Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My Comic Creation Method

I've had a few people ask me how I make comics, so I thought I'd share in on the process. To start, I'll go over the tools I use.

  • Adobe Photoshop CS
  • Adobe Flash 8
  • Wacom 9x12 tablet
  • Animator Blue pencil or regular mechanical pencil with 0.5mm leads
  • Sketchpad
  • Canon Flatbed Scanner
Step 1: Getting the idea
If you can't come up with something good to write a comic about, there is almost no point in writing a comic. To start, I always read through about twenty or so websites to get ideas on what is going on in the industry. When I find something that looks like it would make good source material I mentally try to break it into a three panel joke. If it works, great. If not I move onto the next story. While I'm doing this I also think about which characters would best fit.

Step 2: Writing the script
Now that I've found something interesting to write about I open up my notebook and write a few scripts to try and find the best joke. The script is always pretty basic and makes sense only to me. The hardest part here is making it fit into three panels, that really isn't a lot of room so it is essential that the timing and delivery be bang on. Don't rush by the script! You can have the best art in the world but if you comic doesn't make any sense than no one will like it.

Step 3: The sketch
After I'm happy with the script I take out my sketchpad and begin drawing out the characters and backgrounds that will appear. Often the sketches will go over multiple pages and I'll do them in a completely random order. Once again, you wouldn't be able to read the comic just from the sketches because each character and background for a single panel might be in different places. These sketches also are not very detailed. I'll put all that in later when I get around to inking.

Step 4: Scan the artwork
Since I can have upwards of nine or more sketches per panel, I'll usually finish them up to inking one at a time. The sketch is scanned at 300dpi into Photoshop, then I let PS auto-adjust the brightness levels (Ctrl+Shift+L) to make the lines easier to see. I copy the sketch to the clipboard and import it into Flash.

Step 5: Inking
After doing a lot of research, I've found that many very successful online comic artists (such as Hawk from Applegeeks and Scott from VGCats) use Flash for inking. I thought they were crazy at first but then I tried it and wow, it really does make some nice sharp lines. This is where my tablet comes into play. Ink the comic with the brush (and pressure sensitivity turned on), then use Flash's smooth tool to fix up any minor mistakes. Now simply export the sketch as a 300dpi jpg and bring it back into Photoshop.

Now that we're in Photoshop and we have a huge ass sketch, it would be a good time to fix any line thickness issues before we scale it down to fit in the comic. Use the eraser or a white brush to fix the lines. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all the sketches are digitized and cleaned up.

Step 6: Assembly
Here is where my process differs from the pro comic artists, and this is important so listen up! At this point I reduce all of my sketches from 300dpi to 72dpi (screen resolution) BUT if you ever have the intention to send your comics to print DO NOT DO THAT. If you're intention is to ever make a book, you must always work at 300dpi otherwise your images will print very, very blurry on a professional press. You have been warned!

Anyway, first thing I do is open up my comic template which contains all the copyright info and titles. Then I start to copy over the inked sketches, shrinking them down and placing them into position. Each time I copy in a sketch, I always set the layer to "multiply". This makes the white background transparent and only leaves the black outlines. After all the sketches are in there I delete the excess (that which is appearing outside of the border) and I get ready to colour.

Step 7: Colouring
This is, by far, my favourite part. Create a new Photoshop layer under the sketches, this is where our colour is going to go. At this point I use my tablet to paint in all of the colour, highlights and shadows. It's really pretty easy if you have a good understanding of how Photoshop works. If you don't, well practice makes perfect as they say.

Step 8: Word bubbles
Here is where I type in all of the text and put bubbles around it. I try not to cover up too much of the artwork if I can manage but for some reason my characters always seem to have too much to say. After I've got all the word bubbles drawn in I use a Photoshop layer style on them to add a 2 pixel, black outline.

Step 9: Package and deliver
Now I save the whole thing (for web: Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S) and email it off to Jade at Microsoft Canada. The final format is a JPG at 80% quality, although by the time it ends up on XBOX.ca it's been reduced further to, *shudder*, 40% quality.

And that, in a nutshell, is how I create the comics.