So here’s a post a long time coming. What follows is the most in depth description of my creative process to date. Enjoy!
It all starts here. For the last while I’ve been using 11×17 blue lined comic boards bought from our local Hobby Lobby. I’m doing my penciling using a mechanical pencil with blue architect’s lead in it and inking with a combination of Copic Multiliners and Sakura Microns. I use a size .08 for my thick outer lines. One of the first things I learned was to do the borders digitally so I just put a black ink dot at the corners of each panel as a guide. That way I can draw outside the lines and color outside them when I get to that stage.
Panel layout is sort of second nature to me these days. I made a lot of horrible layout choices during Kota’s World and I’ve learned to try and not repeat that. In Errant Apprentice anything goes for layout. I do all sorts of fun stuff in there. Mailbox Rocketship is another story. I use a simple 3-row/3-column layout. I’ll gladly admit that the idea was inspired by watchmen. It also means I don’t have to give much thought to layout. It’s also more of a guideline than a rule since I can break out like I did in this page. Other than that it’s a simple matter of pencil and panel then ink a panel. I never like leaving the inking to last. Part of that is due to my extremely sketchy pencils. Several people have commented on the lightness and lack of detail. After that it’s off to the scanner.
Digital Workflow and Coloring
I’m a very lucky boy. I have a brand new Cannon USB scanner at the house and a legal copy of Adobe CS5 on my Macbook (from school! I’m no mac-head!). Since the pages are so big I have to scan the top of the page and then the bottom and reassemble them in Photoshop. I usually scan in greyscale. Most books will tell you to scan in black and white, but I have my reasons for not doing so. I always scan at 300 dpi since that’s the standard resolution for printing. A lot of folks work at 600 and that’s fine, but my mac starts to dry heave if I do. After that I orient the page halves correctly and line them up. Making the bottom half transparent and lining them up that way helps a lot. After that and cropping to the borders I go over to Illustrator.
I use livetrace like you wouldn’t believe in my comic work. It smoothes the lines, vectorizes them, and makes them easier to resize. The settings are important and I have my own custom settings. I recommend finding your own. Start with either “inked drawings” or “comic art” and tweek them until you’re satisfied.
When it looks like I want it I save it and open the .ai file in Photoshop. I also open this great template from Ka-Blam! digital printing and make sure it’s all in the live area. I always name the page in this format: “2012-07-18.psd”. Next we play with layers. The lines are on one layer, the background is there and white, and the template is on top. Between the lines and the template I make the panel layer.
I use the square marquee tool (ants marching thing). I select a bar at the top, bottom, and between the panels and basically select where the white page parts are going to go. When that’s done I fill with with white (shift+F5 or Fn+shift+F5 on a mac). I take the marquee tool and invert the selection and add a stroke of about 8 pixels and colored black. There. Now I’ve got the borders/panels and can color outside and it will be hidden. See, that’s the real trick.
After that I can start concentrating on backgrounds. I can see the characters and color behind them so think of it like building a set and knowing where the actors will stand. I have a vast array of brushes and textures for all this. In fact, textures are the newest thing for me. They add this depth to the comic and make it interesting. If I want to apply a texture I paste it over what ever is going to have the texture in question, load that as the selection, select the inverse, then delete. What I don’t need is gone. Then I can mess with the layer blending options and the opacity until satisfied.
A lot of my backgrounds are done without lines and are just shapes and shading. The reason being it draws the eye more to the character.
Character coloring/rendering/whatever you want to call it is a simple process and by far my favorite. I have a color palette I’ve been using since I started doing my own coloring and it’s only grown over the years. I’ve renamed several colors to what I use them as the most like “Kota’s Shirt” or “Trees” or “Terry’s Hair” so I can just mouse over them to pick them. All I really do at this stage is lay down the flats and try to stay in the lines. Any detail shading like with metal I’m usually using dodge and burn after the flats are done.
Recently I’ve changed how I do hair. It started as an experiment in Mailbox and moved over to Errant when I figured it out more. I select all the hair using the magic wand, copy, then paste. This makes a new layer and they’re all right where they need to be. I use the pen tool to select an area of each character’s hair and then turn the brightness up. Then I take the doge tool to one or two spots and add a further highlight if possible. Doesn’t work on all colors, but sometimes there’s a work around using white. Then I deselect my work area and start adding darker areas with the burn tool. Last is the smudge tool. It takes solid bars and makes it look like light and shadow on individual hairs. If needed I’ll adjust the opacity of the hair layer to make sure it isn’t too over powering. Since it’s a separate layer the original hair color is back there and it blends a bit. Fun!
On top of that I do shadows. There are lots of ways to do shadows but the way I do it these days is by making a shadow layer and using the pen tool to select all the areas I want to have a shadow. When that’s done I make the selection, fill it with a dark color and adjust the opacity somewhere between 43% and 60% depending on the lighting. I’ll use black for some situations, but on outdoor stuff in the “real world” I use a dark blue. Look outside and you’ll notice shadows aren’t always black. 🙂
Over that I’ll do what I call a lighting layer sometimes. I first select the colors/flats layer and from the selection menu I choose “load selection” and that layer as what to load. Then I go back to the lighting layer and fill it with what ever color I want and adjust the opacity and layer mode until it’s how I want it. Sometimes I’ll use a blurred brush eraser and take out sections for highlights. Other times I’ll choose a very light color for a different lighting effect like a sunset.
After all that fun stuff is done it’s time for lettering. I start typing OVER the panels in case I need to have a balloon stretch from one panel to the other. Trust me, it happens. I use a font called “LetterOmatic” from Blambot fonts. It’s a great comic font that isn’t comic sans. Text size is at 8pt. I have the text per balloon centered and try to make sure it’s in an ovoid shape. I try to position it in a good spot in each panel at this point as well. I also make sure at some point to put a copyright notice on each page and sometimes a page number. For that I use a font called “Georgia”. When I’m satisfied I start on the balloons.
Balloons are shockingly easy and I’m always amazed by how few people can actually do a word balloon. I know a lot of artists that letter in photoshop will do transparent fills on their balloons to try and salvage the art but you can’t be afraid to murder your children. Think when you’re doing layout about where the balloons will go and design and draw around that. I’ve done amazing works in the background before and then covered it up with a word balloon and just shrugged it off.
That being said, I just take the circle marquee and put it around the words. I make sure there’s enough room between the edge and the dialogue! Also, remember to hold down shift to do multiple balloons. After those are in place I just take the pen tool and add the tail. I right click after those are in and add them to the selection and fill everything with white. Then I use Edit>Stroke to put a 3 pixel border on the INSIDE. It keeps the tail sharp I find.
Another thing people don’t often do is save their images at a decent compression or size. I save my image original as is then drop the file size down to 700 pixels wide. It’s a good display size for the web. Then I save for web and mobile devices at around 60. It’s a good compression that keeps the file size down and the quality up. Trust me. That’s an important consideration for a web comic. I don’t usually stick around to read a comic if it’s over 10 seconds in loading and neither does anyone else. After that I upload it and I’m done.
In Closing. . .
Is all this going to work for you? Probably not, but it may help. This is 12 years worth of practice, trial, and error distilled for you and I hope that maybe something in here can be of use to the world at large.
One last thing. Don’t see any images? Yep. Didn’t put any. If you need visual guidance though, I have a LiveStream you can visit. Even if I’m not streaming there are several archived videos at the bottom you can watch to get a good sense of what I’m doing when I do the comics.
Thank you so much for reading and good luck with your own comics!