Multiplex - a comic strip about life at the movies

Archive for November, 2010


How I Draw Hand-Drawn Comics, Part 2

In Part One, I covered how I pencil hand-drawn comics (on the relatively infrequent times that I get to do them). Next comes inking.

I left off with the finished pencils. I scan those in and print them out again onto Bristol board so that — if I screw up a page (or panel) irretrievably — I can print out a new page and take another shot.

I ink with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #2. I’ve used cheaper brushes, but they’ve all lost their points much more quickly than some of my oldest Series 7’s. I’m sure there are other, good brands for cartooning, though; I’ve just never used one. I’ll occasionally use a #1 for smaller details (although oftentimes, it’s just as easy — or even easier — to use the larger brush), and I often pull out the old Microns for the dots of characters’ eyes or other small details where an even line doesn’t hurt.

If a brush gets a stray hair that will just not get back into shape, I use a cuticle trimmer and snip the stray hair out at its base. It keeps my brushes in active duty a lot longer.

One of the things I can never quite get the hang of with digital inking is turning the Cintiq in order to get the best line of attack on a line, like you can with a physical page. Clearly, other people don’t have this problem, so don’t take that as some sort of argument that traditional techniques are better than digital. (And, y’know, it’s me. I draw Multiplex. Obviously, I don’t have a problem with digital art.)

I generally avoid using a ruler at any point when I ink, because I like my inks to look organic (or maybe I’m just lazy). With this strip, I left the panel borders and lettering for the computer, so you can see that I just ran my lines off into the gutter and off the page; they’ll get masked off after I scan the inks in.

I keep two jars of distilled water at my table: one for my bleedproof white brush, and one for the India ink. I use Speedball, but tend to let it sit out and evaporate a bit to thicken up before I use it — if it gets too thick, I add some distilled water. I use Winsor & Newton Bleedproof White, which will solidify after sitting around in the jar, but you can just add some distilled water and stir it up and it’ll bounce back (even after months and months of sitting around).

As a leftie, I should, but I forget this a lot and end up smudging my inks sometimes. So, out comes the bleedproof white, and I’ll fix any smudges and do some light touch-ups before I scan in my inks.

Below, you can see my inks without the letters and borders (left) and then with them (on the right). Apparently I forgot to ink the word “Manager” above the Manager’s Station and the movie poster frame behind Jason in the last two panels. Oops.

Next comes the retouching. Some things you can fix more easily with bleedproof white and a little re-inking; other times, you need Photoshop. My hand isn’t especially steady, so I almost always use Photoshop and my trusty Cintiq to do some touch-ups on the final inks. I kept that to a minimum on this page, only straightening out the top of the Manager’s Station in the first panel, moving Kurt’s head down a little in the second to last panel. If I’ve forgotten to ink anything, I’ll tend to do it digitally, rather than scan in my inks again.

At this point, I’ll add in the balloon pointers and call it a day (unless I need to color it, which I’m not doing for this strip).

After the cut, you can see how the finished page looks.


How I Draw Hand-Drawn Comics, Part 1

I say this a lot when I talk to kids: There’s no such thing as learning “how to draw”; there’s only how you draw. Me, I draw little weird, but here’s how I do it.

First, obviously, you need an script. The idea for this comic was for one of the Kickstarter backers, Kirk Damman. He requested something about the Cubs/Cards rivalry. Bad news for him, though: I don’t know squat about baseball. So I took it in my own direction after a little brainstorming.

When I write for myself, whether I’m drawing something by hand or in Illustrator, what I end up doing is start with a blank template and start typing dialogue. I try to keep the bare amount of dialogue to hit the beats needed to get from Point A to Point B — in this case, from the premise (movie geek sort of ranting about not getting baseball) to the inversion of it (the idea that he’s basically a hypocrite). It’s a common set-up, particularly with Jason.

With vector-drawn comics, one luxury I have is the ability to revise dialogue until the last minute, because I’m constantly able to recompose a panel around a larger or smaller word balloons, shift panels around, or whatever.

With hand-drawn stuff, I need to plan things out a lot better, because once I ink a page, I can’t revise things nearly as easily. After the dialogue is pretty much nailed down, I cut and paste the panel borders and letters into Manga Studio Debut and scribble out little more than stick figures and a few scratches to get the general idea down.

I try to do at least three passes of thumbnails, with each pass getting tighter and fine-tuning the composition of each panel. The more thumbnails I do, the better my finished pencils turn out. A better inker than I — or someone with a looser style, at least — could probably get away with just a couple of scribbles and jumping straight into inks, but not me.

I do each pass on a separate layer in Manga Studio, keeping the previous pass visible at about 15% opacity. I typically change colors on each layer, so that I can easily distinguish which lines are from which pass. This is roughly analogous to the way I use Colerase pencils for penciling.

This is where my process gets a little weird. I like the ability to digitally tweak my thumbs in Manga Studio, but for finished pencils, I prefer the way a real pencil feels and reacts to real paper — so what I’ll print out the final pass of thumbnails onto Bristol paper using my large format inkjet and do my finished pencils traditionally. Printing that out at about 10–15% cyan is basically the equivalent of a non-photo blue; it won’t get picked up by the scanner (or if it does, it will barely be noticeable). Before I got the large format printer, I would use a lightbox to “transfer” my thumbs to the Bristol page. It was slower, but it worked well, too.

I do my finished pencils on top of the printed-out last round of thumbs with a Colerase Dark Blue pencil. The finished pencils for this comic were done at about 11″x14″; you can see them below (after the cut). Before I ink a page, I scan my pencils in and print them out again, so that if I screw up the inks dramatically, I can just print out another page — but I’ll get to that in Part Two.


Review: Megamind

Directed by Tom McGrath.
Written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons.
Starring Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and David Cross.

After Dreamworks finally grew up and made its first truly great film with How to Train Your Dragon, I was a lot more interested in Megamind. Had Dreamworks finally seen the light? Did they finally realize that the short-term benefits of cheap pop culture references are greatly outweighed the long-term benefits of just making a good freakin’ movie? The answer, I’m sad to say, is: “Aw hell to the no.” (Get it? I couldn’t just say no, because it’s a Dreamworks movie! Now I’m driving the joke home too hard, because it’s a Dreamworks movie! Ahem. Anyway.)

When it’s great, it’s great, but Megamind is regrettably peppered with a few too many of mind-numbingly stupid gags to just get passed them like the two “undies” jokes in Dragon, and it incongrously tacks a groan-inducing song and dance number set to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” to the end of the film, apparently because it wants to leave the audience with a bad taste in their mouth. The taste of vomit. That kind of stuff, and a few too many more nitpicks like it, drag down an otherwise fun and often very funny super-hero action movie from being a truly terrific flick to just being an above-average Dreamworks cartoon… with some extremely cool stuff in it, (Mega-)mind you.

Megamind is at its best as an action flick — there’s stuff you see in Megamind that has never been seen on the big screen, at least not with these production values, like a supervillain swinging the top of a skyscraper at another hero like a baseball bat. You’ve definitely seen it in comics, or a few cheaply animated cartoon, but you haven’t seen it look this good. The action is so fun and so well done that it makes you ache to see a well done Superman movie. And that brings me to my two biggest problems with the movie, which, for lack of time, I’ll limit myself to…

This film is blatantly just the Superman mythology with a barely enough tweaks to prevent a lawsuit: Metro Man is a conceited, dim Superman; Roxanne Ritchi is Lois Lane almost note for note; Hal Stewart is a creepy riff on Jimmy Olsen, red hair and all; and Megamind could very easily have been Lex Luthor in one of his evil scientist incarnations. Hell, he’s even bald. For all the criticism (or praise) that The Incredibles gets for being a riff on the Fantastic Four, at least they changed up the formula, and Syndrome wasn’t a thinly-disguised Doctor Doom. But maybe criticizing a Dreamworks movie for not being original is a waste of time.

My other big quibble requires a bit of a spoiler warning. (Mind you, the film’s trailer spoils it for you, too.) The premise of the film is this: evil genius Megamind (Ferrell) accidentally kills his arch-nemesis Metro Man (Pitt), leaving him kind of bored and aimless in life after taking over Metro City, so he gives Hal Stewart (Hill) superpowers in order to turn him into a new hero. But, because Hal Stewart is creepy and ugly, of course he’s not hero material. Tighten (yes, not “Titan” — Tighten) quickly turns bad, and without a hero to fight off this new supervillain, Megamind steps up and becomes the good guy.

Which is all well and good, but everybody — Roxanne (Fey) and all of Metro City — is so quick to forgive Megamind’s past and hail him as a hero that it strains credulity way too much. I mean, if you can believe that he never once seriously injured a single innocent person, despite years of terrorizing the city, not even accidentally… except for Metro Man, whom everybody seems to mostly forget about… then maybe that’s believable, but come on. (End spoilers.) For me, at least, that flies past straining credulity and well into contrived territory. At super-speed.

But, seriously, the super-hero action is pretty awesome stuff. If that’s not enough for you, give it a pass. If it is, though, as it is with me, then you’ll have a lot of fun… in addition to rolling your eyes at the Dreamworksiness of it all.

More Blue Beetle

Sorry, I haven’t updated this in a while! I’ve been spending far too much time trying to promote the book (and after the news that Diamond is — at least for now — passing on it, getting a bit discouraged by it all). I will try to remedy that in the near future.

Monday’s strip may be late, because I’ll be out of town most of the weekend, unfortunately, but I’ll let you know.

Anyway, here’s a sketch of my favorite super-hero ever, which I did in a few idle minutes at the Indianapolis Comic Book Show the other weekend: