Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Do It Yourself Comic: The Design

After deciding to make a comic and thinking up a concept for what exactly the thing would contain and be about, I moved onto the next step. Since I'm going to compile the art myself by taking photographs and light-boxing them, I wanted to focus on the design before I got too far into scripting. In this case, "design" is sort of a loose term, since I'm referring to light-boxing photographs to produce pencils. I've messed around with light-boxing in the past, and was generally pretty happy with the results I came up with, but it'd been a while. It was possible I'd take some photos, sit down to light-box them, and realize it looked like garbage.

All the times in the past I've ever started working on a comic I've always started with the writing first, but that's because I haven't been involved in the illustration. Now, since I'm doing both, I was able to think of things somewhat differently, or at least in a slightly altered order. Although I haven't written any of the script yet there are a lot of images in my head, ideas for panel progression and storytelling mechanisms, and knowing some of this stuff definitely helped when I wanted to do some practice art. I really like thinking of how a page will be laid out, how to utilize the comic form to tell interesting stories, and visualization plays a pretty big role in my writing process.

I went out with my camera and my buddy named Emery Peck to take some photos. Some of the pictures were random, staged so I could practice with penciling in (tracing) details later, things like shadows, folds in clothing and so forth. Other pictures were reminiscent of sequences I am planning to write. There were a few concerns I had with my camera - mostly about utilizing continuous shooting to capture movement, and whether that would look more authentic than posing the "actors" - along with how close I would need to shoot in order to give myself high quality pictures, basically so I wouldn't be with a photo to light-box and end up trying to discern what the hell all the blurry blobs in the background were.

Here are two of the 56 pictures we took. I selected these because they presented people at two very different distances, and also in places with varied amounts of shadow and detail.

I took the pictures in color, then changed them to black and white afterwards on my laptop. I also altered the contrast, exposure, and definition to make the blacks darker. This makes it easier to find definition between objects when light-boxing. I'm still unsure if I'm planning on inking the pencils or not. I can definitely alter the pencils digitally, darkening them either in Photoshop or Illustrator, but inks tend to add another level of completion to pencils.

After altering the original photos I printed them both out on a single page of regular computer paper. Since I don't have a light box, and
don't have the money to buy one (or the materials to make one) I had to figure out some way to create a light box from what I have around the house. I took a drawing out of a picture frame, removed its cardboard back, and was left with a large pane of glass. Next, I took a table lamp from the living room, removed its shade and sat it on the floor. I sat with the pane of glass on my knees, and let the bare light bulb project its light up and through the glass. I laid the page with the printed photos down and taped it in place using Painter's Tape, the blue kind people usually use to make sure they don't accidentally paint on their wainscoting or carpet. Painter's Tape is made with less adhesive (or at least a less-aggressive adhesive), so you can pull it off without worrying about bringing whatever it's stuck to along. In this case it's going to be the art for the comic, so I don't have to worry about ruining a page because I accidentally tore the page in half or something.

Next, I laid a piece of plain computer paper over the photo page, and taped it in place as well. Someone once showed me a trick for keeping two sheets of paper flat against each other, and I did that here: I laid a ruler down, keeping the pages flush and allowing the maximum amount of detail to shine through from the photographs.

To "illustrate" I used a simple, cheap mechanical pencil. I had a fine tip Sharpie next to me, in case I wanted to try my hand at inking, but I skipped that for now. Here's what I came up with.

 I didn't get too deep into the details yet because I wanted to focus on the face in the first image and the shadows in the second. There is a lot of wood grain in that first photo, and a ton of bushes in the second, and I didn't want to spend too much time on these. I definitely don't want to "draw" in an intensely realistic style, and did a pretty loose trace in some parts. After doing this initial test with the light-boxing I'm confident I can achieve the style I'm looking for, and will be able to at least get the images I want. There's definitely further design work in the future, though, because I've got a few very specific ideas about layout, but I don't want to think too much of that just yet.

I'm definitely planning on drawing more of the backgrounds, but didn't do so here because these were just tests. I'm pleased with how the art turned out, so I can let my head move on to the next phase: scripting.

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