Here’s how I begin a comic. I have a little leather-bound sketchbook I carry with me everywhere. I picked it up in Barnes and Noble. I do my first draft of the story layouts and dialogue there. I’ve never consulted with anyone about how to do this, but what I try to do in these pages is plan for the development of a story arc so that it ends on the left hand page and a new episode or chapter begins on the right hand page. I want certain punctuations in the story to come when you turn the page, so you get the double page spread of the Battle of Gettysburg when you turn page seven to page eight (goes against the rule, but it’s a double page spread. Can’t do it otherwise, and it hopefully works). Most new chapters begin on the odd-numbered page.

Sometimes I abandon the idea of drawing and just want to work on the pacing, so I do the script the normal way scripts are done by comic book writers, as descriptions of a shot and dialogue. If it works by the time I get to the sketchbook drawings, fine, but I do a lot of rewriting. I do a lot of redrawing too. The first four pages were completely redrawn and rewritten. Much of the material after pages 8-9 spread are that too. I do this continuously throughout the production of the book. I redrew and rewrote almost everything before page 31. New insights about the story hit me and demanded it.

When I wrote the novel the story is based on over ten years ago, it was all in first person. But one panel, where I wanted to show something important that the narrator could not have known, made me go back and rewrite the entire book. Fortunately, this happened before I got to the final drawings that were scanned and colored. It also allowed me the opportunity to structure the story better so there is a singsong between drama and comedy. I teach some of this in college classes. If you’re writing Dracula, this maybe isn’t the way to do it, but I’m not Bram Stoker.

When I get to the final drawings that I’ll scan, I do everything with a Bic .007 mechanical pencil on Dick Blick vellum bristol board. If my sketchbook roughs are good enough, I scan them and enlarge them to the size of the bristol board, 10x15in., and trace them, using carbon paper I get at Staples. I started using the carbon paper to trace drawings onto copper etching plates covered with Lascaux grounds, and was surprised when it worked fine on bristol.

Then I do a contour drawing of the tracing and after that I develop it in whatever way I fancy it needs. If the episode is stark, it suggests baroque shading and chiaroscuro coloring. Or I might happen upon that way just by chance. I don’t plan the coloring too much. I’ve been making art for sixty years and I prefer to let my experience tell me what to do. Some of the drawing is somewhat cartoony, if the subject is light, and other parts are more realistic, when the story calls for it. This is, in a way, the product of the modern era in art. Anyone who says something has to be done in a certain manner, well, we’ll see.  All the scans are imported into and developed in Photoshop. After that is completed, I save it as a tiff file and import it into Illustrator to add word balloons. Unless they are done in a vector program, the balloon edges become jaggy stairstep lines that look horrid.

I also color in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black), and make sure to avoid, as much as I can, using black in the coloring. It dulls colors and since I plan to produce these books in print, that’s the plan. I bought a book on the subject just make sure I did it correctly.

In a way, I write vignettes, little episodes that tell what this family is about, which gets you ready for the The Story. The Story is one I have been thinking about for nearly fifty years, since I was a teenager, laying in the grass in my parent’s backyard at night, staring at the stars. Ideas would float through my head, and they bear a striking similarity to the things I have learned in my long education. I believe we are all interested in why the world is so messed up, and what our response to it should be. It’s not an easy knot to unravel.

In the nine books I have planned, my aim is to do just that. Only time and history will say if I am correct.


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