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START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON

HyenaHell at 11:17PM, March 23, 2017
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Every now and again, an acquaintance or friend who ain't as deep in comics culture and creation as I am (which is to say they ain't really got much of an idea about comics but have seen the Sunday funnies page and know that Batman is a thing) will have a look at my work. One, er, “compliment” that I'll get from these folks runs along the lines of, “Oh, wow, like, you're totally good at drawing these characters where like, they look the same over and over again, and it all looks like it goes together!” Now, I don't really see that as something to be congratulated for, on account of ain't that basically the basic bare minimum requirement of my damn craft? Well, we could probably get a little more basic, such as finishing drawing pages without like, defecating on them or gauging your eyes out with your pen but I'd like to think we all hold ourselves to higher standards, right?

So we're carrying on from last week, where we talked about how consistency is key in creating comic that readers can follow and will return to. In the same way that you wanna keep a few elements in your writing and concept consistent from, strip to strip or book to book or update to- eh, let's say from episode to episode, shall we?- the way your comic looks probably oughta maintain a similar kinda consistency. Now, most obvious way to do that is drawing or rendering your images (I'm just gonna say “drawing” from here on out because y'all crazy kids with your new-fangled ways of doin' whatever can go ahead and do that but I ain't gotta acknowledge it every damn time, okay?) in a cohesive, consistent, and easily recognizable style. Like I said, being able to do that is pretty much the basics of our craft, here.

I'm not gonna spend a lot of time on character design on account of I think that's the first thing most folks really get down. Now, if ya got a character that's well designed, they're recognizable no matter who draws ‘em or how. Take that Bat fella, for one: Batman is Batman is Batman, ad infinitum, right? Now, while style can and does vary depending on who draws a series or strip, for those of us doin’ all the work our own selves on our own creations, unless that creation is as instantly and easily recognizable as motherfucking Batman (spoiler: it's not) or you've already got a substantial reader base that knows your work, it'd probably be a good idea to stick to one style of drawing. Like we talked about last week, predictable elements are necessary to keep readers coming back, because they're expecting to read something they liked before. So you do like them folks compliment me on doing which is draw characters that you can tell apart that look like the same character from panel to panel. There. Style! Done! Right?

Hold up. What about everything else? Ah, crap. Yeah. The other stuff. The not-always-so-fun-to-draw stuff that makes up everything that ain't your characters. Here I'm talking about inanimate objects or vehicles or structures or backgrounds. Because the way you draw all that junk oughta be as consistent as your characters.



Now, here's where we get back to rules, or setting boundaries or limitations for yourself, follow? In order to maintain consistency you need to make some decisions. Well, “need” is a funny word; real subjective; ain't like anyone's got a gun to your head, right? I'd suggest though that your going will be smoother from the start if you set out with it in your head that you're gonna do things a certain way, and stick to it. (Unless the way you decide to do it don't work, in which case abandon ship, mission abort, on to plan B, but that's a whole ‘nother blog right there.) What kind of decisions are we talkin And is it like, a lot of them? Is this gonna be one of those situations where I’m paralyzed and overwhelmed with with indecision by the multitude of options and variations and choices and stuff, you ask? Oh, totally. But let's look at just a few aspects of this kind of “rule” making to start, and I'm sure y'all can make all kindsa connections and jump to all sorts of conclusions from there.

One decision you can make is how you treat space. I ain't talkin' final frontier, but rather the illusion of spacial dimensions, dig? Now you could just have characters interacting in a vacuum. No background, no props, just talkin' heads. That works for some things, I reckon, but your writing better be dead on, and your art better be real slick to pull that off and keep a reader's interest. Moving a step further away from minimalism on the scale, we've got what I'll call shallow space.



You've got an indication of a setting, and the use of overlapping can create the simplest illusion of objects receding into space, but no attempt at perspective. Think of the backgrounds of old scrolling video games, for one. You can get pretty detailed with this set up too while keeping it simple. However, you're limited to the kinds of angles and framing you can do when you're not using any kind of perspective. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. There's a lot of great strips and even longer comics done this way, and if your focus is more on what the characters are saying than what they're doing, it might actually be a better decision to stay away from the distraction of perspective and put your energy into pushing other aspects of your art and writing.



If you're dealing with any kind of deeper space, though, you're gonna run into the issue of perspective. How much you wanna mess with perspective is another decision it's helpful to make from the start. Now, you probably already know a few tricks to give the illusion of spacial depth: overlapping objects and decreasing their scale as they recede into the distance and all that. This is important on account of most artists don't lay out perfectly correct three-point perspective on every damn panel. That'd take like, years. Most artists will lay out perspective when it's necessary for a wide frame or to set a certain mood, or when using tricky extreme angles; then they'll employ those neat little cheats I just talked about, or add a few directional lines to reinforce the information they've already given you about where the characters are situated in space. Now, if you're experienced enough you can usually eyeball perspective to a certain extent, especially in scenes with a medium depth, but be aware that not one single reader will pay the slightest attention to your use of perspective… unless it's wrong. Perspective is like service at a restaurant. When it's right, it's unnoticeable, and when it's off, it fucking ruins everything. And while comics can and do break the rules of perspective, especially if you're working in a more cartoony or stylized way, you gotta actually know the rules before you break ‘em, because how you break those rules oughta stay consistent too, dig?

More things to consider: your level of detail, both in drawing your characters and your everything else! What will you render, what will you suggest, what will you gloss over? Is dramatic lighting important? How are you dealing with shadows and light source? Are you using shading? Do you have a color pallet in mind that you’re trying to stick to? Are you using action words like “pow” or “bam”? Are you using action lines at all, and how will you draw them? Like I said, it gets to be overwhelming! But decide how you're gonna draw something, and keep it consistent. making these kind of “this is how I’m going to approach this”, or “I'm not gonna do that so I can focus on this” rules for yourself helps create a cohesive work and gives you less stuff to think about on the fly, so you can push yourself in other ways!

BATMAN IMAGES: (clockwise) Bob Kane, Jim Mahfood, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Raymond Pettibon











comment

anonymous?

HyenaHell at 8:28AM, March 25, 2017

I'll also add that while I'm in total awe of masters who seem to consistently churn out perfect work, most of the stuff that really speaks to me on a human level is filled with idiosyncrasies and mistakes and the sense of the urgency of expression trumping the need for perfection.

HyenaHell at 8:24AM, March 25, 2017

I mean I think people make comics for all sorts of reasons, and the most important reason is that it's fun or fulfilling and brings the maker joy or catharsis or a sense of accomplishment. I also don't think you need to know what you're doing or even be good at something to do it. The most important thing is doing it! For me, I still have delusions that I can make a career out of comics so I'm constantly studying and pushing myself, and the stuff I'm sayin in these here posts is geared towards that "if you want to push yourself harder" level. But I don't mean to suggest that these are things you HAVE to do to make meaningful and valid work, dig? If you're making anything at all you're already beating the odds! Our stories and art are our thumbing our noses at the cruel uncaring world and our impending deaths, and that's pretty damn amazing no matter how yer doin it!

PaulEberhardt at 1:15PM, March 24, 2017

I'll totally second that. Btw. I keep getting the same "compliment" all the time. I apply a lot of self-discipline not to roll my eyes and groan, but then it's true that I'm quite willing to go any lengths to keep everything ultra-consistent at least throughout every page, i.e. whereever people would be bound to notice. As you said, if you can't make characters and setting look the same from one panel to another, don't start a comic. Minor inconsistencies are cool, though. They can keep the whole thing vibrant, they underline that your work is not just some cheap stock cartoon out of a can. Characters who frequently change their outfit are cool too - one of mine does it all the time and deliberately in contrast to the others - but the general style has to remain in some way consistent, else they'd lose credibility.

Banes at 1:04PM, March 24, 2017

...and I recognize that mike mignola Batman from "Gotham by gaslight". Sweet comic.

Banes at 1:03PM, March 24, 2017

Fantastic article! You know what you're talkin about!

KimLuster at 11:14AM, March 24, 2017

Excellent article once again, and it's weird because... well, while I totally agree this should be something to strive for, I often sorta ignore it. For one thing, I admitted from the start that my comic had a second function, in that I was using the creation of it to get better at drawing art quickly. With that in mind, I've used different mediums, such as acrylic paint, watercolor, colored pencils... I've done black and white, color... But I think that's fair since I've noted that in my author notes many times, so the reader is aware. But... I have strove for a 'realistic' style the entire time, with fair amount of detail, and I think that's what you're mostly talking about here! Even then, for me, quickness has more priority over absolute fidelity in character similarity... So if the same character's face is rounder one panel and squarer the next, I don't worry about it, provided you know it's the same character... ;) Good stuff!

bravo1102 at 10:32AM, March 24, 2017

Consistency is all and well but at least have the character change their clothes once in a while. Unless you want to go for the gag where their closet just has thirty of the one outfit. One of the reasons I haven't done a long term conventionally drawn strip is because it's hard to keep the character's faces looking the same. When I did a consistent strip my characters were a straw and bucket. And I had trouble drawing the bucket the same panel to panel. ;)

usedbooks at 7:31AM, March 24, 2017

I am not consistent because I hate my attempts at art. I don't really have a reader base to disappoint. (The readers I have encourage my experimentation for the most part.) I am more consistent than I used to be, though, and any change is gradual or subtle (like trying new filters or line widths).


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