Dip Pen and Brush

I was at Sheffield Zine Fest over the weekend. I had my stuff on the shared table as I couldn’t do a full day and consequently it was the first time I’d displayed without my full set up. Normally I layout a table with a banner behind and more importantly original artwork on the table for people to peruse. I find this is a great way of drawing attention as there’s something very authentic about seeing the original art, warts and all, before it gets cleaned up for the final print. The other eye-catching feature of it is that it is HUGE.

Each page is drawn on an A2 sheet, taking up about 2/3 of it. This is because I want the comic to be pretty detailed, and whilst it’s a little larger than it needs to be, it really helps making the final comic look dense and more alive. Especially the crowd scenes, which I’m really pleased with.

Since drawing the comic is a real pleasure for me, I like to do it manually as much as possible. I ink using a dip pen and a brush for the larger areas. This can be a very slow process, I did do a test using purely digital inking and it wasn’t that much faster but definitely less fun. Also there is a great pleasure in seeing parts of the page become black, and patterns emerge. This means most of the pages are fully pencilled out and a lot of work goes into making each page. As proof, here’s the evolution of the demonstration title page spread from issue 1.

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This image is actually A1 size, as it’s two sheets taped together. This spread took absolutely ages to draw (about three months of evening where I could get them), I spent a lot of time squinting over Google maps and using Street View. The setting is the junction outside the Bank of England – it’s the building at the top right. I also try and get good references for cars and things to make everything feel real. There’s was only one concession for time, I didn’t bother sketching all the protesters till the inking stage – there’s not any great detail to miss. Try looking for the four horsemen of the apocalypse – I copied them from a real protest.

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Next comes the inking. This takes less time than the pencilling and I really enjoy inking. It’s a bit like playig with a colouring book of your own work. Most of the inking decisions I’ve already made at the pencilling stage and written notes about on the margins, there was about 5 months between drawing and inking. This is one of the joys of doing a large project in your spare time, you have to have a lot of patience with yourself. I’ve actually inked in the whole crowd this time, whilst the thought of using Photoshop’s clone tool did cross my mind, the result is better without. The page is largely finished now, I try and get the inks to look as good as possible and save the digital parts to minimal cleaning up.

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Here is the final page! I’ve cleaned up the image, removing any obstinate pencil marks that refused to be erased and sorted the levels to remove any grey. Most noticeably I’ve added panels borders and dialogue. I like panels borders for the construction they give the page.

With Insurrection I’m trying not to use speech bubbles as I feel their use has become too automated in current comics. They tend to normally be perfectly computer generated ovals, filled with computer sanitised fonts and as a result feel lifeless. There’s an energy to hand drawn bubbles. Anyway – away from my high horse, I’m working on a style I first saw in the Adventures of Luther Arkwright, which is to make a space for the text and use a line to indicate who is saying it. I try and make the space feel natural in the art by rounding of all black areas it cuts into – rather than have a Photoshop generated mask, making it feel like the text is supposed to be there, it’s all part of the same world. I’m interested to know if anyone picked up on this and what they thought.

This has left me with an issue in representing different types of communication, such as loudspeakers and thoughts, but it’s always a challenge.

The text is written in a font based on my own handwriting. After my rant about the fakeness of CGI bubbles it might seem a little shallow to use a font, but this is where practicalities come into play. If it was hand written it would take much longer to make sure I didn’t make mistakes, and get the spacing right. I’d probably end up spending my time cutting out each letter and re-spacing it. The font is mine and my hand – improved to make it more legible!

So there it is, that’s how I make a page, I’ll take original art to most of the events I go to, please come along and have a look!

About russstearman

BAFTA nominated Lead Developer, creating all kinds of creative joy. Artist/author of 'Insurrection' - a comic about about protesting.
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