book arts, illustration

On possibly getting (back?) into comics

Yesterday I was mostly going over my old sketchbooks. You know, the sketchbooks with the tiny, light, barely readable (sometimes unreadable) mechanical pencil writing in them. I also started a layout for a sample page of a comic, during which I drew a character who I don’t particularly know, but whom I’m interested in nonetheless.

I skimped on the background (particularly the stuff across the street) but I can fill it in, in the final draft. I imagined it as being like this downtown area. Right now the window looks out on an empty lot. ;) I know, Scott McCloud said not to think of them as “backgrounds” but “surroundings”, I know…

(For some reason, it’s easier for me to connect with my characters if I can see them and their surroundings. And it’s easier to imagine them as their own people — and not extensions of “me” — when I can see their faces and their expressions, and then wonder why it is they look like that; how they got to that point.)

It was a good thing I did this — it gives me some kind of clue as to what I’m getting into if I want to commit to a comic project. It also pushed me to think of some kind of action for the character I was drawing. And I hadn’t scripted prior to this, though I do know that some people script and draw at the same time, especially when it’s one person writing and drawing the thing.

When I was into fiction, my major hurdle as far as plot was concerned is that I’d write, but nothing physical would happen; it was more of a meditation. When I draw, it becomes painfully obvious that nothing is happening and that I probably shouldn’t draw out the scene where the character is staring into his or her cup, longer than necessary.

(And then you ask the significance of the cup, which I just realized would go over the heads of the majority of my audience…it has to do with the amount of tea leaves and twigs and their positioning, which are supposed to mean specific things.)

The project I was intending to work on — the world for it, at least — this lends itself pretty well to short comics, as the vision I’ve got currently is that it isn’t going to be clear when things are dreams and when they’re real. …That’s something I’ve had a lot of focus on, recently.

I think that when I was in college, everything was so focused around realism and grounding in literal experience, that it was easy to become disconnected from more dreamlike writing. That space you get into where the borders between fantasy and reality are blurred and you can’t recall if what you’re remembering actually happened in this world or not.

I’ve already got a device which will note to myself the temporal relations of the scenes to each other, and whether each is a dream or physical reality. As the reader moves forward in the series, it will become clear to them, if they’re being attentive, what these navigation keys mean — but my vision is, at least, that they’ll have to figure it out for themselves. Or have someone else tell them. ;D

So the layout I did in 8B Faber-Castell graphite pencil. I like the soft F-C pencils because of their expressive quality. They will also be easy to recognize with light shining through them from behind. This was just layout, so I wasn’t making extraneous details too complicated; I was focusing on what I wanted the reader’s focus to be on, and panel placement, plus room for word bubbles. I suppose later I can get into how to express all of this best on a page, so that the eye naturally moves to what I want it to move to — but I’m too new to getting back to drawing, period, right now, to think too much about that.

Besides, this is meant to be hand-drawn, not meant to be photographic. And if I’m mostly doing this old-school (like without using bases I drew once over and over and over again), I can actually play up the handmade nature of it (like marker going outside of the lines of a shape).

I am, however, now thinking about something which I noticed while practicing drawing kana in black and bright orange last night…that I might want to change font colors for the voices of different characters. I’d probably have to be pretty careful about that, so that the colors aren’t too similar or too hard to read — but I have noticed that it makes a big difference if you want to highlight a block of text if it is bright orange. This is something I’ve seen used to effect in the webcomic, “Kagerou”. And something that I want to use if I (as I dream) make a handwritten book.

I’m not making a spinoff of “Kagerou,” to be clear, far from it (unless we group all psychologically-based stories into one box), but it could be helpful to use color as a visual cue to differentiate when different characters are speaking (as in the case of multiple narrators [which could eliminate the problem of the one-narrator text box that McCloud alludes to] or mental dialogue).

And besides, it’s just fun to write in bright orange.

It may not be fun to pay for color copies for an occasional use of bright orange, though. “Kagerou” has the advantage of being online, where hosting something in color doesn’t cost anything extra. Another option is varying the font (as I’ve seen in the Japanese-language versions of “Yuu Yuu Hakusho”), but that could get ugly and complicated pretty quickly. For one thing, because in YYH, the font is varied according to characters’ tone of voice, not for which character is speaking. And we’ve still got to allow for bold, italics, special effects, etc.

I’m thinking of using legal-sized paper for my magazines — half of an 8.5″x11″ page is just too narrow for good-sized English dialogue, and I’m intending to use a lot of bleeds, so that also factors in. I believe the standard size of a magazine is 18 pages…that’s nine papers folded together and stapled or sewn, and 36 pages to work from, total. I suppose the other two (if we up it to twenty) would be the covers. I’m thinking that if I center my layouts after rearranging the files to print on the appropriate page, this would enable me to fold and staple or sew them in the center, and then just chop off the extra on the edges.

I was using the Pantone Universe markers this last time for a sample image…they work well with Borden & Riley Marker Paper, which I think is supposed to be bleedproof. But the Chartpak Ad Markers bled through it, anyway…of course that’s the xylene solvent base. The Pantones are alcohol-based, and much less strong-smelling than Prismacolor markers (which I think have something ammonia-based as an additional ingredient to alcohol). I have no idea how that image is going to scan or print.

I have had issues with the Pantones bleeding through my regular drawing paper (not printer paper), but on the marker paper, they’re fine. And note to self: do not use the “fine” Pantone Universe nib for hair textures, use the brush. Srsly. You don’t want round edges on strokes meant to represent shading in hair.

I need to either find or re-test my ink swatches, and put them in the project binder. I’m still not very good with metal-nib dip pens, but I can use a brush, which I have several of, not counting M’s stash. And I didn’t even think of this, but I can use diluted ink instead of markers for final pre-scanned copies. I think I heard that’s more difficult than it sounds, though, because scanners are more sensitive than people’s eyes…so I might have to color-correct with a software program if I don’t want mud.

I’m thinking of getting a program designed for manga, despite my strong desire to not have a fresh-out-of-the-package look to my stories. It could help with computones. Or I could go with a free image-editing program and see what I can do there (as a manga software program may not be able to handle greyscale at all).

Hm. Things just get so much more complicated when you start talking about reproducing images, eh.

I have more to add on the graphic qualities I tapped into for yesterday’s practice, but I’ll put it into a separate post.

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