I’d Rather Make Mistakes Than Nothing At All

I may not be the best cartoonist on the planet, but I think I am consistent in publishing stuff.  I never missed a month when Uptown Girl was a monthly comic book, the graphic novels came out on a regular basis and The Retros is approaching their third anniversary and I haven’t missed a day yet.

I keep myself on a pretty regular drawing/creating schedule in order to stay on top and stay ahead of my projects.  I am about a month ahead of schedule on The Retros which is helpful in case something comes up.  It also gives me the luxury if I need to redraw something as I am not up against a super close deadline.

Keeping a regular drawing schedule and committing to it has been the key to staying on top of my projects.  Since The Retros is my biggest project right now and it needs to be updated five times a week, my schedule is built around that.  It used to be I’d write, pencil and ink five pages on the weekend, but my job requires working some Saturdays so it’s not always possible.  So, my Retros time has shifted a bit.  Luckily since my daughter, Sophie, started dance for the school year again, I have built in drawing time.

These days I do my Retros writing and penciling on Sunday night after Sophie goes to bed.  I use the phrase ‘penciling’ loosely as the pencils are very light.  I don’t write a script, rather I take the four panel template, write the dialogue and layout where the characters will be in order to ensure I have enough room for both words and characters.  Doing things this loosely helps making sure the pacing and timing works.

Monday nights I do any rewriting I need to and tighten up the pencils and tweak the layout and gesturing as needed.  I find that taking the time to pencil as much as possible helps make the inking go quicker.  I also find I am penciling more the older I get.  I think I see the value in it more than I used to.

Sophie has dance Tuesday and Thursday nights, so while she dances, I ink while sitting in the other room.  I scan the five pages in over the weekend, and do the Photoshop magic and clean up on Sunday morning.  The coloring for the five pages happens throughout the following week.  Before I go to work, I’ll color for about 20 minutes each morning.  I don’t do the lettering until the weekend before the strips run.  For example, yesterday I lettered the pages that will run starting tomorrow, even though they were drawn and colored a month ago.

I scan, color and letter in separate steps instead of in one sitting.  Doing it this way allows me to review the page three times before I post which gives me a chance to make sure I don’t miss anything, such as something I missed while coloring or something that needs to be edited.

So, that’s the process.

A cartoonist tends to work in a bubble.  Feedback, such as comments after a page is posted, are wonderful.  It’s good to know if something I wrote was funny or if a scene is exciting or connecting with the person reading it.  It’s also helpful to know if something sucks or if readers hate a character.  But this bubble is not limited to the final product.  There’s also a bubble that surrounds the creation of a page as well.

The other night I was at dance and Abby, a friend of of mine who also has a daughter in dance, was watching me draw while we chatted and asked why on Earth I was drawing huge x’s through panels.  I draw an x through a panel when I don’t think I can fix the various mistakes through Photoshop and I decide to redo it from scratch.

Drawing around people gives me a perspective that I usually don’t think about very much these days.  Sophie and some of her friends will watch me draw for a few minutes before they get bored and run along to do something else before dance class begins.  I like to show her friends what I’m working on and then show them on my phone what a final page looks like once it is colored and lettered.  It usually is pretty surprising to them, to see the disaster of the original artwork get transformed into the final version.

I wanted to show what the artwork looks like before and after Photoshop is involved in the process.

Warning, I will be showing future pages (without final lettering), so if you want to avoid seeing what’s coming up, you may want to come back in a month or so as the pages I am going to show will post around mid-December.

And away we go!

When I draw The Retros, I usually draw two pages on a single sheet of 9×12 (smooth) bristol board.  It saves paper and there’s less scanning involved as I can can two pages at a time.  Since I do five pages a week, I will end up with three sheets to scan.  Normally.  If I need to redraw a page or two, there might be more.

At any rate, here are the first two pages I drew from last week:

1and 2

As you can see, the lettering is very roughed in.  It’s almost unreadable but it allows me to make sure the word bubble is large enough to accommodate the dialogue but not going to be too big for the characters in the panel.

A few things too point out:

It looks like the first page here is six panels long but two of those panels are redrawn.  The top two panels are the revised panels, and the originals are right below that.

The second and fourth panels of the first page are x’d out and have been redrawn above the original four.  Once the page is scanned I will rearrange the page and delete the x’d out panels.  Thank God for Photoshop.

I will also use Photoshop for things that need to be blacked, such as Sputnik’s monitor and Lucky’s hair and shirt.

The second page has instructions to myself that read “erase” and “fix skirt”.  Reminders for myself that I need to tweak a few things once I scan in the artwork.

The drawing of Lucky above the second page was intended to replace another drawing of him in a different page.  Let’s take a look.

3 and 4

This page is a mess.

The Lucky was intended to be in the final panel of the second page posted here, but it got the big x.  Just couldn’t get his hand gestures right.  I redrew him above the page as well as on the previous page but I decided to redraw the whole panel.

Alie is also x’d in the third panel because I needed to replace her but not the whole panel.  I screwed up on her left arm and hand, likely due to not penciling her as much as I probably needed to.  The top of these pages show various Alies that didn’t work, either because Sophie and her friends kept bumping the table (the hazards of drawing around nine year olds) or because I was having an off night.

Also notice the instructions of “thin arm” under panel two in the second page.  I also wrote “clean up” under the third panel before I decided to redraw Alie as opposed to editing her in Photoshop.

Finally, we have the fifth page that I did last week:


The page here has another x’d out panel and was redrawn because Alie and Red were roughly the same height and I normally have Alie as the taller of the two.  The revised panel isn’t much different, but there’s enough of a difference to me.  Most people probably wouldn’t notice or care, but it would bug me, especially because there’s a noticeable height difference in the third panel and I didn’t want to have that inconsistency between the two panels.

My note to myself reads “lower head” which normally would instruct me to use Photoshop to move her noggin, but then the word balloon would be lower and wouldn’t be large enough for the dialogue.

Finally, we have the redrawn panel from the previous page.

And yes, I know that almost every mistake here wouldn’t be an issue if I drew digitally, but I am not ready, financially or artistically, to make that leap.,

Looking at original artwork usually triggers feelings of accomplishment or depression, depending on how they turned out.  But mostly the original artwork represents more work ahead, specifically the clean up work that comes in Photoshop.  But mistakes don’t get me down the way they used to.  My self-esteem used to take a hit if I had a bad night or week of drawing.  But mistakes come with life and I do my best learn from them, whether they are artistic or life mistakes.

To be honest, the clean up in Photoshop is my favorite part of the process.  I love taking artwork like this and turning it into something presentable.

Below are the final pages, before the lettering and coloring.  This is the result of about an hour or so of editing and erasing and cutting and pasting:

final 1 and 2final 3 and 4final 5


Not bad.

Starting tomorrow I’ll begin coloring these pages and in a few weeks I’ll letter them.

And tonight the process begins again.

But what am I doing the rest of the week?  Well, we’re out of time and I’ve rambled long enough.



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