Thursday, July 10, 2014

Comic Page Creation Part 2: Drawing the Page

COMIC PAGE CREATION PART 2: Drawing the Page

Part 1 is here

Okay! Part two of my convoluted and time-consuming process for making comic pages: drawing the actual page! Again, we're looking at page 124 of the Wayward Queen.

Once I've settled on a thumbnail, it's time for penciling! First step is to grab my trusty non-photo blue pencil and make an unholy scribbly mess. Doesn't matter how ugly it gets at this point, it's non-photo blue, it's all gonna practically disappear when I scan it. I use the Prismacolor Col-Erase non-photo blue pencils because they're erasable (I think Prismacolor has a different brand name outside the US...) The paper I'm using is a Strathmore 400 Smooth Drawing pad, which takes ink surprisingly well; a lot of pages have been on 9x12 inch paper, but recently I've been transitioning to 11x14 inch paper so I have more room for complex scenes.

Pro tip, DON'T sharpen the blue pencils in an electric pencil sharpener, they'll gum up the works and ruin the sharpener. (Learned this the hard way.) (Same goes for most colored pencils, unless you have a sharpener specifically intended for colored pencils.)

Full confession, I'm usually drawing this stuff straight out of my head (studies and reference would be nice, but take a lot of time that I don't generally have when it comes to cranking out comic pages.) Sometimes I'll pop over to the mirror if there's something I'm just not getting ("wait, how does the hand go if someone does this?") Sometimes I'll grab my copy of Peck's Anatomy or my "Ecorché" app if I need to get really specific and accurate with musculature. (I love that app, by the way.) And of course if I have to draw a very specific item and I'm not sure what it looks like, then I will take the time to go hunt for reference. I don't like copying refs exactly (so boring; also there are copyright issues if it's not from life or my own photos;) so what I usually do is compile a bunch of relevant images from as many different angles as I can find, and use them as a general guide to make my own image. (Examples of things that definitely needed reference are that 1930's taxicab on page 49*; or Carnage's guns, which are invented hybrids, but I looked at a lot of vintage revolvers first because I have no clue about guns.)

*(Do you have any idea how hard it is to find reference for a New York taxicab for the very specific time range of 1935 - 1937? Yeah. Page 49 was delayed for ages on account of that damn partially-visible cab.)

Perspective is largely eyeballed, unless the vanishing points are somewhere on the page. Usually they end up way the heck off the page, probably somewhere in the neighbor's apartment. So figuring out perspective generally involves imagining where the VPs are and waving a ruler around along imagined lines from the invisible VPs, and then stepping back and trying to decide whether it looks plausible or does anything seem weird… Yes, this is something I'm still working on. Yes, some pages are REALLY wonky. Yes, actual perspective exercises and drawing buildings from life both help a lot with the eyeballing, I should do more of both.

I also try to figure out the approximate size and placement of word balloons in the blue-pencil stage (totally guesstimated, no way am I hand-lettering this jazz. There have definitely been some pages where I guesstimated wrong and didn't leave enough space, but I'm getting better at this.)

Anyway. The blue-pencil stage lets me make a HUUUUGE mess of construction lines, mistakes, and corrections without affecting the final scan. So this is the ugly nuts-and-bolts phase. Sometimes I'll draw multiple versions if it gets totally screwed up and so covered with blue I can't tell what's what anymore. But hey, screwing up and fixing it is what the blue-pencil phase is all about!

I could probably go straight to ink from the blue pencil phase, but it's usually such a confused mess that I like to do a nice clean pencil drawing first, over the blue pencil. Nothing fancy here, just a regular #2 pencil, kneaded eraser, and my handy kneaded-eraser-on-a-stick for pesky small areas. (I also have a pink stick eraser, but I mostly use it for removing weird schmutz or unusually stubborn spots, because it sometimes smears unpredictably.) I tend to keep the pencil very light so it won't show too much in the scan. Black areas and shading are only vaguely indicated; I'm the one doing the inking, so I don't need to spell it all out.

In the case of page 124, I ended up drawing two versions - I didn't think version one was quite dynamic enough, so I redid it. (I try not to get bogged down in redoing pages, but sometimes you just gotta start over.) Just for laughs, here's the original rejected version:

Coming up next: Part three: Inking!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Comic Page Creation Part 1: Writing and Thumbnailing

To mark the 150th page of The Wayward Queen, I thought it would be fun to show how I make my comic pages. So! Here's a step-by-step of page 124! (I guess that's old enough to avoid spoilers for anyone who's not caught up.) This is going to be pretty long, so I'll make it a series.

For reference, here's the page I'm talking about.

COMIC PAGE CREATION PART 1: Writing and Thumbnailing

Part 2 is here

The first step is writing, of course. This step is more madness than method and mostly involves scribbling incoherent things in my Big Messy Notebook, crossing things out and scribbling some more.

When some sort of plot outline starts to emerge from the scribbly notes, then I add it to this nifty "Index Card" app (most cards pixelated due to spoilers.) This becomes my official outline. I like using the app because it's easy to shuffle things around and try different sequences. Plus I can group cards into sub-outlines if I need to go into detail on certain scenes (like the Giant Fight Scene I'm in the middle of right now. It's complicated. It needs its own outline. It may even need a few sub-sub-outlines.)

THEN I go back to the Big Messy Notebook to flesh out specific scenes and dialogue. Since this is an ongoing comic, so is the writing - I try to have the outline for a given chapter pretty clear before I start it (and some idea of what happens in subsequent chapters so I know where I'm going,) but specific scenes are handled more or less on the fly.

Once I have a scene written, it's time figure out how what it looks like! This is where the all-important thumbnails come in. In spite of how simple they look, this is the hardest part. The thumbnail is where I figure everything out - what's the action, how to break it down in a sequence, how to show it clearly and expressively, how each panel is composed and how the whole page is composed, what are the actual poses/setting/props/etc, and approximately where will the dialogue go...This is hard! But once the thumbnail is nailed down, everything else goes comparatively smoothly.

Here's a batch of thumbnails for page 124 and adjacent pages... (Around this point I started using pre-printed thumbnail boxes to speed things up.) I often start with the panel layout before going into the content, because page layout is important to me - I want it to be as expressive as the content. (But hopefully not confusing.) Dialogue gets written out around the thumbnail; I tend to do a lot of dialogue edits at this stage, especially if I find bits that flow weird or are too long to fit. Some pages take a lot of thumbnails to figure out, some take less. Page 124 was kinda tricky.*

*Actually, now I have a two-step approach to thumbnails: I start with VERY rough tiny doodles breaking down a sequence into beats or shots, just to wrap my head around how the sequence goes. Then I use these tiny brain-dump doodles to determine how to organize it into panels and pages, and do full thumbnails like these examples. Unfortunately I can't yet show any examples of the two-step process yet because they're all spoilerific. Maybe I'll show that later, because I think it's giving me better results.

Coming up next: Part 2: Drawing the Page

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Legendeering: Greenwood Cemetery Day 1

Whoops, long time no blog... I've been off playing hooky on Tumblr. But I'm starting to accumulate a bunch of stuff that's going to require more robust blog posts than I can throw together on Tumblr - so I'll be dumping that stuff here!

To start with, Legendeering! It's a thing that Sterling Hundley's organized, and is kind of hard to describe... But so far it's about getting out and exploring and experiencing and recording what you experience. The official FaceBook group is here if you want to find out more (or join in!)

First assignment is to visit someplace unfamiliar three times, preferably to a location that involves some amount of exertion to visit. I had trouble thinking of anyplace unfamiliar that would involve exercise and that wouldn't require an all-day out-of-town trip... I've been living here for years, so I've already explored a lot of the best spots nearby. But then I remembered I've never been to Greenwood Cemetery, and you know, I don't know why?? I mean, it's technically walking distance. Somehow I always forget it's there.

So I went. And I'm glad I did, that place is amazing. It's HUGE. I had no idea how big. It's a freaking necropolis. And it's all hills and crazy winding paths and of course I managed to get totally lost, but that was part of the plan - its not a proper adventure if you don't get lost at least once! Also it's the highest point in Brooklyn, so you get some amazing views of the city.

Between taking forever to find the entrance, getting lost, and trying to get unlost before they locked me in, I didn't have much time for sketching. Mostly I ran around like a mad thing with a camera until I got a "memory card error" (AGAIN. Aaarrgh. Need to get some spare cards.) But I squeezed in one quickie sketch before dashing to the gates:

Not sure how many photos survived the memory card SNAFU... So far I've salvaged about a third. The rest might be gonzo. I may have to go back and re-photograph some things. Here's the best of the photos I've recovered so far (click to embiggen):

Not sure if I'll manage two more visits THIS week, the current forecast is rain-sleet-cold-yuck (it's been raining all day today)... But we'll see. Definitely going back when it's REALLY actually Spring and things are blooming. (If we ever get Spring.)

Between schlepping down there and running around on all the hills, it was more of a workout than I thought it would be. Also I found a dollar on the way back, so, profit!

Also there was this cat near my apartment:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sketchy Sunday: Ravens

Late Sketchy Sunday (I had family over this weekend. I can never get ANYTHING done with family around.) Have a bunch of ravens! From the same batch as these other raptors, all sketched at a raptor rescue center...

And now the question of the day: Why is a raven like a writing desk? (Ponder that as you drag through Monday and everything else will seem simple.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sketchy Sunday: Turkey Vultures

More raptor sketches from the same batch as these guys... Turkey vultures! These guys are reeeeeeally weird looking. They have these big holes in their heads, I'm not sure what they're for - the better to smell you with, I guess?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sketchy Sunday: Falcon and Goshawk

Quick (late) update... More raptor sketches from the same batch as last week, this time a bunch of tiny doodles of a northern goshawk and a peregrine falcon. (Sketched at a raptor rescue center quite a while ago.) Personally I think falcons are among the coolest birds ever.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Whatever Wednesday: Canadian Geese

Seeing as it's going on Autumn and the geese are about to be passing through, how about some goose sketches? Done in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and park, as usual (there's always at least a couple of geese who hang out in the park year-round.)