Graphic Novels: The Secret Sauce

So, a friend had asked me about the process involved with creating a graphic novel/illustrated book/whatever you would like to call it.  As I’ve been in the midst of such a project with a deadline to present some work to the Toronto Writer’s Cooperative tonight, I thought this week’s post could be about that very thing!

First, I draw out the story in thumbnail format.  This part is the most fun, as you can just get creative with the story and yet not invest too much time.

Phase 1

The size, style, degree of ‘finish’ of thumbnails can be anything you like.  For me, I prefer to work on 8.5 x 11 and roughly to the same size and layout as how I see the end product looking.

After drawing out and settling on a certain direction for the overall story, I then “pin it down” – which basically means converting the thumbnailed pages into something more closely resembling a finished product.  I try to leave this part until the end in order to ensure that the overall story is relatively complete and I’m satisfied that the pages that are produced will actually be used.  This is pretty important given the amount of time a page can take to properly finish.

To finish a page, I first draw out all the panel sizes and shapes for each page.  The ruler (and eraser) is critical.Phase 2Next I draw in the panels with pencils.. choose word balloon placement.. add text… and then once that is done, go over all of it with ink. There’s many different ways to add ink to a page.  Some people ‘ink’ directly in the computer, others are master inkers using sable brush and the like.  I prefer the luddite route whereby I do as much as I can by hand and some extremely basic inking using a micron pen, and then I scan it into the computer and clean it up, add colour, etc.  (if you’re curious, an example of a finished page can be seen in a prior post).

Phase 3Now, I should say that this process takes a LONG time, at least 3/4 to a full day per page depending on the detail – and for people that ink professionally I’m sure it could take even longer.  And that’s not even including the time spent cleaning it up on the computer and colouring (another post topic)!

I don’t know any other medium which takes hours just to tell one little joke, so you really gotta love it.  So there you have it.. the secret sauce.

Phase 4.2P.S. Simon looks crosser than I meant in the panel above.  There was a really loud woman talking near me when I was drawing this.

6 thoughts on “Graphic Novels: The Secret Sauce

  1. Thanks for sharing some process details – most interesting! So, does the story take shape in your mind as you thumbnail sketch it out? No written out bullet point outline? Hopefully I am not digging too deep into your secret sauce recipe – I am just fascinated by how the story comes together for other people. I find that a combination of words and visuals is what brings the story together for me. Unlike you, though, I don’t create my own visuals by hand – I get inspiration from ready-made photos, some of which I may take myself. Good work on your short & long stories! And kudos for posting each week!

    • My pleasure.. it’s helpful for me to share the process as well in terms of getting feedback – and this takes the pressure off coming up with a weekly cartoon while I’m also working on a longer story!

      Re: shaping the story, I do have an overall story arc in my mind for the major events that will occur, but the details and journey in between these events is more fluid and at times something shows up the page that surprises me. As it progresses, I find I’m adding a bit more depth to the story which requires going back and refining some of the beginning, adding a page here and there to fill things out. WRT visuals, looking at how others have approached things like night scenes, or related background scenery, has been helpful. For example, I modeled some of the cover colours for Dark Horse Rises off a panel from Tintin in America, where Tintin is sitting by a fire – that was enormously helpful as I wasn’t quite sure how to treat the nighttime colour scheme and yet keep some of the detail in from the characters –

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