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.

How I Make Johnson & Sir

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

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!

How To Run a Table at Artist Alley

I was at Phoenix Comicon this past weekend. Now that it’s done, I have the focus to talk about how to run a table at Artist Alley.

I’ve had tables at conventions for a little over four years now. With all of that experience, here are some of the basics I learned. Let’s start with before and during the con:

  • Get your table number. Sounds so basic it’s dumb, but it’s super important to know where your table is at the convention. On that note, know where the Artist Alley will be in the building. Find the room number and where the bathrooms and food are located.
  • Bring water. This is especially important because you’ll be talking to a lot of folks. Bring snacks if you can, too (it’ll save you money because con food can get pricey).
  • Bring a buddy. Your buddy will help you sell your work, watch your table while you get food (or even better, get food for you both), and watch over the table while you go to the bathroom. Your buddy can be anybody: a friend, a significant other, your work partner, your mom…
  • Take breaks. You’re either doing a lot of standing or a lot of sitting. Take a second to stretch out even if you can’t leave your table. Be on your feet for a bit if you’re sitting a lot. Extensive periods of sitting is actually very bad for your health.

When you’re at the convention, you should have these things with you for your Artist Alley table:

  • Tape. To hang signs on your table, make minor repairs, or help out another artist who forgot their tape.
  • Cashbox, with $50 in bills. Really you can have over $50 if you can manage it. My point is, you NEED change. Because there will be customers who have $20 or $50 bills and they will be sad if you can’t make change for them. (People want to support you).
  • A Card Reader. You can get one from Paypal or Square. I use Square. Either way, they connect via your smart phone. So bring that with you, as well.
  • A Sketchbook and some art supplies for commissions. There will be people asking if you do commissions. Be prepared.
  • Sharpies for signing your work.
  • A Notebook for tracking sales. I track my sales by day, one day on each page. Tracking sales will tell you what’s working and what isn’t, so you know what to make for next year (or next con).
  • Scissors (optional) just in case it’s hard to cut your tape or something snags. Alternatively you can be Cosplay Medic, helping cosplayers fix their costumes on the spot.

Running sales? This will be tricky for some of you. There are tips everywhere online to help you sell better. Some articles will be linked in a moment.

However, I’ve been in retail sales for four years, not counting the convention circuit. I’ve personally found the following things to be helpful:

  • Don’t be a salesman. At least, don’t be the stereotype of a salesman. You know the stereotype: sleazy, weird, and not too interested in the people they’re talking to unless that person becomes a means to an end. Alternatively,
  • , where the customer is always right and you do everything possible to please them, even if you think they’re a grade-A creeper or a professional douche nozzle. Also, there will be people who say they will buy your work but never come back. Accept this. It will happen.
  • Talk to your customers like they’re people. Because really, your customers are people. They may be excited, bored, lost, or overwhelmed. Try to understand where they are coming from. Ask them if they’re enjoying the con so far. Pay attention to what they say and how they say it. Don’t try to change their attitude. Just meet them halfway and have a conversation. (This is a good way to make friends, too. Friends are awesome).
  • Rotate your pitch. Your pitch is how you explain your work to people. Try to have two or three different spins on your pitch so you don’t repeat yourself (that much) – or worse, annoy your table partner or neighbors.
  • At the end of the day, take some time for yourself. I’m a bit of an introvert. But when I’m selling at a con, I’m in full engagement mode and talk to almost everyone I meet. However, I take some time afterwards to be by myself and calm down so I don’t overstimulate. Do the same for yourself so you don’t drain.

If you need more pointers on selling, 99U made a good article for introverts on self promotion.

The Webcomic Alliance also have a useful post about table set-up (though be warned that it can get pretty heavy on the marketing jargon, like “optimize,” “brand,” and “content”).

Thank you for reading!

If you found this blog post useful, please let me know in comments and share it with your friends!

You. Are. Awesome.

How to Write a Contract, Part 3: Here’s a Sample

In our first two installments, we talked about Talking to Your Partner and Rights. We also outlined a few important elements in a contract.

Today, I’m going to share a sample contract I have used before, so you can see what a contract looks like (or possibly just copy it and tweak it for yourself. I don’t mind).

Keep in mind that the contract is something you and your potential client have talked about, and the terms detailed in it are things you both have discussed and agreed to beforehand.

I’ve left name spaces and prices blank. This contract is for someone sharing their rights with the partner signing the contract, but you can change it to fit the agreement between you and your potential client.

Contract in Regards to the ____________ Project

I, ___________________________________________, herein referred to as “the author,” hereby agree to the following terms regarding the project ______________:

  1. That _______________, hereby referred to as “the artist,” will be paid ____ per image drawn.

  2. That the artist retains all rights to the artwork for the project, and that the author retains all rights to the script, dialogue, and other written word associated with the project.

  3. That the author and artist will split any future royalties of the project 50/50, excepting Rule 4.

  4. Any profits made from artist-rendered prints will be split 75/25, favoring the artist.

  5. Payment transferred from the author to the artist, or vice versa, may be made via Paypal or Bank quick pay. If the payment method is Paypal, a small percentage of increase will occur due to transfer fees. If the payment method is Bank quick pay, it is fee free and will need email address for set up.

  6. An invoice will be given once weekly on Sunday to the author from the artist for service rendered, royalties owed, and other expenses associated with the project (including postage).

  7. In regards to revisions, the artist agrees to share the artwork in progress to the author and allow the author any number of revisions to the final work, as long as the request for revisions comes before the end of the week, which is Sunday.

  8. If the request for revisions comes after Sunday in regards to the previous week’s images, then the time frame of finalizing the strips will be extended.

  9. When work for each image is finished by the artist, one large digital copy for printing and one small digital copy for digital release will be submitted to the author, along with a copy of the invoice, at the end of the week. Special requests may be made for sending physical copies of the artwork.

  10. If at any time the project is canceled, the author must pay for what images are finished or in progress to finishing for that week of cancellation, and disperse what royalties have been earned within that week. Any royalties made after the cancellation date must be split according to the above agreements between the author and the artist.

  11. The artist will make every effort to ensure that each image is error-free and ready to print when submitted at the end of each week. If any errors still exist, the author, within their best capacity, must make the artist aware so the artist may correct them. Any errors that need correcting after Sunday submission will be edited and resubmitted the next day, Monday, or as soon as possible.

  12. All correspondence and documents provided will be treated as confidential between the author and the artist, unless consensus had been granted for both parties.

The above prices, specifications, and conditions are hereby accepted. It is the responsibility of both the artist and the author to honor the agreements specified above. These agreements are not valid until signed by the author and the artist. After signing, copies must be made for the author and the artist for their records.

Artist’s Signature: _____________________________________


Author’s Signature: _______________________________________

Date: ________________

If you need further resources for making a contract, be sure to read up on the Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market, as they cover this in depth.

I hope this helps! Let me know if it does or if I forgot anything in the comments below.

How to Write a Contract, Part 2: Rights

Here’s Part 1.

Last time we discussed talking to your potential partner and the rough outline of a contract.

Today, we’re going to talk about rights, because this is what most people mess up or don’t notice.

The problem is that when you do a Google search for artists’ rights, you come across a bunch of legal jargon, or articles concerning Rights Acts passed by the President of the United States and whatnot.

I’m going to make this a lot simpler and outline your rights for you, using the 2013 Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market as a reference (which is what I use).

The artist has these bundle of rights with the images they make…

Reproduction Right: You can make copies of the image.

Modification Right: You have the right to take an original work of yours and make derivative works based on it.

Distribution Rights: You can lease, rent, or sell your art. (I’ll talk about leasing and renting in a minute.)

Public Performance Right: This applies to musical and performance arts more than the visual arts. This means that you have the right to perform or otherwise play the work in public.

Public Display Right: You can display your work in a public space.

Now that you know your rights, you now know that you can divide these rights between yourself and other people in many different ways.

In a contract between artists and the person hiring them, these are some of the ways you can divide rights between the two of you…

One-Time Rights: Your client buys and uses your image once and that’s it. Most books and magazines tend to do this. Once they use it, it’s yours again to do what you will.

First Rights: This is like One-Time Rights, but trickier. Basically your client wants to be the FIRST ONE to use your image, and can use it only once (unless you both agree to different terms). Sometimes this is broken down geographically, in the instance of first North American rights (which means the client has the right to be the first to publish the image in North America).

Exclusive Rights: This is often used by people who print products, like greeting cards. Exclusive Rights means one company can buy your image exclusively for that product (say, in this instance, a mug). If they do that, that frees you up to sell the same image to a different company who makes a different product (if they allow you to do this).

(Remember how above I mentioned you can rent or lease artwork? The instances of One-Time, First, and Exclusive Rights is where you do that.)

Promotional Rights: This means that, say, if a magazine buys your image and uses it as the cover of the magazine, they can also print the image in promotional fliers. This just means that the client can use your image for promotional purposes as well as its original purpose.

Electronic Rights: This lets your client put your image on a website. They’ll ask separately for print rights, if they are interested.

Work for hire: Someone hires you (usually for a movie in the case of these rights), you make a piece within the time you are hired, and you surrender all rights to the image and cannot use it again. If you do this, make sure the money is worth it.

All rights: You relinquish all copyright to an artwork. This can be done in any kind of project, not just movies. Before you agree to this, make sure you can live with it and that the fee is worth it.

When a client buys your image, they can purchase any combination of rights. Some clients may buy Exclusive and Electronic Rights. Some clients may buy One-Time and Promotional Rights. Some can just buy All Rights (make sure that if you do this, you’re alright with this! Selling All Rights is not something to back out on easily).

HOT TIP: If your client writes up a contract for you and you want to double check it or it’s way too confusing, get in touch with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. They can help you figure it out.

Also, let’s mention when it’s the best time to use “Copyright” or the c symbol on your art.

You can use it pretty much anytime in your art if you so choose. However, you cannot add it if you sell the rights as Work for Hire or All Rights. This is because your client now has the rights to that image, and THEY can use the Copyright or c symbol for themselves.

I hope this helps you understand a few things when you write up your own contracts.

In the last installment of this series, I’ll have an example contract up so you can see these principles in action.

And in a stunning turn of events, I’ll post the last installment on Wednesday!

I’ll see you then.