Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How a page gets made!

Okay. Since I screwed up last time, I wanted to make sure that I did things right this time around, documenting a page in the many steps that it takes from conception to completion. I left out the writing, of course - I have a rough idea as to the plot, what needs to happen, and when; I work and rework the dialogue aloud until it finally sounds right to me, and then I start thumbnailing. This particular interchange is actually take 2; a month ago I made a page that, upon retrospection, would work much better as TWO pages, and I'm subsequently going back and doing these pages. The pacing on the old page felt rushed, the Captain Cane character gets really mad really fast and breaks something and then suddenly seems very reserved... it was just off. Hopefully, the NEW pages will do a better job of communicating his frustration with his current strategic impotence.

Knowing what my scene entails, with the dialogue worked out to about 95% certainty, I start thumbnailing.

I do this in my sketchbook, which I paperback-bind myself out at 8.5 x 11 with a bristolboard cover. I used to use xerox laser paper for the interior, but Staples, the very last place that was carrying it that I could find, has stopped doing so. Hammermill color copy paper is a reasonable substitute, but not nearly as good; it's the next best thing, though. Anyway, I lay out the page pretty close, setting up the shots.

Still in the sketchbook, I tighten my thumbnails up a bit and start concerning myself with staging dteails - where exactly on the ship they are, for example. It may not show in this page, but it is important to me. To aid with this, because my mind jumps all over and I forget such things, is a little model that I built for this purpose in the early stages of the book. I basically look at it as a rough blueprint, and sometimes hold it up to see how the rigging looks from a certain angle, etc. It's become a very helpful tool, though it also is a crutch -- trying to stage a scene while in Portland I screwed up the logistics pretty badly, and had to start from scratch when I got home.

Next I do my pencils. I have a template (a black rectangle the dimensions of my "live area" when printing) that I print out, and then I lay out my panels with a ruler and a Blue Col-Erase pencil. I ALWAYS use blue and as opposed to non-photo blue. Blue is better.
I next go in and do my lettering. I eyeball it, and always do it first. The lettering and word balloon is as much a part of the composition to me as the focal point, and it's important to have it in from the getgo. I do my lettering in Pilot Hi-Tec C pens, usually a .03. Sometimes I'll use a .04, but not often. After the balloons are done I lay in rough shapes with the blue pencil and then do some slightly tighter "pencils" with the Hi-Tec C. Tighter for me, anyway. I talked to Brian Hurtt the other day and he apologized for having loose pencils (which I thought was unnecessary, because his pencils are tight and beautiful)- I can't imagine trying to give my pencils to someone else to ink. They're blobs, and half the time don't look like what I expect them to.

Next, I scan the pencils in. I wear a coat inside our apartment because Liz and I are very frugal and we don't turn on the heat (or AC) unless we absolutely have to. take that, energy companies!

In photoshop I've made a print page, which automatically changes what's pasted into it from black to a 15% cyan. I blow it up to 10 x 15 (or pretty close)...

...and print it out on 11x17 Hammermill color copy paper. I would use bristol board, except that (1) it's much more expensive, (2) I had a different printer until a couple of weeks ago that could only handle thick paper/bristol about one-twentieth of the time, and (3) I mess up a lot and have to paste panels on top of other panels, and with Bristol that would be harder/unseemly. Plus I like the way my brush glides on this laser coating!

The first thing I do on the actual page is to draw my lines. I eyeball them; I don't use a ruler, and use a Faber-Castell PITT brush pen (black) to draw them. This gives 'em that down-home folksy charm!

Next I do my lettering. I use the same tool, a PITT brush pen, to do this, and do it as quickly and naturally as possible without the ink breaking up. My handwriting is terrible, but if I do it super fast with this pen it passes for decent. When I do bigger letters, I have to outline them and fill them in -- I left one open here so that you can see how that works. Then I throw the balloon borders around it - for this I vary between the PITT brush pen and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, a hard-plastic Japanese import that has synthetic fibers and uses refillable cartridges. I've had some luck filling brush pens with my own ink, but not this one; I like to work fast - stupidly fast, I sometimes fear - and putting other ink in this one slows down the ink flow, giving a dry brushing effect when I rush over the page. So I use the cartridges - they're not waterproof, so I have to be careful about dragging my hand over ink that's been layed down, but it doesn't mess up much on this paper. On Bristol board, strangely enough, this ink smears all over the place!

I use this same pen to do my inks, because it's the fastest I've found. Dipping a brush takes too long for me, and no other brush pen gives me the speed and control that this one does. Usually I go through each panel and do the linework, leaving the black areas as open spaces until I finish with the panel. Here I left 'em all open! This is, perhaps surprisingly, the fastest part of a page... days of work to get to this, which took about ten minutes. Bear in mind that while I may seem to work fast when you work my preparation time in I'm no faster than anybody else.
The little book next to the drawing is a sketchbook I made with a lot of the character designs in it. I reference it a lot to try and keep my environmental (background) characters looking consistent.

Next I fill in my black areas! For the REALLY big spaces I use a black Permopaque marker; for smaller areas I use the PITT brush pen again.

I finish, and look for things that could be strengthened. The balloon stem in the first panel could be placed better, so I use Maxon white comic ink and a Loew-Cornell brush to change it. I go through and make tiny corrections here and there throughout the page.

Hey, now that the stem's moved, my composition has changed! To recreate the original balance, I need to add an element; in this case an environmental character whose physical features were modeled on Atlanta cartoonist Justin Wagner, a friend and classmate of mine.

When I'm finished, I scan it in three passes and assemble it in the computer.

Voila! Next I stick the file in the Oni FTP site, because I'd only screw up trying to size it to print. It's in their hands now!


Cara M. said...

Say, what sort of printer do you use? I really need to invest in one 8\

John said...

Wait, you don't hire force child labor to do this for you? What a ripoff Chris.

The process is pretty amazing. I knew it was several stages, but didn't know it was THAT many stages.

Dustin Harbin said...

This looks great, Chris--I can't wait to get this book. Hurry up!

Shawn Crystal said...

Great Thread Chris! Power Point baby!

Cam Chesney said...

This was really great Chris. I love work process deconstruction. What is the process that you use to paperback bind your sketchbooks? That would be interesting to me too (for a future post). I also wanted to tell you, in case you are interested, that my local UPS Store here in Vancouver, stocks Xerox laser paper. Maybe yours does too? Keep up the great work. I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Chris Schweizer said...

Cara - I use an Epson Stylus Photo 1270, a hand-me-down from my dad. I'd highyl recommend it; it's a top-loading printer, which means the paper runs straight through without having to go around a roller. This is VERY important when using thicker papers and bristol. I had an HP deskjest 9300 (both of these printers take up to 13 x 19 standard), and it gave me nothing but trouble. It's a bottom-loading printer, and about 4 out of every five pieces of Bristol would get stuck at the rollers and it would lay down the ink inside the printer anyway. If you're getting an printer to do blue-line with, NEVER get a HP, get an Epson.

Cameron - Thanks! Sadly, my UPS store (best print place in town) doesn't carry xerox. Ces la vie. I will do a binding workshop the next time I bind one. It'll likely be early/mid Spring before I do so, however, as I've got to run through this one first.