Category: Making Comics


Got four Happy Samurai pages with really heavy backgrounds, so I’m working on them all simultaneously. First I’ll do underdrawings for all the panels (what you see here), then I’ll composite all those together in Photoshop (add characters, , extra details, etc.). Finally, I’ll print them out and lightbox them for the finished page.

 

Was just struck with realization of how intertwined an artist’s personality and the work they create are. Come up with two or three words that describe an artist (writer, musician, etc.) and tell me they don’t also describe the type of art they make.

Joe Kubert – powerful, tough, no-nonsense
Paul Pope – intellectual, dynamic, rock-star
Erik Larsen – loud, unfiltered, fun-loving
Sean Murphy – cerebral, defiant, biting sense of humor
Greg Capullo – intense, badass, dynamic
Todd McFarlane – bold, calculating, rebel
Matt Fraction – cerebral, humorous

Same thing applies to guys like David Mack, Alex Maleev, Mike Mignola, Ashley Wood, Jamie Hewlett, James Jean. The list goes on and on.

It’s pretty hard to describe your own personality, but if I had to take a shot, I’d say meticulous, passionate and over-complicated. Which are really just different ways of saying OCD : )

 

Moved into a new place in October with a huge space above the two-car garage that was perfect for a studio. The photos with the blue walls are the way the previous owners had the space setup. I’ve had a couple nice studio spaces in the past, but I’ve never gone all out setting them up, painting them, buying furniture, etc. Thought this was the perfect space to do it. Spent about $500 on a couple new book cases, shelves and paint and a month of work to pull it all together.

 

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Jack Kirby’s 1970 contract with DC Comics was for 15 pages a week.

 

Some background under-drawings for a couple Happy Samurai pages I’m working on.

My rule of thumb is if the shot is about the characters then I draw them first, drawing the background in afterwards to frame them in the best possible way. If the shot is about establishing a certain setting or composing a shot in a very specific way, then I’ll draw the background first and tackle the characters second. Because I’ve been drawing everything separately (characters, props & backgrounds) and compositing it in Photoshop for the last couple of years, it really doesn’t make as much of a difference what I do first anymore as I can tweak and adjustment everything ’til I get it just right.

No pre-ruled grids or anything. I just lightly rough in the shot and then start plotting or ball-parking vanishing points. Actual vanishing points are plotted when they land on the drawing board. If they don’t, I’m at the point now where I can just eyeball in the grid and be more than convincing enough. All the nadir/zenith vanishing points are just eye-balled in as they’re always way to far way to plot.

You’ll notice that I make every shot a 3-point shot. Some angles pushed more than others. I do it because A) it avoids having parallel lines next to your panel borders—which is really static, usually flat and can sometimes be tangentially confusing—and B) it just looks cooler.

When drawing each background, I have a pretty clear idea of what I need for the panel, but I always draw beyond it a bit so I’ve got some wiggle room compositionally. In the finished panels, you’ll only see a third of most of these backgrounds. Most backgrounds like this take roughly 15-30 minutes to knock out.

Might seem like a lot of work (or maybe not), but the control it gives me over the finished composition means I can get the shot exactly how I planned it, and that’s all that matters to me at this point.

 

Got these bound copies of The Happy Samurais #1 dummy comic last week. It’s the full 80+ page comic with rough lettering—some pages just layouts, some penciled—but the whole thing as a readable comic.

A number of months ago, I wrote about my new layout theory—“Make it a comic as fast as you can”, which helps you follow up on Andrew Stanton’s advice to “Be wrong as fast as you can.” That dummy is the result of trying to apply those principles.

Make it a comic.

Then read it and see if it’s any good.

If you’re going to “make it a comic”, then you need to recreate the experience someone will have reading the comic. And that means a couple things:

One, you’ve got to be able to actually READ it. You need to letter your pages—even if it’s just rough lettering to get the basic dialogue across. Dialogue changes the pacing, rhythm and beats of a scene. There’s no way to know if your story “works” without it in there. Don’t just give them pantomime pages and figure that’s “close enough” to how someone will read/experience it. Your story is words and pictures TOGETHER. Stop thinking like a writer or an artist and start thinking like a storyteller.

Two, you’ve got to setup your dummy comic as spreads (two facing pages) to simulate the reading experience. When someone reads a comic, they’re not seeing one page at a time (well, unless it’s digital, and that’s another topic…). Readers see both facing pages of a spread at the same time. And sometimes they can’t help but kinda skim ahead to what’s on a right-hand page a bit before they start reading the left-hand page. For good or ill, that’s part of the printed comic book experience and you need to consider. Whether something is a left or right hand page is something I take into account at every stage—from script, to layouts, to finished page. When and how you setup and reveal information on pages and page turns is absolutely crucial to telling a compelling, page-turner of a story. Plus, seeing your comic in spreads can also help you avoid any awkward tangents that make you read two separate pages as one continuous spread, or vice versa, a page that is supposed to be a spread with panels, but reads as separate pages, both leading to a confused reader.

This process couldn’t have worked any better for me. I sent my dummy off to my inner circle of creative confidants. They read it and told me what they liked and what could use some work. That feedback helped me shore up the story and figure out why the ending didn’t have the emotional impact I was trying to convey. I made a second dummy book with a reworked ending that is easily five times better than the original version.

No matter how smart you think you are, or how well you think you know your story, you’re ALWAYS going to be too close to see it objectively and that’s why getting objective, honest feedback is so crucial. When do you want to find out your comic doesn’t work? When you did 80 pages of layouts, or 80 pages of pencils and inks?

Now, truth be told, I didn’t EXACTLY follow this process. I didn’t layout the entire comic before I started drawing pages. As I mentioned in that previous post, I didn’t think I needed to. I actually penciled the first 20+ pages of the story based on my script (which I had worked to death), doing layouts scene by scene. Those first 20 pages were all setup, hooks and teases and I just knew how they should be laid out. As I worked on the second act of the comic, I found myself asking questions like: Should this be a splash, a double-page spread or a paneled page? Can you really do this scene in two pages, or should it expand to four? If the establishing shot is done this way will it slow the pacing down too much at the wrong moment?

That’s when I realized I needed to layout the rest of the comic. That there’s no way to know the answer to those questions except by reading it in comic form. To quote Andrew Stanton again (yes, I’m trying to set a record doing that), “I don’t believe in a scene until I see it on the reels.” Not “in my head”, or “in the script”, or “on the set.” But when the scene is in the form it’s gong to be consumed by the audience in.

So, who knows? I’m still making this shit up as I go along. Maybe you don’t need to layout the entire comic from the beginning. But I think at a certain point it’s necessary to help you bring your story home in a more satisfying and complete way. I know my comic benefitted from it.

Oh, and since a few of you have asked, the cover is just something I mocked up for the dummy book, not necessarily the actual cover for the first volume.

 

More layout work for The Happy Samurais. Needed to rework a couple scenes to make sure they had the emotional resonance needed for that part of the story. Basically had to re-beat the scene–beats are the moments we choose to show in the panels: actions, reactions, dialogue, exposition, gag etc. There are a million things you COULD show in this scene but what are the KEY elements/moments?

I was having a hard time re-beating this in script form, so I drew out each possible beat in photoshop. Didn’t worry about picking the best angle or anything at this point. Just drew a simple sketch that got across idea of beat, printed them out and cut them up. Now I could rearrange each beat, add or delete new ones etc. Really felt like a film editor picking the different shots and making a sequence out of them. Won’t need to use this technique too often as I usually have the beats nailed down when I start the layouts, but will definitely employ it again if I’m having trouble working something out.

Comic Layout Process

One of my former Kubert School students, Angie Fernot, asked a question in the comments of a previous post and I thought others might be interested in the answer.

Angie asked, “Are all those sketches on your drawing table different possible layouts for panels?”


Yep. That’s exactly what they are. Usually my process for laying out a page goes something like:

1. BEAT
– what moment that panel in the story functions as (action/reaction/dialogue/exposition etc.)
– when I’m writing, really I’m primarily nailing down what beats the story needs, so this is figured out in the script.

2. ACTING
– how the characters will act out the scene
– what their body language and expression is
– what the staging is (where characters are in relation to each other — are they facing each other, standing shoulder to shoulder etc.)

3. ANGLE
– once I know the beat, and acting, I’ll start moving the camera around to see what shot shows that beat as A) clearly as possible and B) as dramatically as possible.

4. COMPOSITION
– this is just fine tuning the shot. Making things bigger/smaller, scooting over etc. Half of this is done in the layout stage, the other in Photoshop during the penciling stage when I adjust the size/position/scale again.
– also leaving enough room for word balloons and sound effects in composition stage.

 

The image in this post shows me trying to work out the acting/staging of the characters as they celebrate good news. The list of numbers in the top right is the six panels on the page and what the beats for each panel are.

 

The chaos that is my drawing table when I lay out a scene.


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