Please, do not follow my advice on creating a comic (part 1)

Long history short: a few days ago I was finishing the last 20 pages of a comic book script for my 7 years old kid, Guillermo, and I was thinking of dropping some info about how the creative process of this comic was done. But given my laziness, I was thinking of just doing a kind of braindump in some tweets.

But, who am I to deny to all of my interested followers (2) to provide my creative not-to-follow advice on creating comics?

Disclaimer: I honestly consider that there is no silver bullet or one single rule to follow in a creative process. Creativity is about try what you feel and have fun, so please do not consider my text as a guideline of nothing, it is just a log of things that happened to me (as amateur) during the creation of a comic book. Enjoy!

How did this all start?

2020 has been a WTF year for sure, but I will try to remember this year only for two good things: to return back to home (Cádiz) after +15 fantastic years living in Seville, and to return back to one of my most loved hobbies: to draw.

So, during confinement in Spain, I started to draw some sketches of my kids playing together with the only motivation of having some fun during those hard times.

And after a few different drawings, I realized that I was feeling the same that I felt two years ago when I started to draw in another empty sketchbook some pictures of my wife pregnant with our second child, Gael (again, just for fun, in that case, in a rainy afternoon). At that time, I had the feeling that it would be great to use these draws as illustrations for a customized-children storybook for Guillermo, to help him to deal with the arrival of his new brother. As result, I finished Dos Monos, una Patata y una Rana (Two Monkeys, a Potato, and a Frog) one month and a half later.

Sample picture from Dos Monos, una Patata y una Rana storybook

The creative process of that children's book was very easy and crystal clear. I had an idea in mind about telling my kid how we (my wife and I) met together and what happened when he arrived, and how things are going to look when the new brother will arrive. So, I spent almost 20 nights approx to draw all the illustrations (only with some basic Staedtler pencils) in addition to a simple text that I prepared in 4 days. The reason for using nights is just to use a time slot when my kid was not able to discover me (I wanted to give him the book once it got edited as a surprise gift). Once I finished all the pictures, I used my Uni Art & Craft drawing pens and Pentel permanent markers N850 to ink everything, and once scanned I used Gimp to do some color cleanup (Mode B/W and Color Threshold). Finally, I used the Saal Design software tool to perform the final layout/print design.

Thinking in a comic book

Now, as I mentioned before, I was experiencing the same feeling, How can I use these drawings in this new scenario for him (Guillermo)? like many other children around the world, he was committed to assimilating the new COVID-19 rules and -in addition to him- to leave his school and friends from Seville to return back to Cádiz. So, I decided to create a comic book for him as a birthday present (my first attempt at a non-accomplished deadline)

First bad advice: set up a deadline by comparing efforts between two different projects — a children storybook and a comic book

I decided to create a comic book instead of a children's storybook based on Guillermo's age and reading skills. He is a huge fan of Tintin and I consider it a better option based on his age than a storybook, like the previous one that was for a 4 years old kid. Now, he is 7 years old, used to read a lot of comic stuff and he loves that kind of media.

So, the problem was about my complete lack of expertise in this media. I remember myself as a young kid drawing/copying a lot of comics, but never faced to create a single one from scratch beyond some bad 1 page comics for school-related magazines.

Characters designs, really? Yes

I had some different ideas about the comic that I wanted to do. Mostly it has to be focused on brotherhood, friendship, and fantasy. Something like that kind of 80s movies that we used to revisit from time to time. In addition, I decided to introduce Guillermo and Gael as the main characters.

I was familiarized to draw Guillermo, he was the main character of the previous storybook, but Gael was the very first time, and I was totally wrong in thinking that I will be able to draw him as fast and easier than when I draw Guillermo

Second bad advice: do not perform character designs, consider that is always easy to draw whoever you see everyday

Some pencil sketches of discarded Gael character designs

If you see some of my shared pics on Twitter you will be able to see at least four different faces of Gael here, here, here, and here (ok, in this last one I decided to skip drawing his face again). So, YES, I needed to spend at least two days being able to draw the Gael face with different expressions in a coherent manner.

Quality (panels) versus Timing (pages)

As you can see, my designs are very simplistic (like a cartoon), but I love to draw extra details in the background trying to make them realistic and integrate both together. This works fine in an isolated illustration, but in a comic (with a specific deadline/timing), this goes fine if you are a complete professional artist, but when you are a complete newbie and try to perform the first design of a +4 panels layout everything starts to look wrong.

In addition, I was trying to perform fixed layouts of some panels which were based on illustrations performed in an A4 sketchbook, and sometimes it was a complete pain to resize these images to fit in a specific panel. To perform the layout and these resize/edit operations I started to use Scribus+Gimp. But I was completely frustrated with the results obtained.

The problem was about quality versus timing. I mean, I was able to finally set up a page like this one with its lettering integrated (which was done outside the drawing steps — not sure if this was a good idea yet or not)

Page 10. It was the first page that I tried to set up using Scribus+Gimp

This page was the first one that I tried to set up using Scribus+Gimp, and I was very happy with the results obtained but I spent five days on it, so if I was going to spend this time per page and I was thinking on ~50 pages, I will not be able to finish on time. So, the problem was not about tooling. It was, as I mentioned before, about sizes of images, and how I was dealing with the creation of each panel, instead of a coherent set of panels on a single page

Third bad advice: Focus all your efforts on every single panel of a page in an isolated manner instead of in a complete page

If you follow this bad advice, I will confirm that you will obtain a 100% of deviation in your due date estimation, as well as a complete incoherent page layout if you do not want to spend more than 5 days trying to fix it.

Some examples of the original draw from the previous page without any order, relative sizes, etc

So, finally, I decided to avoid drawing in my sketchbook single panels in an A4 format, as shown in the previous image and go through doing all the pages inside a single A4 trying to reduce the time of configuring it on Scribus. With that approach, I spent only 2 days (one drawing+inking, and another for color cleanup+layout+lettering) per page

Example of a page performed in 2 days following the approach of being focused on the entire page layout instead of in a panel

Script

While I was writing this entry, I recently found this poll on Twitter which perfectly resumes all the states where I have been during my chaotic creative process of writing the comic script.

To be honest, I never tried to write the entire full script of the comic book. I had a clear idea about characters, with their abilities and importance inside the story, and where everything starts, what will happen, and how it is going to end, with some different collateral stories in the background and alternatives. So, at the very beginning, no script was created, only ideas in my mind that I tried to maintain ordered and in a full sequence of actions per character. C’mon, you knew this is not going to work.

For me, the most important thing here was about the motivation of each character on doing what are doing in a specific moment. I wanted to avoid that kind of story about going from here to there without any motivation.

But, on the other hand, and due to I only spent some hours per night from Monday to Friday, I used to feel that I was losing the focus on the story so many times, so started to take notes with some specific images (panels or pages) that I wanted to highlight.

Notes and final single panel

In these notes, you can see a lot of different situations that happened to our main characters. Most of them were updated, re-adapted, or discarded during the iterative process. For example, the notes said that Guillermo will go to Paris on a motorcycle with Tintin, but in the final panel, he goes by airplane and seems they are going to met with Sherlock Holmes, something that finally never happens.

In addition, I started to consider building some thumbnails and draft pages like this which helped me a lot to have a place to return back and order the ideas and sequences that I had in mind.

Thumbnails and final page of the third one

My “problem” started here where I started to like how the thumbnails look like. I mean, I tried to not spent more than 1 minute drawing the structure, sequence, etc. but sometimes I spent more time (mostly on the panels where two or more characters are talking — no action scenes or things like that)

A page that started as a sequence of thumbnails/draft that I finally decided to ink and to include

Fourth bad advice: use your thumbnails/draft pages as the final art, you will experience a complete sense of improving your times over 9000 but with the lowest quality that you can imagine

Fith bad advice: consider all the existing options to set up your comic script based on random criteria, let the chaos reign!

Let's finish this first post here, I will continue with more bad advice soon about style, colors, lettering, etc … now I have to continue drawing and finishing this comic! Hope you liked it!