Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Week #7 - Apr 4th - LETTERING

Comic Book pages, in the old days-- were lettered in a very matter of fact way:

This page above, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, was considered dynamic for the time-- today, unfortunately it would be considered very old-fashioned.  Too many panels for one-- and the figures constantly breaking panel borders would be looked down on.

But sticking with the lettering-- it's not bad, but it's definitely squeezed in more often than not-- the result of the art being designed without consideration of the lettering.

Even without zooming in- it's clear that this JOHN CARTER page (shown above) commanded respect for the art and then went "Oh yeah, we need some lettering here too!"  In panel 2 and 3 the word balloons don't fit in the respective panels so they chose to just bump them up into panel 1!

This example, from NEMESIS, utilizes a variety of Balloons for different speech effects.  This can sometimes be distracting but here it's used well.  Note the variety of balloon sizes, yet each one formulates a 'stacking' system on the lettering:

The example above is pretty self explanatory I think.  I don't care if the rectangular word balloon fits in your panel-- it just don't look right as a balloon.

See?  This second example just looks better, okay?

Continued dialogue delivery; it's better to use multiple balloons to break up the delivery.  In the case of FIG 1 there is maybe a half-second pause between the two thoughts.

Slow, deliberate dialogue needs to be broken up into multiple balloons, each one with their own pointers FIG 2.  Speaking of pointers...

You don't want your pointer to go all the way to your character's mouth (FIG 3)-- that just looks ridiculous.

Instead, the pointer should indicate WHO is talking, but we take it for granted that the reader understands the words are coming out of the character's mouth.

There are a few places to find a good font.  One place you DON'T want to choose a font from is your computer-- COMICSANS may have the word COMICS in it, but that's as close as it should get to actual involvement in any comics.

The first two balloons in FIG 5 are COMICSANS.  Readers HATE comicsans, so do editors. 

You can get nice handwritten style fonts over at
DAFONT -  There are a lot of great fonts here-- all of them FREE.  But read the license, some are only for personal use and therefore you shouldn't use them if you're going to publish your work.  Bring a notepad and paper and write down the names of the fonts you like and then whittle the list down before you start downloading, otherwise you'll kill your computer with fonts.

BLAMBOT - A personal favorite of mine.  Run by Nate Piekos this great site features nothing but comic book fonts, dialogue fonts and Sound FX fonts-- there are both PAY and FREE fonts available, so check it out and pick a good font.   Just don't use COMICSANS.  Resist the temptation!

There are a couple of different ways to control the SOUND of the delivery of dialogue through some creative ways:

LARGE font in a small (or jagged balloon) indicates shouting (FIG 6) while SMALL font in a large or even a normal size balloon means a character is whispering.

Placing balloons takes a bit of skill, check out this graphic from Pro letterer Todd Klein's site, when you are laying out your panels you need to take dialogue delivery order into account.

In the first panel we see a simple speaking order between two characters, if the artist has positioned them in the wrong sides of the panel, then the layout in panel #2 is a viable option.

If you need to have characters responding to dialogue then look at Panel 3.
I don't love the solution to the problem with Panel 4, but it does work.

Remember lettering is read left to right top to bottom as it flows through the panel and down the page, keeping it orderly and sensible will prevent your reader from becoming confused.

All right-- we've gone through some basics of lettering-- now lets walk through HOW to letter using PHOTOSHOP.


Vic Boone Art by Jason Copland and Jeff McComsey, Letters by Jeff McClelland, Words Shawn Aldridge.
Nicely lettered page-- balloons have good balance-- they work with the art while not be obstructive.

Frank Miller's 300 uses somewhat crude and unpolished lettering to match the sketchiness of the artwork.  The balloons look amateurish but the overall look is supposed to be cave drawings, so the crudeness works.

Paul Auster's CITY OF GLASS, Adapted by David Mazzuchelli utilizes some clever storytelling as well as some experimental balloon placement and style.  To give the old man character an accent of some kind Maz creates sharp angular balloons.  He uses creative panel design to hold and control the reading and flow of the balloons.

ALL right-- let's walk through how to letter your page.
Open your image in PHOTOSHOP and ADD A LAYER, fill it with WHITE PAINT using your paint bucket and drop the opacity of that layer to around 60% so you can see the image underneath-- you're creating a sort of tracing paper here so the lettering will stand out.

Add another LAYER and name it BALLOONS-- then go to LAYER>LAYER STYLE and STROKE-- choose a black stroke and set the size to '6' -- you may have to make your stroke smaller or larger depending on your page size, but 6 is a good place to start.

This is the layer where we'll draw the balloons when it comes time.

Choose your FONT and your FONT size-- usually somewhere between 8 and 12 pts but your best bet is to print out a page at the ACTUAL SIZE it's going to be PRINTED at to test it.
Type your dialogue in on your page.  The white 'tracing paper' just adds visibility to your lettering while it sits on the page.

Use your Eliptical Marquee tool and your Polygonal Lasso tool from your tool bar to create the shape of your balloon-- make sure you're on your BALLOON Layer in the layer box.  Then fill it with white paint using the PAINT BUCKET.

Because you have already set up the LAYER STYLE on the Balloon layer-- when you fill it with white paint it will automatically outline it with black-- you now have a great balloon.

Repeat the process for your other balloons.

HIDE The EYEBALL icon on your tracing paper layer and you'll have your page.  Save a copy with LAYERS in PSD format and then flatten the image and save it again as a TIF file.  The reason you want to keep the layer version is in case you need to change the script, or in some cases the publisher may want to reprint the book in a foreign language.

Lettering by Hand 
Ames Lettering Guide
It has a movable component which allows you to change the distance between lines of text

 You'll want to use the guide with a ruler or T-Square

 You'll want a pencil with a very sharp tip

 Set the guide to the distance you want between each line of text.

 Holding the guide against your ruler or Tsquare you insert your pencil and slide it across your page

 Creating a nice even line.

 Move down a dot and make another line.

 You're creating lines for your letters, much like the paper you learned how to write on back in Kindergarten.

 Repeat the process to create your lines.

 You'll want to take it slow, rushing leads only to mistakes

Once you've got your lines set up-- you lightly pencil in your words.

Remember whether you're working with a computer or doing it by hand, the words should be centered which makes it easier to read.

Once you have it penciled in, you go over it in ink with a fine point pen and then draw your balloon around the words.

That's it!  Easy as all that.  Good lettering is critical to having a professional level comic book.

Assignment for next week-- lettering-- add the dialogue and narration to your page.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Week #6 - MAR 21st - Pencilling

In comics (and that counts for graphic novels too) there are stages of progress, and various jobs done by either one person or a number of people.

1. Publisher-  they are the person who pays to put the book out into stores.
2. Editor - they are hired to assemble the creative team (or person) and ensure that deadlines are met, that the project is coming together the way it was agreed upon.
Some editors are more involved than others, some even have a hand in what will happen in a story, but it varies from editor to editor.
3. Writer- hired to come up with the story-- first in the form of a one or two paragraph "pitch" which sells the story to the publisher or editor, and then as a full plot or script.
4. Penciler- hired to take the writers words and turn them into a visual narrative.  The level of detail to which they are expected to pencil (if they are working with an inker) is shown above.  Some pencilers ink their own work, some don't.
5. Inker- hired to take the penciled art and add ink to it so that it will read better in print.  Inkers do much more than trace pencil lines, they add texture and form t the work.
6. Letterer- hired to put in all the words and word balloons that hopefully the penciler left room for.
7. Colorist- hired to color the whole story.

Got a great email from a student which read (in part)

CRITIQUE THE HELL OUT OF (my work). Seriously, please be brutal. 
I'm not a fragile freshman, I can take it. 
I might pout for a few hours (okay, I'll definitely pout for a few hours), but I'd much rather get a harsh but helpful critique than a gentle pat on the back when there's more I can work on. 
I feel like I'm at the point with my work where I need to really push myself, and that's why I'm here.

I like that attitude because it's words to live by.
First though, trust me, I don't give out needless compliments, but I do take into account personal style as well as what your particular goals are.

So if one of you tells me "I want to work for Marvel!" I'll let you know what you're doing wrong if you want the chance to get hired by the House of Ideas.

On the other hand, if this is your OWN graphic novel the rules are much different, as you set the house style, which means I might not take something apart I otherwise would.

Another thing to keep in mind is that I'm offering you an educated opinion-- I've studied comics and story telling my whole life, I've been a student of Will Eisner and other notables like Jack Kirby in the industry who hammered in techniques to us, and that's what I bring to the table.

It's my opinion.

It's not always easy to draw what's in our head, and to make sure it's clear to the reader.

It might be clear as can be to us the artist, but we know what it is we're trying to show.

Sometimes something just is a bit "off" and we don't see it.

In example of what I'm trying to say:

I interact with a lot of editors, a LOT of them.  I refer a lot of students to them, I work with many of them-- and the BIGGEST complaint I hear over and over again (after missed deadlines from new creators and a lack of communication) is that many can draw really well but they don't know how to tell a story.

I think a lot of artists misunderstand that statement.   I've heard from some who would reply "I'm not the writer-- I'm not telling the story, I'm drawing it."

And this demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the craft.

Learning HOW to tell a story involves so much more than being able to draw an interesting fight scene, or a great pose of a character on a rooftop overlooking the city he's protecting.

It's about drawing well, but even more importantly-- it's about knowing what to show in a panel and how to show it.

In this example from a recent Marvel Comics book we have some pretty straightforward storytelling-- in it two characters are having a conversation/interacting.

We see a restaurant, we have a mix of shots including an establishing shot which shows our settings and characters, then mixes it up with some closeups and changes of camera angles which give us some insight into what the characters are feeling.

All good things.

But there are some flaws with this page too--
The room of the restaurant just doesn't look right-- it looks like the artist has eaten in a restaurant at one time-- but is working solely from memory.  When's the last time you saw sheets covering chairs in an active restaurant?

The windows or paintings on the wall being rounded make it look like some kind of weird train here, or it's like they're having dinner on the Starship Enterprise.

WORST of all-- the scene is supposed to show that the male character has been stood up-- he's sitting in this fancy restaurant ALONE.

WHY wouldn't you show this character sitting at a solo table in the first panel?

Is he even there?

Second-- the waiter is rudely telling him he needs to give up his table to the two shmucks standing behind him?  Would that EVER happen?


The restaurant MIGHT give a different table to the other couple, but short of eating at McDonald's NO maitre d would EVER bring another dining couple over to the table of a current guest and tell them to move along.

This is lazy pedestrian storytelling.

AND the page doesn't even make any of this clear.

The first panel should show a busy restaurant with people enjoying themselves, everyone except our hero who is awkwardly sitting alone.

But look again at panel 1-- is this what comes across?

Maybe our lonely hero should go and sit with the bored looking woman in the far right.

I've seen more excitement at a Wake.

REALLY badly done.

I'm not going to comment on the extreme balding situation of the woman in the far right of panel 1 or the fact that the two characters in the background of panel 2 must be standing on a large ladder in the restaurant for us to see them at this angle---and the waiter himself is also floating somehow in mid air-- demonstrated here when I draw through what is hidden by other panels.

If you want things to look "right" it's a good idea to draw through like this on your page, very lightly, but it's how you ensure things are correct.

Most of all-- it's kind of boring when we consider visual techniques this same artist used later on in the same book.

Look at the skill and creativity used in this page.

The angles are more interesting, the page is more interesting, the composition is more interesting.

SAME BOOK-- SAME ARTIST -- It's obvious the artist was more interested in drawing this scene than the previous scene-- and that's a crime.

As an artist you have to give your all to make every page as interesting or as well drawn as the next.

Not just WHAT you WANT to draw.

Especially disturbing is the restaurant scene should have been easier to do since that's such an everyday event.

Let's take a similarly "pedestrian" scene as handled by an illustrator who didn't phone it in, in this case Kevin Nowlan.

You can see that even though its a sedate scene of two characters talking each panel is equally rendered with the same technical skill.

Further we could discuss the nice way the "camera" floats around the scene too, so even though the characters are stagnant the camera is not.  But its not to the point that it gets confusing.

Good to note is that in panel 2 the forced perspective is a bit awkward here too-- it's perfectly rendered but it looks like the whole room is going to fall off the page-- and this may be intentional to give us a reflection of the character's feelings in visiting her father in the hospital.

Same goes for this page by Hal Foster.  Foster's work has been called a bit stiff, and I can't argue with that.  It's beautiful but the stiffness fits the style of the whole page.

On the other hand...

Gene Colan's work could never be called stiff.  He almost paints with a pencil.  His use of smoothly flowing grays on the page make him a really tough artist to ink, but his style is very loose and expressive.


It's probably the least understood most important part of the process, but I think I've said that with every step so far.

I talked about the roles of creators--

The Penciler/Inker relationship is a strong one, since one artist is finishing the work of the other. Inking is more than just tracing (more on that later).  But even in that relationship there are further sub categories to that relationship because a penciler may only do breakdowns rather full pencils-- as below:

Breakdowns are loose, breakdowns give you a good deal of information, but they leave a lot of decisions, like placements of black areas, texture and form to the inker.  Many artists who both pencil and ink their own work opt to work this way because they find using full pencils will drain the life out of the inks.

Example here of my breakdowns (left)
Pencils (center)
Inks in progress (right)

My advice is to make sure you work out the things you struggle with in the pencil stage-- like backgrounds or perspective, because it can still be fixed in the pencil stage.  Don't skip the hard stuff in the pencil stage because the flaws will be permanent in ink.

If you are working with an inker-- full pencils are the only way to guarantee the work will look something like you intended it to.  If you give an inker breakdowns don't be shocked if it ends up looking more like their work than yours.

If you're hired by a company to do pencils and you only deliver breakdowns they will give less money to you and more money to the inker.

Here we have sort of what I'm talking about--
John Byrne pencils, Jim Aparo Inks on UNTOLD LEGENDS OF THE BATMAN (center image below)


It may be the uber comic geek in me but this only vaguely looks like John Byrne's work to me, and looks a WHOLE lot like Jim Aparo's work-- and I'm a fan of Aparo.  Byrne's solo work on Batman is to the far left-- Aparo's to the far right-- the middle shows Byrne's work inked by Aparo and it looks more like Aparo than it does Byrne.

The only way to ensure you'll get your style is to render the pencils fully-- and if you're inking your own work but you aren't confident in your inking ability then full pencils is the way to go.

My wife Veronica chose a pretty even level of penciling when she was working on PIRATES OF MARS, the pencils are finished enough that the inker knows what to do, but not so over rendered that all the life is taken out of them, even more important if you're inking them yourself.

In the second sequence note that she only indicates large black areas by marking that area with an 'X' -- that's a technique used so you don't have to actually fill in the black with your pencil.  Sometimes when you do fill it in it becomes difficult to put ink over it because of the oils in the graphite.

In this example the "important" details are fully rendered, but the elements that will be looser and more abstract-- in this case the buildings, are left in the pencil rough stage.  They'll be "finished" in the ink stage.  In the comics world this would be considered "breakdowns" but if I'm inking something myself this is the level I usually pencil to.

Pencils by Bill Seinkiewicz (SEN-kev-ICH) -- a complicated page-- a lot of action, some angled panels-- but really take a look at it for a minute-- he's figured out all the details in the pencil stage, and he's not leaving anything to "figure out later".

I think "figuring it out later" is the biggest obstacle every graphic novelist has to overcome-- RESIST the urge to accept that solution.  Figure it out NOW.

_______________________________________________________________More penciling examples...

Frank Cho's breakdowns on this big fish illustration doesn't give us details like scales and such, but there's enough there that he'll be able to figure it out.  He spent time on the form of the fish.

You can see that Cho uses the same level of detail (or lack thereof) when he's working out a full page too.  Just enough detail to give us guidelines for the inks, but plenty of energy left.  This is a personal choice.

Marvel's former big honcho Joe Quesada really puts the work into his pencils.  There is intricate detail to the work which makes it easier for someone else to ink his work.  Complicated perspective and foreshortening on the figure but none of it becoming abstract.

I often hear "I can't do something like this" and my response is always yes you can.  But do you have the determination to do it? How many hours are you willing to work on a page?

I'm going to guess there are EIGHT HOURS plus in this page.

Page penciled by Drew Johnson-- nice off centered composition framed by the approving hands of the other Green Lanterns.

By off centering the main figures of the page creates a better composition.  We all tend to think about the center of the page or panel as the main focus of our composition-- putting it off center gives it better impact.

The X shows you it's also not TOO far off center.

When we break it down to just shapes and blacks we can see how effective the page is.  The blacks on the outer edges of the page help to frame the image-- so do the hands.

Nice page.


Basically you want to make sure you're leaving enough room for your lettering as you lay out your page.

In this example the artist is loosely filling in where the balloons will go-- to ensure they leave enough room.  Notice that the figures lack detail, but the backgrounds are loaded-- that's likely because they are confident in drawing their characters but less confident in the backgrounds, so they figure it out in the pencil stage.

Nice details on the diner though-- it looks "right"

The best way to do that is to take a sketchbook outside and capture some of the details you don't normally think of.  For example

Even working in a simplified cartoon style-- your pencils should be clean and clear enough before you're ready to go to inks, to make certain you have things right.

A page can go through multiple drafts before you get it right, and if you take shortcuts or skip this step figuring you'll work it out in the final page layouts you'll discover that shortcut not only didn't save you any time, it actually will cost you.

Patience is key here, making sure you get the pages laid out in a smooth readable way.

We blow up our thumbnails onto 11x14 or larger bristol and begin the process of pencilling our pages.  We'll discuss the difference between breakdowns and pencils as well as the amount of detail you should include in your pages.

As you pencil look for where you'll be spotting your blacks, in other words try to think not in line but in blocks of black and white.

So while the pencil line might work-- if you don't consider where the blacks will be you can run up against problems like this.  Black disappears into black.

If you wait to solve this problem when you begin inking you'll be forced to either have that hand disappear or do something like this...

It's called the "halo effect" and while it's acceptable, it's often looked down on as bad planning.

This is the smarter choice-- reconfigure the drawing so that you take into account where the blacks meet.  This makes for a better and more professional presentation of your art.

Many artists, including Steve Rude, calculate where they will spot blacks in the thumbnail stage:

You can see from these, Steve is not only deciding body language, panel and page composition, he's figuring out where the black areas will be on the page.


There is an old joke editors like to tell;

HOW do you know if an artist used reference?

Because it's good.

Reference is not cheating, reference helps you to make sure things look "right".

From the head of Glen Orbik here is the idea for the illustration he wanted to do.

Hard boiled film noirish take on a detective.

The sketch itself is fine on it's own, in fact you could almost take it to completion right from there and you'd have a pretty good illustration-- and many artists do follow that route.

Glen assembles photo reference.

Dressing his models and helping them to create the right body language to match his sketch-- he also takes into account the lighting of the shot.

With digital photography this whole process has become very simple.

From the photo he tweaks his sketch process, idealizing the figures while maintaining the faces.

From there he tightens up the pencil rough to a finished pencil piece, using the photo as reference but still idealizing the shapes and form of the figure.

He follows the light source as established by the photographs and carries it through into his sketches.

You can see how the photo reference helps the final sketch in this comparison of the two.
This is about the level of detail you'd need to work in if you wanted to get work as a penciler.

If you are inking your own work you can decide what level to pencil to, BUT

and this is a big but...

DON'T Leave too much to figure out in the inking stage, it's better if you get it worked out in the pencil stage.

Most pencilers work to full details, and if you're being hired as a penciler by a company with someone else inking your work this is the level you'll be expected to bring it to;

There is a lot of detail in this-- and Jim even goes to the trouble of penciling in the black areas, many pencilers simply use an 'X' to mark areas of black-- the primary reason is to save time but it also means the paper will be more receptive to ink if it's not covered in graphite.

With today's method however, it's possible Jim's pencil sketch was inked digitally so that wouldn't be a factor.

I suspect this was inked traditionally-- because his longtime inker is Scott Williams and as far as I know he still works with brush and ink.  That doesn't mean the pencil page might have gotten inked, there's a chance Scott merely got a scan of the pencils and printed that out on bristol or lightboxed the inks on a separate sheet.

But comparing the pencils to the inks for a minute you can see how those detailed pencils play a big part in determining the details of the inks.  It's all in there, figured out before the inking stage.

I don't want to get too far ahead because we'll examine inking either next week or the week after but you should have an idea of what kind of inking you want on these pencils so you make the right decisions.

Essentially when you're doing full pencils you are inking with graphite.

Andy Kubert's work in pencil conveys the same level of detail but you can see in places he uses the 'X' method of indicating to his inker that certain areas should be solid black.

When you are inking your own work you run the risk of giving yourself too much information or not enough-- and either is dangerous.

Too much and you'll be bored inking the same lines you penciled-- essentially drawing a page twice.

Too little and you'll leave yourself open to mistakes and misplaced lines.  Since ink is permanent it's important you have a clear understanding before you begin.

I think seeing original pencils really helps when you're attempting penciling yourself.   More here from Kubert.

You can see with this page example that Kubert puts a lot of detail into his main Batman figure, working in shadows, lights and even wrinkles on the suit.

Much less detail above with the flying bat-creatures and even less with the figures at the bottom.

If we try and get into his head I'd say he's focusing on the main import of the page, which in this case is the Batman figure.  That's the dramatic element.

It also means the last panel isn't as dynamic, and when it gets time to be inked there is a risk that it comes out under rendered.

But the important thing is that you have a clear image to follow.

In this example we can see the spotting of blacks which adds drama to this page and helps to guide the readers eye through the panels.

This particular page has limited backgrounds so that the eye focuses on the action.

This page, on the other hand, features a good deal of background information.

Notice that despite being filled with action, the panels don't look cluttered, and there is a nice flow from one to the next.

The heavy black areas help make the work look more finished too.

Next week we move on to lettering and the week after INKING.  We are in the second half of the class so we'll be picking up speed.

ASSIGNMENT: Take one of your thumbnailed pages and blow it up, or take one of the penciled pages you've already done (ONE OF THEM) and now you're going to re-do it using what I've critiqued, what you've seen in class and most importantly by adding in some reference to improve the page.

How would we use reference?  Let's take Dan's pages as an example...

The page would be improved if we had texture on the tentacle-- what is he made out of?  Look at an Octopus for reference.
Or how about Greg?
Panel 1 he's got those beautiful trees, but panel 2 is sparse-- how about finding reference for stones and rocks and adding those in here?

You are then to send in the old page and the new page so we can do a side by side comparison.

You can also do this digitally.

You may have to do it 2-3 times so give yourself enough time.  Have fun!

Next week; LETTERING!