Wednesday, January 24, 2024

How to Cartoon (or not)

Long post. A social acquaintance wants to do a graphic memoir and, unlike a lot of people who ask about that, looks to me like they have the chops to try. They emailed me some questions about materials and process, and I thought y'all might find my reply interesting. My fundamental answer is the two words I closed my email with: "Whatever works!" Here's what I wrote:

"I’ll reply to your questions in order, but my overall reply is that things like pens, paper, etc. don’t really matter. Just find the materials that work for you. I have professional cartoonist friends who use ballpoint pens on cheap printer paper and others who are 100% digital. Figuring out the tools and process that work best for you will take some trial and error. 

"My lettering these days is a typeface of my own hand-lettering that I apply in Photoshop. That’s purely practical for me when it comes to editing and translating into foreign languages later. In my first book, Mom’s Cancer, it was all done by hand on the original art with a Speedball nib (a B-5½, as I recall). But you don’t need to pull out an ink bottle just for lettering. Micron pens can give your lettering a nice, crisp look. Try a size 05 or 08. If you want to get fancy, try one with a wedge-shaped tip for thick and thin lines, but that’s advanced stuff.

"A word about Micron pens: I really like them for a few reasons. They produce a consistent black line. They’re waterproof. And once you give them a few minutes to dry, they’re smudge proof so you can erase over them. 

"I am a cartooning dinosaur. My paper is smooth Bristol board, which is traditional cartoonists’ paper. I pencil with non-photo blue pencil—I expect your printer friend is right and it’s not really a thing anymore, but like I said: I’m a dinosaur!—and ink with whatever tool gives me the line I want. Often a small pointy watercolor brush with India ink, or a brush pen, or crow-quill nib, or a Micron. I even have a dip pen made of glass that I use sometimes. I know what each will look like and choose accordingly. 

"Not sure what you mean by “adapting to changes in layout.” By the time I get around to inking, my layout is pretty set. I’d suggest thumbnailing before drawing, by which I mean doing a quick sketch of how the panels will be arranged on the page, with text and action scribbled in. Doesn’t have to be time-consuming, you could literally take five minutes to make sure you have room for all your words and the reader’s eye will move through the page the way you want (left to right and top to bottom, which sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often people mess it up). If something big really needs to change, like I need to add or remove a chunk, I’ll do that with Photoshop if I can or draw it over from scratch if I can’t. But that doesn’t happen often. 

"Cartooning can be as low- or high-tech as you want. I always tell people that I could take them to a decent art-supply store and set them up with everything they need to be a professional cartoonist for $40. That’s one thing I love about comics: the barriers to entry are very low. These days that’s kind of deceptive, because honestly you really will need at least a computer and scanner to send your comics to someone else or put them online. And then we could talk about tablets and apps and programs and stuff. I know a lot of cartoonists who swear by Procreate on the iPad, which I haven’t used but they say does everything they need.

"I hope that’s a good start. I’m not being coy when I say that any way you can figure out how to make marks on a piece of paper (or pixels on a screen) could be the perfect storytelling medium for you whether anyone else would do it that way. Whatever works!"

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