Drawing about Writing

Living alone, incursions into the writing space were few and far between, but with a family it can be hard to find those broad, uninterrupted swaths of time in which to think of nothing but art. For the last couple years, I’ve had to rely on writing retreats, some taken solo, and some taken with other like-minded artists. Today, I’m on retreat in Flagstaff, working on a new book, and it may not come as a surprise that I’ve decided to try my hand at the graphic novel medium.

Three useful texts

Three useful texts

Lacking the time or money for a low-res MFA in graphic storytelling, I’ve been reading voraciously on the subject. The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil has by far been the most useful resource on the subject, answering many questions about how to draft a script, and how words and images relate to one another in this format. Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics is massive and detailed, offering excellent advice for artists. I’m still working on the Will Eisner book; although I’ve not got very far into it, it definitely offers a very different perspective and set of advice. Eisner basically invented the modern graphic novel format.

The Stan Lee book is probably most useful to those who have already learned quite a bit about figure, landscape, and perspective, and just want to know how to translate that into drawing Marvel-style comics. I’m still looking for some old copies of the books that everyone seems to recommend for those wishing to learn more about figure drawing, which are any of the “Dynamic” drawing books written by Burne Hogarth. I could order them from Amazon, but I have $125 credit at a local used book chain, and I’m still hoping to find what I want there, since their stock always changes.

One useful piece of advice from the DC book involves the use of “suggested layout” sketches, normally visual notes from the writer to the artist. While I do intend to do my own penciling, the idea of generating storyboards seems a good way to communicate to myself (the artist) in the future, while visualizing the book to myself (the writer) in the present. These panel mockups may change, but presently, they correspond with the script, which is divided, per Dennis O’Neil’s advice, into pages and panels.

Suggested layouts corresponding to the script

Suggested layouts corresponding to the script

Comics tend to start on the recto, or right hand page. My pages are marked R and L so I can keep rector and verso (left hand page) straight and ensure that 2-page spreads or splash pages, and pages where deliberate mirroring (pages 9 and 10 above) will actually be printed facing one another.

11 thoughts on “Drawing about Writing

  1. writingbolt

    It was Eisner who did “The Spirit”, right? I have a DVD tutorial/bio by/about him. I was drawn in by his use of 3D text in unusual places like train cars, buildings and billboards.

    I have also gone through the Stan Lee book and enjoyed most of it. It IS very detailed though it makes (you) feel slightly inept if you don’t have access to better software or scanners/printers. You could take your work to a commercial printing place and pay for them to scan it to a flash drive, I suppose. But, I doubt they’d let you “tweak” it on their computers the way Stan discusses the PC editing process.

    If you have that much store credit hanging on the local store, definitely wait.

    I like the tip in the Stan Lee book for using photos of yourself in various poses. I think it would sure help to have human models rather than try to find pics of people in various poses or hire a model.

    I would hope an average art teacher in school would teach you about what I call “thumbnails”. Yes, it’s a good idea to start with simple layout sketches to plan or stage your story before trying to construct the panels. Having a decent light box is also great so you can trace over the rough drawings and fine tune them/try alternate shading/enhancing techniques on copies. That was another thing I recall from the Stan Lee book, the effort to make extra pencil copies before inking one. That way you can show your pencil and ink skills and never lose the original thought/version.

    1. littledragonblue Post author

      Right, Eisner is best known for the Spirit, which I definitely want to read. As I’ve written before, I love graphic novels, but had little exposure to comics in my misspent youth. I do have a decent scanner, although it is half size if I want to scan the 11×17 boards used in the industry. However, I do have the free version of Photoshop, and will probably upgrade to the cheap one eventually, so that’s not a problem for me; it shouldn’t be too hard to put the parts together. (I’ve got a Mac, so I’m not worried about my device’s ability to handle graphics.)

      I was actually pretty heartened to learn that many professionals use photographs. I just can’t hold all the details in my head. I’m planning on recruiting my stepkids to start, but I’m not sure where I’ll go in the 2nd part of the story, when the main character reaches adolescence.

      As I may have also written in the blog I have basically never had an art lesson in my life 😦 I took 2 semesters of pottery in college and one in middle school, and other than that, the only art classes I ever took were whatever was offered in grade school/camp.

      I’m not sure what I’ll do about inking. I definitely do NOT plan to ink the originals. I was thinking I might digitally ink the scans, with the hope of eventually hiring a professional inker…

      1. writingbolt

        Free Photoshop?…cheap one? In the case of the latter, I presume you mean “Photoshop Elements?

        When you mentioned the scanner and Photoshop, I remembered another “tip” from the Stan Lee book. He (or whoever typed it up) said you could scan half a board at a time and use Photoshop to merge the two halves into one file. And, then it went on to discuss image quality and coloring layers of TIFF or some other format.

        Well, no one said the photographs had to be body type/age accurate:) But, you probably see a model as it is. And, in the Stan Lee book, it talks about exaggerating for perspective, etc. As for aging, there’s mention of adjusting numbers of heads and certain features for those types of characters, the difference between a grown man/woman and a boy/girl. Sometimes, fashions or dialogue make a difference as some faces look younger than others regardless of age…and some people are shorter than others regardless of age. Not everyone fits a Disney or Marvel mold scheme.

        Well, if this is the first year you have ever drawn something, this should be interesting:)

        I often wanted to take pottery, but it never was convenient for my class schedule combined with my mental stress tolerance. It was an extra I couldn’t afford.

  2. writingbolt

    I have wanted to make comic books/graphic novels for years. But, I don’t know how long ago I gave up trying. I just haven’t had the time or the stamina to stick with improving my skills. Classrooms didn’t help. I never have enough time with the class/teacher to get it right. And, I find myself pulled in other directions when not in the class. I made a really crappy but mildly amusing ninja mini-series in my teens. But, it was a pain in the arse trying to keep the characters uniform (not drawing them differently every panel). I’ve turned to writing short stories and novels, now, with the occasional illustration or cover image thrown in to suit my needs. Even that challenges me, lately. I feel like the rusty tin man in need of oil…or teamwork/support.

    1. littledragonblue Post author

      Right, that’s my fear: that I won’t be able to make the characters look the same from panel to panel. I’m in the opposite situation from you: I’ve been writing for decades,and I’ve started drawing to deal with my frustration about that!

      1. writingbolt

        I am not sure if I just fell in love or if that’s nausea I am feeling. I am thinking we should work together somehow. If we are suffering similarities in opposite directions, maybe we’d create a “teeter totter” of balancing the good and bad. And, when you say “writing for decades” I suddenly feel strangely old though I should feel young. I can’t imagine getting tired of writing and turning to drawing…but I suppose a picture is worth a thousand words, and you’re going to prove it:P Meanwhile, I work backwards toward pounding rocks with other rocks to make picture stories:P

        Ugh, ugh. Let us bang rocks together.

  3. sketchbookisland

    Awesome! don’t worry about a lack of formal training, many successful comic creators had little to no training (I can’t say much, i passed art in High school with a D-) other fun tips:

    -If you are worried about making sure the characters look the same form panel to panel you might want to draw up an expression chart (first one I could find on line: http://danidraws.com/2007/12/06/50-facial-expressions-and-how-to-draw-them). it’s an animation trick that will help you stay consistent.

    -If you don’t have an 11 x 17″ scanner (or access to one, I use the one at the library) then draw on a different size paper, Both Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison, too cool) and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise, echo, Rachael Rising)have drawn on paper that fit their scanners (plus smaller paper is easier to fill up). Scanning your pages is actually a much easier process then it may seem, I haven’t read Stan Lee’s book, but when I interned at Devils Due one of my tasks was scanning art for printing. just make sure to scan it black and white at a high resolution then you should be good. it might look jagged when zoomed in but it should look clean when you go to print.

    -If you are worried abut inking, you can try a light box so you are not going over your originals (don’t buy one though as they tend to be expensive and really easy to build, they are essentially a light bulb and plexiglass). or you could even try not inking, several artists have done this and gotten some really cool results.

    -when in doubt use Wally Woods 22 panels that always work: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-oIsR5XCgBhc/T_xv5LgpzkI/AAAAAAAABWM/Mg3Y47d9nmc/s1600/wally_woods_22_panels.jpg

    1. writingbolt

      That’s a load of tips and info I’ll have to save and process, later.

      I recall in the Stan Lee book mention of some comic artists going straight from pencil to scan/print IF you had “tight” pencil work and a decent scanner/software.

      As for drawing on smaller paper and using a library’s 11×17 scanner? (or did you mean the scanner at the library is just “free” but may be smaller), the point of the 11×17 panels/pages is that you shrink your rough lines/edges instead of enlarging or exposing them.

      As for the light box, I am slow to get there, but I am constructing one with LED lights in my mind. I have plexiglass, thankfully. As a kid, I had one that used a regular 45-60 watt light bulb, and that thing was murder on the hand…and my artwork. It got too hot too fast. I’d be sweating all the time and wrinkling/smearing my pages.

      1. littledragonblue Post author

        WordPress won’t let me respond to some of your comments, so I’ll address them here 🙂

        Yes, I meant Elements. I forget the name of the slightly better version but I saw a woman buying it in Costco. She said she was a graphic designer and it was worth the money, although another artist friend insists he cannot work without the top-of-the-line professional version. And I did read the tip about scanning the 11 x 17 boards in 2 parts and then putting them back together in Photoshop. I’ve got a smaller size scanner; my husband will probably build me a light box. He’s extremely handy and I imagine it wouldn’t take him that much time.

        If you go back through this blog you’ll see I’ve been drawing all my life, but there hasn’t been any degree of seriousness to it for 20 years. For this project, I do want to have body-accurate models, because a lot of the story’s thrust has to do with the main character’s body. How the protagonist looks is central to the plot.

        I’ve not had a lot of luck in collaborating; I’d have to know a person quite well before I went into partnership! I’m always willing to talk in cyberspace to people who have similar interests. My email address can be found on the about page if anyone wants to send me a message.

      2. writingbolt

        Agreed. You need to know your partner before joining a team just like you have to know your future husband before signing your heart away.

        You confused me again. So, Elements was free somewhere? And, then there’s a middle-grade version that can be bought…below the grade of the “top-of-the-line” professional version? I get the feeling there’s some sick game here that makes people chase what they believe is the best quality in something while people “in the know” have the best already and don’t think much of it. Just like movie maker programs and cameras.

        Ok, I will look for the email address, then, and see what happens. I have a primitive contact page, too, which I am not sure sends emails but does alert me to people interested in contact…if that makes any sense.

        And, WordPress isn’t usually to blame. Finding the place to click REPLY can get tricky sometimes. It’s better to click a REPLY than comment after because I (or anyone else receiving an “unattached” reply) might not ever realize we received that message. If we don’t follow everything some way, it’s lost in the blitz of other pursuits. Such is “Keeping Up with the the Blogdashboardians.”

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