The New, New Methodon August 19, 2009 at 6:00 am
Now that I think I have a handle on this whole “inking by hand” thing, a process eschewed when Eben07.com first started (as detailed here) and haphazardly explained when I first started inking (alluded to here). Even though the new, new method of inking is still rather new to me, I feel that my experience with inking is much more mature than it was when I first tried to explain it.
They aren’t much different from before, but with a few new tools added to the arsenal:
- First is my beloved kneaded eraser, all the fun of rampant erasing without any of the dust.
- Next is my equally beloved mechanical pencil, a Pentel 120 A3 DX, which uses 0.5mm lead; I actually have two of these (I’ve used one of them since High School).
- Two Sakura Pigma Micron pens, an 03 and 08 respectively (I can’t seem to find the 05 to save my life). These are the pens I’ve been using to ink pretty much since I started inking by hand. They are comfortable but I find them difficult to control line quality because they are so slick under a grip (I sweat a lot).
- A Sharpie fine point pen. Used to fill in large areas of black.
- Next is a Staedtler permanent marker with a 1-2mm felt tip. This is a much more exact pen than the Sharpie, so I use it often to draw panel borders or when I want really thick lines without any feathering or bleeding of the ink.
- Last is my newest, dearest addition, the Hunt #102 Crow Quill nib with holder. It is a flexible nib that can make the sharp, thin line of the Micron 03 pen but can also get a wide line (though, admittedly, not as wide as a Sharpie line, but those types of lines are few and far between for me so far). The best part is that because of the nib, you can smoothly transition between the thin line and thick line and back again smoothly, all in the same line. This is the main pen I use for inking.
- Not pictured is the bottle of Higgins Waterproof Ink into which I dip the previous pen. It was what I immediately found when shopping for pen and ink, and I feel it may not be of the highest quality that I can find, but it’s certainly doing the job I need it to do right now.
Furthermore, not pictured is the second-most important tool I use for drawing Eben07, the actual pencil! I’m separating this from the list above because it’s going to take a little bit of explanation.
I used to use the Pentel mechanical pencil pictured above, but with me there are two problems: 1) I draw with a heavy hand and 2) I screw up a lot. With a pencil using standard lead this can mean disaster because a heavy hand means the problem is less about the lead on the paper and more about the indentation you actually leave in the page; it’s something you cannot erase. Plus, if you screw up enough you will find that erasing won’t get rid of all the lines on the page. Basically, the more you keep drawing over a previously erased drawing the more you damage the paper; the page becomes less hard and more absorbent, for lack of a better word.
Why is this bad for a webcomic? Because even when you ink over the pencils you won’t be able to fully erase the lines you erased multiple times (at least not with standard lead). This becomes a problem when it comes time to scan the drawing. Once scanned you’ll have the light ghosting of those lines littering your black and white art that will take precious time away from coloring and finishing your page. Instead you’ll have to spend hours touching up the page.
To avoid this problem I did have, I switched to what’s colloquially known as a non-repro blue pencil. For those not in the know, this is a pencil whose lines do not photocopy or scan, its lead is basically invisible to the scanner: a gift from the art gods to me.
The specific pencil I use is inconsequential, but for those that want to know, it’s a Staedtler Non-Photo Blue (below is a crappy picture of one):
The beginnings of the process haven’t changed. We start with a script, now written on the brilliant free script-writing program called Celtx.
Once the script is hammered out, I do a quick, sketchy layout on some convenient “Comic Book Layout Paper” 07 got me, a book of it made by Canson. Layouts can be done on any paper, of course. As you can see, the paper I use has enough space for four pages. Sometimes I sketch a little more detailed than other times. What’s important at this stage is that the panels fit on the page and that the eye follows their progression naturally. I also use this as the place to establish figure and balloon placement:
The top left is for this comic, the comic below that is for this one. The two on the right are the second and third (top and bottom, respectively) of Operation: 3-Ring Bound. Though none of these are for the comic whose process I’m about to show, the general look of its layout is the same as these. So, let’s move on.
Once I’m happy with the layout, I pencil the sucker up, measuring out a 10″x15″ space on a piece of 14″x17″ Strathmore smooth bristol board (300 series) using my non-photo blue pencil and a C-Thru Ruler (B-70) for measurements and straight lines, resulting in a thing like this:
Sorry that the image looks a little strange, but it’s remarkably accurate. Because my scanner is smaller than the 10″x15″ comic page size, I have to scan the page in sections and stitch them together in Photoshop (but because blue-line doesn’t scan too well, the above picture is actually assembled from three cell phone photographs). Not a big problem by any means; I’m sure it’s something many cartoonists have to deal with. Note how I didn’t delineate the backgrounds too much on this page. Depending on the scene, I’ll leave the backgrounds out of the pencil stage (usually if they aren’t too complicated) and just figure them out while inking, or if they’re very specific or establishing shots I’ll get very detailed at the pencil stage. Backgrounds are a process all on their own, one that I’m still developing. You can see in the next stage why I probably should have worked the backgrounds out at this point.
At this point, I start laying down the lines with the crow quill nib pen. Even when I do draw the backgrounds at the pencil stage, I start inking the characters first because they are, in a sense, the most important element of a panel.
Inking with the crow quill is completely different from drawing with a pencil, requiring an entirely different technique. With a pencil I can move my hand around and hold it at many angles to get the lines I want. The dip pen is finicky in terms of its handling. What was the hardest part to learn? As simple as it sounds, the key to inking with a dip pen is to remember to turn the paper and keep your arm still.
With this page, I’d ink the characters and then I’d go in with a pencil to draw in the backgrounds before inking them in. Take a look at the initial pencils for the first panel above. Here is what the finished inks looked like, seeing clearly variation of line the crow quill provides, making it look very similar to the brush in Photoshop (look at the shirt and pant folds). By “line variation” I’m speaking of how the “weight” of a line changes along its path, from thin to thick, thick to thin, or thin to thick to thin or vice versa:
I used a little forced perspective here, being mildly successful. Herein lies the greatest problem with inking a webcomic by hand: it’s hard to become technically proficient when you have the safety net of “fixing” problems in Photoshop. It takes a level of dedication to make everything perfect at the inking stage, because it’s so easy to gently nudge things into place in Photoshop. I have taken the stand that unless it’s a horribly offensive artistic error (see how I slacked off in the distant background?) I don’t mess with final inks after scanning them. You don’t want to get caught up in the crutch of “Photoshop fixes all” because that’s wasted time. Webcartoonists often bitch about not having buffers or not having enough time to make a buffer. I’m sure much of this comes from dependence on Photoshop (or the appropriate digital artistic interface). If one gets it right the first time, then you don’t have to mess with it. I’ve actually chosen to accept (most) of my mistakes and moving on because that way I can get back to drawing sooner, rather than doing the stuff that I don’t like as much.
After a few hours or more, I end up with a piece of paper that looks like this:
I tend to not ink the panel borders anymore because I end up erasing them in Photoshop anyway. There are many errors here, but it’s still pretty cool to hold in your hands a (mostly) finished product, something you can show off and say, “Yeah, I did that.” My cats aren’t usually impressed. In fact, they like to sit on my pages.