How (and Why) I Script My Comics Like I Do

One of the backers of The Legend of Jamie Roberts, Chapter 1 had asked to see some scripts for the comic as part of the PDF reward. This question made me realize that my scripting process is not like how I’ve seen other comics makers work on their scripts.

Why?

Well, most comic makers I know only WRITE the script. Usually in a movie-script-like format, in which it goes like this:

Panel 3:

Billy stares at Marc Macaw in disbelief. Marc Macaw realizes his gaff and smiles a bit sheepish.

BILLY: …I’M A DINOSAUR.

MARC: Right. Sorry. Stupid question. Let’s do a practice run, shall we?

Truth be told, this format is how I write my rough draft of my comic scripts.

The only comic I’ve made that this didn’t apply to was Johnson & Sir. That one, I wrote out the story page by page. It’s not a method I would recommend to anyone unless you’re writing gag comics.

My other comics, from Thoughtful Dinosaur to The Case of the Wendigo to The Legend of Jamie Roberts, have been scripted in this pattern:

  1. Rough Draft: type it up in my version of a comic script format.
  2. Second Draft: Read the rough draft and thumbnail the pages. I make adjustments as I go.

Sometimes the second draft is a re-typing of the rough draft. If that’s the case (like with The Case of the Wendigo), the thumbnailing stages will actually be my Third or even Fourth draft.

What are thumbnails?

This is a term I stole from animation – it means to VERY roughly sketch out how a page looks. I’m talking stick figures and bubbles. Thumbnails are in a sketchbook and are meant to just show how the page would look in a rough layout.

I find thumbnailing the pages to be helpful, even if I wait several months between the rough draft and the thumbnail draft (or, Thumb Draft, if you will).

When I work on the Thumb draft, I can sketch out how the page looks according to the script. And if I don’t like how many words a character says, or I don’t like how certain scenes pan out, I can draw a different result.

As a visual person, it helps me to SEE how a scene pans out, rather than just read about it.

So if you’re having an issue in your comic script, try drawing it out in rough stick fugure-ish form. It may help you visualize the scene easier.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

How I Made the RathaCon Limited Edition Print Art

This post does contain affiliate links. Bear with me.

So this started, initially, as a multi-part blog post series.

Then it got complicated.

Specifically, the art got complicated, and I wasn’t able to make a new blog post each week to detail the process of making this thing.

Let’s go into the details, though, so I can show you WHY this art took so long. And also how I make big illustrations like this one.

STEP 1: THUMBNAILS

Thumbnails are what I like to call the really rough sketches of an idea. It’s something I borrowed from animation film language.

I already wrote a post about this step, which you can read here.

STEP 2: PENCILS

I wrote about why I choose this design, as well as the details of it, in the second part of the blog series. Now I’m going to get into the how.

It took a little while for the email chain with the convention staff to start (another reason that the weekly blog post idea had to get pushed). But once it got going, I was able to get feedback and get to work.

Pencils – or, the sketched the version of a thing – is something I do with just one pencil in one go.

When I first started in comics, I USED to do the undersketch with one pencil (usually a 2H), then the top layer in a darker tone (like B).

Now, I do all of my pencilling with just one pencil. Usually a mechanical one. I believe the RathaCon art was drawn with my Tombow monograph mechanical pencil, but right now I am in LOVE with the Zebra DelGuard mechanical pencil.

STEP 3: INKS

This step takes a deceptively long time.

It takes a long time for me because I try to control the line weight as much as possible: making some areas dark with a bolder line, but light with a lighter line.

Inking is also the stage where I have to squint at my pencil drawing and determine what lines will look the best when inked.

Because pencils are when I get real loose. Inks are where things get tight and snappy.

STEP 4: COLORS

Depending on the piece, I’ll make it either traditional-only (usually with Copic markers). Or I make it a combination of traditional and digital. Or I have all the colors be digital.

For the RathaCon print art, I opted to combine the traditional and digital modes. So I colored with my Copics first, then scanned the art, to start the next step…

STEP 6: DIGITAL EDITS

At this stage I go back over the art in Clip Studio Paint and erase any stray marks, fix any color bleeds, and generally just clean the piece up.

I also like to adjust how much the colors pop at this stage. So I play with the levels a little.

STEP 7: DIGITAL COLORS

With the RathaCon art, the only digital color I needed to add was the background tint.

In almost any other piece, I’ll add a layer over the art in Clip Studio Paint in order to add shadows. These make the art pop even more.

STEP 8: FORMATTING

I originally made the art for this print at 11 x 17 inches.

About a week ago, the RathaCon staff asked if I could make the piece an 8.5 x 11 inch one instead.

Pro tip: it’s WAY EASIER to shrink an illustration than to enlarge it.

It took a little wiggling to keep the scale of the piece consistent and not accidentally cut off bits of it. But a new scale was figured out.

And there you have it!

As I mentioned, this art will be available as a limited edition 8.5 x 11 inch print at RathaCon, for $10 a piece.

So if you’re in Athens, OH on April 27, I hope you get it! This is a limited print run, so once it’s gone – it’s gone.

I’ll have these beauties for sale at my table, and they’ll also be available at the RathaCon official table.

Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

This Shading Hack Saved Me A Lot of Headaches

Here’s part of page 9 of my webcomic The Legend of Jamie Roberts.

Ever since I switched from PhotoShop to Clip Studio Paint, I have LOVED how much easier Clip Studio Paint is to use.

That said, on occasion it can be a bit of a headache. One specific way it can bother me is when I’m adding shading to a comic page.

See, I cheat a lot – I’ll trace a shape over where I want my shadows to be, and then I use my Bucket tool to fill in the blanks. When I do this I often have the bucket tool set to “Refer to other layers.”

Why? Because my line work is on a separate layer from my shades. I don’t do all of my art on the same layer, you fiend.

That said, sometimes CSP will have a brain-fart, especially if the shade color is very close to a color I’m painting over. So instead of only filling in where I want, sometimes CSP will be like, “color THE WHOLE THING? OK!”

But I figured out a way around this. And it’s made producing comics WAY easier.

The secret?

Well, I need to show how I do a comic page first.

I have the following layers to work with: the base drawing. The Edits (where I clean up lines and smudges). Colors. Shades. Letters.

The secret is: I turn the Color Layer off.

It’s super easy: just click the little eyeball on that layer and boom – it turns off.

This has made shading A LOT easier. My Bucket tool no longer tries to fill in a space that’s the same/similar color to the shade color.

Also – it has made looking at what I’m shading WAY easier.

I tend to include a lot of dark colors in my pages. That makes shading a thing pretty tricky to the naked eye. So turning the Color layer off has made it far easier to judge how far shadows need to go.

Another plus is if I wanted to make a black and white version of a color comic, this cheat makes it easy.

I hope this helps you in your creative process.

Thanks for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

My Personal Dos and Don’ts of Selling At Shows

(CONTENT WARNING: There’s swearing. Because I get really passionate about this shit.)

I am not an expert. I have sales experience under my belt, from doing caricatures at Cedar Point for 3 years, and doing comic conventions for the last 5 (really kicking into gear in the last 2). But if there’s a World Sales Martial Arts Tournament out there, I’ve never participated in it, much less gotten a black belt or 1 million Zenny. With that said, don’t take too much salt with what I’m about to say, especially since what I’m going to suggest flies in the face of what a lot of “experts” will say.

Here’s what works for me when I sell my comics, prints and other sundry at conventions:

1. Opening with “How’s It Going?”

Tyler James, I know you don’t claim to be an expert but I’m going to call you out for a second because I remember one episode of ComixLaunch that pissed me off. Here’s why:

The advice in one of these podcast episodes was NOT to open with “Hey how’s it going,” but to open with “Do you like to read comics?”

At a comic convention this is about the same thing as asking if water is wet.

Not to mention that I tried this “Do you like comics” exactly once, and the guy looked me in the eye and said, “No thanks.”

I am brutal when it comes to sales tactics. If it fails even once, I will never use it again. So guess what opener I never used?

I’ve mostly trained myself into this new habit instead – when I ask, “How’s it going?” and someone answers something like, “Good, you?” I can follow that up with, “Well, I’m just selling my stuff today.” THAT is what gets people to stop 99% of the time.

Every once in a while, someone will answer with a “Good,” and nothing else. That’s fine. Conventions are big enough to allow passers-by and it won’t hurt you. Some people will want to tell you their life story. That’s fine, too: let them stick around because seeing someone at a table will entice other customers to come over. Also, you never know when that someone telling you their life story is going to give you an idea you can put into your comics. Just make sure the person is not a Time Bandit (more on this in a minute).

2. Ask the Customer About Themselves.

Now, the ONE episode of ComixLaunch I actually liked was one that Tyler didn’t host himself – it was hosted by Josh Dahl. Here’s a link to the episode. I internalized ALL these things just before Awesome Con and it resulted in my biggest sales jump yet. Plus, I got to try a technique I hadn’t used in years, and it re-inspired me to use it again.

The technique? Get the customer to talk about themselves.

You are there to meet new people. Show some goddamn interest in other people.

Don’t just talk about yourself and your work – ask the other person about what their T-shirt is referencing. Ask them if it’s their first time at the convention you’re at. Ask what they’re most excited to see at the convention. Ask, ask, ask.

Get to know the other person you are talking to. Even if they don’t buy from you, they will remember how outgoing you are.

Also, tying into this, throw out compliments. Throw ALL THE COMPLIMENTS. Even if the person is just walking by your table, throw a compliment at them.

Keep it genuine. My personal favorite thing is to compliment a cosplay, especially if it’s something I recognize.

3. DO NOT TALK POLITICS, DAMMIT.

I think it’s because I have rainbows on some of my art pieces, but there are (once in a blue moon, at least) people – usually dudes – who will approach and ask something charged.

There was one particular show at a local comic shop I remember. There was a dude who came up to me and it started when he asked to friend me on Facebook. I said, “No, I like to keep my Facebook friends separate from my art page, especially because my personal page can get political sometimes.”

Well, one thing led to another and eventually this dude spent literally 10 minutes trying to get me to engage in a conversation about how “naturally weak” women are because of some statistics about women tennis players vs. men tennis players using numbers that I’m 110% sure he pulled out of his ass.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me – back in my caricature days, I remember one teenage girl looked me dead in the eyes and asked me, “Do you believe in hell?”

So here’s a pro-tip from someone who gets asked these sorts of questions a lot: if someone asks you a question that YOU KNOW will lead to a heated discussion, say this:

“I’m on the clock right now, so I can’t really talk about that. If you want to talk with me outside of work, here’s my business card.”

And the best thing is, by doing this you guarantee that the person will not actually contact you outside of the show with those questions. Because they ask you those questions to get you riled up in the moment.

Brush them off. You are not there for them. You are there to find Your People. If they ask you politically charged questions and you know it’s to rile you up, they are not Your People. Move them away ASAP.

4. Play Whose Line Is It Anyway: Con Style

Maybe it’s because I’m really good at improvising, but my favorite thing about going to conventions and talking with people is going off-script.

See, there’s usually a script in mind when I pitch my comics and work to folks. But if given the chance, I would rather improvise and go off-script. This will make you appear more approachable. Yes, having a script is nice (after all, people expect you to know what it is you’re selling). However, I would rather activate my senses and gauge whether the person I’m talking to is even interested or not.

You can usually tell when someone is just looking and they don’t intend to buy from you – they don’t make eye contact, they scan but don’t touch, and their responses to your questions are short. Let them look. If someone else is nearby, talk to them.

Improv is about energy. You want to keep your energy up and engage with the “Yes, and.”

(For those who don’t know, “Yes, and” refers to the idea that when you build a joke, you keep “no” out of your vocabulary. If someone asks “Isn’t the sky kinda purple today?” You answer with “yes, and” to build the energy in the scene.)

Saying “no,” even non-verbally, cuts the energy off. You want to engage with people, not walls.

5. Beware the Time Bandits.

Grace bless teenage boys, because they don’t entirely know when to stop talking about what it is they’re obsessed over. Teenage boys are not the only culprits of being Time Bandits, but in my experience, Time Bandits tend to be that demographic.

Time Bandits are people who will demand your attention for as long as humanly possible. There was one case at a local show in which a Time Bandit stayed at my table for TWENTY SOLID MINUTES babbling about Invader Zim.

(FYI, I did not like Invader Zim before the Time Bandit, and I sure as shit do not like Invader Zim now.)

Time Bandits are life-draining to your table. They will scare away any potential customer because the Time Bandit will do their damndest to keep your attention on them AND ONLY THEM.

Other customers will want to talk to you, but the Time Bandit will demand your acknowledgment so often that you cannot peel away to talk to the other person who came up to you. Or if you try to peel away, they’ll give off this vibe that they’ve been rejected, and they’ll sulk.

My advice – have a table buddy as often as humanly possible. Your table buddy can help you divert the attention of the Time Bandit, or talk to the other person who has approached you who wants to engage with you.

If you are at your table by yourself, encourage the Time Bandit to visit other tables. This DOES require that you know who else is at the show and what stuff they have. You don’t have to have extensive knowledge – just enough to know if there’s something out on the floor that would more closely pertain to the Time Bandit’s interest. Direct them that way as soon as you fucking can.

Because the worst thing is – Time Bandits don’t buy from you. I think they operate under the assumption that “oh, I can’t buy something from this person. Maybe if we talk about something we like for a few minutes, that would make this person feel like my time here was worth something.”

To any potential Time Bandits who may be reading this – I appreciate the gesture, but it’s not necessary. I go to conventions to talk to as many people as possible because I want to add to their experience. By trying to keep my attention on you, you are depriving me from making someone else’s convention experience awesome. It’s selfish and you need to stop.

6. Be Fucking Excited

Don’t just be excited. Be fucking excited. Show your nerd love emblazoned across your forehead.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking only about your numbers (i.e. “ok, if I make $XX that’ll make back the table. Selling X number of X books will make back the cost of hotel. Let’s see how many of these I can sell before the end of the day”).

Take this bit of advice from someone with anxiety – this is anxious behavior. STOP.

Deep breath in. Be in the present moment.

Because holy shit, you’re at a convention! There’s costumes and comics and manga and so many fucking nerds with the same interests as you! Revel in that.

Take in the excitement and the joy. Be genuinely excited about things at the show, and have fun. Trust me – that enthusiasm will bleed into how you approach your future fans.

I hope this helps.

Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.