Tag Archives: making comics

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What Inspired Charlie & Clow?

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charlie and clow the case of the wendigo panel

Charlie & Clow, Charlie & Clow: The Bonus Arc, and The Case of the Wendigo all sprang from one initial idea I had when I was in college.

I want to say it was around 2009 or 2010 when I thought of the original story – in the original, Charlie wasn’t the main character. The story, instead, focused on a red-haired character named Margot.

Margot (pronounced “MAR-go”) was a lead singer in a punk band dating Charlie, who in this story was the lead guitarist. Charlie’s brother, Jared (who in this version was much beefier) was the drummer. All three made an appearance in my first minicomic, Breakfast for Dinner, which is now out of print (and will stay that way).

This version of the story, with Margot in the lead, had two drafts. In draft 1, Charlie was kidnapped by a demon and Margot had to team up with Jared and a guardian angel named Clow to go into the spirit world and rescue her. Draft 2 had the band narrowed down to Charlie and Margot, and both died in a car accident on their way to a gig, and Clow helps them navigate the spirit world.

I finished chapter 1 of both versions and dropped them. Because I didn’t like the directions they were going, which was that they had NO direction. There was no set end goal.

Plus, every time I went to make tweaks, I found myself drawn more towards Charlie than Margot. I wanted to know what Charlie was up to, and in my imagination, she was way more engaging and talkative than Margot ever was. Margot was secretive – Charlie was open and engaging. So I made her the lead.

Margot’s design stuck around, though – she was the inspiration for Claudia’s final design.

charlie and clow the case of the wendigo claudia

The two are very different in personality though. Margot was abrasive, crass, violent – very stereotypical punk. Claudia is more Gothic Lolita in look, but very mature and calm in demeanor.

Jared, Charlie’s brother, makes an appearance in Charlie & Clow: The Bonus Arc, but as an extra – and this time he’s a rock climbing instructor instead of a drummer.

charlie and clow the bonus arc comic strip jared

The drummer aspect was put into Rob, the drummer of Roxie’s band in the Validation bonus comics.

validation roxie bonus comics

So once I did the main character shift, I thumbnailed the first draft of Charlie & Clow…and I LOVED it! I had WAY more fun writing and drawing for it. Charlie was just the main character I was looking for, and the world she occupied was more interesting for me to explore.

charlie and clow comic page 12Of course, a more interesting world couldn’t be contained in only 24 pages. That’s why I made Charlie & Clow: The Bonus Arc, and now I’m making The Case of the Wendigo.

charlie and clow the case of the wendigo comic page 23I actually tried pitching the trilogy under one name to Oni Press, but got rejected – I think that was around the time that the company picked up comics like The Mighty Zodiac and Merry Men, though, so I can’t complain.

Besides, it was a learning experience, and helped me realize that the original pitch was pulling the story too long – the pitch had at least two chapters after The Case of the Wendigo, but I realized they were unnecessary. And by unnecessary, I mean that the characters (Charlie, Clow, and the rest) would have finished character arcs at the end of The Case of the Wendigo. So sequels after that were not needed.

In terms of the visual inspiration, I always wanted to make a comic about punks and goths. I love the fashion choices of both subcultures and always wanted to draw them. I also wanted to pull from my brief experiences in Chicago, but also use set locations from Wheeling, WV – in particular, the Bridge of Suicide Hill (which I talked about before).

The plot really came about after noticing something about urban fantasy as a genre – from Supernatural to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the absurdly popular books on the shelves like Twilight, The Dresden Files, and others like them, I noticed one thing…

The characters in too many urban fantasy stories are white. There are so few black girls in them on the mainstream shelves.

THAT was a major starting point for the new draft – again, in my imagination, Charlie was much more open than Margot, and that was a huge plus, as well. I knew that if I wanted to make an urban fantasy story with a black girl lead, that lead was going to be Charlie.

The reason I’ve stuck with this story so long is because of Charlie – I love her as a character. I was inspired to make her because I knew two awesome ladies in college, who were the inspiration for her personality and skill sets. Charlie & Clow, the print book, is actually dedicated to both ladies: Natasha Burton and Tifah Lockhart. If either of you are reading this, thank you. You’re incredible!

I hope this shed some light into what inspires a story to come about – it can be very messy, and long, and lead to dead ends, but it’s all part of the journey. And I’m glad I took that journey, because it lead me to a badass main character and a story I MASSIVELY love to draw.

Thank you for reading.

You. Are. Awesome.

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How I Make Johnson & Sir

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I was asked recently by a fan to showcase how I make comics. I’ve been meaning to do a post showing my work process for a while now, so today’s as good of a day as any!

Today I’m going to show how I make a page of Johnson & Sir.

In particular, I’ll show you how I made page 42. This page is a little different from how I make my pages now, but more on that in a minute.

Let’s begin!

Step 1: Script the Page

script for page 42
Click for larger image.

I do all of my scripting for this comic in a Strathmore sketchbook about 5.5″ x 8.5″. Since I’m the only writer for this project, I can script this comic however I like.

Most of the time, my script for a comic page looks like the one above. It’s just a rough idea of what I want the page to look like. This lets me figure out what’s said, where the figures are, and where the speech balloons need to be.

Sometimes my scripts don’t look like this. Sometimes they’re written like a movie script, or sometimes I’ll only have the dialogue written. My sketchbook is a mess to the outside eye.

So I script the page, and then I move to…

Step 2: Pencils

pencilled page of Johnson & Sir
Click to enlarge.

For this step, I take to the drafting table.

I use Strathmore Mixed Media paper with a vellum surface. Sometimes if I run out of paper I’ll dip into my stash of Strathmore Bristol Vellum (which I used for Validation). Either paper works fine, because they’re a smooth surface perfect for my rough pencils, for inking, and for heavy erasing.

If you look closely, you’ll notice the edges of the paper have guidelines drawn in. These guidelines help me keep the comic within the live area (which is the center of the page). It also tells me where I can draw bleeds, so if I want to draw something that extends outside of the borders, the guidelines tell me where the comic printer will cut the page off.

I cheated with the guidelines. I have a separate sheet of Bristol paper with the guidelines already inked in. Then what I do is I take the comic page, place it on top of the guideline sheet, and trace the lines. This saves me from doing a lot of calculations.

When I pencil a page, I tend to not use a ruler for the borders. I will, however, use a ruler for perspective, especially for that first panel. I like my drawings to be loose and organic for the most part. Gestures are important to me when I draw.

Once pencils are done, I go on to…

Step 3: Inking

inked page of Johnson & Sir 42
Click to enlarge.

I start with the panel edges and make dots where the live area ends (that’ll be explained later).

Because I’m right handed, I ink from left to right so my hand won’t smear the ink too much.

I also ink in some solid black shadows where I feel it’s appropriate. Like, along the collars of their shirts and coats, or the inside of their shirt cuffs. It helps keep the piece from being so flat.

After that I let the ink dry (usually for an hour), and then I erase the pencil marks.

Then there’s…

Step 4: Scan it in.

My scanner is old and prone to gathering dust on the scanner bed. No matter how much I clean it, there’s always some chink in it.

But that’s ok. I can fix that in a minute.

I scan the page in at 300 dpi (dots per inch). This is the standard size for book printing. Not only that, but that 300 dpi the work is much easier to do in Photoshop.

Speaking of which, right after the page is scanned in and placed in the proper folder on my external hard drive, I open it in Photoshop.

I use Photoshop CS2 for my digital work.

screencap of page in Photoshop.
Click to enlarge.

For those who don’t know how Photoshop layers work, I like to imagine them as layers of tracing paper stacked on top of the image. The original image is the bottom layer, usually listed as “BACKGROUND.”

Step 5: Make Edits to the Art.

What I do next is get another layer on top and name it “EDITS”. You can name layers by putting your mouse over the layer, right clicking it, and then clicking on “LAYER PROPERTIES”. A window will pop up that lets you name the layer.

I name my layers because not doing that gets messy and hard to keep track.

Anyway, in the EDITS layer, I paint over and correct any mistakes I spot. Mistakes will range from correcting over-extended lines to eliminating any spots my dirty scanner bed made on the page. This is also the layer I use when I copy and paste any recurring figures. (See the Johnson & Sir Christmas page for an example.)

Once EDITS are done, I move on to…

Step 6: The Background Colors

I make another layer on top and call it “BACKGROUNDS.” This will have my background colors.

This layer is different from EDITS because of one thing. While EDITS is in Normal Mode, BACKGROUNDS is set to Multiply Mode.

Screenshot 2014-05-30 14.10
As shown in this diagram. Click to enlarge.

You change modes by putting your mouse over the desired layer, right click it, then select “BLENDING OPTIONS.” The above window should appear.

Set Blend mode to Multiply, and keep the fill opacity at 100%. The fill opacity keeps the colors vibrant, which is what I want. Putting this to Multiply Mode makes it so I can paint and the paint won’t color over the original lines.

Once that’s done, I color the background!

click to enlarge
Click to enlarge.

I use the paint brush or paint bucket tools mostly. Sometimes I use the lasso tool to trace a particular area, then I use the paint bucket tool to fill in with my desired color.

Then on to…

Step 7: Color the Figures!

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

I make another layer on top and call it “FLATS.” I set the color mode to MULTIPLY with fill opacity at 100%.

Then I color in the rest of the comic on this layer. Usually it’s just the people in this layer, but that’s ok.

Recently I started including another step after this one. Which I’ll call…

Surprise Step! Shadows.

I’ll make another layer on top and call it “SHADES.” Then, I set color mode to MULTIPLY, but here’s the new part!

I set the fill opacity to 35%.

The reason? There are a few.

  1. 35% sets the color so it’s somewhat see-through (opaque), which is perfect for the shadow effect I need without it being overpowering.
  2. This layer set up lets me color solidly and not worry about weird layering effects of paint.
  3. The shadows are easier to modify this way.

Once the layer particulars are set up, I then color in the shadows.

And then…

Step 8: Lettering.

This is crucial.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

I say it’s crucial because it’s often a step other artists can ignore. But it’s important to know how to set up your speech balloons and sound effects so it’s easy for the reader to read along.

That’s often why I pencil in speech balloons during the scripting phase – that way I can plan the art so the speech balloons can be easily readable.

Anyway, in this step I write out the dialogue in separate layers. Photoshop as a program automatically separates the dialogue in the speech balloons into separate layers. I want to keep them separate so that if I have to move dialogue around, it’s easier.

The font I use for Johnson & Sir (as well as Validation) is called “Distinctly Dan,” and I got it from FontPanda.com.

Once the dialogue is written, I get down to the bottom layer, make a new layer, and then use the rectangle tool. I choose the rounded-edged rectangles, set the edge to 150 pt, and make the balloons.

Once balloons are done, I go back down to the bottom layer, make a new layer, and draw the tails in.

Since this page uses onomatopoeia, I use different fonts, depending on the effect I’m looking for. Thankfully, Photoshop lets me rotate the dialogue to whatever angle I want it to sit, so yay!

At last, I get to…

The Final Step: Flatten and Post Online!

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

I flatten the layers in Photoshop, and do two things.

Thing 1: I leave the image be and save it for print format. Then,

Thing 2: I crop the image to the live area (remember the dots from Step 3: Inking? Those come in handy right now), then shrink the page to 100 dpi so it’s web-friendly, and post it online.

And that’s it!

Next time, I’ll show how I do a strip in Validation. The process is different in a few ways from making Johnson & Sir, so I can’t wait to show you!

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My Post-College Life…So Far

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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.

UNTIL…

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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BUT THEN…

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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.