Thursday, February 4, 2010


I knew you'd be back for more Mediocre Narcotica! They are addictive, and I just got a vertical labret piercing in honor of that punk rock spirit. Weird stuff in the air, man, weird stuff. Weird emotions, weird urges...Is it senioritis? Currently, I've been working on an illustration project that I'm pretty excited about -- it's my first collaboration with an author, and my first opportunity to draw for a nationally distributed literary journal. More details on that later. Last week, anticipating that I'd be busy with the illustrations, but would need some material to update this blog, I documented my cartooning process with my low-quality camera phone. I know those camera phone pictures aren't so great, but when I was just starting to draw comics, I would have appreciated a quick-and-dirty guide like this, and also a list of materials.

When reading this guide, please keep in mind that I have no formal training in cartooning -- as I might have said in earlier posts, my skills come from the slow accumulation of knowledge from various sources -- comics, cartoonist interviews, looking at original artwork, bugging industry pros during my internship, brief tips from rejection letters, trial-and-error, and, yes, even How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.Check out my process under the cut.

Here are all the materials I use in comic making:

Strathmore brand smooth bristol board: In Dan Clowes' Art School Confidential, students went to an art school called Strathmore. I like smooth bristol board -- the vellum kind is too rough for wet mediums like ink. At the SU bookstore, I saw a pad of vellum bristol board being advertised as ideal for "sequential storyboard artists" or some similarly pretentious, cumbersome replacement for the word "cartoonist". However, when I used vellum in the past, the ink from my pens bled all over the place. This is why I switched to smooth.

Higgins India Ink: I prefer India Ink for its density and has more blackness than their "eternal" ink, which I tried out recently, disappointed.

Pelikan brand China White: Apply with a brush for corrections -- you'll never use the evil Wite Out again.

India Ink filled pens of varying widths: Make sure the pens are filled with India Ink, not "India quality ink" which is not as dense, fades, and turns purple when used over correction fluid.

Watercolor brushes

A ruler

Ames lettering guide

#2 Mechanical Pencil: A lighter lead is probably better, but this is what I could find that day.

Hunts Ink Pens: For dipping into Higgins India Ink. Only dip the tips, not the whole darn pen. If you dip the whole darn pen, it will cake up and you won't be able to easily remove dull nibs from the holders and replace them with new nibs.

Not pictured: A big eraser, preferably gum.

The first thing I do is draw the panels, using a ruler and pencil. Notice that I have some other comics in the background to aid me in my cartooning process. I have some Archie comics, which in this case I'm using to get some ideas for concert scene compositions and poses, as well as how to draw instruments. I have a pretty good comics library, and I use it in lieu of Google images or other sources when I need a quick idea for how to draw something.

I also have an older Mediocre Narcotica strip handy, to remind me where tattoos are placed, etc., for continuity purposes. Otherwise, some dorky 14-year-old fangirl might mercilessly list all my minor errors on a cartoon facts website.

And now for the hardest part, penciling everything in. It's best not to press too hard with the pencil. I have trouble disciplining myself to do that sometimes, so I use Photoshop to erase the pencil lines that an eraser can't get.

Next I ink the lettering, using the regular, non-dip pens for better control.

Bonus shot: Cartooning by candlelight! It's getting dark here earlier in Syracuse, and my apartment is so dim that sometimes I have to light candles to have enough light to draw.

I block in big areas with ink first, using watercolor brushes for the biggest areas and dip pens for areas of intermediate inkiness. Tea time! It's best to wait awhile for all the ink to dry before going on to the next step. If you're wondering what that rag is for, I cut up a washcloth into little rags which I use to wipe off ink from dip pens. I don't wash them off in cups of water like I do with the brushes.

For smaller details, I complete the inking process with the regular pens. After waiting for everything to dry for a couple hours, I erase my original pencilings.

If I screw up in any of the ink-involving steps, China White comes to the rescue. Several applications are often necessary to completely cover the dense black ink. I let it dry between applications.

If any cartoonists out there want to correct my naive mistakes or add their tips, feel free; I'd love to learn more.

Alright, my friends, I hope you got your fix! Next week I get another year older and will hopefully have those illustrations ready to show you!

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