Why Drawing TDM Takes So Long

I’m going to make an effort to blog more often, and Friday is going to be blog day.  So here it goes!

Some of you might be wondering why it takes so long for me to draw a new page of Black Snow: Two Drink Minimum?  I’m sure all my Kickstarter backers would love to know why the book is so far behind schedule.  Well, at this time there are 18 pages left to post.  About 8 of them are halfway done, plus I drew a special bonus page that will be shown at the end of the story only in the print book.

So I’m getting there, and I expect it to be done in good time.  But why does it take so long?  Because it isn’t easy!  It takes a lot of work because the art is pretty detailed.  First I’ve got to come up with a page layout based on the dialogue and script.  That usually looks something like this:

comic book page layoutSo that takes a lot of thought and in my head each one of those panels already has a picture.  Also keep in mind I did not write the script alone, so I’m usually working off of Alex’s words and vision.  So this can be pretty tricky.

Oh, and you might wonder why I have the red background while working on my black and white comic?  The extreme contrast helps me see where I need to add shade and makes the lines stand out.  Of course by the end the red will have entirely been filled.

The next step is to roughly add the lines that will guide each panel.  Usually I just focus on the characters and add the background later, unless the background is crucial to the action.

rough sketchSo these are generally pretty rough sketches that are done pretty lightly.  This is something I carried over from drawing on paper, which I guess isn’t fully necessary when drawing on a digital Photoshop layer.  But I still find it helpful.  Next I draw details over the sketches.

detailed sketchesIn this case those top three panels came directly from my mind, while the bottom two were aided by reference photos.  I’ve gone back and forth on how much I use photos, and really they tend to make things harder for me in some ways.  It’s a real art to using them correctly.  One that I have yet to master.

In this case I thought they would help me find a real “what the hell?!” expression for Black Snow and give me some reference for a man flying away from an explosion.

The next thing I do is draw the outlines of these characters.  I only do the outlines so it will be easier to use Photoshop’s magic selection tool to choose an area and fill it in with a shade later.

outlinesNext I draw those missing details on another layer, with the goal that you won’t be able to tell the difference in the end result.  Again, this is to not interfere with that select tool in the future step of adding the shades.

deatails and shadowsSo that adds a lot of the details and dark shadows.  Next I add the base level shades.

shadesAfter that I add some secondary shades on top of those.

secondary shadesFor Black Snow here this means the whites of his eyes, the skunk patch on his hair, the bags under his eyes and the shade of his beard under the stubble.

Oh, and then I have to add the “ANTI HERO” on his chest, which is a text layer I manipulate.

anti hero

Sometimes I regret putting words on my main character’s chest, and giving him detailed stubble that I’ve had to draw literally thousands of times over the years…  Hopefully the end result is worth it.  Then I work on the background.  This similarly involves multiple layers for the lines, background and foregrounds shades and in this case some smoke layers and other stuff that I won’t bore you with.  Sometimes I use photos as reference in the background as well.  I didn’t here though.

background Lastly I add a light layer for highlights and a shadow layer.  These are done by tweaking the transparency of those layers, which I’ll adjust based on the scene setting.  I also make the brush much lager with soft edges so the shadows won’t be so harsh.

lights and shadowsOh, and don’t forget the word balloons!

word ballonsSo that’s what’s involved in drawing every page…  Sometimes there’s even a little more.  Plus I have to match all the shades to previous pages, and figure out how to draw it all.  I’m not the fastest artist to begin with, but trying to draw stuff well really slows me down.

It’s not like drawing a simple cartoonish comic strip like Optimistically Cynical.  I really miss drawing a simple comic strip…  I think I’ll return to that after I finish the book and take some time before we start the next book.

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