The Graphic Novel making process

The illustrations, lettering and cover page for my first ever story are complete. Waiting for the test prints.

I don’t know when I decided to jump into comics / graphic novel stuff, but it has yielded some interesting results so far.

Currently, I have 2 stories written, one of them completed in the form of a small book. I am done illustrating, lettering and formatting for this story. Now this is done, I intend to get a few test copies published via a print-on-demand (POD) site (Pothi.com). This will help me visualize how the final book will look, as well as improve formatting before the complete book goes onto print.

I have yet to look for a publisher, but currently evaluating various options like professional publishers, self publishing and POD.

The second story illustrations have started and may take several months before I complete them. It’s a bigger story (approx 40 pages) than the first one (24 pages). But I have a definite advantage of experience, learning from my mistake and a definite workflow from the illustrations of my first story.

My first attempt at uploading the book and cover on Pothi.com failed due to the size restrictions at their end. This issue got resolved in a couple of days, enabling me to upload the stuff, and get my first hard copies ordered last week. Now I am waiting for them to arrive in mail.

The workflow

I do all my comics work digitally, even though I intend to print these in paper form in future. I use all free open source softwares for paneling and thumbnailing, drawing and inking (GIMP), lettering (Inkscape) and publishing (Scribus). I use my Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with a Wacom Bamboo Fun 9″ x 7″ tablet.

The workflow is as follows:

Scripting (Tool – Wordpad)

It’s assumed that the script is complete before I even touch illustrations. The script is written in a consistent format with all the panels neatly planned, dialogues, captions and actions written in vivid details, though I may improvise on the go.

I typically write the script in a Wordpad document, so that I can edit it on any PC with MS Windows installed, and there’s no need for any special word processor for viewing it.

The script is written in a format consistent with the guidelines given on Dark Horse comics website. Since I started my experimentation in comics with a script provided by Dark Horse comics for aspiring artists, my script writing style is inspired by them.

Here are the experimental comic pages I did with the Dark Horse comic script.

Page 1

Page 2

Thumbnailing (Tool – GIMP)

This is a very important step in visualizing the content, even though it’s written in the script.

I have been doing thumbnailing in GIMP so far, but it may change. The thumbnails are very rough sketches useful for reference when I actually illustrate the comic pages. Even though the pictures look like they are drawn by a two year old, they are invaluable reference. They provide references for the camera angles, spaces for speech balloons and captions, and overall panels positioning. So when I am actually illustrating the page, these things become less taxing on mind, and I can concentrate on illustration quality.

thumbnail

Page Size

For the first story, the page size is 3300 pixels (W) X 4400 pixels (H) at 1,200 PPI. These pages are designed to be printed on A4 size / US Letter sized paper. The files are converted to Grayscale mode (Menu Item – Image->Mode->Grayscale) to make sure no other color accidently seeps in.

Paneling (Tool – GIMP)

I rename the default layer with white background as ‘Panels’. Then I use the brush tool for drawing panels, with pressure sensitivity off, as shown in the following screenshot.

panels

Some comic artists prefer their panels to be above the illustrations, I prefer them below. It’s a matter of choice, and no approach is right or wrong.

I keep a template page (shown above) with a set size of a single big panel encompassing the maximum area covered by all illustrations on the page. I use this template for all pages within the story. This ensures that illustrations on all pages remain within the same area.

Penciling

Once the paneled page is ready, I add a transparent layer on top of it, and name it ‘pencils’. I use the GIMP pencil tool for drawing the rough sketch. There’s no set rule on how much detailing I do in the pencil sketch. Sometimes it’s hardly a doodle, not so different from the thumbnail page, sometimes, it’s very detailed.

pencils

Inking

I create another transparent layer called ‘inks’ on top of the pencil layer, select ‘Ink’ tool from GIMP toolbox, and start inking.

One big disadvantage of using a tablet over paper is that one cannot rotate the virtual ‘canvas’ like paper. One can rotate the paper to convenient angles as suitable for ink strokes. So drawing perfect ink strokes requires some practice. Of course, this disadvantage pales in comparison to all advantages of working digitally (primary of which is cryptically called Ctrl-Z).

In the current comic stories, I have used perfect black and white shades only, and refrained from using gray shades. But this is very much possible by using the brush tool, as evident from my earlier work below.

shades

While doing inking, it’s a very good idea to periodically make the ‘pencils’ layer invisible, and have a long, hard, critical look at the inking work (which is going to be the final artwork). Sometimes, it’s easy to miss out certain strokes because the pencil work is showing through.

If there are complex overlapping elements, I create separate transparent ink layers above the basic ‘inks’ layer. This helps in making changes easier afterwards, as there’s no loss of data involved.

After the inking is done to my satisfaction, I make the ‘pencils’ layer invisible. This eliminates all the rough work from the final drawing in one stroke. Beats erasing bits from paper hands down, doesn’t it?

This is how the final page looks, after inking is complete.

inks

Coloring (If applicable)

The reason Coloring is optional is because so far I have illustrated my stories in grayscale only, although I have done the cover page in full colors. Here’s a snapshot of the temporary cover page I created for my test copy. Note that this cover image is designed to be printed. So the front cover is on the right side, and back cover is on left side.

Both original Grayscale and colored versions are shown below.

cover_bw

cover_color

RGB Vs CMYK (More details on this in the future posts)

It’s very important that all colored images to be printed on paper are converted to CMYK format before being sent to the printer. Since CMYK has a much lesser range of colors, it may be difficult to visualize how the image will look on paper when viewed in RGB mode.

The following two images show the subtle color difference in RGB image and CMYK image.

RGB

cover_rgb

CMYK

cover_cmyk

More tips on Lettering and desktop publishing coming up in the next post.

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