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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Untold Tales of Bigfoot/Star Wars Mash-Up Commision

Just finished up a commission for a client who wanted me to mix Star Wars with some characters from my Untold Tales of Bigfoot comic – and I had a blast! Here’s the basic brief: B/W illustration, Princess Leia’s escaping from Jabba’s palace with Chewbacca and Han Solo. But in this case, Chewbacca’s being played by my Bigfoot character, and Han is Scout… and he’s frozen in carbonite. A brilliant idea and I was happy to work on it.

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Aside from the idea being crazy fun, another reason I was excited to work on this was because I wanted to try out some new brushes I recently picked up. Of course I used my Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens. They’re an old stand-by that are part of my regular workflow. But I also tried these Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pens. I saw them in an art store recently and thought I’d give ’em a try.

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But before we get to the inking, I had to come up with a composition. I sketched this pretty quickly (the scene kind of writes itself) and got approval.

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Luckily, the client trusted me even though all I’d sent him was this chicken scratch. And when I had a chance to take a second look at it, I thought it might be a stronger piece if I centered the whole composition. So I lightboxed the doodle and penciled something a little more polished.

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The sketch line’s a little light right now and hard to see, but it’ll all be much clearer when I slap some ink down on it. Time to get out those new pens!

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You can see these Pigma’s come in 3 sizes, Fine, Medium, and Bold. The tips are flexible and have a great feel to them. The ink is supposed to be archival and waterproof. And – as you’ll see later in the post – they held up very well to toning with Copic Markers and I didn’t even have to wait overnight to make sure the ink was dry.

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In this image where I’m inking Leia’s leg, I’m using the Fine tip Pigma. I wasn’t sure what kind of line it would lay down (this being my first time using the brushes), and I was nervous about making it too thick. As it turns out, I went back over the fine line with the Medium Pigma and got a good weight with a nice variation.

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One of the things you can tell up close is that I never learned to hold a pencil correctly. Busted. But you can also see that I’m using the Medium Pigma for some medium detail work. I think I switched to the Bold Pigma soon after this when I felt more confident with the way the ink was laying down. All three brush tips have great control and a nice, bouncy feel.

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The inks aren’t finished yet in this image above (still have to add Bigfoot’s hatching) but you get a pretty good idea of the line weights achievable with these three Pigma brushes. Because Leia’s face was pretty tiny (about the size of a nickel on the paper) I wasn’t sure I could ink her features with the fine brush without screwing it up, so I opted for one of the Pitt tech pens. It gives you a slightly less organic line, but it’s better than a giant black smudge where her nose should be.

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The original commission was for linework only. Just black inks. But as I was working on it, I saw some opportunity to drop in some accents with grey Copic Markers. Nothing crazy, just a little toning here and there. I checked with the client and got the okay. Scans really show the difference between the cool greys of the stone wall and the warm greys in the skin.

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And like I said, I went in with the Copics no more than an hour after I’d finished the last ink line and I didn’t get a single smudge or smear. So Sakura Pigma, as far as I can tell, delivers on their promise to be waterproof. Are they archival? Only time will tell. But if you’re looking to experiment with a new brush pen, I’d definitely give the Pigmas a try. -v

Giving MediBang Paint a try

I recently watched a review of a drawing app called MediBang Paint by Brad Colbrow and thought it looked pretty good. An app that’s set up for the iPad Pro/Pencil setup but also a desktop application. And best of all, it’s freeeeeee! So I figured I’d give it a try.  Since I’m new at this program, I thought I’d start off slow and just doodle canine superhero, Underdog.

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I’m really just getting started with this program but, as you can see, MediBang a very simple, clean interface. Most of the elements you’d expect in a drawing app are there.

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Looks like the color slider works in an RGB colorspace, as I’d expect for a simple, free app. The brush/tools palette has a decent number/selection of brushes and tools. I haven’t sampled many of them yet, but I plan to. The preview palette gives you just what you need, as well as easy to access size/opacity controls. And since a layers palette is a necessity for me, it’s nice to see MediBang provides one.

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So, for this quick Underdog doodle, I decided to try a few different inking brushes. The “Pen” tool has a nice, smooth line, and the “G-Pen” had a rougher edge. Both were fine for variable weight linework controlled by pressure, but I’d like to experiment more with the app. Maybe see if there’s a way to customize the brushes a little.

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I’ll admit, I only tried out the “Watercolor” tool to color this piece. It felt…well, not really anything like watercolor. But it got the job done in a smeary, blendy kind of way. For a few minutes I tried the “Watercolor (Wet)” tool and that seemed a little softer, more transparent and, possibly, closer to a watercolor feel. But that’s not what I wanted for this illustration.

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And there he is. No need to fear. Underdog is here. I ended up using “Pen (Fade In/Fade Out) for those lines denoting brickwork. The tool is very similar to ClipStudioPaint’s  “For Effects Lines” brush in that it gradually fades in and out after you lay down the stroke. A handy brush to have. Overall, Medibang Paint is a simple app to use on the desktop. I don’t have an iPad Pro (yet!) but when I get one, I’ll likely download the mobile app. And you should consider it too. Like I said, it’s free! And that’s hard to beat. -v