Creating comic books – the process

I’m a big process junkie. I love the behind-the-scenes looks at how different creators work, the process they follow to produce their script or art or whatever. So here are a few links worth perusing, if you’re equally interested in what it takes to put together a comic:

Making of a Cover – Avatar: The Last Airbender – Dark Horse Comics editor Dave Marshall discusses the steps involved in creating the cover for their new Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel. The process kicks off with the book’s writer, Gene Luen Yang, providing the artist, Gurihiru, with a few rough sketches as a starting point. Several cover roughs are then created and the show’s creators pick their favorite. Then it’s off to be penciled, inked, and colored, with more notes from the creators:

You’ll notice the extremely detailed (one might even say nitpicky) notes. That’s because the license holders of multi-million dollar franchises like Avatar are very concerned about their products always being “on model.” Having worked on several licensed comics myself (Terminator, Ghostbusters, etc.) I’m familiar with the dreaded “final approval” step, although I must admit that in my case things always went very smoothly. I chalk it up to luck, because I know other creators who have had to go through revision after revision on their licensed projects.

Coloring the Wonder Woman comic – on his blog, colorist Matthew Wilson discusses his thought process when faced with a challenging sequence in the new Wonder Woman comic. The sequence is set in a bar/club, and features several characters separated along different areas of the club. His approach was to keep the color palette fairly simple, and to light each location with its own distinguishing color. From Matthew’s post:

“One reason to choose this approach is that it’s a bit of a literal interpretation of a club’s lighting, as there are usually quite a few different lights/light sources in bars/clubs in real life. The second reason was, this helps the reader quickly identify where each character is located within the club, and how those spaces relate to each other in terms of how the club is laid out.”

Sometimes, simple color theory is all you need, as illustrated (no pun intended) by this comment:

“Cliff [Chiang, the artist] noted that the music should feel angry, so I picked red for the stage area. It seemed like a good idea to carry over that red to the background of the last panel where Wonder Woman is angrily stabbing Strife’s hand with the broken glass…”

When the inker really made a difference – and finally, here’s a look at what an inker brings to the table, from veteran inker Bob McLeod’s Facebook gallery. Lots of pages from lots of different artists, from tight pencils to looser, more “sketchy” renditions, all finished by McLeod. Here’s an example where you can see him adding in the finer details, such as in Supergirl’s hair, or the subtle shadows on her costume and below her skirt:

“1991 Action Comics #674 cover. Breakdown pencils by Dan Jurgens. BWS means “black with stars”, not Barry Windsor-Smith. 🙂 Even something seemingly simplistic, such as adding stars, can look vastly different depending on the inker. Some inkers make uniformly big stars, and scatter them pretty evenly, like wallpaper. Some inkers go to the trouble to mask off the foreground objects and use a toothbrush to spray them on, creating tiny stars clustered with larger stars. Today, inkers or colorists can digitally add a photo of real stars. I’ve used the toothbrush method and the photo method before, but I usually just try to make them different sizes and scatter them in clusters by hand, using an old brush and white paint. It’s tedious, but effective.”

And here’s a more extreme example of the breakdown/finisher method of creating a page, as opposed to the more traditional penciler/inker. This is from 1981’s The Savage Sword of Conan #63, page 46, with John Buscema providing the loose breakdown pencils:

Well, that’ll do it for now. If you have your own favorite process links, feel free to share them in the comments.