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Articles About How To And Behind The Scenes Related To Making Comics

Solid Geometry

I started drawing comic art when I was 11 or 12 years old. Like many young people, my first drawing experiences were based on looking at and learning to draw the comics I saw in the newspapers or in comic books. I would look at the comic characters and try to reproduce them on paper. My earliest drawings were characters like Yogi Bear and the cavemen from the comicstrip B.C. It was lots of fun, but in hindsight, because I was only looking at finished art, and very flat two dimensional styles of art, I started out thinking that comic drawing was all about lines on paper.

A clip from a BugPudding comic strip
A clip from a BugPudding comic strip

 

Later, I would try to draw in the Disney and Warner Bros styles and became very frustrated at how difficult and elusive they were to reproduce. Something was missing in my approach. Most cartooning books that I read were over simplified and reenforced flat line oriented drawing. Then I found some books about animation that talked about solid drawing. Animation depends on understanding movement, on weight and balance. That was my first exposure to forms and construction in drawing, the missing piece of the puzzle. Characters were “sculpted” on top of basic 3D forms. Had I originally been exposed to pictures of these animation drawing process steps, and not just finished flat art, these concepts would have been so much easier to understand. Some people seem to be born able to easily visualize underlying forms and structure, but for some of us, it’s a learning process based on lots of practice to help us develop our artistic eye.

Abe and Splunker
Abe and Splunker

In this article, I hope to demonstrate aspects of my drawing process. I’ve been doing this for a really long time and I realize that there are probably many steps that I follow almost subconsciously, so if something seems to be missing in my explanations don’t hesitate to ask me for clarification.

Dr. Beauregard is a villainous squirrel. He is sort of a mash-up between a Disney forest critter and a Tex Avery off the wall wacko. He has a very simple non-squirrel comic body, except for his tail, but his real expressive character is in his head.

One Evil Squirrel
One Evil Squirrel

Here’s my approach to constructing Dr. B’s head. I try to visualize a solid form, not really a true sphere, but more of a bean shape. So I have this bean on a stick that I move around in my head to position the squirrel’s head.

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It’s just an oval until you add the contours. So lesson one in visualization is to learn to turn the form in different orientations and see it as a solid. Those contours are not for show they are a critical part of solid drawing, they help to define shape and direction and orientation of solid forms.

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Once you are comfortable visualizing and turning your bean form, you can begin to layer on shapes that represent the underlying bone and muscle that define his facial structure. I like to think of this like I’m wrapping bits of clay around the bean to build up the 3D structure of his head. Facial expressions are controlled by muscle movements, expansions, contractions, contortions of the skin above by the muscles below. More importantly, step two in the process is to train your eye to see lines as representing the edges for solid forms. Nature is comprised of forms not lines, drawing lines is just a way to describe forms.

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Once you have your underlying framework, you add his eye shapes, pupils, nose, teeth etc. He comes to life. I like to refer to the layer above the forms as the personality layer.

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An important trick, that I learned from studying the work of the great Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones, is the subtle importance of simple tiny movements or changes in the underlying muscles. The small muscle variations are the key to significant expression changes. There is all sorts of nuance in a raised brow or a curved cheek muscle. Eye shape and pupil placement are windows to what’s going on inside that character’s peanut brain.

Dr B and Chester
Dr B and Chester

That’s all for my first set of thoughts on solid drawing. I hope it is helpful. I plan to do more articles of this type in the future.  Remember, there is never only one way to learn or do anything. My goal is to share how I learned to do what I do. Your questions , comments and suggestions are encouraged and totally welcomed.

The Making of “Wreck Tangled”

It has been a number of years since I have written an article here on the Bristol Board and Ink. I actually enjoy writing about the process of creating comics, but I manage to get busy and not allocate any time for this activity . I hope to rectify that in the near future. This then is a step in that direction. I want not only to be informative about the process we use, but also to expose some often hidden aspects of comic creation. In this article it is important to recognize that there is a process by which our comic is created and that process is step wise and developmental. Finished work does not magically appear in a single burst of elegance, rather it evolves step by step from a rough form to a finished form .

( Note: click on images to view them enlarged )

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Sara and my approach to writing comics is situational. We have developed a cast of characters whose personalities have evolved over time and we just have fun placing them into situations and watching them react. In our current adventure, for example, Agile, the bug, has been cast in the role of a costumed crimefighter. Of course everyone who follows BugPudding knows that Agile, no matter how hard he tries, can never quite do anything without somehow fouling it up. As a crimefighter, he gets no respect and so situationally his logical response to that problem is to perform a costume makeover. As expected his attempts to redefine his persona can only generate a series of humorous failures.

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This particular strip, titled Wreck Tangled, is the first in that series. Agile is a very physical bug, he always expresses himself thru a wide range of physical gestures. I must confess to enjoying being his model for this type of activity and then trying to capture that feeling into gestural poses. They are not meant to be anything more than shorthand scribbles to approximate his actions and emotions. The layout of the action is highly emotional and ideally when done well that emotion shows thru into the final art.

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The next step in the drawing process is to convert those poses into more solid drawings of Agile. For this strip the goal is to have Agile, who is not anything like his name would suggest, get tangled up in his latest costume design. But as you can see from these process drawings, it is funnier and more physical to capture the slapstick by drawing him out of costume first and then layering on the costume over his form in a later stage.

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Now that we have Agile in his not yet costumed form, we can better visualize how his costume will look in these poses, particularly the flowing and draping of his cape.

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The dialogue comes in early in the process and evolves as the drawings evolve. Sara will eventually clean up the wording and insure that it flows, makes sense and is really funny. It is a collaboration that hopefully results in entertaining strips and ultimately an entertaining adventure.

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We hope that you have enjoyed this look into the making of this BugPudding comic strip. We are always glad to try to answer your questions in the comments section below.

Comic Strip Layout Techniques

There are many ways to approach creating a regularly published comic strip. Some cartoonists start with the main gag and layout the strip storyboard style while others approach their strip as a written script and then break that script down into panel shots. It is really a matter of which approach for writing is most comfortable and productive for you. My friend Bill Riling is a professional story artist at Dream Works, so it is only natural that he follows the storyboard visual writing approach to writing his comic, The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck.

The layout shown above is from a strip that is part of the Freeze Tag storyline. Lewis and Cluck are explorer chickens who travel around the globe on scientific and ecological research missions. In Freeze Tag, they have traveled to the Arctic to study the habits of the polar bears. Many of the gags in this storyline revolve around tranquilizing and tagging the bears. Scientists who study creatures in the wild try not to cause changes in their subject’s behavior, but as we can see in this comic, the chickens have really gotten into this bear’s head with that unwanted collar. Bill works in loose pencils in order to layout his panels making full use of the “camera” to create interesting shots that help to tell the story and sell the gag.

Here is the final inked and colored strip as published. In this case there wasn’t a great deal of variation between the conceptual layout and the final rendering. To see more of Bill’s comic strip, check out  The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck.

For my own comic strip BugPudding , I work from a type written script and compose the layouts for my panel shots digitally in SketchBook Pro. As you can see in the example above, I have more of an animation style of approach to frame organization with each character being on a separate “cell” layer so that I can work through many different composition ideas easily. The inset in the lower left hand corner is the final colored rendering.

Here is a panel layout from one of the strips in the Vapors of Evil storyline. Monroe, a turtle, and Bentley, a snail, are making their way through the Vapor Covered Wasteland in search of their friend Agile, a mutated bug. As you can see from the layers displayed, I can show or hide layers as I compose the panel to simplify my visualization and to facilitate making changes easily. Blue layers are visible while the orange layers are hidden.

Here is the final colored render of that panel with the composite of the characters and the background. To follow the further adventures of Monroe, Bentley, Agile and the other critters who live around Lake Tuberville, check out my comic strip BugPudding .

Drawing A Comic Strip Classically

My friend Bill Riling loves drawing comics and he is a master of the classical approach to creating and drawing a comic strip. His creation is called The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck. In this article, I’ve included some behind the scenes insight into Bill’s creative process. I hope you will pick up some valuable tips and also check out Bill’s comic. Once you start following the adventures of the “Explorer Chickens” you are sure to become a fan, just like me.

Bill works as a feature animation story artist at Dream Works and his story boarding approach shows in his comic strip planning and layout. Below is a sample of a future Lewis and Cluck strip where the “Explorer Chickens” are searching for the mysterious Big Foot. As you can see, Bill has roughed out the Sunday page style layout and then written himself  lots of editorial notes, in red, on how he wants to improve the final strip.

Below is the final strip. You can compare the two and you will see many of the notes incorporated in the final as well as some changes that weren’t originally noted. It’s a great example of the classical approach to drawing a comic strip and worth some study.

Using Digitally Painted Backgrounds and Props

Animators normally think of characters, props, and backgrounds as separate elements. These distinctions are less formal in a sequential comic. But none the less, in the age of digital production, it is possible to composite comic strip panels similarly to the way we composite shots in an animated movie.  To apply this approach in my own comic, Bug Pudding, I have tried to do some of my props and backgrounds independently of the character drawings and then to composite my panels digitally. Here is an example of some background art which was created in SketchBook Pro and saved as a PNG with a transparent background then later placed into the actual strip in Photoshop.

Because the original painting was created in many individual layers, I am also able to extract and use just some of the picture elements from this painting, as seen below in this snippet from a Bug Pudding strip.

Even props like this old fashioned wash tub can be created as a digital painting and then merged with the characters in a finished strip panel.

Using Model Sheets

Model sheets are important not just for animation projects but for comic strips too. Even if you aren’t working with a team of artists, it is very useful to capture, for reference purposes, the way that a character looks. Of course, characters evolve and change the more that you draw them, but with the help of a model sheet you can keep them reasonably consistent. Unlike in animation, a comic strip character may not be drawn as frequently, sometimes weeks or months pass between appearances, so having a model sheet for quick reference is a great asset. This is one of my Bentley model sheets from my web comic Bug Pudding.