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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Kickstarter Commissions Rolling Right Along

Hey everybody. Just a quick one this time. Along with everything else that’s going on, I’m diligently working on the commissions that certain backers of my Kickstarter get. I want to get them finished in time to ship them with the books (which should arrive in the next couple months). So, While I don’t have a lot of time to make process posts, here’s a quick rundown of the latest one I did.

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It’s Scout. One of the stars of my book. And, as usual, he’s nervous about something. The fact that he’s quick-to-panic is a big part of his personality and character. And that’s exactly what this particular backer wanted. A good, old-fashioned, scared Scout.

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So here we go. Pencils on Bristol Board.

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I’m using those Sakura Pigma brush pens I’ve been fiddling around with lately. Really like the control and variable-width line I get with those.

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All done inking. Time for color.

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He may seem white, surrounded by all that color in the comic, but Scout’s not white. He’s kind of a very light cream color with warm brown markings. I’m using a Utrecht marker I like for the base color, but most of this will be finished with Copic Markers.

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So there’s Scout’s markings and shadows, done with Copic Sketch Markers. I like those brush tips. Not much left to do here….color in the mouth area, text, and grass.

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Not sure my phone camera captures color very accurately, but here’s Scout — all finished and ready to run from trouble. When I start sending out Untold Tales of Bigfoot: Crossing Paths to backers in a couple months, he’ll be packed into the envelope with the book. So. Another one down. But I have more to go. Better get to work. -v

Copic Marker Wonder Woman (Yeah, I gave her straps to hold up her top…what of it?!)

First, some good news: My Kickstarter is 100% funded. But I have another week to go to hit some stretch goals. I’m hoping one way of doing that is by people choosing the “private commission” rewards where I’ll draw any figure you’d like (black/white or color). Since I’ve been working on some examples of those commissions, I thought I’d post some process shots of some of them here.

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So here’s ol’ Wonder Woman. I did this line drawing on Bristol Board (smooth) with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and some Pitt Artist Pens. The brush pen is great for those thick/thin lines, but my hand is way too shaky to attempt tiny details with it yet. So the Pitt pens come in handy for that.

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I started with the legs. Not because I felt really confident about the colors I chose, but I figured I could douse them in shadows if I really screwed up. But they’re not too bad. I think I used four different colors (E colors in the Copic line of markers) and a blender to smooth things out. If I’d had a few more dollars in my wallet, I might have picked up some light pinks and blues and really gone crazy, but these few light-peachy colors get the point across.

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Real quick: There are a handful of different styles of Copic markers. I used to use the squarish, Copic Original style (on the bottom in the photo). They have a chisel tip end and a small, pointed nib. Perfectly good markers. But lately, I’ve grown accustomed to the Copic Sketch Markers (on top in the photo). They’ve got a chisel tip as well, but their opposite side is a really nice, long, felt brush that has a lot of give (for nice weight variation) with a point sharp enough for detail work. It’s entirely up to you, though. So try out a few different styles. Different tools for different jobs.

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Ever stand in front of a rack of Copics and try to pick colors and stay on budget? It’s nuts. There were about 50 blues that were calling to me. In the end, I thought these three could do the job. I think these were Light Blue, Cyan Blue, and Peacock. Don’t quote me, but you get the idea. Three values of blue, and I dragged a toner grey over some of the skirt to dull/darken it.

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Here I’ve started in with the reds. R22, R29, and R59 I think.Basically a pinkish highlight, a bold, bright midtone, and a subdued, darker value. There was a lot of blending (and these reds seemed really liquid…not sure if it was just the three I happened to buy, or if they’re always like that) so I didn’t have to use a colorless blender with them. They self-blended for the most part. Some of the highlights you see are either blank paper or, when I needed it, white gel pen to add highlights. Speaking of which…

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Here’s a close-up of her headband. I wanted some variation in the colors (not just flat yellow and red) so there’s a bit of yellow, orange, and brown in there to make the gold. And in that bottom image you can see that I went in afterward with a white gel pen to add highlights. I’m always looking to try new white inks, so if you’ve used one you love, let me know about it in the comments and I’ll probably try it out. In this case, I used the pen below.

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This is a Gelly Roll 08 White Gel Pen by Sakura. Like I said, I’ve tried a lot of white inks, and this one, so far, is pretty smooth, covers well, and doesn’t dry into a hard, white brick of useless ink inside the pen too quickly.

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And here’s the final full-color Wonder Woman. I figured, with a metal chestplate like that, she’d probably need some sort of support straps to avoid a wardrobe malfunction during battle. It just feels more secure. Ladies? Agree? I’d have put tough, leather leggings on her too but that’d cause a riot. As it stands, I think I covered her in enough armor to make it believable,  while still doing that ancient-Greek-warrior-aesthetic justice.

Hope you got something out of that. Or at least had fun reading through it. And hey, if you wanna show me your undying appreciation, feel free to head over to my Kickstarter before next Thursday the 23rd and drop a couple bucks in the pot. Every little bit helps. Have a great weekend! -v

Shameless Plug: My Kickstarter is Live!

If you’ve been coming to this blog to see my process work (thank you) you may know I also work on an award-winning webcomic called Untold Tales of Bigfoot. Well, I just launched a Kickstarter Campaign to get that comic into print, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t post that info here.

If you have the time, go check out the Kickstarter. Untold tales of Bigfoot is an all-ages adventure about a lost dog and a lonesome bigfoot, and the theme revolves around the importance of friendship and family (but Bigfoot also wrestles with a mountain lion and stuff like that). Thanks for listening to my pitch. : )

Untold Tales of Bigfoot Kickstarter Page

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Quick as a Flash! A speedy marker sketch process.

Hey everybody! I haven’t posted in a bit because I’ve been getting the Kickstarter for my graphic novel ready (it launches Tuesday, May 24th). But I was just fiddling around with some grey Copic markers and thought I’d snap a few pictures and run through the process just for the heck of it. (The Flash ©DC Comics, Silver Age Flash design by Carmine Infantino)

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I wanted to draw The Flash. I love the original, winged-helmet, Jay Garrick-Flash. And I’m a big fan of the re-design they did on the CW TV show. But my first Flash was Infantino’s Silver Age re-design, and my version sticks fairly close to that. So I sketched out a rough, then used a lightbox to clean up the lines a little. That’s smooth Bristol paper. It’s a little dim….not as bright white as some others, but still pretty bright. Most of the yellowing in these photos is from my terrible phone camera. : )

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I used the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen to ink most of this. It has those long, flexible bristles that allow for a nice variation in line weight. But it’s got some play to it, so you have to have a steady hand. Mine’s not as steady as I’d like, so I chickened out and used a Pitt pen for the fine features in the face.

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Another thing about the Pocket Brush is that ink takes a while to dry. Especially if there are large black areas (like under his left arm). So I finished the inking and let it dry before laying down the markers.

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I’m just a newbie with the Copic markers, but I love the smooth flow of the tones. I just wanted a greyscale image, so I used an array of Copic greys and a clear blender. The blender is nice to have in a pinch, but I find that if you lay your colors down quickly enough, they start the blending on their own.

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You can see in the is last detail, even with the smooth Bristol, you still get a good deal of texture from the paper. There were a few spots where, even after hours of drying time, the Copics re-hydrated the ink lines and I had to use the blender to work in the smudges. Overall, I enjoy working pen-to-paper every so often. It keeps you sharp, and this was good practice. -v

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Coming Soon: Giant Sea Monster!

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This is a quick sneak-peek of a project I’m working on with some comic-creator friends. Just an informal art-jam kind of thing. We’re supposed to wrap up by the end of the month, maybe a little while after that. But when we do, I’ll be sure to post my process on this monstrous page. I just wanted to give you a little preview because I’ve been having a lot of fun working on it and I wanted to share. -v

My Watson Guest Strip

Looks like my Bigfoot & Scout characters had some new visitors to their neck of the woods! That’s Fudgey and his dog Watson, the main characters in the online comic Watson, created by cartoonist, family man and notorious nutball, Jim Horwitz.Watson_UntoldTalesofBigfoot_GuestStrip_VinceDorseJim came to me a while ago and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating on a Watson guest strip. Look at that winning smile. How could I say no?  Watson_JimBioNot only is Jim a funny, talented cartoonist, he’s also a nice guy with a high-energy personality and some impressive writing chops. In fact, he wrote that last sentence. Here’s a recent Watson strip that’s a good example of Jim’s style.Watson_SimonSays

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So, Jim had an idea for a gag where Watson and Fudgey meet Bigfoot and Scout, who are turning a decent buck selling Bigfoot merchandise. Jim had a script all written out, so I roughed out a first draft.Watson_UntoldTalesofBigfoot_GuestStrip_VinceDorse

I sketched directly in MangaStudio (ClipStudio Paint) this time. No pencil or paper, just digital. Jim hated it. Well, maybe hate is a strong word.  But he did want some changes. He suggested I open up the space a little more, create some breathing room between the characters. Turned out to be a good note because, even though I was shooting for BIG and BOLD, the text Jim wrote wouldn’t have fit in my original composition. So I took another pass at the composition.Watson_UntoldTalesofBigfoot_GuestStrip_VinceDorseI’ll admit…I didn’t run this second draft by Jim because I was afraid he’d have more changes and, frankly, I did not have time for those kind of shenanigans. But I was pretty confident I nailed the aesthetic he was looking for (hope so, anyway). I jumped into to the inking phase.

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Inks were done in MS with a standard brush. I didn’t try to match Jim’s style — a dynamic mix of stylized blocks of borderless color and lines so thick and heavy you could use them to beat someone unconscious. I just went with my standard style, hoping it would do Jim’s idea justice.

Jim and I bounced around a few different ideas for the color. But here’s the thing: Jim and I make different kinds of comics. His strip is punchy and gag-based and often leans toward bright, bold RGB colors while my long-form comic benefits from the laid-back, subtler CMYK mixes. So we compromised…Watson_UntoldTalesofBigfoot_GuestStrip_VinceDorse

I laid down my flat colors in MS, but went a little lighter and brighter than I normally would. Afterward, I exported the file, converted to RGB and used Photoshop adjustment layers to brighten and saturate the colors even further. In the end, what I sent to Jim wasn’t quite as bubbly as his usual strips, nor was it as mellow as my usual color palette. A decent, middle-ground.

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Here’s a close-up of some of the modeling I did on the trees and figures. All done in MangaStudio. Jim’s strip is very sharp and crisp, but since this was my guest strip I decided to throw all that out the window and try something different. I used soft, textured brushes to model the trees, and built up the highlights on Bigfoot’s fur with some rough-edged, low-opacity brushes to give him a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. Did Jim like it? I don’t know. But what’s he gonna do? Recolor it? With his deadlines? I’d like to see him try.Watson_UntoldTalesofBigfoot_GuestStrip_VinceDorseIn case it’s of any interest, here’s what my colors look like without the ink lines.

And, finally, here’s a mock-up of what the strip looks like with all the text, full color and with the official Watson border around it. Not too bad.  Watson_UntoldTalesofBigfoot_GuestStrip_VinceDorseI had a great time working on this guest strip with Jim, so big thanks to him for giving me the opportunity! Why not visit the Watson site , support Watson on Facebook, and browse through the archives where Jim celebrates the subtle moments in life and pokes some lighthearted fun at politics, Hollywood, technology, pop-culture, and other cartoonists. -v