Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Process Part 1

As mentioned in my last post, I made a comic book.
It was a lot of work, and it ate up pretty much all of my available, non-work time.  If I wasn’t working on it, I was busy finding something – anything – to do in order to avoid working on it.
All told, from initial concept to holding a printed copy in my hand, the process took just under two months, and the end result was an eight page, full-color comic.
I say that it has eight pages, but only seven of those pages are actual story pages, while the eighth page was a fake “letter page.”
And of course, the actual total number of pages, counting the front, back, and inside covers, which I also had to produce, was twelve.
Here, I’ll dive into the details of what was involved in that journey and what I learned along the way.
I’ll start by simply listing, at a high level, what I learned and some of the things I acquired.

It’s a lot of work.
Any one of the tasks required to create a comic book involves a lot of work, whether it’s the writing, the pencilling, the inking, the coloring, the lettering, or the final composition.  I had to perform each of those tasks myself.

Manga Studio 5 is awesome.
I still love Photoshop, but man…Manga Studio 5 rocks my world.  As great as Photoshop is, and as amazing as its vast array of tools is, when it comes to creating comic book-specific art, it just can’t compete.  Even with my Cintiq, drawing in Photoshop still feels somewhat unnatural, and the results, while impressive, are still quite distinct from something produced non-digitally.  That’s just not the case in Manga Studio.  Sketching in MS looks – and feels – almost exactly like sketching on paper.  Factor in all of the comic-specific tools and settings, and you’ve got a winner.  Best 80 bucks I ever spent.  I had tried the previous version of MS years ago after hearing about it during a panel at Baltimore Comic-Con and hadn’t been completely impressed, but this version improves on it in every way imaginable.  I can’t say enough good things about it.

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Production.
Rather than contend with my keyboard issue, I simply set aside writing the script and kind of did it on the fly in an approximation of what used to be the “Marvel Method” of creating comics.  At one point the way Marvel created comics went something like this:

A “Plotter” would come up with the overall plot of the story, maybe elaborating on some specific scenes and details, and providing information on the characters – physical descriptions and so forth – who would be appearing in the comic as well as locations and so forth.  The plot could sometimes be as short as a single paragraph.  This was often done in collaboration with the Artist.
The Artist would then transform the plot into panels and pages.
A “Scripter,” who might or might not be the “Plotter,” would take those pages and write the dialogue and captions that expounded upon the action contained in the panels.  This was part of why you so often had dialogue that would tell you exactly what you were seeing in the panel.  (Someone might say, “Oh!  Someone hit me on the head!  I’m losing consciousness!” while the art clearly shows said person being hit on the head.)
There was more to it than that, of course, particularly if someone other than the Penciller did the inking, or in some cases if there was an artist who only provided breakdowns – rough sketches of varying amounts of detail – and some other Artist came along to finish the rough pencils, and, of course, there was the pivotal role of the Editor – though often the Plotter/Scripter would also serve as Editor – and there would be the actual coloring and lettering, but that was the basic approach.
In my case, not having a completed script, I drew panels based on the plot, then made up the dialogue and captions on the fly.  This didn’t work out so well, as I often hadn’t left enough room in a particular panel for all of the text.
A better approach would have been the more modern method of writing a full script ahead of time, detailing the exact number and type of panels per page, explaining the action presented in each, and containing all of the dialogue, captions, and sound effects.
Now, given that I was drawing it, I didn’t necessarily need to get into the kind of level of detailed descriptions for each panel that, say, Alan Moore does when he writes a comic, but I definitely would have benefited from having everything planned out ahead of time instead of making much of it up as I went along.

Layouts really need to be planned in advance.
Related to the previous lesson.  I had to “cut” several planned sequences because I just couldn’t fit them in.  I might have had more luck if I had worked out the overall layout of the whole thing in advance.

Similarly, using templates at the start saves heartache and headaches later.
As I was finishing up the last page, I bit the bullet and bought a set of page templates for MS that were set to the correct dimensions and had all of the appropriate guide and trim lines included.  Why didn’t I do that first?  Because I’m dumb, apparently.
I was working with a page layout that was the correct dimensions – most comic book artists work on tabloid-sized paper, and the final product is generally reduced to a size that’s about 67% of that.
However, once I had the template and began transferring the finished art to it, I found that my attempts at estimating the limits of the “safe” area – those parts of the page that would not be trimmed in the final product – were way, way off.

The more you try to make someone not look like he was drawn by late-period Keith Giffen, the more he will look like he was drawn by late-period Keith Giffen.
Okay, this one is, perhaps, a bit too specific.  For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have minded if my work looked like early-period Keith Giffen, when he had a very clean, minimalist style.  Not that I dislike his later work, it’s just not the kind of look I was shooting for.  And this leads to my final lesson…

The artists I admire most and consider my biggest influences don’t appear to manifest an influence in my style.
One of my biggest issues is that my “style” is inconsistent.  So inconsistent that I don’t know that I can be said to have a style at all.  Throughout the process I could see hints of the styles of various artists, many of whom I not only don’t consider influences, I actually don’t like their styles at all.  I won’t name any names on that front, but I will say that as I looked at what I had wrought, I saw very little evidence of the styles of people like Adam Hughes, George Perez, Amanda Conner, or Alan Davis, or even Terry Dodson or Kevin Nowlan, whose styles I actually was trying to emulate to a certain extent.  Not that I was trying to make something that looked like it was done by them, but I wanted something that showed that was reminiscent.  I did, at least, get one image in there that looked comparable to the work of Phil Jimenenez

So those were the biggest lessons I learned.  Here are some of the material things I acquired.

Bristol paper, illustration pens, and markers.
At one point, I thought that I might have better luck working in traditional, non-digital media.
Not so much.  Still, they’re good to have.

Books.  Lots of books.
I purchased the following books:
Understanding Comics
Reinventing Comics – I used to own both of these years ago, but sold them when I was strapped for cash.  I was glad to have them once again.
Comics and Sequential Art – I’ve always meant to buy this.
The DC Comics Guide To Digitally Drawing Comics – While geared towards working in Photoshop, this one would have been a godsend…if I had bought it before I was two-thirds of the way through drawing the comic…
The DC Comics Guide To Pencilling Comics
The DC Comics Guide To Inking Comics
The DC Comics Guide To Coloring And Lettering Comics – I got this one in time to put to use before I lettered the comic.
Master Digital Color

As mentioned, Manga Studio 5.  I didn’t go the professional – and much more expensive – Manga Studio 5 EX route, but if I get more serious about trying to make my own comics, I might do so one day.
Celtx – A word processing program designed specifically for writing various types of scripts, including comic book scripts.

I picked up several free comic book fonts, and considered buying some, but sheesh, those suckers are expensive.
My favorite acquisition, though, is a font called Redacted, which renders text that looks like the kind of blacked out, redacted text you’d see in some classified document.  This was the perfect solution for the multiple instances in which I needed clear, readable text in the midst of blacked out text.  Also, as the primary character, based on the (Former) Boss Lady, is something of a mysterious cipher, her name is redacted whenever it appears.

A big-ass stapler.
A stapler designed to be used on paper up to 25” long/wide.  At one point I had considered printing, trimming, and binding the comic myself, so this was an essential purchase for that.  I’ll get into why that didn’t work out in another post, when I list out some of the obstacles I encountered.  Still, it can’t hurt to have a big-ass stapler.

Lots of practical lessons in how to do things, and even more in how not to do things.
’Nuff said.


Merlin T Wizard said...

2 months for one person to do everything? That's unheard of for the big guys. You'd be lucky if an artist is half done after two months.

Maybe I'm a little jaded.

Anyway, kudos to you! The comic was a great accomplishment.

Jon-Paul Maki said...

Well, to be fair, I didn't have to contend with any editorial meddling.
And, backgrounds or much in the way of incidental details.
Still...yeah, I rocked it.