In my previous post, I divided comics into two camps: film and sitcom, but as I warned using terminology from other media can be deceptive. Environment-driven comics aren’t always going to look “cinematic” or even be visually elaborate, and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat is an excellent example of this. While more visually complex than, say, Peanuts, the strength of Krazy Kat’s environments is not in visual detail but its powerful sense of place.
The characters are almost exclusively viewed at a distance, at full body, as their placement within the surreal version of Coconino County is very important for both the content of each strip and presenting an overall feel for the universe. Coconino County is every bit a character as the others; remove this element and the context of the action is drastically changed. You can look at a single plant or building and almost immediately recognize that it’s a Krazy Kat strip. How many other comics can make this claim?
Jul 26 2014
Above and throughout this post, preliminary artwork for Vattu.
Where do you get your ideas? is the question I have heard more than any other question, and other comic people I’ve talked to about it have gotten it a lot too. After writing the following I sort of realized it is the best I can do at an answer:
So finishing OoT, and gearing up to start drawing Vattu, and trying to solidify several nebulous ideas for another project into something workable, have got me thinking about ideas and how they work.
Between Rice Boy and Order of Tales I think I’ve gotten a sense for the process by which I work from idea to product, wide to tight. The experience of finishing the actual Work (years-long, grueling and usually boring, at the very least) and seeing it line up well with the Idea (easy, fun, and completely untainted by reality) is kind of interesting, and has only really happened for me with Order of Tales I think.
The little idea-seeds that start everything aren’t often very clear or very detailed, and if I try to articulate them to anybody else I realize they’re usually uninteresting outside of my own head. It’s a vague sense of the way that a story or a character or setting should seem: not specific enough to record straight to paper faithfully, but specific enough to know a direction, and to know when you’re off track. I think the major bottleneck for people asking the HowDoYouGetYourIdeas question is this: realizing that anything is fair game, and essentially training yourself to funnel your observation of the world into idea-generation. I do not know if that makes sense but that is what I do most of the time.
There seems to be a sort of purity in the idea-seed, which can be lost as it’s worked over and developed. For example! My ideas for things usually start with some mood or visual aesthetic; much less frequently with a discrete concept. Koark started as a sense of a tall, mysterious person, obsessed with fictions, visually dramatic but with a sense of awkwardness that sort of disarms the self-importance of him. I found myself looking back at that seed throughout my development of the character, and throughout the story. That seed is what got me interested in the character, and what got me interested in making OoT at all, so I guess I figured that there was something essential there, and I made it a point not to get too far off-track.
But getting off-track can be useful, too, can’t it? It’s easy to get stuck on something, or to get too attached to a character or idea or passage of the story. It doesn’t really help to invest these things with too much importance before they’re realized; I think it’s good to remain open to different arrangements for as long as possible in each successive stage of making the thing. Having somebody you can go over stuff with while it’s still embryonic can be helpful— I find myself making a lot of basic assumptions about the structure of a story long before it’s worked out tightly enough to make such assumptions, and it sometimes takes someone else’s input for me to realize I’ve been making them at all. If that makes any sense! I guess this is something that editors are for but I have never had one; I talk about stuff I am working on incessantly with my girlfriend Lela and she is very helpful.
Ok. It’s important to know that pretty much everything starts vague and simple, and when we say that we love the IDEA of a story, it’s more a testament to the skill of the creator in realizing that idea than it is to the quality of the idea itself, I think. I try to err on the side of underestimating the value of ideas, because it’s easier to have them than to realize them, and we shouldn’t get excited about them and burned out before we’ve started the actual work!
I want to write more stuff about comics. Maybe we can consider this Part 1 of a thing. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read.
It starts with a rough outline. For Dark Science I have a basic script and story outline, and I decided how much of that script can/should fit onto a standard page. From there I start working out what I needed to draw.
With this page I started with sketching Nephilopolis. Having written the story ahead of time, I already had a rough idea of what I wanted, but not the details. I started by going back to my first sketch of the island I did months ago (before I’d finished the plot).
A very rough idea at this point. Once I got to this page in the story and actually solidified the notes about the setting, I began fleshing it out:
Here I’m just sketching out possible elements. I wanted to make the head clearly recognizable, and also for the giant’s shapes to contrast clearly with the shapes of the island. At this stage the design was still fairly symmetrical. After I was comfortable with the basic idea, I set the giant at an angle to the island and worked on more details:
Although at this point the design wasn’t “finished,” but it was enough to get started on thumbnailing the comic:
Using a standard hard round brush in Photoshop, I quickly and roughly start working on the basic layout of the page. From the “script” I have directions as to what needs to happen in the scene, but I don’t worry about the specifics of the dialog until later, as it will depend on how the images end up shaping.
Using a textured brush that looks a bit like pencil (there’s no need for this, just a personal preference), I start “pencilling” the page, solidifying the forms and rendering all the details that I don’t want to forget about when I start to color. With the Nephilopolis island I left things rougher, as I know from experience with landscapes that I end up improvising a lot when I start painting. By contrast, Kimiko and the stranger are tightly rendered, as they’ve already been fully designed and introduced in previous pages.
I’ll use a specific section to illustrate the steps I normally take with painting.
Step 1: Colored Lines
Using a round hard brush with pressure sensitivity controlling both opacity and size, I draw out the basic outlines. Even though often these outlines won’t be visible, it’s a good starting point for blocking in colors for the next step and ensuring the edges of the figure are smooth. I only generally use this step for figures, as I tend to give them sharper edges so they’ll pop out a bit.
Step 2: Blocking in Colors
Underneath the lines layer I start filling in the basic colors. I’m not concerned with detailed shadows and lighting just yet, only making sure the general colors are where they need to be. At this point I’m working with four layers: one set of lines & colors that go underneath the black borders (the top half) and one set that go on top of the borders (bottom half).
Step 3: Flatten and Render
From here I flatten the color layers with their respective line layers and, with a round brush set to opacity sensitivity (no size sensitivity), I begin painting. As you can see, some of the lines I’ve left and some I’ve removed; it all depends on what’s needed. Also note that this actually looks slightly different from the “finished” torso in the comic, as I went back a couple times and tweaked some details. No piece of the comic is totally finished until everything is finished.
Rendering the Island
With this page I started with the “known” elements (Kimiko, the stranger and the train car all had set designs and shapes) and worked my way to the “unknown” (the island). I dropped in a basic filler for the sky and started to think about the tonal values.
Setting up Tones
For a very complex image that you haven’t painted before, it’s easy to jump into it with lots of colors, guns blazing, but you run the risk of losing appropriate contrast and overworking key areas. For these situations I prefer to make a grayscale “underpainting,” where I work out the appropriate tones. I don’t allow myself to blend anything or use colors at this point. Once I’m satisfied with the basic lighting, I move on to color selection.
Here I’ve begun testing colors. I decided at this point to remove some of the border lines. I found them to be distracting as I started to have a better view of the composition. I’ve also moved the robot portions to their own layer and hidden it for the time being, letting me focus on color selection and rendering of the rock and island portions.
Rendering the robot portions begins, leaving the details of the top portion sparse for now, as it will be mostly covered by the city portion.
Toying around with the colors of the cityscape. Not concerned with details yet.
Most of the city is rendered at this point. I’m leaving the robot’s arm until later, as I’m not satisfied with how it’s playing against the rest of the picture.
Nearing completion. Fleshed out the clouds and added some contrast. Still toying with the arm.
Finished up the arm, and added the final text bubbles. Done!
“ Think about the marks you want to make on the paper in front of you… the ones that bring you pleasure and satisfaction. You can’t control what other people think or if they’ll give you a job. You can only control your own actions and the work you produce. You have to be a little delusional to pursue a life in the arts, so throw caution to the wind and make pictures that excite you and hopefully the world will agree. ”
Advice/General Writing blogs: