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Saturday, June 30, 2018

How It Got There

I thought I’d take a couple of pages from Criminy, the upcoming Dark Horse graphic novel I created with Ryan Ferrier (out in September, and available for pre-order here!), and walk through how they got from script to finished page. To illustrate, I'm using a couple of consecutive pages, page 16 and 17, from early in the book.

"Thumbnail" roughs



First thing I do is go through the script and figure out the storytelling basics – a quick, no-frills pass at drawing the story, focussing on getting the essentials across as clearly as possible, drawn at quite a small scale for the sake of speed (hence the term "thumbnails" – they're quite tiny, maybe one-sixth of the size of the printed page). This is where I solve most of the problems the script is likely to throw at me. It's also where I take a first pass at the “acting” – that is to say, the characters' actions and reactions, in broad strokes. In theatrical terms I suppose it's like an initial read-through, in that it's where I'll get a sense of what's going to come naturally and what might need to be worked on in order to ring true. Panel 2 on page 16 is a case in point: Daggum's expression is going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting here, conveying as it does an insistence that everything's fine but simultaneously hinting at an underlying sense of doubt, so I'm going to need to spend some time on getting that right.

I'm very pleased with the rhythm of the ship bursting out of the water at the top of page 17 – it's sort of plod, plod, plod, KAPOW! – though I have to give Ryan most of the credit for that; that's just the way he wrote it. (Always nice to be working with somebody who knows what they're doing!)



Lettering


I usually like to do a first pass at the lettering at this stage (using Adobe Illustrator and a font of my own making based on the hand-lettering of Spirit letterer Abe Kanegson), before I start on the pencils. It's good for flagging places where I might not have left enough space for the words, or indeed where I might have left way too much (which is a less serious problem, but still best avoided – ideally, you want the page to look balanced). It's also helpful for judging the rhythm of a scene, because the words are a significant part of that. Lettering is absolutely a part of the artwork, so the sooner it goes in, the easier it is to integrate into the page.

I normally leave off the balloon tails at this stage, as things have a way of moving around enough at the pencilling stage that I'll only have to do them all over again. You can see them here because the stage with no tails isn't one I would normally keep a copy of, so just use your imaginations there.

Pencils


At this stage I'll digitally convert my roughs to non-repro bluelines, print those out, and start pencilling over the top of those. I pencil pretty small – usually smaller than print size (maybe half-size) – so I'm not tempted to spend ages noodling away at a lot of detail that will be invisible to the reader after it's all been reduced. This is partly for aesthetic reasons (it forces me to pay attention to composition and movement more than detail, which makes for a more dynamic and focussed page) and partly for reasons of speed (less detail at the pencil stage means a faster turnaround). That said, I work at the pencils quite a bit; I tend to put the black areas in, which isn't strictly necessary, because I find I get a better sense of the balance of the page. Although I work digitally quite a bit these days, I like to keep it on paper while I'm pencilling. I find I just draw better on paper. It might just be a matter of confidence – graphite on paper is familiar, and I know how far I can push it.

Inking


For the past year or two I've increasingly been inking digitally, and that is the case here. I scan my pencils, resize them to print dimensions, and place them in Clip Studio Paint for inking. It's partly for convenience – I can work easily in cafés or while I'm away from home without worrying about spilling bottles of ink or carrying the equivalent of a small studio on me at all times – and partly for flexibility, in that I can use greys as a kind of instant colour hold, without faffing about with separating the line art in Photoshop after it's been scanned. It's very useful for creating the illusion of depth. I wanted that to be a distinct look for this book, to evoke animation backgrounds, and push that Max Fleischer aesthetic as far as I could.

I've just about reached the point now where even I can't immediately tell whether one of my pages was inked traditionally or digitally. I rely heavily on a few brushes that I like, switching between them, depending on the effect I'm after: one that Krishna Sadasivam gave me when he saw my online struggles with Clip Studio a couple of years ago (thanks Krishna!) and a couple from Ray Frenden's excellent CSP brush sets.

Colouring


This stage is done in Adobe Photoshop, which I prefer for colouring to Clip Studio Paint because it handles CMYK (the colour space you should use when preparing artwork for print) much better than Clip Studio. I do a couple of passes at the colouring; this is the first pass, where I'm just laying in flat colours. All the colour needs to be flat at this stage so I can apply a “flatting” filter once it's done – this is a Photoshop filter that traps the colour beneath the line art, so you don't get white spaces at the line's edges. I try to get the colours looking reasonably close to how I want them to look on the final page, although at this stage there's still plenty of room to make changes.

Colour effects
  

Once the flat colours are all laid down, I apply my fancy filter and then tweak and fiddle with it until it looks all right. Usually that means throwing a few gradients around the place, adjusting hues, and lots of trial and error – I'm not one of nature's born colourists, so I have to sweat over it a bit in order to avoid having it look like a train wreck. Most of the time I seem to get away with it, but it's always a bit of a chore. I would like to be better at it, if only because it might be less of a joyless grind that way.

Throughout Criminy, I deliberately coloured the foreground figures with mostly flat colours and reserved gradients and textural effects for the environment, to try and evoke the Max Fleischer animation feel Ryan and I both wanted. It's part of the look of the story's world.

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About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Eisner and Harvey Award-winning cartoonist responsible for The Muppet Show Comic Book, Thor the Mighty Avenger, Snarked! and Fred the Clown. Would like to save the world through comics.