February 26, 2012
I’ve been acquainted with the fellas over at Th3rd World for a few years now; they’re a great bunch of guys who put out some of the best books currently published anywhere. Some months ago, I started reading a web comic they publish called SuperFogeys. I admit that, for various reasons, I generally don’t read many web comics, but I’ve been enjoying this one greatly. The comic’s creator, Brock Heasely, has a bunch of chapters under his belt, and it’s been an inspiring treat to plow through them from the beginning and watch not only his story and characters develop, but also his already impressive skills as a storyteller. Recently, Brock was kind enough to invite me to draw a story for his weekly Origins strip, which tells the backstory of characters in the SuperFogeys universe, and you can see the results of that little endeavor on the SuperFogeys website. However, I though I’d share some process stuff here, because I had a lot of fun creating these pages, and I always enjoy reading that behind-the-scenes sort of thing.
Due to previous commitments and some life-changing stuff, Brock and I agreed that my contribution would have to be a short one. He sent me a script for a two-page story, and after reading the description for a character named Suckface, I pulled out my sketchbook and started drawing. I probably should have read beyond the first paragraph to realize he wasn’t significant to the story, but the dude has a vacuum attachment on a mouth that is really a black hole, so yeah, I stopped reading and started sketching. I sent Brock a few concepts, he dug ‘em, and I set out to draw the story.
A few years back, when I was drawing stories for the hit man anthology series I was a part of, I drew everything separately on individual pieces of paper, and then assembled the pages digitally. It was a decent way to work, but in the end, I had nothing to show for all my efforts and hours at the drawing table (well, except the books themselves). There were no pretty original pages to display (or sell) – all I had was a stack of random drawings on loose sheets of copy paper. Back before the digital era, I used to draw everything on one page, and I wanted to use this project as a means to start doing that again. Ironically, with that goal in mind, I took to my Cintiq to start roughing out my pages.
At this point, I’m just figuring out my panel layout and what goes where, so the drawings aren’t that important. In fact, you can see that in some of the panels, I didn’t even bother drawing anything at all – I just scratched in some words. Luckily, Brock was able to make out what was happening in each panel, and after he gave me a couple of notes (I was drawing the “devil horns” gesture incorrectly, with the thumbs extended, for one), I moved on to pencilling.
As with my roughs, I do most of my pencilling digitally nowadays. I’ll be drawing my final pages traditionally, but at this stage, digital is more practical than paper for me. Knowing that my lines don’t have to be permanent kind of gives me a mental freedom from worrying about mistakes, and with that worry gone, I tend to loosen up, feel out my drawings more, and put down bolder strokes. The downside is that I often end up overworking things that ultimately print out at the size of a fingernail. If there’s a right combination of brush size, resolution, and zoom (or whatever) that’ll allow a handsome guy to clearly see what he’s drawing without zooming in too far, I have yet to find it. At any rate, this is what my final pencils look like. The first page was a bit of a chore, since backgrounds aren’t my strongest suit. If I were to draw it again, I’d probably do some things differently, but overall, I’m pretty happy with it. The second page was a lot of fun, though. It gave me plenty of opportunities to play with the characters and their expressions, which I love to do.
At this point, I print out test pages at letter size to make sure everything reads well when shrunk down for the eventual printed book (I’m shamelessly hoping there will be one), and then I print out each page at tabloid size in very light red (any color will do), on acid-free bristol board. I’ll be drawing my final art right on top of this print out.
I’ve always been a very tight penciller, and there were some areas – particularly those I zoomed in too closely on – that I’d pencilled so tightly that there really wasn’t much point to re-draw them in ink. I decided to just print those areas out in black and save myself some inking (and possibly avoid a few messy screw-ups, since I probably wouldn’t have been able to ink them as neatly). It worked well enough, and this is a “whatever works” game, but I still felt like I was cheating a little. Anyway, with the pencils printed onto the bristol board, I pull out my trusted brush pens and get to inking. This is my favorite part. I savor the anticipation, envision greatness as my pen approaches the page, and then start sweating when my lines don’t do what I want them to.
Once the inking is done, I scan everything in, remove any traces of red using Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation slider, and then punch up the levels to darken the black. From here on out, it’s just a few anxiety-filled hours of obsession over color choices, and some inevitable changes to the line art (like adding some cheesy puffs on the table in the last panel of page 1, and replacing the iPod speakers with the boom-box Gene was already carrying). Eventually, I come to a place where I can finally call it done, and I send the final files off to Brock.
Then I make a few more color tweaks and send him the real final ones.
The finished, colored pages are up on the SuperFogeys site, so head over there and read the story of When Dictator Tot Met Gene. I hope you dig it as much as I enjoyed drawing it, and a huge thank you to Brock for letting me play in his universe for a bit!