Monday, May 24, 2010

How I Cartoon

(This post is a rerun from November 2005, when Mom's Cancer was at the printer and a few months from its debut. My cartooning technique hasn't changed a lot since I originally wrote this. I use non-photo blue pencil now instead of regular graphite--I always alternated between the two, and prefer to use blue because I don't have to erase it. I don't letter by hand on the originals anymore, and I'm much more facile with Photoshop these days. But this remains a valid "how to," especially the conclusion. "Bird by bird.")
All quiet on the literary front. As far as I know, printers in Asia are churning away, chunkity-chunking out copies of Mom's Cancer while I sleep peacefully through the night half a world away. I look forward to getting one in my hands. Meanwhile...

On my main site, I used to have a "How To" page describing how I drew Mom's Cancer. I took it down after a while--don't remember why, maybe it occurred to me that no one cared. But what is a blog if not a repository for material about which no one but its author might care?

My method is very "old-school" cartooning, with a bit of computerization thrown in at the end. Increasing numbers of cartoonists work entirely on computer and love the results. I haven't yet found a technology that gives me the same versatility and control I enjoy with a brush. Plus, for me, the act of putting pencil and ink on paper is the most satisfying part. Why would I want to give it up? In some circles, this makes me a dinosaur.

I begin with a script and a blank sheet of 9-by-12-inch 2-ply vellum bristol board. Following a rough thumbnail sketch on scratch paper, I rule in borders and lettering guides in light pencil, then rough in the captions and word balloons:

The words go first because it's critical that they have enough room and the eye follows them around the page as intended. Then I pencil the art. It's still pretty loose at this point:

I rule borders and other straight lines using a fountain pen, and letter with waterproof black India ink using Speedball nibs B-6 and B-5 (for bold).

Art is also inked with black India ink using a variety of small sable or synthetic brushes. Fine details and lines (like those on Mom's shirt or the pattern on her hat) are done with a crow-quill nib.

After erasing pencil lines with a kneaded eraser, I scan the art into Photoshop to add shading and any color needed. I also do a fair amount of editing at this stage...fixing mistakes, erasing blemishes, and sometimes rewriting entire bits of dialogue by cutting and pasting words or even individual letters. A few years ago, this would've been done with X-Acto knives, rubber cement and White Out. Computers are much better.

When I had the time to sit down and work non-stop, I could finish two or three pages per day. However, I very rarely got such time and did the best I could, when I could. The hardest part? Laying down Line One on Day One, knowing that I had more than 100 pages and many months to go. Anne Lamott tells a story about her 10-year-old brother struggling to complete a huge report on birds the night before it was due. Overwhelmed and immobilized, he asked his father how he could possibly get it done. Dad answered, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." That's how I did Mom's Cancer: bird by bird.

1 comment:

Dave M! said...

Thanks for posting your excellent process, Brian. As an old school creator myself, my work is all ink on paper...especially the lettering. Got to hang out with a few lettering heroes last New York ComicCon. Hope you've time to check out some of my short stories: "Enter...General Zaq!", "The World's Slowest Foot Chase", and "Six-Year-Old Horse Thief".