Friends With Boys - Page 102

And now we are finally on the page that I recorded my makin’ comics process! Yep, way back in 2010 or whenever this page was drawn (yeah, I’m pretty sure it was 2010. Feels so long ago) I made copies of this page in process so I could show people how I draw my comic from initial thumbnail script to final inks. So click the link to see my very lengthy meandering on how I make my comics, and hopefully it’ll provide some insight into how a cartoonist works! Yay.

Stage one! The Birth of a New Comic:

This is how I write my initial comic scripts. Let me preface this essay with saying this is how *I* work, not how cartoonists should work. I know of other cartoonists who write scripts before thumbnails or do other magical things, but this is how I make my comics. First I get a couple of books of lined notebook paper and start scribbling. I thumbnail as I write my initial script, because comics are both art and writing, and I feel (especially at the important, beginning stage) one should not take precedence over the other. So when I do my first pass at my script, I’m thumbnailing along with writing dialogue, which allows me to think about how the book will be drawn, how the characters will be interacting, how the panels will be laid out, and pace accordingly. Then I go back, adding and crossing stuff out (as you can see on this page, which is the early scene with Daniel and Maggie dealing with her freakout on her first day of school). This makes a huge mess, of course, so when I have to actually type the script up to hand in to my editor, it can be confusing going. It’s how I’ve written all three of my published comics, and how I wrote the comic I’m working on now.

So then I type up and refine the script, and hand it in to my editor at First Second (or SLG, if this was 2007). She looks it over, suggests revisions and whatnot, and we polish the script into a thing of beauty! It’s fun.
Oh, here’s the thumbnail for this actual page:
So as you can see, I changed my mind about the original page layout, adding a reaction take from Maggie at the beginning of the page, before Lucy drags her off.

Stage two! Thumbnail Layouts
This is just a more refined thumbnail, still quite small (I cut a 8 by 11 sheet of typing paper into quarters and draw one thumbnail on each quarter), where I figure out the exact layout of the page. I scan and hand these in to my editor along with the script so she can get an idea of finished artwork. This is just how First Second works, as another publisher that I’m working with right now asked for rough pencils before I went to final inks, but didn’t ask for thumbnails …. it really depends on the publisher what your process with them will be.

And here’s the script for this particular page:
Panel 1: Maggie stares at the hand.

Panel 2

Maggie (turning to Lucy): Again … the what?

Panel 3: Lucy grabs Maggie’s hand, dragging her off.

Lucy: C’mon! I’ll show you!

Panel 4: Lucy, Maggie and Alistair walk up the hill towards the graveyard. Lucy and Maggie are chattering happily.

Panel 5: Alistair is a few steps behind Lucy and Maggie as they walk through the graveyard gates, still talking.

Panel 6: Alistair smiles, partially relieved, partially amused. His sister has a friend.

Panel 7: Lucy plunges eagerly through the graveyard.

Lucy: This way!

Because I’m writing for myself, I don’t tend to describe as much of the visuals as I might if I was writing for someone else. I know how the page is going to look, so I don’t need to tell someone how to draw it. Most of the visual notes I put in here for my editor so she knows what’s going on, and also emotional notes so I can remember what a character is feeling (like Alistair there).

Stage three! Pencils:
This is what my pencils look like. Aren’t they messy and hideous? :D I’m a very rough penciller. I don’t care for my pencils at all, and I think my work only looks finished or decent when it’s inked. I would never show anyone a pencilled comic page unless they were an editor (or you, lovely readers). As you can see, I don’t put a ton of detail into my pencils, because detail will be added at the ink stage. But it’s important to have a solid drawing framework there, otherwise your inks won’t be very good. Also, the frames you see drawn here are the safety and cutoff section of the published comic page, and WOW was that a difficult concept to wrap my head around when I first started being published. Basically, the cutoff is where the page will be trimmed when the book is produced, so you want all your important drawings (along with your speech bubbles) to be within the safety area of the page, to make sure it isn’t cut off when the book becomes a physical object. But then sometimes you want the drawings to bleed off the page (like they’re doing in that final panel there), and it gets horribly confusing. I had a really hard time understanding this … I’m glad it makes sense now.

I draw with a light blue col-erase (animation) pencil. LIGHT blue, NOT non-photo blue, the two are very different (light blue is slightly darker than non-photo blue). I’ve used animation pencils pretty much since I started drawing, mostly because I tend to molest the paper when I draw, constantly rubbing the side of my hand over the drawing. Graphite pencils smudge like crazy, so if I use a graphite, I end up with a giant gray mass. Col-erase pencils are a harder lead, and thus do not smudge. They also don’t erase terribly well, but that’s fine, because the light blue ones don’t scan.  That’s right, I don’t have to erase my messy pencil lines at all, I just scan the finished comic page into the computer and end up with a nice ink drawing, no pencil lines at all. Hurrah! This is the ONLY pencil I’ve discovered that behaves this way, as my scanner (I have an A3 Mustek, which is a decent cheap large format scanner, although I don’t think it’s compatable with Windows past Windows XD) will pick up every other colour pencil, even one as light as the orange col-erase.

That was long! But seriously, finding a pencil I was comfortable drawing with and then not have to erase from my comic pages (erasing is a pain, and can sometimes damage the inking) was an exhausting process, and I’m thrilled to finally have a system that works.

Stage four! Final inks: well, just look at the finished page above, won’t you? ;) I ink with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 watercolour brush, size 1, dipping it in a bottle of ink (I use Speedball ink, just because it’s cheap) then carefully tracing over my pencil lines. It’s the same brush Jeff Smith used to ink Bone. I started inking with a watercolour brush in 2009, when I was about half way through drawing Brain Camp … and that is why the latter half of Brain Camp looks much nicer than the first half. The Series 7 brush gives me a wonderful amount of control over the inking, and brings a look of polish to my comics. It was challanging to use the brush at the beginning, but I think my artwork has improved so much since I started using it … I encourage everyone who’s thinking about switching to a brush to consider this type of brush. You will not regret it. Previous to the Series 7, I used the Pentel pocket brushpen, which is a good starter brush, if you’d like to start using a brush but find the dip method to be a little daunting. Personally, though, I don’t think the Pentel compares to the Series 7. The Series 7 is the bomb, yo.

This is the point (after I’m finished explaining my comic making process) where people ask me if I’ve ever considered making comics digitally. There are some parts of my process that could easily be done digtially (like the thumbnails), but there are various reasons why I have no intention of drawing my finished comics on a computer: the hardware is very expensive (I would have to invest in a Cintiq to get the kind of refinement needed to make professional looking comics, and the good ones are thousands of dollars), staring at a computer screen for hours can be wearing/damaging to the eyes, and I prefer a certain look to my comics, and that look is not digital. I enjoy sketching on my tablet PC (it’s great for banging out a quick character design), but it cannot match the control and refinement of a pencil and ink drawing, nor the unique look.

But again, this is MY preference. There is no one way to make comics. Digital, traditional, it’s all good. Traditional is what I like, but if you like digital, that’s great! Maybe I can play around on your Cintiq for a while. They are pretty fun.



45 Responses

  1. Ryorin says:

    You know, I always wondered why so many cartoonists use blue pencils…

    I really like the breakdown of your comicking process! I might need to try a few of your steps; they look like they could help me a bit.

    Also: amused Alistair is amused. :)

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      I’m actually shocked when I run into a cartoonist who uses regular graphite pencils. They must be either super neat and not need to erase, or have some Photoshop magic that gets rid of pencils lines, I dunno.

  2. Aden Scott says:

    WOW this was such an informative post! Thanks for sharing so much about your process. Even the just a little peek into how pros make comics is a big help for all us other artists out there.
    GO FWB!

  3. technecat says:

    Woah- but I love your pencils! So much energy behind them, I can practically see your thought process. Not that your final inks are absolutely gorgeous, but I’ve gotta’ give props to the sketches too, they’re just too awesome.

  4. Ed Sizemore says:

    So your scanner will pick up non-photo blue? I will have to check out the col-ease pencils.

    Great write up of your process. Thanks for letting us see this. Are you reading Bakuman? Because they make the same point about thumbnails being important to the writing process. What’s amazing is that it takes two people in Bakuman to do what you do alone.

    Alstair’s reaction shot is gorgeous. You caan really see all the complex emotions right there in his face; the relief in the eyes and the happiness in the mouth.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      I never actually got to the scanning stage of using non-photo blue pencils, so I can’t say if they scan or not (I’ve used orange and purple col-erase before; they scan poorly). My problem with the non-photo blue is that it’s very waxy (and hard to see! too light), so prevents the ink from seeping properly into the paper when I lay down my inks.

      I’m trying to keep up with Bakuman, when my library has copies (I don’t like it enough to buy it). I enjoy all the manga industry stuff in it, but I just think the characters are complete idiots. It’s a great peek into the manga machine, tho!

  5. Scott M says:

    Very interesting to read about your process. I used to use a brush but now use Manga Studio and a 10-year-old Wacom tablet (a Cintiq would certainly be nice). What interested me the most was your use of the light blue pencil; I tried non-photo blue pencils back in the day and they drove me crazy, the texture felt wrong and I couldn’t see them properly. For a while I would pencil with a 2B or something, scan the page and then use photoshop to convert the pencils to non-photo blue and print them on a new page of light art paper.

    Anyway, like you say, it doesn’t matter what you use as long as it works for you, and your art looks great. I agree with the other commenters, I think your pencils are fine, but I suppose we tend to be our own harshest critics. :)

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, non-photo blue pencils are very waxy, and if you’re like me and tend to put down a LOT of pencil lines, a buildup of wax on the paper can prevent the ink from seeping into the paper. Which is REALLY important! So no non-photo for me. I really like the light blue pencils.

  6. open.window says:

    Aw, Alistair looks so cute in the 2nd last frame… I want Alistair :) He’s just so cute, never thought I would be attracted to a punk kind of guy… in or out of the comic. Though something awfully fishy is going on with hi and some of the guys at school… TENSION! I still love Alistair…

  7. Ingrid says:

    Thanks for all the detailed info. Great post!

  8. PHMREL says:

    Aww yeah, things are about to get SPOOKY.

    I’m curious, what kind of paper do you use?

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Oops, forgot to mention that: I use Strathmore Bristol paper, smooth surface. Strathmore also sells special comic bristol, but it’s super expensive. The regular smooth bristol is just fine. It goes on sale once a year (like 40% off!!!!) and I buy ALL of it.

  9. Jemma says:

    That panel with Alistair made me AWWW audibly >_>
    Also thank you, thank you for this post!! This will be extremely helpful to me for the comic I am working on…. right now i am in the thumb-nailing stage but I think i’m gonna try out the light-blue col-erase in the pencil because I also tend to “molest the paper” as you put it

  10. Warren says:

    Shorter Faith: ‘C’mon! I’ll show you!’

    Shorter me: ‘Far out!’

    I wouldn’t be so hard on the penciling. That’s a look I like, I think because it has a much more organic feel to it. I’ve been looking, off and on, for a decent piece of software that can emulate the rough look of a sketched image or something penciled and shaded – but everything digital seems much more focused on refinement.

    That’s one of the things, I think, that drew me to Mark Seigel’s ‘Sailor Twain’ – it’s hard to get more organic than charcoal.

    On the other hand, there’s really something magical about the skill (and patience!) in inked work, particularly clean inked work that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a spazz (me, for instance).

    Scott – scanning to Photoshop and printing the sketches as light blue for inking never occurred to me. I might just have to try that.

    Re digital in general, I’ve found that for a simple toon style you can do some nice things with Illustrator. I’ve had some success taking line drawings, pulling them into livetrace, and setting up the trace settings to look like ink. The advantage is I then have a vector art file, which is nicely scalable to pretty much any dimension I want.

    For anyone interested, there’s an example of what I mean here:

    …look for ‘Caligula with colors and hilites’ (the name refers to the character’s boots, not anything NSFW). That cartoon began life as a sketch, then a simple line drawing that I scanned in ’shop and livetraced. There’s a link to a screenshot of the Illustrator livetrace settings I used to get that effect.

    As for this page right here, my fave panel is the last, with Lucy tossing her hands up in glee. Pure joie de vivre there.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      I’ve no idea how Mark draws comics with charcoal. The man is crazypants. I’d be covered in the stuff and my pages would just look like huge gray smears if I drew with charcoal. XD

  11. Erin says:

    Thanks for sharing your process :)I actually found myself leaning towards using the Pental brush pen recently but after reading this I think I’m going to give your way a try and see how it feels. Thanks also for the inspiration and the motivation. I’m rather enamoured with your comics as new as they are to me.

    My best to you!

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, go for the Series 7! It’s a bit scary at first, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice, and then you’ll have this wonderful tool at your disposal.

  12. Proi says:

    That was super interesting and helpful. I don’t draw comics, but I do pen inking stuff (in an ultra-amateur way.) The idea of drawing with a pencil that won’t scan instead of having to erase? That would be so rad. I will look into that. (Also, hoorah for the Old Burying Ground and the spiky wall outside the Lieutenant Governor’s House. That wall is something I always imagine drunks hurting themselves on on their way home from Pizza Corner.)

  13. Emily says:

    I’ve heard this process a couple times over.
    I’ve actually adopted a similar method when drawing (which I stole from you, BTW). I sketch with non-photo blue (I’ve recently fallen in love with a pilot mechanical pencil non-photo blue lead), and ink traditionally. I then scan and edit out the lines (my computer will pick up all colours). Sometimes I need to use my tablet to edit the stray lines or mistakes because I’m not a confident inker. I also colour digitally because I haven’t found a traditional media that I enjoy.
    And pfft, Cintiq? Man, Bamboo or Intuos is where it’s at XD

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Oh, yeah, digital colouring is the bomb. I love traditional mediums for colour, but they are super time consuming.

  14. Mercy says:

    I remember reading zombies calling for the fist time and noticing the cut off was a little invasive over a few speech bubbles.. but scott mccloud says bleeds allow the comic to seep out in to the real world.. and I felt like their really was a zombie apocalypse happening!

    how do you get the grey in the comic though?

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeaaahh, Zombies Calling was a mess. Originally it was not supposed to be an all bleed comic like how it was printed. It was supposed to be printed in a larger size with outside gutters, like The War at Ellsmere. But when I was nearly done the book it was decided it should be manga sized due to the book market at the time, so everything had to be cut down. I think it looks gross. I wish it had gutters like originally planned.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Oh, sorry, forgot your question: the gray shading is done in photoshop.

  15. Angela says:

    Great post. I love hearing about other people’s processes. I am curious if writing out the script based on your thumbnails, putting your sketches into words, helps you in anyway? Having another way to look at the story. Or is this an additional step you would get rid of if you could and go straight from thumbnails to pencils (or denser thumbnails)? I currently do an abbreviated version of what you do: written outline of major points of the story, then 1/4 page thumbnails, pencils, then inks.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      There definitely needs to be a script. I wouldn’t remove that part of the process. It’s important to nail down the script before you start drawing, because otherwise you end up messing with the story and having to rework things that should’ve been dealt with before you started drawing. Well, at least I do.

  16. Golux says:

    Thanks for the tip on non-blue line blue line pencils. (what a way to put it, eh?)

    Being involved in catalog production and way back, a stat camera and mechanical layouts, I’m pretty familiar with non-photo blue pencil. Nice to know the light-blue col-erase pencils work the same way with a scanner.

  17. Jill says:

    HI Faith,
    All so very impressive, not your process because as a person that is not an artist it seems very complicated to me.But the years of trial and error that has brought you to this place of perfecting your skill is the wonder to me.

    As I read your initial steps, what trully struck me was how vague the drawings would be to someone else, but it all is really in your head. And that is what I marvel about is how you keep it all straight, but that is your gift of storytelling!
    I was also reminded of a page I saw once of James Micherner’s writing. When he edited the page, he deleted every word except for three words!!
    So impressive!

  18. This is very informative! So, when you first send your script to First Second, are there any problems with them trying to read the script form of something that’s meant to be visual? How do you get around that? I’m working on my first graphic novel script right now, and had no idea that publishers might want to look at scripts first.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Ummm, honestly, I can’t really speak to that, because First Second bought the comic before there was a script. It varies from publisher to publisher what exactly they want. But for me I was already working with First Second before I handed in the FWB script. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to have a script, of course. And the nice thing about scripts is that they can be easily altered, whereas artwork can’t.

  19. Tara says:

    I’ve been going back and forth on Pentel vs. the series 7 for awhile. Real brushes are scary! Someday I’d like to try it (they are pretty expensive where I’ve seen ’em). Love process posts! I always like to see how other people do things, especially in the early stages of scripting and penciling :)

    And YAY another light blue col-erase user! I tried the non-photo blue but it’s almost TOO light, and the lead is so hard I find I’m straining myself to get a line down.

    Nice work!!

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, I get that the “real” brushes and using the dip method rather than the Pentel is scary, but trust me, it’s soooo worth it once you get past the learning curve. Once you get used to the sophistication of the Series 7, drawing with the Pentel will feel like drawing with mittens. Then again, the Pentel might just suit your art style better. My boyfriend draws in a very cartoony, Tezuka meets Kim Possible style, and he uses the Pentel very well. His style is miles cleaner than mine, tho, and just needs a careful line, rather than a thin, angular line.

  20. DadaHyena says:

    Hooray! Cemetery! Time for some fun!

  21. qtsushigirl says:

    Thank you for sharing your process! It’s so inspiring, and it makes me happy when artists use traditional art. I love digital art, but there’s something “homey” about traditional work.

  22. Margo says:

    Red col-erase also works! It scans, but takes about two seconds to get rid of with Photoshop. I’ve tried light blue, but whatever scanner I use has always picked it up, so I would have to Photoshop my pencils away anyway.

  23. Jason says:

    I love this page! I especially like geeking out to all of the ‘process’ decisions that artists make. It is always such a personal and important choice – and is so rarely changed once it is settled upon.

    So, what paper/board do you use? What could possibly stand up to all of that pencilling AND inking without falling apart ;-) ? How much larger do recommend working? Is there a point where you reduce the artwork too much and you lose all the brush detail?

  24. Sporky says:

    Just wanna let you know that ever since your Zombie’s Calling, I was inspired to use brushes for inking :D I became enthusiastic with traditional inking for comics in general XD

    There’s just something about how organic brush inks look. You know you can’t erase them but it encourages you to get that perfect line in one go. Even if the line ain’t perfect, it has a unique quality to it.

    Do you use the same brush for every line weight? How long do your brushes last before their tips fray?

  25. Anne says:

    I miss all your marker pics, Faith! I used to look forward to your sketchblog posts so much. I know you’re a bit busy for regular non-comic pics though, damn adulthood D:

  26. […] a completely different note, I’ve been thinking about my giant blog post about my comic making process (glad you guys enjoyed that!), and I just wanted to add a few more thoughts about making art, […]

  27. […] (Skip over the comic to the blog sections) Making a Comic (Part 1) […]

  28. Nienke says:

    Hey Faith, I was wondering how big you draw your comics? A3 size or smaller? Thanks for this very informative post by the way!

  29. Random observation now that the comic isn’t available online anymore: you can’t see the completed page here. :) (Doesn’t affect me since I have a hard copy, but might be good for posterity if there was even a scaled-down version available?)

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Friends With Boys, webcomic edition!

Hello readers, new ones just discovering the comic and those who’ve been with it since the beginning. Friends With Boys is now complete online. You may read it in its entirety, all 200+ pages, for free, for the next eight days. Then the image files of the comic (except for a short preview) will be taken down. While the comic was being serialized online, I blogged a lot about my comic making process. I did write ups about how I make comics, what my opinions on what makes a good comic are, and pointed out various Easter eggs throughout Friends With Boys. That stuff will all remain up, so if you buy a hard copy of Friends With Boys, you can still read along with my thought process.

And now (today!), Friends With Boys is a published book! Yay! I hope that if you’ve read the web version and liked it, and want to support me as a creator, you’ll consider buying the book.

I’ve really enjoyed serializing Friends With Boys online. If you’re new to my work, I started out making comics online before moving into print. I posted the very first page of my very first online comic on my very first website back in August, 1999, and wow, was that page ugly. Here it is! Notice a weird similarity to the first page of Friends With Boys? Yeah, that was not deliberate, I promise. But look how much your drawing skills can improve if you draw thousands of pages of comics over a ten year period! Anyway, I’m really thrilled my wonderful publisher First Second Books has allowed me to return to my roots and put Friends With Boys online as a lead up to its publication. As a reader and purchaser of comics, I have bought quite a few hard copy versions of online comics, because I enjoy the reading experience of having the whole thing collected, and I want to support the author. I hope you will too. :)

Otherwise, there are a few upcoming events I hope to see some readers at:
Book signing! At my local comics shop Strange Adventures, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 3rd (Saturday), 2-4pm (EDITING TO ADD: The book launch has been moved to the following Saturday due to the books not shipping to Strange Adventures on time. The launch will now be March 10th from 2-4pm. Go here for info).
Comic convention! I’ll have a table at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 6th-7th. There are a few other conventions I am trying to attend, but everything else is up in the air at the moment. For updates, please follow my twitter or join my Facebook fan page.  I’m pretty good about updating those two spots.

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