Mastering Comics

I’ve drawn comic strips since since I was aged eight or nine and I’ve published a few of them, from as early as 1979 in my Sketchbook of the Natural History of Wakefield, so you might think that I’ve left it a bit late in my career to read Mastering Comics, the sequel to Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.

I’ve learnt a lot from it and I’ve especially enjoyed being immersed in all things comic: writing, planning, printing, binding and trying to make a living. It reminds me of the years that I was lucky enough to spend in total immersion in graphics and illustration during my time at art college.

Comic creators Abel and Madden teach the subject at New York’s School of Visual Arts, so they’re well aware of the practicalities and the questions that are likely to arise during the creative process. I can’t get to New York to take one of their courses, I’d get a lot out of that, so this is the next best thing.

Homework

Perspective homework: examples by Jessica Abel and Francois Ayroles. An activity I’d like to try for myself.

I decided to read right through the book but I’d like to go back and try some of the activities they suggest:

  • a sketchbook comic drawn entirely on location (which still evokes some kind of story)
  • a comic with no people that includes examples of different perspectives and viewpoints
  • a traditionally coloured comic using black line and CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow) colours.

Link

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures

Framing Up

I’m struggling to get into gear with my comic strip. On the one hand, I’m grateful that it’s not a commission, so there’s no deadline looming, but on the other hand, I only pick it up for odd moments in the evening, so it lacks the momentum you’d get from a freelance job.

I tried to get away from frames full of talking heads by adding a more dramatic first frame to this 4-panel comic strip by having the conversation taking place up on the scaffolding of Robert Adam’s edifice but then realised that I needed to focus on the relationship between my two characters, rather than the setting. My aim is to get a conversation going in the strip; action and reaction.

Initial rough for the first frame.

So glad that I haven’t got a client who needs the finished artwork in a hurry!

Yes, I admit it; it would be easier for me to create characters by doodling away, pen on paper, but getting familiar with the feel of Apple Pencil on iPad screen, is really the point of the project for me, that and learning Clip Art Studio.

 

Comic Template

Now that I’ve steadily gone through the basics of Clip Studio Paint EX, I’m ready to get the program working for me and to use its features to speed up my workflow.

As I’m sticking with the same layout for the whole series of Gargoyle comic strips, I’ve saved the four-frame layout as a template, which is simply the blank comic strip before I’ve added any drawings or text.

All I have to do next time is open the template and get straight on with the drawing.

The title of the strip goes in a fifth frame; the only difference is that this one has no border around it.

Clip Studio Paint EX, iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

Frame & Paper

If the Frame as a whole is selected, you won’t be able to draw on any of the layers within that frame.

What once seemed obscure has now become second nature to me. For instance, when using the pen or pencil tool, I was often baffled when the mouse-pointer changed to a ‘No Entry’ sign and I was unable to draw. Now if that happens, I head straight for the Frames palette as it usually turns out that I’m attempting to draw on the ‘Frame’ rather than on the virtual ‘paper’ (my layers for roughs, pencils, pen and paint) inside that frame.

Colour Set & Colour Wheel

For my first Adam & the Gargoyle comic strip I kept the process as simple as possible by accepting all the defaults. I chose colours from the Default color set but I’m now starting to use the Colour Wheel, which gives an almost infinitely varied choice of colours.

Borders and Balloons

I’m now able to adjust the width of the border around each frame and of the border around the speech bubbles.

That elusive balloon-editing palette. I don’t normally keeping it floating in the workspace.

The latter isn’t that obvious, as you need to select the bubble with the Object Selector (left), not the Text Tool and you then have to delve down into the Tool Property [Object] Sub-tool Palette.

Link

Clip Paint Studio EX: the iPad version is currently free for the first six months, if you want to try it.

The Rudiments of Comics

I’ve enjoyed drawing this comic strip in Clip Studio Paint EX as it’s been such a learning experience. Every aspect of the strip could do with some tweaking to get it as I want but at least I’ve gone through every stage involved in producing a comic.

I’ve often thought how much quicker it would have been to draw it by hand, and, to be honest, I’d probably have preferred a hand-drawn, watercolour approach, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise for me; the main aim was to get to know the software and to shake my ideas up a bit by tackling an illustration project from a different perspective.

Hand-drawn Fonts

The hand-lettered font  used in the speech bubbles is CC Joe Kubert, a tribute to the DC Comics artist.

The bold face used for the ‘HEY! YOU!’ speech bubble is BadaBoom Pro BB Italic.

My own wobbly hand-lettering would have given the strip a gentler look but I love the way these bolder typefaces give the strip pace; the reader isn’t going linger, admiring the typefaces, as they might pause to admire the copperplate calligraphy that would be one approach to an a strip set in the eighteenth century.

The typeface for the main title was added in Photoshop CS5, as my iPad only carries a limited number of fonts. This is a typeface called Trattatello, which is the Italian for ‘tract’. It’s perfect for my strip as one of the characters, Robert Adam, has been on the Grand Tour to Rome and is determined to use the true Classical style in his architecture and interior design. In fact he’s written a tract about it, well a bit more than that; a lavishly illustrated coffee table book of his designs.

You can imagine that he’s not exactly going to hit it off with the gargoyle.

Character & Storyline

After the learning curve that I’ve been on in getting familiar with Clip Studio’s tools and palettes, the end result seems ridiculously simple. As you can probably see from the more involved drawing in this last frame, I’m now keen to get into developing characters and storylines.

The four-panel strip format is a great way to concentrate my ideas and I’ve got plenty of scenarios in mind, in fact I keep waking up in the middle of the night with some bright idea or another. It’s also inspiring walking around Nostell Priory Park, where the strip is set.

Hopefully I’ll speed up production and be able to work through a lot of these storylines. I feel that drawing comic strips is something which requires a feedback loop; by which I mean it’s no use planning your project to the nth degree, you need to see something on paper (or in this case, on screen) and react to and build on that.

First Frame

There’s only one way to get into Clip Paint Studio and that’s to dive in and have a go. This is far from the look that I’ve envisaged for my Adam & the Gargoyle comic strip but I realise that – as happened with the scans of colour slides I’ve been doing recently – the way to get familiar with the process is to keep going through it, again and again, building from the bits that I can do now to the more subtle tweaks that should enable me to get things looking just as I want them to.

A Little Rough

First rough; having got that on paper – or at least on the iPad – I can now improve characters, dialogue and setting as I move on to the next layer and work in pen.

Whenever I think about drawing a comic strip I start to get white page syndrome. If I thought too hard about this little idea, inspired by the gargoyle that I drew last week, I’d likely break off to research the historical setting and the costumes.

After my recent experiments in drawing on the iPad in Clip Studio Paint, this is my first attempt at using the program to generate a comic strip, so I’m keeping the layout ultra simple.

Limiting myself to four squares, each with a ruled border around it, means that – if the final strip was ever used anywhere – it could be four horizontal frames or four vertical and if, as I intend, I was to draw five strips on the same theme, as you’d see in a daily paper, they could go together in a four by five grid, for the Saturday morning supplement, in comic strip tradition.

Layers in Clip Studio Paint.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of adding frames in Clip Studio, partly because there are several alternative ways to do that so I’ve gone with the method that I’ve become familiar with, treating each frame as a separate drawing.

The main difference is there’s no photographic reference this time, and I’m enjoying working from my imagination for a change.

Borders

Pencil, ink, colour and layout produced using an Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro in the Clip Studio Paint program. I’d struggle to draw frames as neatly as this by hand.

Continuing on my learning curve with Clip Studio Paint, this doodle is a real achievement as I’ve now worked out how to lay out a comic strip using the program on the iPad. As you create the frames, you can set it so that the program creates a separate image folder for each frame.

Why should that be an advantage? Well, if you’ve ever drawn a comic strip by hand, using a ruling pen to draw the borders, you’ll know that you have to take care not to go over the line when you’re drawing, otherwise you’re giving yourself extra work going round with the Tippex to clean things up before publication (or the Photoshop equivalent of Tippex).

If you need a drawing to run through adjacent frames – for instance in a scene where figures move through a landscape – you can set things up so that several frames, or the whole page, share the same folder.

Blazer Man

I’ve learnt a lot since my first attempt at a flick-book style animation using Clip Studio Paint. It’s such a versatile program, something like Photoshop but aimed specifically at comic artists illustrators but, with so many possibilities, I  can’t hope become familiar with it all in just a few sessions.

Mugshot

I’m sticking to the basic process that worked for me in the first animation and gradually building up my skills from there. My main advance here was adding the coloured background.

As I experimented with the settings of the animation cels, the ‘undo’ button came in handy or more than one occasion but that’s a good way to discover aspects of the program: for instance its ability to output drawings as a half-tone made up of dots. It would be great for a wanted poster or a newspaper cutting in a comic strip story. Judging by that photograph, he’s definitely guilty.

Animated Head

Clip Studio Paint offers the possibility of animating drawings and, since there’s now a new version of the program for the iPad, I thought that it was time to give it a go.

This rotating head is my first attempt. The layers have a degree of transparency, so that I can see my previous drawing, as a fainter, bluer image, as I start on the next frame.

Onion Skinning

It’s like the traditional animator’s light-box, what’s sometimes referred to as onion skinning: viewing several frames at once.

I drew the animation test (above) using the Clip Studio pencil tool then went over it with the pen tool (right) trying to make a few corrections as I went.

As I’m still not up to speed in Clip Studio Paint, I export an animated GIF from Clip Studio to Adobe Photoshop CS5 for the final adjustments of repeating the eight frames in reverse order to make a continuous loop and cropping the final image.

I still need to work out the best way to add pen and colour layer to each frame, but that’s as far as I’m going with this head: something went wrong with the eyes!

Link

Clip Studio Paint

From Watership Down to Warren Street

My drawing on cell for an overlay for a scene from 'The Trek' sequence of Watership Down.
My drawing, in dip pen, Pelikan Special Brown Indian ink and cell paint on an overlay for a scene from ‘The Trek’ sequence of Watership Down. This version wasn’t used in the film.
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My impressions of the main characters.

Nearly forty years since its release, the film version of Richard Adams’ rabbit saga Watership Down is stirring up a bit of controversy (see below). It brings back memories of when I worked on the film for five or six months starting in the autumn of 1976 when a creative controversy was coming to a head at the Nepenthe Productions studio in Suffolk House, tucked away behind the Tottenham Court Road, near Warren Street tube station.

Producer Martin Rosen was, I guess, aiming to tell the story in a gritty and compelling way, getting as near as he could to the immediacy of a live action drama: a road movie come war film. pipkin

This was probably one of the causes of friction with John Hubley, his director, who was going for a more playful, graphically inventive approach by introducing the folk tales and myths of Adams’ rabbit world as stories within a story. The creation myth at the start of the film is about all that survives of this interpretation.

At my interview, John Hubley looked through my sketchbook and picked out a pen and watercolour sketch of a hawthorn branch: “I’d use this just as it is, with a white background and have the rabbits moving through the drawing.” Continue reading “From Watership Down to Warren Street”