As my last step-by-step how-I-do-comics post went down rather well, I thought I’d do another one in more detail.
1. Rough layout, ballpoint in sketchbook. Here I’m working out how to break down the action and dialogue across the page. I also use this to check with the writer that it’s more-or-less what he imagined when he wrote the script.
2. Sketchy pencils. Working in a hard (2H) pencil on Bristol board, I loosely sketch out the artwork. This isn’t the time to worry about details, but it’s where to get the large-scale stuff right such as perspective and the general size and relative placement of characters and scenery.
3. Tighter, less sketchy pencils. This is one of the most difficult and time-consuming stages. Here I’m adding detail, erasing and re-drawing where it’s too scribbly. I’m also pencilling in the dialogue and speech bubbles.
4. Inked-in lettering, speech bubbles and panel frames. Here I’ve used a sharpie marker pen for the lettering and speech bubbles (with an isometric ellipse template) and a ruling pen for the panel frames.
5. Inking-in everything else. I think the inking is my favourite stage. Here I’ve used a flexible-nibbed dip-pen and india ink. If I had any large areas of black or thicker lines I’d use a brush.
This completes the artwork on paper - then I scan in what I’ve got and carry on in Photoshop:
6. Flat colours. On a separate layer, with the blending mode set to “multiply”. Here I’m adding the basic colours without worrying too much about the effects of ambient light. It’s worth doing a bit of research at this stage if you want things to look realistic - a quick Google Image Search for “eighties bedroom” did the trick here.
7. Shadows. On another layer, this time set to “linear burn” I add shadows in a purple-grey colour. This can help add a sense of three-dimensionality to things but you don’t want to overdo it.
8. Ambient shade / gloom. Another “linear burn” layer. Here in each frame I’ve overlaid a radial gradient graduating from transparent in the middle to a dirty brown colour round the edges. This help creates the right general atmosphere, in terms of the lighting of the setting (a bedroom at night) and the emotional tone of the narrative (a failing marriage in the 1980s).
9. Working back into the “Ambient gloom” layer with an eraser. This helps attract the eye to the important parts of each panel and makes the characters stand out from their surroundings, as though they were spotlit. It can look a little artificial and you could skip this stage if you wanted to go for a super-gloomy feel, but I do think it creates more contrast and makes the action easier to read at a glance.
10. Light sources and highlights. A final layer on top, this time set on “Screen” blending mode. It’s easy to overdo this and make it all look really tacky. Less is more here unless you’re going for some sort of special effects.