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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I’m drawing Haunted Mansion Ghosts for Inktober 2016

Every October people all over the world people celebrate “Inktober” by getting out their ink pens, brushes, and markers and attempting to do a new, ink drawing every day of the month.

Sometimes it’s random subject matter, sometimes people try to follow a theme. This year, I picked “The Haunted Mansion” as my theme and I’m trying to draw a different Disney ghost every day. Not sure if I’ll get one done every single day, but if you want to follow along (and see other Inktober drawings that other illustrators and cartoonists are doing) check out the #Inktober2016 hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

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As I make my way through Inktober, I’ll try to keep updating this post. Each happy haunt is done the same way: pencil sketch light-boxed onto Bristol board, then inked with Sakura brush pens and Pitt artist pens. Oh! And I’m trying to draw the ghosts in the order you encounter them in the Haunted Mansion. I’ll also try to caption them with the names they’ve been given, if any (though, there seem to be conflicting views on what certain ghosts are named, depending on what source you go to). Click to embiggen. Happy Halloween! -v

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Alexander Nitrokoff

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Daisy De La Cruz / Sally Slater

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Quicksand Trio / The Hobbs’

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Abigale Pateclever / Constance Hatchaway

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The Sea Captain / Capt. Culpepper Clyne

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Medusa

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The Hanging Man

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Vampire

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Jack the Ripper

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Madame Leota

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Birthday Ghost

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Birthday Guest

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Ballroom Dancers

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Passenger in Hearse

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The Organist

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The Duelists

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The Bride

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The Caretaker

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Pop-Up Ghosts

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Skeleton Hound

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Mummy

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Hard-of=Hearing Ghost

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Lady Opera Singer

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Opera Singer Guy

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The Executioner

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The Headless Knight

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Gus (Hitchhiking Ghohst)

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Ezra (Hitchhiking Ghost)

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Phineas (Hitchhiking Ghost)

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The Hatbox Ghost

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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