I think a good cartoonist is constantly learning and refining their techniques. I try to do that as well. Not that I consider myself a good cartoonist but in the last few two years I’ve tried a lot of different techniques. One of the biggest changes is using Photoshop to letter ‘Big City Secrets’. Another thing I’ve tried is changing the size I usually draw in. Most of my career I’ve drawn on 9×12 Strathmore Bristol Board (Smooth finish) in a 7 x 10.5 space. But some stories in the second graphic novel had to be drawn on a size much smaller than that for various anthologies and book collections. I liked this smaller size quite a lot and ended up drawing a few more stories in this size.
When I stared the third graphic novel, I went back to using the same tools that I’ve been using most of my career, such as the normal page size, non-photoblue pencils, Micron pens, brush and bottled ink. I was excited to jump into the story but things were going so slowly. I found myself getting bored with the book. I wasn’t making as much progress as I would have liked and if I had to redraw a page I was getting even further behind. I started to get very frustrated. I don’t really have a deadline except the ones I put on myself, and I try to do a page a day but since I wasn’t having a lot of fun, and I was needing to redraw pages or panels I was falling behind on my page a day goal.
I thought that redrawing pages were one of the biggest reasons I was getting so far behind. So I put more time into my penciling and layout. Anyone who has used a non-photoblue pencil will tell you that these pencils aren’t that great for detail. Quick gestures, layouts, sure, but a tightly penciled page will not work. So the first thing I switched was going to a graphite 4H pencil. I liked non-photoblue pencils because they left no trace when the finished story was printed and they saved me a lot of time erasing (and reinking if the eraser pulled ink off the page) but now that I was scanning everything into Photoshop anyway there really wasn’t a need for those pencils. It’s been a while since I used a graphite pencil and I was happy with…effortless it was to layout a panel, and how long it kept it’s point without repeatedly sharpening it.
The second thing I changed was using brush and bottled ink for black backgrounds. Using a brush is a lot of fun, but it can easily lead to mistakes (especially when I am tired) and I would sometimes end up redrawing a page or a panel. Using Photoshop for these situations saved a lot of time and eliminated poor inking on my part.
But even with these changes I was still falling behind and that added to my frustration.
Not long ago I had to work on a story for an upcoming anthology that needed to be drawn in a smaller size than the book I was working on. I was really happy to take a break from the book and do something light and short and ended up banging out a nine page story in nine nights. It was fun, and I think the most satisfying part of it was actually accomplishing one page a day.
The idea of going back to the book filled me with weariness. I looked at the nine page story (titled ‘Tomorrow Comes’) and looked at the graphic novel and was struck by how a story set in a convenience store was more fun that this epic tale I was working on. A story has to be fun and satisfying in order for me to keep myself interested in it. What was really making me frustrated was the lack of progress I was making.
I looked at ‘Tomorrow Comes’ and decided that it was being able to stick to my page-a-day schedule was the reason I was more satisfied with it than the graphic novel.
But I didn’t want to switch paper sizes. I was already 19 pages into the book but I didn’t want spend 4 years on this book. So I did what I thought was the most reasonable solution and started over. I hated the idea of ditching the progress I made, but I knew that if I kept drawing at the larger size it would end up taking more time in the long run. So I cut the cord, bit the bullet, went back to the drawing board, and did a few more cliches and started again.
Below are the original 5th and 6th pages to the book. These pages are not touched up, the lettering is not finished and the panels are still unrefined.
And the new, smaller pages. Note that the pages posted below aren’t presenting themselves smaller than the above pages, but this is just showing how similar the pages are even at about half the size of the above versions.
I hope to have the 19 pages redrawn by the end of the month, and by this time next year be completely finished. The only thing I have to do (as of now) besides this book is draw one more story for the second graphic novel that Brian Bastian is writing.
Oh, I also renamed the second graphic novel from “Perfect World” to “Little Adventures” and man, the cover is AWESOME.