How I Made My First Mini-Comic (Or Failed To, Actually, Because I’m An Idiot And Couldn’t Leave Well Enough Alone)

I Like Mini-Comics

Mini-comics are awesome. Homemade, photocopied, hand-stapled, indie gems that may be lo-fi but are often packed with amazing artwork and stories. Say what you will about big budget movie trailer sneak peaks… I think mini-comics are the heart of comic conventions.

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Recent buys, Detached:Vol 1 by Angela Fullard, Black Dog: Steps & Red Frog by Saramiel Ae.

But, despite drawing during practically every waking minute, I really haven’t put together a proper mini-comic of my own (at least not since I was a kid doodling bootleg Spider-Man adventures). So I decided to do it. Finally. It’d be good practice and would give me another low-price item to offer at cons (most of the ones I’ve picked up range between $4-$6). I’ll take you through my steps, start to finish.

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I began the process by folding eight sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper in half and I started drawing. Eight folded sheets gives you 32 pages (I know you know math, just bear with me). My goal was to come up with a simple story and have a 32-page mini-comic ready to go by the time I tabled at the Baltimore Comic Con this September.

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The thing I really love about mini-comics is that there are no rigid expectations about what they contain. Sometimes it’s light comedy, sometimes dark horror, sometimes artsy allegory, sometimes superheroes,….so many genres and styles. Often they’re limited-run one-shots so the storytelling can be bold and experimental. But just as often, you’ll see standard sequential art and linear storytelling. Mine? I wasn’t planning anything groundbreaking. Just a story about a girl and her cat. I really just wanted to have fun making it.

The Mechanics of Pagination

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So here’s why I folded up the paper before I started drawing. Whether you want to ink traditionally on paper, or scan in each sheet to ink digitally, the end result should be a spread that you can then photocopy and staple into a booklet. And you can see how the not-quite-intuitive page distribution is all taken care of by simply drawing the book as a book before dismantling it to make copies.

Inking

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Because I was under the gun to get it drawn, copied, and stapled before the comic con, I decided I would dismantle the penciled booklet, scan in the sheets, and ink the drawings in Clip Studio. That way, it’s easier to fix mistakes (and experiment with technique if I felt like it).

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Everything was coming along pretty quickly, aided by the fact that the story wasn’t a panel-heavy layout. I wanted a lot of single, solitary images on stark backgrounds (kind of like a kid’s book), eventually building to a more traditional, sequential format, then back to lots of breathing room again. This was another experiment for me, and I wanted to do something stylistically dissimilar to my other books. The inked, ready-to-copy pages were done in a few weeks.

Then, Like An Idiot, I Decided To Color It

Once I finished the inks, I got price quotes from Staples to plan my budget. Everything was rolling along smoothly. Then I thought I’d color one of the images to see how it looked. Good news/Bad news….I kinda’ liked it.

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Soon I started questioning the project, “How will they know it’s a ginger cat if I photocopy it in black and white?” and “Will anyone know the girl has two-toned hair?” So instead of heading to Staples for final copies, I went back to the computer to color a few more pages. You know…just to see how they looked. Then I colored the entire book.

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Coloring in the black line art would’ve taken enough time as is. But the pages for the mini were heavy on high contrast, with big areas of bold blacks, and most of the grey tones were completed. If I was really going to print this thing in color, the greys had to be eliminated, and some of the black inks had to be removed and replaced with color.

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While I was making those changes, I started researching prices for printing the mini in color at Staples. But I also researched what it might cost to do a very limited run of these things as a full-color, regular-sized comic book.

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I researched a couple online print services (Ka-Blam and Comix Wellspring), both of them well-recommended. Turns out, the online comic book printers weren’t that much more, per issue, than hand-folding/stapling a bunch of half-sized color copies. I figured, why not? And it would save me all that folding, collating, and stapling. With a deadline looming, I completed the reformatting in time to have the comics printed by Ka-Blam and delivered just a couple weeks before the convention.

The Finished Project From Ka-Blam

So there it is. Phoebe and Beeswax. Glad to get it in time for the show, but let’s take a closer look to see how the printer performed. minicomic_process_DorseOverall, I’m happy with the book. But I do note that Ka-Blam’s colors are a shade paler than what I expected. Still very nice, but just a touch washed out compared to my test prints at home.minicomic_process_DorseMost of the time, print-houses nail my colors. And Ka-Blam came pretty close. But Ka-Blam’s colors are not quite as intense as I expected. It might be because Ka-Blam prefers their files in RGB, while I work in CMYK (as most printers I use require). Ka-Blam doesn’t provide a proof, so you don’t really know how your colors will look until you crack open the box. The comic looks fine, but if I get anything else printed by Ka-Blam, it’s an issue I’d want to address to see if we could tweak things a bit more to my liking.

minicomic_process_DorseAnother issue I’ve discussed with them is that a number of the books arrived with some corner damage/creasing. It’s not unheard of, of course. I had a few dinged Bigfoot books from PrintNinja, but I’d ordered a lot more of those. With such a limited run of Phoebe & Beeswax, the dinged copies make up an appreciable percentage of the total. I can’t say Ka-Blam didn’t try to pack it well — the books were sealed in plastic, and encased in a pillow of shredded paper. But take a look at the shipping box:minicomic_process_DorseIt took only two days to get to me, by airplane, and it was delivered to my door looking like it had been used as the ball in a Steeler’s pre-season practice game. I know sometimes I can be a little nit-picky. But most times, I think I’m the perfect amount of nit-picky! So I informed Ka-Blam customer service of the issue to see if they’d do anything about it. They asked me to send photos of the damaged product, so I assume they’re considering their options. However, they’re located in Florida and I’m pretty sure that Hurricane Irma is marginally more pressing than my dinged corners. I’ll update this post when I receive an answer.

That’s That

And that’s how I failed to make my first mini-comic. Because I really couldn’t stop tweaking this project, it went from a half-sized, black-and-white mini-comic (that I could price at $5~$6) to a full-sized, full-color comic book on premium paper with a gloss cover (that I’ll probably price at $7~$8). Not much of a price difference, really. And if you like color, this version of the story will satisfy your rods and cones. Personally? I like color, and I like seeing that the orange cat is orange.

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Phoebe & Beeswax Debuts at Baltimore Comic Con

Phoebe & Beeswax: There’s No Beeswax Like Show Beeswax is a sweet little story of a girl who’s not sure what her talent is, but luckily her cat’s there to help her figure it all out. I’ll have it with me at Baltimore Comic Con, September 22 – 24, 2017. If you’re there, stop by table A-233 and say hi.  -v

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Covering A Health Issue (Ha! Pun!)

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_01Here’s my latest cover for the Pittsburgh City Paper. They’re publishing their 2017 Health Issue this week, so Lisa the Art Director had me draw a kindly old doctor for the cover.

The Brief

Lisa gave me a few options to play with for the cover assignment, but they all centered around a doctor making a house call, so I tossed out a couple quick sketches. I toyed with the idea of having a young woman doctor with a modern feel, but the concept of making house calls is so quaint and outdated, I decided an old-timey doctor would fit better. The illustration was done in Clip Studio Paint, including these sketches.

HealthIssue2017Lisa liked the one on the doorstep, so we went with it. I only had a couple days, so the quicker we nail down an idea the better.

Side Note: One of the reasons it’s so fun to work with Lisa is that she has fun doing her job. She told me she kept flipping back and forth between my two sketches to make him dance. So I made a gif for her to enjoy. In fact, she just reminded me that I didn’t include it in this post, so I’m adding it just for her. : )

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Line

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_03When I do work for the City Paper, I often use a style that tries to evoke retro comic book inks and colors. But, for this doctor piece, I wanted something a little softer, a little more storybook. So I decided I’d use one of the Clip Studio pencil tools for the linework.

Flats

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_02aEven though I’m trying to avoid a comic book look, I did begin the coloring process with the standard comic book practice of laying down the flat colors. I used a standard, smooth, round brush for this.

Background

I started with the background first knowing it’d be relatively simple. The clouds in the sky were done with a low-opacity watercolor brush. The houses and trees in the distance were just blocked in with a chalk brush (you can see the rough edges), then blended into a soft blue.

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_04I used that same chalk brush for most of the rest of the illustration, including the work on this picket fence and grass. The sweeping crossbeam on that fence was drawn with the assistance of Clip Studio’s curve ruler. It’s an indispensable tool I use with almost any image that has long, smooth curves.

Sunbeams

I had this idea about kitschy lighting in the background: sunbeams radiating out and upward like vintage product packaging for butter or oranges or some other wholesome food.HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_05I flipped the sunbeam layer on and off a few dozen times before finally deciding to keep it. I think it helps give the illustration more of an old-fashioned feel.

Modeling The Figure

The really fun part was adding all the highlights and shadows with the chalk brush. I made this animated gif to show the progression from flat color to fully-rendered.HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_06Here’s another reason doing the background first is helpful. The color of the highlights were pulled directly from the sunlight behind him. Same thing with the shadows. This way the figure looks like he belongs in the scene. The rosy reds on his cheeks and nose don’t really exist in the background, but they’re there to give him that friendly, cherubic glow.

Text

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_07I hand-lettered the words on this cover (based on existing typefaces) because I didn’t want them to look too perfect, but I needed them to be clean and readable at a distance. For “Health Issue” I added a slightly offset drop-shadow to really give it some oomph.

Grass and Shrubs

I ran a really rough chalk brush over the lawn a few dozen times to give it a little more texture. The bushes were done with a watercolor bristle brush because I wanted the slightly ovoid stroke of a brush for the leaves, rather than the blunt mark of a chalk tool.HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_08I handed the piece in and then realized I’d forgotten to draw the bottom beam on the picket fence. So I fixed it and re-sent the final-final illustration to Lisa. This is why I usually sit with an illustration for a full day before handing it in — so I can catch some of my mistakes before the client does.

Finished Cover

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And here’s the finished cover with the masthead added by the City Paper. If you’re interested in the state of health care and how it effects Pittsburghers, feel free to zip over and read the digital version online. -v

My Custom Drawing Board from Green Rabbet Workshop

This’ll be an oddball process post because it’s not really something I created (though I did work on the design). Instead, it’s a wonderful new art tool, custom built for me by my friend Mike at Green Rabbet Workshop.

DrawingBoard_DorseIt feels as nice and rich as it looks, by the way. A vast, 18×24 surface, beveled edges, and smooth as silk so it’s perfect for a pad of paper or even single sheets. No pencil-jarring humps or grooves in the wood.

DrawingBoard_DorseAs per my design request, it snaps open to a very useful 30º angle for drawing when tilt-top tables aren’t available. I didn’t want it suddenly snapping shut if I put too much pressure on the drawing surface. Mike knows his stuff and he came up with a solution.

DrawingBoard_DorseThese are locking hinges. They give the board a slightly higher profile when it’s closed, but the security of knowing this thing won’t flap down during a drawing session is well worth it.

DrawingBoard_DorseMike also worked in a lip at the bottom at my request. It’s tall enough to rest pencils, pens, and even the bottom edge of a sketchbook against, but it doesn’t interfere with my forearm when drawing.

DrawingBoard_DorseAnother great feature is that, when the legs are snapped closed, the arch cut into them forms a very comfortable handle. Mike and I are thinking about adding a shoulder strap just in case I have to juggle an armload of art supplies, but even as-is, it’s amazingly portable for such a roomy drawing surface.

So, that’s it. That’s the process of designing a much-needed drawing board and having your friend the professional craftsman (who isn’t deathly afraid of power tools the way I am) make it into reality. If you want to learn more about Mike’s efforts to use reclaimed wood and green processes in his projects, visit the Green Rabbet Workshop site (and check to link to his Etsy shop to see more of his work). He’s always taking custom orders, so if you need something unique, let him know. -v

Chef: Card Game Art Process in Clip Studio Paint

I recently finished illustrating a series of cards for the game Foray, an expansion set to the successful 2-player game, Morels from Two Lanterns Games. The games are mushroom-themed, and so most of the drawings revolve around foraging for, cooking, or eating mushrooms.

Chef_process_VinceDorseMost of the cards have an interesting twist to them, and it was a lot of fun working on cards like that panther or dragon (above). But honestly, they were relatively simple compared to the Chef card with all of its perspective, varying surface textures, and staging. Luckily, using Clip Studio Paint made the job a little easier.

Perspective Rulers

Chef_process_VinceDorseI scribbled out my initial sketch in Clip Studio. I roughed it in loosely, just trying to get an idea of where the drawing was headed. Then I set up my perspective rulers. As you can see, I was in the ballpark, but not quite close enough. So using the rulers and a pencil tool, I redrew the kitchen in proper perspective (below).

Chef_process_VinceDorseThat’s better. I also used the perspective ruler to set up some guidelines for the brickwork and even the metal grates on the stove top.

Figure Rulers, Curve Rulers

Chef_process_VinceDorseToggling off the perspective rulers, I used the Clip Studio’s figure rulers to help me draw all those circles of the pots, pans, and jars. The curve rulers were used to make the smooth, curved outlines of the pot handles, bowls, jars, and other various objects. Then, since the client requested something more akin to realism than cartooning, I used a reference model to help me sketch out a more realistic figure. There is no ‘chef ruler’ so I had to do that freehand.

Colors

Chef_process_VinceDorseStill in Clip Studio, I painted in the flats with a smooth, round brush. The client had very specific references for this kitchen, so all of those details (the fittings, tiles, bricks — even what the chef is wearing and the color of her hair) were specifically called for. Now you see what I mean? Compared to this kitchen, drawing that panther on a rock was a piece of cake!

Chef_process_VinceDorse06Now it’s time to turn up the heat and add the highlights, shadows, and surface texture of all the various objects around the room.

Highlights, Shadows, and Texture

Chef_process_VinceDorseI started detailing with the chef. I used some textured brushes to indicate folds in her clothing, and smoothed things out with a blender brush. There was some soft airbrushing in there too. Next, the brickwork.

Chef_process_VinceDorseFor the brickwork, I first ramped up the darks and lights to help with the illusion of depth. On top of all that, I used a chalk brush to paint in rough brick texture, changing up the colors every so often for variety.

Chef_process_VinceDorseThere were all kinds of surfaces in the drawing. Brass, copper, stainless steel, tile, brick, wood, etc. Clip Studio Paint has a nice selection of standard brushes that are great for rendering surface texture, but I’ve also collected and created a bunch of custom brushes over the years that helped me finish up this detailing. If you’re looking to expand your tool set, you can find custom brushes created by Clip Studio artists all over the internet, and they’re easy to install. So give it a try.

Chef_process_VinceDorseSome of the finishing touches I put in with the airbrush tool: steam rising from the hot pots and pans, glints of light reflecting off metal surfaces, cast shadow under the table falling on the tile floor. Then it was just a matter of making some tonal adjustments and the illustration was done.

Sketch to Final

Chef_process_VinceDorse11This gif takes you through my entire process. All of it was done in Clip Studio Paint (with a brief stop in Photoshop afterward to convert to CMYK for the printer). With a selection of tools and rulers so robust, you rarely need to leave Clip Studio to bring an illustration from sketch to finish. -v

Local Authors Forum, Mt. Lebanon Library

Sometimes you doodle a webcomic, you Kickstart it into a book, and suddenly you’re a “local author.” Better than “person of interest” or “suspect at large” I suppose.

I’m joining a handful of local authors at Mt. Lebanon Public Library this Tuesday, May 16, at 7pm for the library’s Spring Local Author Forum.

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Not sure what the moderator will ask us, but I’ve attended these things before and usually there’s some interesting chit-chat from a varied group of people. If your car happens to break down near the library tomorrow night, hoof it on over and take a load off in Meeting Room A. I’ll have some Bigfoot & Halloween Moon books with me, and my doodling pens (in case you’d like a book signed). -v

More Politics For The Pittsburgh City Paper

Today the Pittsburgh City Paper puts out their 2017 Election Guide, featuring the Mayoral Race between incumbent Bill Peduto, and challengers Darlene Harris and John Welch.

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And, once again, I’ve been chosen to do caricatures of local politicians for the cover. Oh, politics. At least you afford me the opportunity to draw an elephant once in a while.

But the assignment was for more than just the cover image. This time I also had an interior spot illustration of Mayor Peduto, all gussied up as a circus ringmaster. Here’s some behind-the-scenes steps to getting this illustration from concept to print.

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Normally, doing political caricatures makes my stomach feel like I swallowed a bowl of thumbtacks for lunch. Too much pressure, too many politics. But Peduto is kind of fun to draw, so I didn’t bang my head on the desk too much during this job. First thing’s first: I collected my reference and worked up a sketch.

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Peduto’s a little cartoony to begin with, so it’s not that far a leap from photo to caricature.

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The original brief called for the mayor to be balancing on a rubber ball, like a trained seal. But (CP Art Director) Lisa and I batted it back and forth and decided on one of those pedestals that lions perch on — maybe because he’s cast as ringmaster rather than performer, maybe because it creates the illusion of more stability, maybe it just looks better.

So, the finished sketch gets approved and I move on to inks.

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Digital inks, done in ClipStudio (Manga Studio) with a standard brush.

We also had a brief discussion about color. Traditionally, circuses use the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) and I went with that. But Lisa thought, since it was an election guide, we should go with the good ol’ red, white, and blue. I agreed.

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Once the base colors are in, I start layering in the highlights, shadows, and texture. Here’s a gif that takes you from sketch to finished rendering.

CPElection_07_DorseEven though I’ve done quite a few of these political pieces for the City Paper, these caricatures are always a learning process for me. Sometimes I think I nail the likeness pretty well, sometimes I’m off the mark. But I never set out to mock anyone with the illustration. I just try to highlight predominant features or exaggerate attitude or bearing. Hopefully, it’s all taken in the spirit with which it was doodled. Good, clean fun. -v

Here’s the digital online version of this week’s City Paper, in case you’d like to read it.

Lil’ Kritters, Start To Finish

This is an illustration I did to freshen up my online gallery. Bunch of animals rocking out.

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It didn’t take too long to finish, and the process is pretty straightforward. Here’s how I put it together.

Pencils: The pencils, as usual, were done on paper. Different scraps of paper that I scanned in and arranged in a general “rock band” formation.

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Inks: I inked it in Clip Studio, using a standard brush. You could use any tool, of course. It really depends on what sort of effect you’re looking for. I wanted a standard, ink and brush look.

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I inked this with either the G-pen (which is a nice, all-around brush that comes standard) or a Hairpin Sable (which might be a custom brush I bought online). Either way, any basic inking brush will work. Heck, you could even ink it on paper and scan it in.

Here’s the stage of the drawing where you witness the skunk keyboardist get Pete-Bested out of the band by the groundhog.

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Here’s why: After I started inking, I realized that skunk would be a huge splat of black ink that would draw your eye away from everything else. So out goes Stinky, in comes Ringo.

Flats: I almost left it at this stage because it looked good enough to stop. You could probably make a case for stopping here, leaving it more of a graphic design statement than a fully-rendered illustration.

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I actually like it like this. But it’s really just the stage where I separate the elements into easily-selectable shapes to model with highlights, shadows, and textures.

Modeling: Still in ClipStudio, I used soft pencil, chalk, and watercolor brushes to render the fur and feathers.

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Logo, Levels, & Lighting: I worked up a quick logo for the bass drum in Photoshop (mostly because I just don’t understand the text tool in ClipStudio. Maybe I’m missing something but it seems really clunky and hard to work with). I slapped the logo on the bass drum and then adjusted my levels. Got the brights up a little brighter, the darks a little deeper.

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Then it was time for the finishing touch – the spotlights.  Since I was in Photoshop already, I just drew some spotlight shapes with the selection tool, filled it with a warm light color, tossed on a blur and boom. Done. Like I said, it didn’t take long to finish this illustration. Most of the work was training a bunch of animals to play “Stray Cat Strut” so I could snap reference photos. Now that I think about it, I should’ve gotten it on video -v

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