*When I’m talking workflow, I’m referring to the art and design of the piece. Basically thumbnails through to final printed book.
In my day job as a graphic designer I design a publication, so I have a certain idea of what a proper workflow should be. But for comics, I was wondering if there was anything special that I should be doing. As I’m sure I’ve said before, I did some digging online and didn’t find anything specific or useful for that matter. Back when I was growing up reading comics I’m pretty sure that they did everything by hand, but now that we have computers, that’s not completely necessary. So what’s the proper workflow of a comic?
For On the Verge, I’m basically going to be using a workflow that I’m comfortable with from my experience. I’m not sure if it’s what the rest of the comics industry uses, but I know it will lead to a good printed piece. I mainly use Adobe’s Creative Suite and a scanner to clean up, adjust, adapt and manipulate artwork that I produce by hand. One of the benefits of working in Creative Suite is that Photoshop, Illustrator and inDesign work incredibly well together. I try to utilize this programs integration as much as possible. This is actually one of the things that Adobe has really improved over the years.
So here’s how I’m working:
Step 1 - Thumbnails. I do thumbnails by hand as I write to try to visualize what needs to be included in the story, what fits on the page and pacing. They’re pretty rough as I’m not concerned with what they look like and instead with what the overall “space” (ie. the page) looks like.
Step 2 – Pencils. I scan my thumbnails and fit them to a template that is the same specs as my final printed page. Then I print out these files for the actual drawing by hand. I pencil/draw smaller than the final artwork because I find I work better this way. I know most comics are drawn/inked at the same size, but I’m working how I’m comfortable. Pencils are done 4.5 inches by 7 inches so that a full spread fits on 8.5 by 11 inch paper (and my scanner).
Step 3 – Transfer pencils. I scan my pencils and enlarge them (in Photoshop) to the size that I produce the final ink artwork at which is 8.25 by 12.75 inches per page (I’ll add in 1/8 inch of bleed on all sides if I need it when art bleeds). All my ink work is done on watercolour paper that has been gessoed. I print out the pencils and transfer them on to the watercolour paper by covering the back with graphite (pencil lead) and tracing over the line work just like you learn in kindergarten. It’s not pretty, but it works the best.
Step 4 – Refine pencils. I then go back over the pencils and tighten up whatever needs work before I start inking.
Step 5 – Inking. This involves a variety of tools, but I mainly work with a brush, a quill, a pen and a toothbrush, plus white acrylic paint, white guache and more gesso. I really love this stage becuase the artwork starts to be finalized. I know that a lot of people don’t like inking their pencils, but for me, the pencils are just the guides to the final inked artwork. Sometimes I really love a penciled drawing, but because I transfer them onto the watercolour paper I actually produce a seperate piece for this stage. This is the end of the hand drawn art. Everything from here to the end is produced on the computer.
Step 6 – Clean up artwork. The art is scanned and then cleaned up in Photoshop. For a good tip on how to clean up line work, check out this link.
Step 7 – Colour. From here I “colour” the artwork in Photoshop which pretty much involves combining the inked art with other pieces of artwork and some digital colouring and effects. I work in RGB to build the artwork. The colour is better and there are a few more effects that you can do than in CMYK. I’ll write more about this in the future.
Step 8 - Flatten and save. I flatten down the artwork and save it. I save my art as TIFF files when they’re completely flat. When I need transparency because there’s no background I save them as PSD (Photoshop) files. I never save as a JPEG because they’re not print files. I also convert all the files to CMYK. [as a side note, I keep all my layered working files in case I need to make edits!]
Step 9 – Place art. In inDesign I place all the artwork on the correct pages.
Step 10 – Lettering. I do most lettering in inDesign for a couple of reasons: 1. It’s easier to have all the design elements in one file, and 2. inDesign has the same basic drawing tools as Illustrator, so drawing speech bubbles is easy. At this point, if I have any lettering that needs to be done in Illustrator (sound effects or something like that, I use Illustrator). As well, if I need to lettering to interact with the artwork in some way (say to go behind a person in the frame), I’ll open the layered artwork file in Photoshop and add in the lettering by copying it from inDesign or Illustrator and pasting it into Photoshop as a Smart Object. I’ll edit the lettering until I’m happy with it, save the layered file, flatten it, convert to CMYK, resave the flattened file and then bring that back into inDesign. I’ll include more on the nuts and bolts of “how” I letter in a future post.
Step 11 – Design. I usually have this well under way by the time the final artwork is in place, but all the design is done in inDesign as well.
Step 12 – Finalize file. From here it’s a matter of proofing and making the necessary edits and then supplying the final file to print. Since I’ve put everything together in inDesign, I run a pre-press check to make sure that all my images are CMYK, all fonts are included, etc., before I package the final file for print.
Below is an infographic that shows the workflow.