that I got from a box of my father’s ancient school supplies that he was holding onto for no reason, and pigment liner markers. I use sumi ink because it’s super black, and NOT waterproof! Most comic guys recommend Black Magic or other waterproof inks, but those contain shellac which destroys brushes and in my experience isn’t all that waterproof anyway. I’m able to brush gouache over the sumi ink, and that’s all that’s necessary anyway (That and keeping the artwork out of the rain). Every time I get ready to shell out for actual sable, I chicken out. I’m hell on brushes as it is, and $50 brushes just aren’t disposable. They work far better than the synthetic crap, though.
For me, the best part about this comic is the blood spray in panel one. That’s because, as I masked the page with frisket and splattered the page with a toothbrush dipped in ink, my son was watching intently. When I peeled the frisket back to reveal the effect, he said, “that’s cool.” It may not seem like much, but when you’re able to impress your world-weary teenage son, it feels like the best thing ever.
BTW, frisket is the real-world equivalent of the Lasso Tool. And use an old toothbrush, not the one in current rotation. Unless you’re into Heian era tooth fashion.
See, we can do a 3-panel newspaper style comic too! We’re so versatile. It won’t be long before we’ve amassed all the skills we need to take over the world. You hear that, world? We’re coming for you! Hope you’ve got your shit together!
Another digital gray tone here, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve ordered some sheets of Screen-tone(TM) to experiment with. Soon I’ll be making halftones like we had to do back in the 1950’s. Woo! Seriously, I’m not a luddite. I’m not knocking digital art by any means. I’m producing this comic as traditionally as I can because it’s fun. I work digitally all week at my day job, so actually getting my hands dirty is refreshing and challenging. Working without an undo key feels a bit like a tightrope walk without a net. Of course, I’d have to screw up pretty bad to break my neck while drawing, but you get what I mean.
It’s pretty obvious I’m hand-lettering these comics. I’m working on that, but my handwriting’s always been pretty awful. I’m doing as much as possible by hand actually. The gray tones in this comic are added digitally, but I’m trying with each comic to make it as complete as possible using traditional tools and methods. At the end I scan it and make any touch-ups that are necessary. Most corrections are made with gouache or white-out tape, though.
That said, I did cheat with the reverse text in this comic, by inverting the panels digitally.
This is actually the third comic Jack and I completed. We had around a dozen or so comics in the bag when we launched, but rearranged the order in which they publish to better introduce the characters and take advantage of other circumstances. So if the art seems inconsistent, that’s because– from your point of view– it is. But if you look you can tell which comic was drawn first, and which came next. Try to find the first comic I made when I finally got my hands on an Ames Lettering Guide!