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.