Panels Made Easy

An early comic strip of mine from the 1970s. I can see the influence of Frank Bellamy. The border was drawn with a ruling pen.

I FIND Manga Studio EX 4 is a like a cross between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, combining vector lines (as in Illustrator) with Photoshop style layers and colouring but it includes additional features intended to make life easier for the comic strip artist, helping you out with speech bubbles, screen tones . . . and panels.

I like to use simple panels in a comic strip as a formal framework for my hand-drawn artwork. I used to draw these with a ruling pen (below) but now I draw a grid in a desktop publishing program and print it out, a third up from what will be the printed size, for my drawings.

The ruling pen that I used for the borders in my Romans v. Brigantes comic strip was this, part of a Jakar Universal Giant Bow 2001 set which features an extendable compass for drawing extra large circles. I bought it at the Eagle Press, Wakefield, in 1975, price £5.26 (the sticker is still on the box).
Queen Cartimandua hands King Caracatus over the to Romans. Castle Hill, Almondbury, Huddersfield, which may have been an Iron Age hill fort, rises from the mist in the background. The comic strip featured in my first book, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield (1978).

There’s a certain pleasure in drawing with a ruling pen but when I’ve got a deadline to meet anything that allows me more time for drawing the illustrations would be welcome. I’ve been watching some YouTube videos by Doug Hills, author of Manga Studio for Dummies, to familiarise myself with the process but for it to sink in I need to go through the stages for myself.

So here’s my ridiculously simple guide to the concept – I won’t go into every single detail – of getting a comic strip from rough to final printed version in Manga Studio EX4.

This isn’t the only way to do it but it should give you an idea. And please excuse my scrappy doodles.

  1. Draw your rough
  2. Scan it in grayscale (150dpi will be fine)
  3. Open a new document in Manga Studio (I went for A6 portrait, 1200dpi)
  4. Open your scanned rough and adjust it to fit the page. It is added as a new layer, which I set to grayscale (black and white makes it look like a pen drawing). In the Layer Properties panel, select ‘Sketch’ as the Output Attribute.
  5. Create another new layer, selecting the Panel Ruler Layer option. Initially this puts one big panel, a blue rectangle, around your page so you now need to use the Panel Ruler Cutter to slice it into panels then the Object Selector to adjust the dimensions of each panel to fit your rough.
  6. When you’re happy with the dimensions, with the Panel Ruler Layer still selected, from the layer menu choose Rasterise Layer. That’s the panels drawn! Give this layer a descriptive name, such as ‘panels’.
  7. Drag your ‘panels’ layer to the top of the pile in the Layer Palette (right) and, as you can see by comparing the two stages above, it now masks any stray lines between the panels, leaving white spaces between them. When you start inking, any stray lines that go over the panel edges will also be masked.
  8. To make inking easier you can switch the colour of your scanned rough to blue. Press the Switch Colour button in the top left of the Layer Palette to toggle from gray to blue (this only works if your sketch layer is in grayscale, it won’t work in colour or black and white).
  9. Create a New Layer, (1200dpi, black 1bit, output attributes ‘finish’) for inking. I used my pen tablet and selected the G pen, a basic pen, from the Manga Studio draw tools palette.
  10. When you’ve finished drawing you can export your page for print or for the web.

Two mysteries that I still need to solve; the line around the panels came out too thick and when I exported the image it was in negative, white on black instead of vice versa, so I had to reverse it in Photoshop. I’m missing a couple of options somewhere.

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