Updated weekly, every Tuesday (sometimes more often)
Tuesday , May 13 , 2014
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How It's Made

This is how I get my comic, Straight Ahead, from my head to the webpage.
Overall, my technique is very low tech. I do almost all my work on paper. I use the computer as a means to get the comic from paper to the webpage. What you see on the website is pretty much what you see on paper. Most of the work involved on the computer has to do with cleaning up the frames after they've been scanned and making the header and title of the episode.

The first and most important component is the outline. I don't go anywhere without it. If you're doing a serial comic, you must have an outline so you can think ahead to where the story is going. I also let an episode take as many frames as necessary to tell the story. I don't try to fit every episode into a standard 3, 4 or 5 frame, one row format. I find this too restrictive. The web allows me to do more than what the printed page allows. However, the down side is that it's very hard to print this comic. On the up side, I never intended to make a print version of the comic, so I guess that doesn't matter. I actually have two outlines. The first is just sketchy high level outlines of whole storylines or ideas for storylines. They can range from a one line idea for a story, or multiple lists of what happens in the story. This is where I do my brainstorming. These are what the loose blue sheets are used for.

The second outline is the detailed outline of the episode I am working on. I use a notebook to list all the detail that goes into the episode. This can include text, frame size, placement of characters in the frame, and facial expressions, etc. Anything that is important to the episode, I put in here. Sometimes, I include small rough sketches. It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't. It only takes me a few minutes to put this down. And it saves me a lot of headache later because I tend to forget things as I draw the episode.

Next, the tools of the trade. These are the things I use to create Straight Ahead. Nothing very fancy.

From left to right:

1) Notebook for outlines and notes.
2) Brush to clean away eraser shavings and pencil dust.
3) Ruler to measure frames and placement of characters in the frames.
4) Pencils. 6H to do the initial sketching. HB to trace over the sketch. 2H for shading. 4B for doing the thick frame.
5) Erasers. *The* most important tool. I do more erasing than drawing (I have no training in art or drawing).
6) Ames Lettering Guide. This is essential to make nice straight lines for my crappy lettering.
7) Tape. To stick the paper to my drawing board. I use "KleenEdge" which is a low tack masking tape used for house painting. It's easy to remove from the paper without damaging it.
8) Erasing shield. I use this to erase unwanted lines near other lines I don't want to disturb.

That's basically it. I do everything in pencil. I found out early in life that ink is not my friend when you're left handed. I do some ink, but only when a large amount of the background in the frame needs to be black. Also, I do some colour. When I need to add colour I use pencil crayon on a photocopy of the drawing (pencil crayon smears the pencil lines otherwise)

After I have written the outline for the episode in my notebook, I start drawing. You can see I have a big drafting table to draw on. I got this awhile ago at a government surplus sale for $125 (cheap, cheap, cheap).

I draw each frame on an individual standard 8"x10" sheet of paper. I draw the frame itself first. I usually use a 3", 4.5" or 9.4" wide frame by 4" high. Why did I choose these dimensions? I can't remember. I think it was because the 4.5" x 4" frame looked good and was a reasonable size to draw in without having to make everything too small. I'm pretty lax with frames. I change their size, characters break the frame, etc. Whatever works for the story. After drawing the frame, I then sketch the drawing in the frame with a 6H pencil. This includes text and text bubbles. It's hard to see in the example photograph, but there is a sketch of Joe and Arnie. I also mark each sheet with the episode number, frame number and frame size to keep the papers in order. I draw the frames on separate sheets because I like the freedom it gives me. I can add, remove or reorganize frames at anytime. Even after they have been scanned.

Tracing (my version of inking):
After all the frames for the episode are sketched and I'm happy with them, I start tracing each frame with an HB pencil. This is my equivalent of "inking" the sketches.

This can be tedious work, so I put some records on the old HiFi and trace away the evening. I use pencil here because I make mistakes and pencil erases, thank God. Any shading, like the mouth, Phil's hair, etc is done with a 2H pencil. The thick frame around each drawing is done with a dull 4H pencil.

There's my 1950's home entertainment system.

After the episode is traced and shaded, I scan the frames as black and white drawings at 300 dpi using a JPEG format. I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it, but I found from tinkering around that this works. I then open each frame using Photoshop Elements software to clean up the drawings. I hate this part. It's boring and hard on the eyes. When the clean up is complete, I save each frame at 72 dpi, the resolution of the computer monitor. This essentially shrinks the drawing back to its original size.

Here's the computer room.

Assembling the comic:
When the scanning and clean up is done, I assemble the episode together. I have a template that has the "Straight Ahead" header and the website address at the bottom. I take each frame and place them in order into the template. I then add the episode number and title. Most of my titles are twists on sayings, or titles of songs. Every episode has a title.

From here, I upload the finished episode to Comicgenesis for update on Tuesdays. I then send the comic out to email subscribers using Yahoo Groups.

Here is my toughest critic. I think she was pointing at something she didn't like on one of my sketches. Her name is Bella.

Advice (who asked you??):

Here are some things I learned while making my webcomic:

1) Don't expect to hear much from your readers. I rarely do and I didn't start drawing comics with this motive. Being a comic creator can be very solitary work. I started a comic because I had a story I wanted to tell. The few readers that do email me, I reply to quickly and always thank them for taking the time to write. I always appreciate readers writing to me.

2) Know your storyline and where its going. That's why its critical for me to have an outline. This would apply more to a serial comic than a gag comic.

3) Update on a regular basis. I update on a weekly basis because I found that I can do this without the comic taking over all my spare time. This is a hobby for me and so I want to have fun with it. To get a jump on deadlines, I work ahead and have at least three comics "in the can" so that any unexpected events won't kill the update schedule. I always work ahead. Also, if there is going to be a change in the update schedule, I let my readers know in advance. Readers expect to see new episodes regularly, or they will drift away. I take my hat off to the creators that make a living off their comics. Especially daily comics. That's a lot of work.

4) Research your comic ideas before starting. I started reading webcomics when I decided to start mine. I looked into comics that specifically dealt with gay sexuality and coming out. I found that they were either very dark and depressing, or full of buff, handsome men having sex. So my slant on a humorous coming out comic with an average guy as the main character would be somewhat different (not that a commonly used storyline can't be made new and fresh). Either way, it's good to know what's out there when you're about to create a comic.

5) Anyone can draw. I'm proof. I have no artistic training. I didn't even take art classes in high school. But I found that I like to tell stories using drawings and like reading comics. I believe that people would read a comic drawn with stick men as long as it had a good story with interesting characters. If I can draw, you can draw.

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