So my book Fantastic Life is starting to make its way into a few stores, courtesy of indie distro maven Tony Shenton, and I thought I'd put up one of those "process" posts that comics artists sometimes do for the benefit of anyone who might be curious about how they make these things.
When I started Fantastic Life in the summer of 2006 I hadn't drawn any comics in more than twenty years (I did Captain Adam in 1993, but I don't count that as "drawing" because it was a "sampled" comic, more like a collage). Needless to say, I was really rusty. Here's the first page of Fantastic Life just as I drew it then, using pencil on a 16 x 20" sheet of bristol board (click on the images to see a larger version):
I didn't want to finish the drawing the traditional way, using India ink applied with sable watercolor brushes or nib pens, because I remembered how frustrating that process was for me when I was young - I'm a little obsessive-compulsive, and I hated how hard it was to rework ink drawings.
So instead, I figured I'd clean it up in Photoshop and just add a lot of contrast (using color correction curves) to the grey pencil lines to make them more "graphic", and adding tones by painting them in on a Layer set to "Multiply". I also decided my hand lettering looked too messy and was too tedious to fix, so I typeset the texts using a comic book style font I downloaded.
Here's what I came up with (this version was published in Blurred Vision #3):
I thought this was reasonably okay - although I was a little disappointed in the "scratchiness" of the overall look. I kept forging ahead, and after about ten months I was forty pages into the book. By this point, I'd started manipulating the drawings a lot in Photoshop - distorting and reshaping them a lot to improve anatomy and perspective using the Liquify filter and Transform command. This was terrific, and made me much happier with the look of the pages - except for one problem. The pencil marks were starting to look really fuzzy and beaten up from all this reworking.
It occurred to me that I could "ink" these mushy drawings using the pencil tool in Photoshop and have a much cleaner - and less scratchy - result, so I gave that shot, and came up with this (notice all the changes to the layout I was able to do digitally):
This looked considerably better to me, although it meant I had to go back and redo more than forty pages! To make matters worse, I decided I wanted to work in color, since I was uploading each page to my website as I completed them. So, for about six months I redid the old pages while still trying to keep up with my page-a-week schedule of new pages. I also had a font made from my own lettering, and replaced the old font in all of the texts. By January of 2010, I finally had all 121 pages done. Here's the result (notice I was using colored outlines - in comics these are called "color holds"- which I later discarded):
Then I found out the book had won a Xeric award. Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of publishing all of these pages as a single book - and I was mortified by how much my drawings had changed (improved, I hope) over the course of the four years I'd been working on the story. So I went back and reworked every single page again, to try and make the style and quality more consistent. I also realized that all of the music I'd been quoting (for this page it was originally "Chinese Rocks" by the Heartbreakers, which was later changed to "Running Free" by the Buzzcocks) was probably copyright infringement, so I changed it all - in this case to something I made up. All of this took another six months! And here's the final, final result: