Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good Grief! The Making of a Comics Page

I recently was asked to draw a comic page for a book called The Adventures of Unemployed Man . It's a satirical look at the current troubled economic times by the creators of the New York Times Best selling book Good Night Bush, Erich Origen and Gan Golan. Some of you out there might be interested in my process, so here we go:

It starts with a script page. Co-author Gan sent me a script and reference for a one-page story about a character named Good Grief, a school psychiatrist in a world of superheroes during troubled economic times. Gan, also an illustrator, sent me this thumbnail of what he wanted the page to look like:

Gan mentioned EC's Psychoanalysis comics as a stylistic reference point. I wanted to work out some storytelling and compositional problems, so Gan allowed me to create a slightly tighter thumbnail. I changed panel 2 to a lower, more heroic angle, to show the group in their happier, glory days. I was having problems with panel three as originally roughed out, because the adult characters somehow felt crowded into the frame, so I changed their positions in the panel. Panels 5 and 6 as thumbnailed weren't working for me because that type of panel arrangement wasn't very common during the 50's. I changed those panels to a more vertical format, which not only read smoother, but also accentuated the height from which the "jumper" was jumping.
I also changed the last panel to a high angle. This way it subtly suggests Good Grief looking back at her "jumping" student from the reverse angle, even though she is not actually looking back at him, it shows he is in her thoughts.

At this point, I had scanned my pencil sketch into Manga Studio Debut (which I got for X-mas). I added the lettering to make sure the spacing of the panels worked ok. I even found an EC style font online.

I did a tighter rough pencil to work out a few of the kinks. Changed panel 3 again to an "X" kind of composition, which seemed to balance the panel out a bit.

Since I'm inking myself, I decided I didn't need to go to a tighter pencil stage. And since this was digital, it's easy enough to make changes anyway. Besides, I was itching to try Manga Studio's ink tools. Gan felt that in that last pass, panel 2 had lost some of power of the low angle and the human touch in panel 3. His comments were right on, so I incorporated those changes into this inked pass. I also wanted to make "the jump" more imposing in panels 5-6, so I made the figure smaller.

I like Manga Studio's inking tool ( once you learn to adjust the brushes ). Also the line tool works a lot better for my purposes than the one in Photoshop. Still haven't quite figured out Manga Studio's panel function yet. Also, the display lettering function is a little limited in MS, so I saved the display lettering on panel 1 for Photoshop.

I took it to Photoshop to color. We agreed however, that this version looks "too modern" with the saturated color and the gradations. It had lost that "retro" flavor.

So I went back and took out the gradations in panel 5-6 and did the transitions by hand. I also desaturated the color layer and pixelated it to give it an old halftone look. I also added a paper texture and I "yellowed" it a bit to make it look aged. I'm pleased with the results and the final result is below. The client seemed happy as well. Look for the book to hit stores in October.