Like just about anything in life, there are different stages to drawing comics. The hard part comes up front, starting with hammering out the story and stretching and compressing it to fit into all those little boxes in the right order. I usually start with a script, just because it suits the way I think; some people go directly to making little thumbnail sketches, which is my second stage — I find scripting it out saves me a lot of re-drawing because I know roughly what needs to happen on each page. Then comes the real heavy lifting — doing the drawings in pencil. That’s where all those little stick figures and half-realized notions have to become real, well-composed drawings. The expressions and gestures get worked out, potential pitfalls are avoided (or erased and drawn again), and at this stage, it should be comprehensible to anyone looking at it.
Then comes the fun part. If the pencils are reasonably well drawn, the inking should be a snap. They don’t have to be absolutely tight; mine aren’t. Somewhere in all those sketchy pencil lines is the true line, ready to be found by the pen! The pages here are from Spam and the Sasquatch, which is the graphic novel I currently have underway, written by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough specifically for this project. We’ll be launching it at A-Kon (see the sidebar for info on that). I’ll be doing updates over the next two months on this project, with more notes about my process.
I’m trying something new this time around. Rather than drawing my pencils on the same paper I will ink and paint, I’ve drawn them on cheap, thin paper, and am inking on the good paper by laying it over the pencils on a lightbox. It’s not exactly tracing; as you can see, the pencils are pretty sketchy, so I’m making the final decisions as I ink just as I would if I were drawing directly on the pencils. This approach has several advantages. One, I tended to not be so precious about the pencils, because it didn’t matter if I somewhat trashed the paper as I did my usual wild sketching, homing in on what I wanted, with lots of erasing in between. Two, it gives a nice clean look to the ink part. Three, it’s really fast, and I don’t have to erase the pencil lines, which is time consuming and covers my studio in eraser crumbs. Four, and best of all, I get to keep the pencils (even though I’m not precious about them!) — so if I make a mistake inking, I can do it over easily on another piece of the good paper.
Today I managed to ink 8 pages — I’m feeling pretty smug, and also relieved — Until I tried it, I wasn’t sure if this method was going to be significantly faster, or slower, and I am working to deadline. The ease of this method means I should have a reasonable amount of time for the painting part (these will be done in watercolour). The final stage will be cleaning up anything that needs it in Photoshop, then laying out the book and inserting the text in InDesign, all of which can take as long as any of the other stages. Then off to the printer, and the waiting for a proof, approving or sending it back for another try, and then waiting some more… then — a book!