I’ve always found an artist’s process interesting; several years ago there was a great book out on various cartoonists called In the Studio(Todd Hignite; Yale University Press; ©2006). It featured a number of my favorite contemporary cartoonists; Crumb, Seth, Jaime Hernandez. It was both informative and entertaining and I devoured it. I think I read it in a night or two.

Jetpack Jr. ink on vellum; ink & blue pencil on Canson Art Board

Recently, I revised my process to better accommodate the digital work I do in Photoshop, while retaining the hard-copy paper original. It’s old skool, I know–but I’m loathe to let go of the original, not so much for tradition’s sake, but I prefer being able to conceive of the work in real space–it helps me with scale, proportion(panel to panel-as much as figures within the panels) and most importantly, rhythm; the rhythm of the images and the words together across the strip. I like being able to judge the flow of the entirety in real space. What can I say?  I’m old!

I start with the sketchbook–in my case just a little composition notebook(the kind you used in third or fourth grade) and a tape recorder. I tape ideas and notes while driving on my long commute back and forth to work–and listen to them later–sped up so I sound like I’ve inhaled helium. It’s more interesting listening to yourself that way.
Anyway-after I’ve loosely blocked it out in the notebook–and written and re-written the text, the next step is to work the strip out in blueline(w/non-photo blue pencil) on 11″ x 17″ Canson Art Board.  Initially, I keep things really loose, blocking out the text first, after which I begin to work out the figures. I may draw and re-draw several times before pulling something that I can live with out from the tangle of lines.  

Previously to “Jetpack”, I’d been going over the blueline in 3B or 4B pencil–then scanning the pencils as text at 600dpi. The result was increasingly disappointing to me, and needed a lot of clean-up.
It also made the coloring I do in Photoshop unnecessarily difficult.  

I’ve changed the process to better accommodate the work I do in Photoshop and to make life a little easier–and hopefully a little speedier( as juggling a full-time job and a comic strip doesn’t leave a lot of time).

In the new process, I separate the figures and the backgrounds into two physical layers-as in traditional cel animation. I work the backgrounds on the Canson Art board in ink(Pentel fine-line markers) over the blueline–and then, with the markers, I trace the blueline figures and text  onto translucent vellum. The vellum has a beautiful surface for the markers’ ink–and the process eliminates the clean-up I’d spent so much time doing before. After some erasing on the art-board layer, I scan the pages just as before.

Jetpack Jr. on vellum. from the April 26. 2015 strip on GoComics.

Once in Photoshop, I work on each layer separately and bring them together at the end-just as in cel animation. Of course I make any necessary color adjustments at that point. Sometimes I’ll finish coloring the figures and lay them over the background before I’ve colored the ground. That way I can mold the background colors to suit the figures. I turn the figure layer on and off as I need before merging the two in the final.

Obviously,  I’m mimicking the process of working in Photoshop layers but in vellum and board. Still, it’s working great for me–and while I know it’s easy to do working on a Cintiq, Wacom or Surface Pro tablet–for now, anyway–I prefer having an original hard copy–and it’s giving me a lot of freedom in coloring that I didn’t have before.