This is the second step in how I draw pages for my webcomic The Dreamer
. (Read step one here: [link]
Step two harkens back to the days I worked at The Artifact Group
. Some of my work, and my profile!, are still on that page. I did a lot of licensed character work for Nickelodeon, Scholastic and Simon & Schuester. And my old boss Jim would have me draw on tracing paper with colored pencils. After two plus years of this, I got used to it and adapted it as my own. The benefit of drawing with tracing paper is there is no pressure to get it right. You can be loose and messy and put stuff down just to get shapes and poses on the page. That piece of paper never sees the final page, so it's time for experimenting. The benefit of drawing with colored pencils is that the line is bold & soft and you can be messy and not worry too much about erasing. This stage of art work the theme is: disposable! No more pressure. I love that.
At this stage I am now actually drawning to scale, unlike my layout roughs at the previous stage. I actually don't draw at real comic book page dimensions because when you reduce to the web, so much detail is lost. I draw my pages a bit smaller at 9 1/2" x 14" with a half an inch border the whole way around. Ha ha. You can tell I don't use a straight edge at this stage, either. My panels and page lines are wonky!
This is get everything in the right spot, in the right size, in the right pose time. Details later.
This page 15 is actually a bit tighter than most pages are at this stage. (see Page 6 [link]
for what most of my pages look like at this stage). But Page 15 has a lot of close ups and mid shots that don't require backgrounds or much else, so it's not as rough. Ordinarily I don't use reference until the next phase of drawing, but on this page I did. So the faces are tighter and less cartoony than they typically are.
Let's pause to talk about referencing. Referencing is not
cheating! In fact, it is necessary.
The tent they're sitting in looks very real (we've seen it in the end of Issue #1, pages 20-24, and then again when Bea falls asleep briefly on page 3 (we know it's the same place because we see the same lamp) and again when she wakes up on page 13). There are certain props that let us know where we are. The lamp is one of them. Colonel Knowlton's sword and sash hanging on the wall are another. His writing desk, and the boards on the floor with a rug over top are more. You as a viewer might not think about all the details but you instantly know, "We're in Knowlton's tent again." That's what needs to happen. Props need to flush out the environment so that you don't feel like you're in any old nondescript army tent, but you're in a specific
army tent. And it's the same one Bea was in last night. The reason Knowlton's tent feels like a real place is because it is. If you go to the Yorktown Victory Center and tour their army camp, go to the colonel's tent. Things will look very familiar.
Photo reference is invaluable
Apart from the backgrounds, I reference my character's faces. (And some key poses like The Kiss [link]
or Bea on the Issue #2 cover. [link]
) Every character is "cast" as a famous actor or actress, and I have printout sheets of each of them, of their faces in different angles and with different expressions. This way Bea doesn't look like Yvette, and John doesn't look like Ben who doesn't look like Alan who doesn't look like Nathan Hale. I know things like Nathan's hair line is different than Alan's (he has a widow's peek) and Alan has a much taller forehead. Alan's eyebrows are shaped different than Nate's, and they're thicker. Nathan's nose is round, Alan's is a lot more angular. All this comes from having real faces to look at while I draw. It makes each character feel more distinctive and unique. Ha ha! Good luck figuring out who each character is, though. Some of the actors I use are pretty obscure.
On the subject of Page 15, though, I'll walk you through panel by panel.
Panel 1: If you remember yesterday I was having all sorts of problems with the poses in this panel. I said "screw it" and opted for an ariel shot. Just to shake up the camera angles a bit and give some variety. There was nothing that their faces needed to express in this panel that their body language does not. Bea looks relaxed & comfortable talking to Nathan, and he's leaning in, listening to her. I ran out of room so you can see the characters are circled with arrows which means "when you trace this, move them over!!" so they're sitting across from one another. I lengthened the panel to give more room for this, and shortened the next panel.
Panel 2: You can see next to Bea in the margin are a pair of eyes. When I looked at my layout roughs, her expression in Panel 2 was not doing it for me. So I quickly drew a pair of eyes & eyebrows to figure out what I did
want her expression to look like. This one is working much better. Her comment is a bit of a sarcastic joke to herself.
Panel 3: Which poor Nate isn't in on and continues talking to her seriously. (The arrow under his eye means "move this eye down when you trace it.")
Panel 4: Bea thinks is hilarious that Nate didn't get her joke, and laughs to herself some more.
Panel 5: You can see my "LVP" (left vanishing point) on the left side of the page. My "RVP" is cut off (I didn't think you needed all that extra margin there) but it's there. If you're an artist reading this and you hate backgrounds and perspective, in all kindness: Get over it!
If you ever want to sell your characters they must exist in a believable world. End of story, I won't budge on this. Perspective sucks but is necessary. Just do it people. I draw mine in a lighter color (because often my backgrounds are more involved than this simple one) and then I can trace over my light lines with black pencil to get everything right. This one was pretty easy so I stopped at the green. You can see that I finally picked a pose for Nathan that I was happy with in this panel. Much scribbling on the previous page.
*Whew!* I hope that helps! Tomorrow I'll show you the next step, when I trace this again and clean it all up.