Today I’d like to walk you through the process I use to create my comic 2071. Once I’ve written the script and done a thumbnail of the page to lay out the panels I move onto penciling.
I settled on this size so I can use half a sheet of 11×14″ bristol board for the finished inks and regular printer paper for the pencils. Then I can redraw a page as many times as I need to to achieve the proper composition. I sketch with red and blue col-erase animation pencils and like to go over things with mechanical pencil if I have time so they’re easier to see on the lightbox. Also this constant going over evolves the details as I get more confident with the finished drawing. My pencils these days are pretty tight as I want to develop the page as much as possible. Lots of artists keep their sketches loose and save details for inking to keep them spontaneous. I feel more free to change things while penciling as ink feels more permanent, even though I could always touch the inks up digitally later. (I usually have to, anyway)
The next step is to tape the pencils and some bristol board to my lightbox and go over it all with drawing pens.
Pens give a colder feel than brushes because their lines are more solid and mechanical. Brushes create more organic lines with varying width. Since the story is set in the future I wanted a fairly streamlined and technical feel. Plus I’m kind of heavy handed and split the tips of brushes pretty easily.
At this point I was still trying to white out mistakes before scanning. I usually have to go back in and fix them even after the automated cleanup process so I might as well save corrections for that stage.
I made an action that follows the steps laid out in How to Make Webcomics. I run it to convert everything to straight black or white in bitmap mode and save in .tiff format. Then I go back in and clean lines up.
The changes at this stage are mostly for the print version. When it’s shrunk down and in this jaggy format you don’t see a lot of the things you would once it’s printed. (Save the occasional redrawing of a line or something) I save this and then convert it to grayscale and copy the panels into a template with proper page margins.
I duplicate the panels onto a multiply layer and remove all the white so only the inks show. Some folks just leave it a normal layer, which is fine. I’ve just had issues with non-black spots getting onto my ink layers in the past and setting it to multiply keeps that from becoming an issue. Flood fill with the paint bucket and pencil in any hard to reach spots on the lower layer.
I then duplicate the colors layer, set it to multiply, create a layer mask and invert it, painting out areas for shadows. Lower this to about 50%.
I duplicate the colors again, set it to screen, create a layer mask and invert it, and start drawing highlights. I keep this layer at 100%.
Next I add a layer with the aged paper texture. I lower the opacity of the colors layer so some of the splotches bleed through them.
Before I render the intense light of futuristic jet engines I focus on the effects of the falloff color on the rest of the objects in the panel.
Some things would probably be easier to render if I didn’t draw them in the inking stage (Like shapes for flames, highlights) but I like having them there if I decide to color their lines or just paint over them entirely.
Finally I paint in the white-hot areas of the flames. I like layering the effects to give them a more developed look rather than just dropping a simple effect in. I’ll play around with layer modes, opacity, and layer effects until I find something I like. It’s important to me that the overall page looks balanced. The drawings need to be developed and detailed enough while the rendering needs to be subtle enough to work. It’s very easy to make effects look too “Photoshop-y” and stand out glaringly on a page.
I make a one-pixel stroke around the panels and add a stroke effect to the layer. It frames them better and differentiates the panels from each other. Some people use rules about how wide your borders should be based on your thickest line in a panel. I find a setting that works and leave it.
After laboring over the art I hate to cover it up with text so I tend to wittle the script down to absolute necessities. Dialogue placement impacts how you read it and I like to think the shape of a sound effect changes how you hear it in your head. It’s also a visual element so I want to compliment the drawings underneath. The fonts add to the aesthetic I’m going for by being simple yet elegant.
Keeping with the slightly mechanical and less organic idea I made the word balloons rounded squares rather than oval shapes. (Automated voices use sharp square balloons while voices being broadcast use another closed balloon shape) This harkens back to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and other early 20th century strips as well as conserves space.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Copper influenced me to make the panels rounded so making the word balloons match makes sense.
This is the last step before flattening, resizing, and adding the URL for the web. I fill a layer with black, set it to saturation, and lower the opacity. This makes the colors a little less pronounced and adds to the aged feel. Movies today tend to desaturate their color palette, too. Compare the original Superman colors to the ones in Superman Returns. I was originally planning on rendering in color and then dropping it down to grey for print but the color version is just too superior.