How I Make Validation

Last time I spoke about How I Make Johnson & Sir. Today I want to show how I make a comic strip for Validation, the other webcomic I work on, because the process is a little different.

If you ever get lost in the technical bits (especially in the Photoshop section), I explain some of those steps in How I Make Johnson & Sir so hopefully the techno-lingo won’t be so confusing.

Today, I’ll show how I made strip #105.

Step 1: Get the Script

I don’t (really) write Validation. Christian does (though we often talk story ideas over). I wait for her to send the script over to me first, and then…

Step 2: Layouts

Sometimes I skip this step, depending on how simple or complex the strips are in the script. Since I work in three panels, it’s important to know where characters will be placed and where speech balloons will go, to make the strip as readable as possible. That way it won’t be so cluttered.

I did not do layouts for strip #105 because it was scripted in a pretty straightforward way, and I had an idea for how I wanted the strip to look.

However, I’ll show the layouts I did for #103, which had some weird camera angles.

validation comic layouts
click to enlarge

Step 3: Ready the Paper

I tend to do this step ahead of time. Thankfully I can get two strips from a single sheet of 9 inch by 12 inch Strathmore Bristol Vellum, which is my paper of choice for Validation. I trim the paper (to make it easier to fit on my scanner) and I’m good to go.

Step 4: Pencil the Strip

validation webcomic strip pencilled art
click to enlarge

Pretty straightforward. Although, if you notice two extra characters, one looks like me and one looks like my boyfriend. Fun fact!

When that’s done, I send the pencils to Christian (via DropBox) for approval. This is where any changes that need made can be done, though 99.9% of the time she gives the ok.

Step 5: Ink

validation webcomic comic strip inked artwork
click to enlarge

Once I get the ok, I ink!

To add a little depth, especially in panel 2, I made the foreground figures in thicker lines to make them pop more. I used a micron pen with a 1.0 width. The background figure in Panel 3 was drawn mostly with 0.5 and 0.3 width pens, with finer details in a 0.1 width micron pen.

Step 6: Color with Markers

My markers of choice are (from most preferred to least)…

  1. Copic markers
  2. Prismacolor markers
  3. Sharpies

I used to do the entire comic in marker, but now I only do half. Sometimes it’s because a marker died, the markers will not blend well for the background, or I need a color I don’t have a marker for. So I just color what I can.

Step 7: Scan and Tweak in Photoshop

validation webcomic comic strip color artwork in photoshop
click to enlarge

Once marker coloring is done, I scan the strip in at 300 dpi (dots per inch) and open it in Photoshop. The first thing I do is adjust the brightness and contrast (shown in the above picture). That way the strip isn’t so dim. Then I adjust the curves.

validation webcomic comic strip color artwork on photoshop
click to enlarge

Doing this will let the colors really pop.

Once those adjustments are done, I make a new layer in Photoshop and call it “EDITS”. This is the layer where I correct color errors I made with the markers, fix any wonky lines, and clean up smudges and spots.

Step 8: Color the Background

Then I make another new layer on top of that and call it “BACKGROUND”, because here’s where I add background color.

validation webcomic comic strip artwork in photoshop coloring the background
click to enlarge

If you notice, I adjusted the blending options for this layer. For “EDITS” I left those settings alone, but with “BACKGROUND” I set it to Color Mode: “Multiply” at a Fill Opacity of 100%.

The reason I do this is because Multiply mode actually keeps the lines clean while still coloring. It works like this:

Screenshot 2014-05-30 13.58.57

Rather than it looking flat and gross like this:

Screenshot 2014-05-30 13.59.08

Then I just color in the background colors as needed.

validation webcomic comic strip art work in photoshop coloring the background
click to enlarge

Step 9: Color the Rest.

Once backgrounds are done, I make yet another layer on top and call that “FLATS.” I also set this layer to Color Mode: Multiply and Fill Opacity at 100%. This is where I color in the things my markers missed, like Jim’s coat and the game table.

validation webcomic comic strip artwork being colored in photoshop.
click to enlarge

…Sometimes I have another file open to reference for color.

Step 10: Color the Shadows

This step is one I talked about a little bit in my previous tutorial, but here you’ll really see it in action.

I make a new layer on top, call it “SHADES,” and then set to Color Mode: Multiply and – here’s the surprise – Fill Opacity at 35%.

Notice it’s not at 100%? That’s because I don’t want the shadows to be overpowering. I also want the color of the shadows to blend, instead of getting any weird effects that would happen if I changed the paint brush opacity (yes, you can do that).

Once I do that, I color the shadows in, and it looks like this.

validation webcomic comic strip art being colored in photoshop
click to enlarge

I did something a bit unusual in Panel 2: I put the two figures closest to the reader in shadow. I did this to frame the picture and keep the focus on Ally and Kyle.

So now the colors are done! I save the file, and then flatten the image so all the layers merge. Then I make another new layer and save the file for lettering.

Step 11: Write the dialogue

For this step, I have the open file of the script handy so I can refer to it.

Then I write the dialogue and captions.

validation webcomic comic strip lettering done in photoshop
click to enlarge

I try to arrange them in such a way that they won’t block too much of the art, and to ensure it can be read easily.

Then, once everything is written and checked for spelling, I get to the bottom layer, make a new layer, and start placing the balloons and boxes with the rectangle tool.

validation webcomic comic strip speech balloons and dialogue added to the final art
click to enlarge

I use the rounded rectangle for dialogue and the plain rectangle for narration.

To make the tail for that balloon, I got to the bottom layer again, made a new layer, and painted it in.

Once all of that is done, I merge the layers to flatten it out, and then…

Step 12: Save the File!

I save it first at its current size and call the file “Validation105_large.”

Then I adjust the image size.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

The large file is at 300 dpi, which is the right size for print, but it isn’t too web-friendly. So to make it nice and tidy for the website, I shrink it from 300 dpi to 100 dpi. And I save that file as “Validation105_small.”

I send the finished strips to Christian via DropBox, and shazam! I’m done!

I hope you enjoyed looking at my process, and I hope you found something useful from it!

I’ll see you again on Wednesday.

I Found a New Favorite Toy – I Mean Tool

Click for larger image.

Something tells me that I’m going to be making an entire comic (or two) with this most marvelous of tools: the brush pen.

A Sakura Pigma archival ink brush pen, to be more precise.

Now if only they work with Prismacolor markers…


Click for larger image.
Click for larger image.


I think I’ll be using this type of pen to draw Charlie & Clow AND The Legend of Jamie Roberts.

I love the free flow of the brush pen, and it’s much more controlled than a paint brush, plus it keeps a better ink flow.

That’s my least favorite thing about working with paint brush and India ink: the ink sputters and turns grey JUST as you start to get into a groove.

I don’t want to interrupt my groove! I want to draw!

Thankfully the brush pen doesn’t do that because 1. it has its own ink well built in, and 2. it’s way more confident than the wimpy paint brush. The brush pen could totally beat up the paint brush and steal its cookies.

With all of that said, I’ll definitely be redrawing what few Charlie & Clow pages I have inked.

But uh…

Charlie & Clow, page 1, still in progress. Click to enlarge
Charlie & Clow, page 1, still in progress. Click to enlarge.

…Oh boy that’ll be a pain to redo.

I love you, city-scapes, but you are a right pain to draw, much less re-draw.

Right now you might be thinking, “No! You don’t have to do it over again! Save yourself the effort!”

I’m going to anyway. I HATE how the cross-hatching turned out on this page. It’s messy, it ruins the skin complexions I’m trying to illustrate, and it’s way too time-consuming. (And in comics, you need every minute you can scrounge up).

I’m going to redraw it with brush pen, and grey markers for tones. That, and Charlie needs a slight costume change.

Phoenix Comicon is Here!

Today was the first day of Phoenix Comicon and I had a blast seeing everyone there! (I need to take more pictures).

Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered Validation already!

box of copies of Validation Comicon Special

Also, by popular demand, the T-Rex Sissy Fight is being printed tonight and will be sold the rest of the weekend!

T-Rex Sissy Fight

You’re all awesome. Seriously. Thank you for your support!

My Post-College Life…So Far

It’s hard to believe that two years ago I graduated from college.

It’s harder to believe that I’m working in the industry I got a degree for.

For an art major, that’s what professional sociologists would call “A BIG EFFIN DEAL.”

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I’ll tell you now, though: it wasn’t a cakewalk to get to where I am today. And there are still things I struggle with – including feeling like an imposter who will be caught at any moment by those whom Neil Gaiman called “The Fraud Police.”

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However, I still want to write this post. It’s not just for myself. It’s for all of my friends who have just graduated college this year.

We see a LOT of things online about crippling student loan debt, lack of work, slow starts, and general all around hopelessness that defines us “millenials” (who came up with that word?) as much as annoying criticism and outdated optimism defines baby boomers.

I want to fight against that.

I would argue there’s still a lot to be hopeful for.

I graduated in 2012, and immediately went to my usual summer job of drawing caricatures at an amusement park. For a while I was ok, but thanks to a business slump, bad weather, and workplace drama, I quit my job and moved back home.

Then I jumped around part-time jobs, being a Subway employee, a lottery ticket seller, a cookie baker, a motel housekeeper, and a janitor at a coal plant.

All of these jobs occurred in a one-year span, and I had multiple part-time jobs at once. It was terrible.

I was one of those kids who, in high school, had one job for three years, and in college I had two jobs for four years.

So jumping around from job to job in one year made me feel extremely inadequate – like I wasn’t good enough to work one place for more than four months at a time.

Then, I met Marc.

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We met and started dating in February 2013. In our first week of dating, we had our first significant event as a couple – a car crash.

Afterward we still stayed together, but things were generally crappy. I felt terrible for being underemployed despite how much I tried to build my portfolio and get a job and move out.


I was on Tumblr one day when I saw a post from Christian Beranek, whom I had not met before then. It read something like:

I’m looking for an artist for a new project. It’s a slice of life webcomic – and it’s a paid gig.

And I really really really wanted to send a portfolio, but then this started happening:

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And that’s how I got this job that I’ve been doing for a little over a year now.

Of course there were challenges within that year: conventions, a broken wrist, and eventually moving to Arizona.

There are still times I struggle with making ends meet, and working on comics is not the only job I have had. I still freelance and I still work on other things besides comics.

But, with all of that said, I’m still technically employed in my dream career – making comics.

I am incredibly lucky and incredibly happy to be here.

Despite how difficult it can be sometimes, I do know this –

If I didn’t quit working in caricatures – a well-paying but ultimately awful job – and if I didn’t send my portfolio to Christian in spite of (or because of?) my fears, I would not be here.

It’s been hard. There are still the occasional nights where I wonder if I’m doing the right things – and I’m in my career field!

Then, rather recently actually, I came across a quote that went like this:

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There is no right or wrong choice. There are only choices.

In that way, your future is limitless and open no matter what your circumstances right now.

There are no wrong choices.

Another thing to remember: it took me about a year to get into my career field. Some people get into their field right out of college. Some don’t get into it for another year, two years, ten years, TWENTY years. Some decide to change course altogether and do something else with their life.

None of these paths are right or wrong. They’re just a reflection of the choices those people have made, due to their experience, circumstance, and/or luck.

That’s ok.

You’ll be ok.

I hope this helps you a little bit, recent grads (and maybe not-so-recent grads).

I also made a list a while back for recent college graduates. It’s what I wish people had told me for the first year of life outside of college. I hope you find that helpful, too.

Thanks for reading. You’re awesome.