Recently, wonderful artist and sometimes Waiting on the Trade co-host Kathryn Prince (aka Red Phacelia) participated in a Project Art Cred experiment examining how different artists interpret the same comic script. Because I’m a process nerd, I asked Kat to walk y’all through her page creation process. I’ll let her take it from here.
The process of making a comic can take a long time, and that is largely due to the art, not the writing. This week I’m writing a guest post to give you an idea of what goes into illustrating a comic page. This particular comic page came about as a challenge to artists posted by Kieron Gillen in his weekly newsletter.
The premise of the challenge was that the meaning of a story changes dramatically based on how it is illustrated. Gillen wrote a single-page script, and over forty different artists submitted pages. (If you’d like to see all of them, check out this Twitter thread).
I should begin by saying I am by no means a professionally-trained comic artist. There are many ways to illustrate a comics page, often involving different people that fill the roles of illustrator, inker, colorist, and letterer. Being low-budget, I fulfill all these roles myself. This is my process.
Once I received the script (which was entitled ‘SUPER-MAN’), I had about 14 days to make the page. My first step with a new project is to make character sketches to try out different styles, costumes, and staging ideas. The whole premise of this particular comic is a pun, so I wanted the style to be goofy and fun to reflect the spirit of the script. I initially had plans for my ‘Super-Man’ character to be a Superman/Elvis combination, but ended up going with a more classic 1970s Superman look.
I confess that at the outset I wasn’t terribly familiar with what Perry White looks like in the comics, so I made sure the Perry I drew wouldn’t look too much like J. Jonah Jameson of Spider-Man fame. Turns out if you remove Jonah’s moustache, those two editors look very similar!
This was my first time ever drawing construction equipment. As a bit of personal background, I grew up in a forest which, over the years, has become subdivided and developed into a maze of new houses to the point that it is now nearly unrecognizable as the place where I spent my childhood. In many ways I consider these yellow construction machines to be The Enemy. So as I researched different types of CATs I tried to find a type of machine whose purpose could be ecological restoration instead of suburban destruction.
The original script called for the scene to take place in the middle of a city. But since the story was only one page, and there was no continuity to worry about, I decided that the CAT would be part of a tree clearing crew in some remote montane forest. Maybe they’re putting in a power line. Maybe they’re doing some tree thinning to prevent a fire hazard. Whatever it is, they’ve taken down some trees and now some Ents are coming to chase them away.
Another important step before starting on a comic page is to draw a small sketch called a thumbnail that outlines what each panel will look like. Here’s mine, along with some notes to myself about panel contents.
I take a fairly troglodyte approach to putting my comic pages together: I use pen and ink on a physical sketchbook. My sketchbook is designed specifically for comic pages, with little guidelines along the edges to aid in measuring out panels. I draw and ink the panels first. Then I do the rest of the sketching with a blue pencil.
Non-photo blue is a magical color that saves you from having to clean up all your sketch lines with an eraser. You can leave the lines right where they are, because scanners can’t see them – kind of like how green screen special effects work in the movies. I’ve also heard you can do your sketching with other colors, like red, and then use a filter in your editing software to remove the pencil lines afterwards. But like I said: troglodyte.
After the panels are all drawn in with blue pencil, it’s ready to be inked and scanned!
Here is what my computer setup looks like. I use physical pen and ink to draw in the lines, but I use Photoshop to do all my editing and coloring. For digital drawing, I use a Wacom tablet. I have a pretty old tablet that I’ve used for many years – I think it may actually predate the invention of the smartphone. But despite its age my tablet has been a nice option for a weekend artist like myself because it was quite cheap to acquire and has lasted a long time. Someday I’d like to level up to a screen that you can draw on directly – it makes a world of difference in the ease of use, the quality of the art, and most importantly it drastically reduces the time spent on a project.
I had to finish the final drawing and inking in a bit of a rush since I had a narrow window to access a decent scanner before the deadline. As such, there were some things that needed to be cleaned up in my inking after the inked page was scanned. The characters in panels 3 and 4 came out especially wonky. Most egregiously, my Super-Man character in panel 3 ended up looking like a leering Big Boy Burgers mascot in a Superman costume.
Also, there are always a few errors of scale in my drawings (like Perry’s giant head in the last panel) that I don’t notice until after I’ve inked and scanned a comic page; those also need to be fixed before proceeding to coloring.
Matt (Editor’s Note: Hey, that’s me!) is my go-to model if I need to see what a pose I’m trying to capture looks in the real world. Here he is modeling the waving hand of the CAT driver in panel 4 so I can re-draw it.
The inking is fixed and it’s ready for coloring!
To save time, I tried to get away with keeping the newsroom in panel 5 mostly empty. But given the corporate beige color palette I chose for this panel, all this blank space didn’t look quite right. I decided there would need to be some people actually working in the office behind Lois and Perry.
Above is a picture of the New York Times taken in 2007, by Fred R. Conrad. The picture served as my reference for what a newspaper office might look like. My initial vision for the fifth panel had Lois and Perry striding across a minimalist-chic office, past a bank of windows overlooking the Metropolis skyline and framed by a few tasteful potted plants. I decided to move away from this more splendid scene when I drew panel 5 to a) save some time and b) depict what a newspaper office would really look like: packed with cubicles and messy desks and probably in need of vacuuming.
And here is the final page I ended up submitting!
If I were to do it again there are a few things I’d change, such as stretching panel 3 farther across the middle of the page and shrinking panel 4 so that it doesn’t have a distracting amount of blank space in the sky. But part of being a comic artist is to continue learning from your mistakes as you go. As you assemble a body of work, it is rarely worth the time to go back and fix minute details.
Thanks again to Kat for taking the time to examine and explain her process! I really enjoyed watching her put this page together over the month of January. If you’re interested in participating in the next Project Art Cred one-pager experiment, submissions are open for the next week.