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Hello from sunny Portland! I just arrived yesterday for the first leg of my USA trip (REMINDER: I’m having meet-ups in Portland and San Francisco on the 11th and 16th July, and will be signing at San Diego Comic-Con) and wanted to post some new content before the shenanigans begin. I’m having a semi-vacation/business trip, but i’ll hopefully find time to update the site with a new comic or two. It might take longer than usual so thanks in advance for your patience. In the meantime, I thought I’d do another behind-the-scenes post, this time showing you how a particular panel is created. It’s one of my personal favourite drawings, Maya Angelou dancing up a storm from the Phenomenal Woman comic.

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1. WORD ASSOCIATION: I printed out the poem on regular copy paper and started scribbling, separating lines into panels and just doodling whatever came to mind. I already knew the basic plot of the adaptation (which by the way, can sometimes take weeks to figure out): Maya as a girl, Maya as a dancer, Maya meets famous men, Maya’s poem recital at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and finally, praising ALL woman. And I knew that one of the biggest panels would be of Maya dancing. So here you can see the first thumbnail tiny sketch of the panel.

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2. FIRST ROUGH: Once the plot is figured out, I print out the poem separated into their panels and very roughly draw in the figures. As you can see here, my first attempt is terrible. I can barely dance myself, let alone draw a graceful woman calypso dancing!

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3. REFERENCE: I get reference of Maya Angelou’s calypso dancing period to help, because I’m gonna need all the help I can get!

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4. SECOND ROUGH: I found another reference pic of a girl dancing and did a couple of more sketches. The scribble on the top right is about the best I can do and captures the movement I’m looking for.

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5. ENLARGED ROUGH: I scanned that scribble into Photoshop and exaggerated the figures legs and hips. I was pushing the cartooniness factor and didn’t necessarily want the characters to be proportional. Next, I turned the sketch into light blue, enlarged the drawing to A3 and printed it out, just on cheap copy paper. I turn the line blue because I’m going to pencil over it again. I could have just left it black and printed it at a low opacity, but I was simulating the blue pencil line most comic artists use when they sketch. I guess it makes me feel more like a ‘real comic book artist’.

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6. TIGHTER PENCILS: Ok, now we’re getting somewhere! I penciled over the blue sketch a lot more carefully and drew in the crowd of drooling men. I find it so much easier to draw once I have that rough blue framework of a figure underneath. I scanned this image into Photoshop again and you can see I duplicated some of the men’s heads, mainly because I know I’m going to be turning this drawing blue again and inking over it and can just change the faces when I’m inking. So I turn it blue and print it a very low opacity on nicer, thicker paper that I ink on. The blue serves a purpose at this stage because later, when I scan the inks as black and white lineart, the blue won’t appear in the scan.

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7. INKS: One conscious decision I made when inking this comic, was that I was not going to use any line variation, so the whole thing was inked with a 0.3 Pigma Micron pen. Normally I use a variety of pen thickness along with a brush pen. I was going for a very loose look. I like to change things up from comic to comic. Variety is the spice of life right?

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8. POLISHED INKS: Once the inks are scanned I clean up and dirt and mistakes in Photoshop and fill in any black areas.

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9. COLOURS: Here’s the finished panel with colour and text added. I was using a limited colour palette for each ‘scene’ of the comic. I think the limited colours look good, but honestly, sometimes I do it to help me save time, especially when colouring a super-long comic like this one.

Well, there it is. Now multiply this by all the panels in the comic, and you’ll have some idea of the work that goes into each adaptation. For all you aspiring cartoonists out there, I hope this shows you that I’m not blessed with any magical drawing ability. I mean check out number 2 again – look how utterly terrible that sketch is. You could draw that couldn’t you? It’s only after extensive revision, drawing and re-drawing does an illustration come together. There’s no secret!

Check out my previous CARTOONING PROCESS posts.