Saturday, February 02, 2008

From layout to inks - How to make a comic page

Ok, so you folks want to see how I make a comic page. Here it is. My process, with all it's boils and warts.

Step one: The script

Here's page 1 of issue 6, written by the brilliant John Whalen. John can draw, so he does a great job of giving me lots of visual info that makes approaching the page a little easier. He also sends photo ref for specific things, like the building in this scene, which again HELPS a TON.


1.1 CLOSE ON KILCROP'S SUNGLASSES - DAY
WIDE PANEL. Reflected in the lenses: an imposing concrete office building (description next panel), and behind it in the distance, the upper third of the Washington Monument.

KILCROP CAPTION
Home.

1.2 EXT. RICHARD B. CHENEY FEDERAL BUILDING - DAY
BIG PANEL. ANGLE FROM BEHIND Kilcrop as he approaches the main entrance of the building, passing a rectangular slab sign (see art reference) identifying this as:

"UNITED STATES/DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY/RICHARD B. CHENEY FEDERAL BUILDING."

It’s a blocky 16-story edifice on a busy street corner in Washington D.C. (Constitution Ave. and 15th St., let's say, with a partly obstructed view of the Washington Monument in the distance). Given the structure’s namesake, let's make the architecture personality-appropriate: Squat, rectangular, and ugly like the J. Edgar Hoover Building; standoffishly funereal like the Federal Reserve building or a fascist mausoleum; defensively wedgy like a reinforced rampart or bunker. In fact, that was probably the architect's intent: a civic building that channels the aesthetic of a concrete fallout bunker. The windows are small and deeply recessed, almost like bow slits on a castle.

KILCROP CAPTION 1
No place like it...

KILCROP CAPTION 2
Where the heart is...

KILCROP CAPTION 3
Where you hang your hat...

1.3 INT. LOBBY OF CHENEY BUILDING - DAY
HIGH ANGLE LOOKING DOWN ON Kilcrop, wearing a laminated I.D. badge on his suit breast pocket, as he crosses a large, utilitarian lobby. At the center of the drab marble floor is a Department of Energy seal (see art reference). Federal workers cross the lobby along various trajectories, more than a few rubbernecking awkwardly at the albino.

KILCROP CAPTION
...And a thousand other clichés that won’t smooth the lumps in your mattress.

1.4
SIDE VIEW of Kilcrop as he approaches a bank of elevators. Hanging prominently on the wall behind him is a large framed portrait of Dick Cheney in a dark business suit, lopsided snarl in full bloom. Tucked under the veep’s arm, hunter-style, is a double-barreled shotgun.

KILCROP CAPTION
Strip away the Hallmark bullshit and here’s what’s left:

1.5
FRONT VIEW of elevator with the passengers rudely staring at Kilcrop, who stands at the front of the car as the doors begin to close. He’s taking off his sunglasses, and we can see his startling pink eyes. We can now see the details of his laminated I.D. badge. From top to bottom: NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) logo (see art reference), the title "SPECIAL AGENT," a line with Kilcrop's signature (just "Kilcrop,"), and a color mug shot.

KILCROP CAPTION
Home is the place that’s most familiar.

Step two: Layouts

I never seem to do these the same way twice. Some times I do them at about 2" x 3.5", some times digitally, some times I'll do them almost full size. In this case I think they were about 4" x 6" or something...don't quote me on that.



You'll see they're pretty rough, but all the important things are there. Once this has been OK'd but my editor and writer, I blow it up to full image size (about 10" x 15") and blue line them in Photoshop using the Duotone setting. I have an RGB color set for this, but I forget what it is exactly. Basically, a really light baby blue.

This is printed out onto a sheet of bristol board which is about 11.5" x 17".

Step three: Pencils



I then get busy blocking in the pencils, keeping the things from the layouts that work and changing the bits that don't. Some times things, like the building in the second scene, just don't make sense. The perspective doesn't make sense and I needed to push the building way back. Sometimes the layout is changed to match whatever reference I may have. Like, the glasses in scene two. I ended up using a pair I had laying in my studio. I found them in an old box of stuff I had on the third floor and stashed them in my studio to use later. I knew I wanted to use them for Kilcrop because I didn't really use ref for his glasses in the earlier issues and just never really liked how they came out.


Step four: Inks

Here, again, I have to get the pencils OK'd and make a few changes as they come up. My editor wanted to go in slightly tighter on scene 2, which I just zoomed in digitally in Photoshop. I also do a quick cheat and find the logo for the department of energy symbol online and just paste it onto the floor in scene 3, transforming it a bit to make it fit the perspective of the floor. Then, I bump up the thresh hold and blueline the pages again and print them out again onto a full sheet of bristol again.

Did I mention I use this old larger format Epson Stylus 1280?

Anyway, I end up with this.



From there, I might add a little tone by hand (yes, I still have tone sheets from way back when). If not I then scan this at 600 dpi as a bitmap and do the tone digitally after converting the line art to greyscale. Once this is done, I make it a bitmap again and format it to fit the comic page size and upload it to the DC FTP .

Do that about 8 to 10 times in five days, and you have my work week in a nutshell...for the Un-men anyway.

Best,
mike

3 comments:

patrickwedge said...

Awesome look into your little world of art. Couple of really obvious questions that I seem to be missing but what the hell, I've never been shy about asking or looking stupid in the interest of gaining knowledge:
1. What is your computer setup? You're not doing the coloring on the computer but you'd still have to have a decent setup due to the workload your taxing your system with?
2. Even though you didn't say, I'm assuming that you do physically ink you pages, correct? Using the old brush/india ink combination. Was wondering since it looks like you leave yourself a lot of room with line weights and rendering till the inks since you're the one doing that.
3. When you send the pages off for coloring, do you feel you have the repore at this point to just leave the coloring notes off? So, any reflections, light source, etc. you can assume they see?

This is a great walk through of a page....always interesting to see the nuts and bolts.

Mr. Hawthorne said...

1. What is your computer setup? You're not doing the coloring on the computer but you'd still have to have a decent setup due to the workload your taxing your system with?

I have three systems I use. One is a custom built PC I bought from my bro-in-law. I don't like it, but it's my wife's work system for helping me out with scans. I have a Microtek ScanMaker 9800Xl. I have the printer in my old studio on the 3rd floor and that's an old G3 power Mac. That's hooked up to an Epson stylus 1280. Then a lap top for digital coloring and web stuff.


2. Even though you didn't say, I'm assuming that you do physically ink you pages, correct? Using the old brush/india ink combination. Was wondering since it looks like you leave yourself a lot of room with line weights and rendering till the inks since you're the one doing that.

Yup, still inking on the page. Still using brush (Raphael #2) and some Japanese quils and standard dip pens. Some tech pens now too, the cheapy disposable ones.

3. When you send the pages off for coloring, do you feel you have the repore at this point to just leave the coloring notes off? So, any reflections, light source, etc. you can assume they see?

No, actually. I find I have to be MORE specific now. I try to let people alone, but I've decided I have to be more proactive with the final art.

Best,
Mike

Patrick Hoover said...

Much appreciated, Mike! It's always great to see the way another artist works.
Having had to self teach myself how I currently work, seeing the way you work helps to re-examine my own processes to see if I can be doing something better.
And this is like the extra content on a DVD...it makes you appreciate the final product that much more!