Friday, May 10, 2013

Making Comics: Artist Tools

When I was younger, getting comics wasn't something I'd say was a chore, but it was certainly a task. When you're in small-town Pennsylvania, your nearest anything is often a good half-hour drive out of town, so getting a hold of anything as exotic as a new issue of a comic book becomes something of a ritual. These days, if you want a new issue of something, it's often as easy as opening iTunes and waiting for it to download. If not, then you can go online and read a webcomic or find a synopsis within a review if you're particularly lazy and/or broke.

Things certainly have changed when it comes to how we access and consume comic books, but the same can't really be said for how the comics themselves are created. And that goes for digital comics and webcomics, too.

Here then, is a run-down of some popular tools needed to create comics then and now:

The Canvas - Your basic 11x17 cold-press bristol board was the standard comic book sketch pad back in the day, and for many of us old-heads, that's not changed. In the olden days, publishers would sometimes send you complimentary boards if you were working on one of their books, but it's certainly more common to request the artist purchase their own. I like Blue Line Pro boards which you can order online, but Strathmore makes tablets of 24 boards, some pre-lined, specifically for comic books, which you can purchase in stores.

It's worth mentioning that these days, it isn't necessary to have a physical canvas to work on at all, if you have a drawing tablet and know what you're doing with a graphics program such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Indeed, and especially with the increasing trend of publishers requiring artists learn to be pencillers, inkers and colorists all in one, some illustrators prefer to work entirely on the computer.

The Drawing Tools - Pencils and pens were the order of the day back when I started doing comics professionally (and that was a decade ago, already. Yeesh!). Not much has changed here either, when it comes to yours truly, at least. As I've said in countless blog posts before this one -- I am a pencil snob. I like a .05 lead in a mechanical pencil the best, and I prefer to work with Staedtler Mars pencils and graphite. For pens, I like Pigma Microns and the oldschool Rapidograph pens you have to load with ink. Some inkers prefer working with brushes and quill pens, as well.

Naturally, techniques aren't staying exclusively traditional in this arena. Vector programs like Adobe Illustrator are excellent for making sleek lines when inking, digitally. Here again, all you need is a tablet, a computer, and the program itself. And, bonus, with Illustrator's pen tool being so versatile, I can say from personal experience that it's not impossible to do some inking with a plain old mouse and forego the tablet requirement entirely!

The Colors - I knew more than a few colorists, back in the day, who were having great success painting colors onto their comic boards using gouache and watercolors. I knew far more who were using Photoshop to color their comic boards, however. It and programs like it are still standards to this day for this reason.

What's interesting about colors, to me at least, is noticing a trend of artists going back to the old ways of coloring a piece of artwork, and this sort of resurgence into using paints, markers and inks. The reason for this is, I think, better scanners, software and printers capable of picking up and recreating the delicate nuances of such media. Many artists, I'm sure, simply prefer to work by hand as much as possible, and some stories just lend themselves better to this more analog approach.

The Typography - One of the many points of fascination within my portfolio comes from the abundance of old Sonic pages that contain hand-lettered text. These are wonderful little treasures, and I would go so far as to call them relics of an age gone by. You simply don't see hand-drawn type any more as computers have become quite good at making good-looking typography.

It wasn't until I was acquainted with some exceptional letterers that I myself started to pick up a few things about the nuances of typography within comic books and how those things should be handled. It's unfortunate, but with the ease of  creating text in the computer age, we've lost a bit of the art. So while it's a simple task to put words to comic these days, it's by no means easy to do it well. Checking out a few comics printed some years in the past with hand-drawn letters is, I think, essential to achieving great results with text created by computers.

Whatever your personal preferences and tastes, doing artwork and incorporating design that is both nice to look at and fitting of the work should be your goal. Don't be afraid to try new things... or old things, for that matter!

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