Monday, 13 July 2009

Writing a Comic - Where to Start?

Pat and I first began talking about writing Leo Fox as a comic in May 2008 whilst I was visiting him in Barcelona. We both thought it was a good idea, but geographical distance seemed to be the major stumbling block. However, I have been a comics fan since I was about 13, and as such I had a pretty good idea how to begin.

A couple of Christmas's ago my girlfriend had bought me Stan Lee, the long time editor in chief of Marvel Comics's autobiography. In it he had detailed just how he had managed in the early sixties to write such a large volume of comics every month using what became known as The Marvel Method.
This seemed perfect for our needs, and pretty shortly, Pat had sent me a general overview of the story he wanted to tell.

The story seemed pretty linear to me and I told him so. Good stories don't just travel forward following the plot of the main character, they are (in comics anyway) always best when several narratives intertwine and come together. So we started to split up the story into several narratives, and we both did some reading into how comics work. Importantly we both read Scott McCloud's superb analysis "Understanding Comics".

So we started again, and this time we had something to work with!

The good thing about using the Marvel Method is that it leaves both the artist and the writer free to maintain creative freedom, however, initially it is a slow process. This is because every time the writer says " then person A bumps into person B", the artist has to go back to the drawing board and design a new character! Every time the writer says " person A goes over there" the artist has has create a new environment! In the first issue this was a slow process but it is these details that make a comic believable, and so we had a lot of talk over decisions like this.

some character design sketches I produced

I started creating characters for Pat to look at and when we were happy with them I started roughing out the individual panels. The way I worked was to just go for it, and not think too much about the finished page. Having little actual professional equipment, I simply sketched out rough panels whenever I got chance or series' of panels when it seemed appropriate, and kept a file of everything I had done. When I was happy with a particular section, I would scan these roughs into photoshop and work them into a layout for Pat to look at, adding textures and so forth, such as brickwork and graffiti to the rough sketches. We set up a Facebook group so that we could discuss the pages. Pat would take the roughs and add lettering for more discussion.

some of the stages of roughing and trying out dialogue.

Once we were happy with the rough layout I printed these off at A4, and went back to the drawing board. I used layout paper to trace the general rough, in some cases updating the drawing and neatening the pencils. At this stage we were thinking of simply creating black and white images, and I was inspired by some of Jamie Hewlett's work to maybe just keep the rough pencil line without going to the detail of inking.

Hewlett seems to keep much of the original pencil line with a little ink here and there, before colouring.

However, once scanned, although it looked alright it was not what I was hoping for. The problem was that I was using a small A4 scanner and so the pencilling wasn't strong enough. Also I had lost interest in the use of photoshop textures. To begin with they had looked good, but over a number of pages the began to look samey and detract from the drawing.

This first incarnation of the finished art wasn't quite right...

All through the last year I have been reading comics constantly. And not just the Marvel ones that I always favoured, I mean EVERYTHING. I have pretty much read the entire local libraries' supply. Ands that how I came up with watercolours, after reading a particular Sandman novel featuring the work of Yoshitako Amano.

yoshitaka amano's watercolours

So the final part of production for me anyway has been to blow up my finished pencils to A3 on a photocopier and watercolour directly onto that, before inking. Though the paper is not ideal, in some ways I like the wrinkles and so forth the water produces, and these add depth to my painting when they come to be scanned. This finally gave us a level of detail we could work with. I sent these finished pages off to Patrick, who is working on the final cleanup of the pages, and the lettering.

the three stages of artwork completion

Once this is done I'm going to do a final stage of digital cleanup and effects and that should be that!

So its taken a year so far but I think now we have worked out a system, the next 2 parts should be a lot easier to produce. I'm already up to the pencilling stage of part 2 and the roughing stage of part 3, so all these experiments have finally paid off, and hopefully as time goes by and I get better at this comic making business I'll be able to get better tools, a proper drawing board and chair would be a good start! And I already have ideas for speeding up the process!


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