Thursday, May 15, 2008

Creative Process

Most people, myself included, seem to enjoy a look "behind the scenes" to see the creative process at work. It's why I like listening to the "Director's Commentaries" on DVDs and why, lately, I've been really into the magazines published by TwoMorrows Publishing, like Draw! and Rough Stuff. Actually, some of my favorite blogs are by fellow comic book artists who routinely show off their works in-progress. Today I'll jump on that bandwagon with some work of my own.

One of my more interesting freelance jobs lately has been a monthly, 2-page comic strip for a teen magazine published in Poland, called Fun Club. This morning I just finished my third installment. This is an unusual job because I don't speak (or read) Polish, and the comic will never be in English. The writer sends me a pretty rough script to work from, written in English that's good enough for me to draw from, even if I don't understand all the jokes! The strip is about the wacky adventures of two teenaged girls named Po'Ziomka and Jagoda. This month, they take a trip to Egypt to look for Cleopatra's secret beauty tips (or something). Here's an excerpt from the script, to show you what I receive to work from ("Rys" means "Panel"):

Rys 8
Dark corridor inside the pyramid. The girls are walking with torches in the hands
- It is so dark here!
- Maybe they forgot to pay for the electricity?
Behind the girls the mummy in the bandages is walking slowly. Girls can't see it.
- Next losers! I will scare them to the death!

Rys 9
NAGLE written with huge letter ("nagle" means suddenly). The mummy is jumping on the girls, screaming

Rys 10
Girls are wrestling with the mummy. The mummy screams!
- Have mercy! Do not unbind me! I will do anything!
- So take us to Cleopatra!

Everything I need is pretty much there. More details from the writer is generally preferred, but considering that my collaborators and I are separated by 6000 miles, 9 time zones, and 2 different languages, I think it's amazing that I even have this job to talk about!

Anyhow, from the emailed script & panel descriptions, I first do rough THUMBNAILS of the pages that look like this (click on the images to enlarge):

The Thumbnail is usually my favorite part of the process. I enjoy designing the page and telling the story without concerning myself with the more difficult parts of drawing, such as perspective, proportions & maintaining a style. I enjoy those things as well, but it's different. There's also something about the spontaneity and looseness about the Thumbnail that appeals to me--and that I find difficult to maintain as the process continues...

Above is my LAYOUT for the page. I usually do this step on lightweight tracing paper. It's where I try my first pass at Penciling the page at the size I will draw the final page (usually larger than printed size). Here I work out the basics of the page and how the panels all fit. I use a pencil, and then quickly outline the important parts with a marker. Sometimes this ends up being a patchwork of drawings all taped together. The drawing is pretty rough, and I'm most concerned about blocking in the main shapes & working out the structure of the figures & environments. The perspective is just eye-balled here; I'll tighten it all up in the next step...

Above is my PENCILLED PAGE. This particular page is still somewhat rough. Depending on the project & client, I may do a much cleaner, tighter job. An example of a tighter Pencilled Page is here. Some friends have suggested that I should skip the tracing-paper "Layout" stage, and go directly to this stage, pencilling on the art board. The reasons would be to save time and, perhaps, to maintain some of that lost spontaneity that I have mentioned. However, I find the Layout to be invaluable, because between the Layout & Pencilled Page, I have opportunities to make important changes. After ruling the panel borders, I use a light-box to trace the layout onto the board. As I do this, I tweak the images, moving them around slightly to improve the design & avoid any bad tangents. I'll also use this time to shrink or enlarge panels (or individual elements within), if I feel they need more room to fit copy.

After light-boxing the main elements worked out in the Layout, I go over each drawing, tightening it up. I now pull out my rulers, curves & templates and work out the perspective. In the case of this job, I am also inking & coloring it, so there are certain details I can leave for later.

Above, we have the INKED PAGE. Comic book fans are familiar with this as the next step in the "assembly line," and know that very often, publishers like Marvel & DC will hire a separate artist to "ink" a comic after it has been "pencilled" by one artist. This is usually just a concession to the fast-paced schedules of putting out a monthly comic periodical. Breaking up the art chores makes sense if speed is an important aspect of the production. A happy side-effect is that teaming up different pencillers & inkers like this makes for some interesting variations in style. Artists whose work meshes well together have the potential for forming a great collaboration wherein both artists benefit.

However, that has nothing to do with this page! Just an interesting tangent for the benefit of readers who aren't intimate with the comics biz. In the case of this project, I'm doing everything, including the scanning and some of the work a letterer might do, I you compare the Pencilled Page with the Inked Page, you'll see a big leap. You may also notice some changes, like making the girls' heads bigger in panel 2 (a suggestion from my editor--and a good one). Since I also scanned the page & work in Adobe Photoshop, I could easily put in the signage on the building in the last panel. I also dropped in a "Manga Burst" pattern behind the Mummy in panel 2, and I shrunk the figures a bit in panel 6 to make room for the word balloons. For the "AAAAAA" sound-effect in panel 2, I created the type in Adobe Illustrator and imported in into my page, fitting it behind the Mummy's fist.

Oh, and one thing that you can't see here, but which is important, is that I "paste" my finished inked scan into a Photoshop template which I created, that is sized precisely to that of the printed page, including guide-lines for the bleed, trim & copy-safe areas. This is critical, so that the client won't have trouble with the printing. It's amazing how many artists overlook these details, or simply don't understand them (a rant for another day...!) This is also important for me, as the artist, because I want to be sure none of my work is accidently cropped, and that my bleeds work the way I intend. It's generally a good idea to provide clients with "fool-proof" files.

Last, but not least, I give you the COLORED PAGE, or call it the FINISHED ART, if you prefer. Here is where the drawing comes alive. Because this comic is for a teen magazine aimed at young girls, the client favors bright colors & pastels. In a few places, I've converted the ink lines into color (like the torch flames, shock-lines & some background lines to simulate "atmospheric perspective"). The sky in the final panel is a photo that I fooled around with in Photoshop, using some of their "fine art" filters. Lastly, I created new panel borders (imported from Illustrator) that are thicker, more perfect & white.

VoilĂ ! Now, it's up to the gang in Poland to add the word balloons & make it funny! My job, she is done.

What do you think? I really like working on this magazine. It's exactly the kind of job I'd like to do more of. I enjoy the "cartoony" style and goofy situations. Of the three I've drawn for them, this month's story was my favorite, simply because I like to draw exotic places. I hope Po'Ziomka & Jagoda have some more travel plans in the future!


Michal Z said...

Rys is a shorter for Rysunek, what means "Drawing" or "Picture". Nice article!

Steve Buccellato said...

Thanks, Michal!

(Michal is the writer of the "Fun Club Komiks." I've been discovered!)