Categories
Business of Cartooning

Comics – Tools of the Trade

COMPUTER EQUIPMENT

I love pen and ink so I still do a good majority of my work with tradition tools like dip pen and brushes, but I also use a Wacom pen tablet (shown below) for layouts, lettering and finished production.

Wacom


MacBookPro with Wacom Intuous Pro pen tablet.


Lightbox


For transferring layouts to bristol, an Artograph Lightpad A940.


Epson Work Force 7720

Scans 11″ x 17″, plus it prints up to 13″ x 19″.
Cost saving tip: I find you can get a deal on the older models just when the newer models are coming out. Also you can check with your store if you can get money back by returning your old model when you buy the new one.


DRAWING & INKING MATERIALS

Penciling

From left to right…

Pencils:
3h for light sketching and blocking in shapes.
2b for tightening up drawing.
Pental Twist Erase with HB lead for a clean line.

Erasing/corrections:
Kneaded eraser.
white drafting eraser.
X-acto knife (for removing ink by cutting away layer of bristol paper).
Whetstone for sharpening X-acto blades.

Misc:
Triangle, ruler and T-square.
Tape to hold art in place.
And above tape, piece of paper to have under your hand when penciling or inking.

I also have a larger T-square and ruler – but the smaller size comes in pretty handy.


Inking


From left to right…

Nibs:
B6 and C5 lettering nibs.
Japanese G NG-3.
Hunt 513 EF.

Brushes:
Winsor & Newton (In partnership with Blick) Round #1.
Winsor & Newton Series 7 #2.


Rapidograph

From left to right…

Rapidographs/Corrections:
Kohinoor Rapidograph 2/.60.
Kohinoor Rapidograph 1/.50.
Presto fine point correction pen.


INKS, PAPER AND ODDS & ENDS

Ink Paper

For inks I love FW’s black acrylic for how dark it goes down, but lately I have been using Speedball super black as it’s comparable and comes in a big bottle (thus saving me money).

For Flash Gordon I used both 1-ply and 2-ply vellum. Of late I’ve been using 2-ply smooth (or plate).

Underneath is an Alvin green cutting mat – very handy for not only cutting, but for tacking things up as well.


Templates

Last but not least…
Inking templates: Circle, oval and a set of french curves.
Erasing shield (bottom right hand corner).
Ames guide for lettering (to the left of erasing shield).

Not pictured.
For inking: a water jar, rag, paper towels and some scrap bristol are also a necessity.


For more on inking supplies, check out Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.

AbelMadden

It provides solid instruction for people interested in making their own comics and the page which lists the different kinds of pen nibs for inking is worth the price of admission alone.

Note: For more suggested reading check out
Recommended Books on Drawing & Cartooning


I can’t stress enough that the items listed above are not the only ones I own or use. For instance, I have a number of different inking and lettering nibs, the ones pictured are just the nibs I am currently using the most. Check back in a year and you’d probably see some slight variations in what’s shown above.

Find what what works best for you, but don’t get mired down in the familiar. Try new tools (cutting edge and old school) and keep experimenting.

PARTING THOUGHT: GETTING THE WORK DONE

Interested in increasing your productivity? Jessica Abel offers a world of advice about getting more productive and creative.
I currently am a subscriber to her online workshop and find it incredibly informative and helpful – highly recommended.

abel

I’ll end with a few words from Zak Sally. I first met Zak while teaching at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He’s a great teacher in that he has the rare ability to make lightbulbs go off in your head where you didn’t even know you were in the dark in the first place. Here he talks about one of his favorite artists, Kim Deitch.

Kim Deitch at his drawing board.
Kim Deitch at his drawing board.

Kim Deitch, he puts in 40 hours a week. He doesn’t put in 40 hours dicking around… Not time thinking about drawing. Not time thinking about when you’re going to draw. Not time drawing but then you get up and look for reference. It’s straight up time sitting there working on it is what he marks down. That’s huge for comics people. It’s putting your ass in the seat and keeping it there. It’s amazing the stuff you can do in an hour if you’re working the whole hour.”

– Zak Sally from Documenting the History of Minnesota Comics.
by Britt Aamodt and Barbara Schulz.


All for now – deadlines looming…

Categories
Business of Cartooning

Art Commissions

Listening to Kristy Partridge on YouTube talking about why she doesn’t do art commissions. She hits the nail on the head in regards to how labor/time intensive private commissions can be. Actually drawing the art can end up being a fraction of the total time in some cases. I steer clear of them as much as possible as well. 

For more of Kristy Partridge, check out her YouTube channel at Kirsty Partridge Art

Categories
Business of Cartooning

Recommended Books on Drawing & Cartooning

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way
By John Buscema and Stan Lee

ComicsMarvel

Based on the comic art classes Buscema gave in the 1970s, and with text provided by none other than Stan Lee, it’s a great primer on comic book art and storytelling.


Drawing Words and Writing Pictures
by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

AbelMadden

Provides solid instruction with lesson plans that focus on all aspects of comic storytelling. The page which lists the different kinds of pen nibs for inking is worth the price of admission alone.

“A gold mine of essential information for every aspiring comics artist. Highly recommended.” –Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics

Check out the companion book as well – Mastering Comics.


DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics
By Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein

DCGuide

This book will bring you up to speed on color theory and the art of lettering – with tons of info for working digitally.


Terry Moore’s How To Draw
By Terry Moore

I love Terry Moore’s drawing style and this is his pointers drawn from personal experience working in the field. This book is out of print, but is available on Kindle and Comixology through Amazon.

From Amazon; “Written for pros and amateurs alike, Terry Moore addresses the questions and challenges artists find after their art school education… Moore details his step-by-step process making a comic book from drawing board to pdfs. This book is loaded with timely material geared toward the world of comics as it is today.”


Making Comics
By Scott McCloud

MakingComics

How to draw comics with an eye to the academic. Scott McCloud first put comics under the microscope with his 1993 book, Understanding Comics. Here he expands on it.

“Only Scott McCloud could organize his thoughts on comics like this. Scott’s talent as a cartoonist not only makes him intimate to insights no outsider can see but also gives him the power to show it to the world. Will it be controversal? Does it live up to the promise of Understanding Comics? Happily, the answer to both questions is yes!” — Jeff Smith (Bone)


The Mad Art of Caricature
by Tom Richmond

Mad-Art

Recipient of a Reuben Award for “Cartoonist of the Year” from the National Cartoonist Society, Tom Richmond is probably best know for his work for Mad magazine. Here he lays out what goes into drawing a great caricature.

Here’s a preview…


Cartoon Animation
by Preston Blair

cartoon-animation-preston-blair

A classic – From Amazon…

“In this comprehensive title, famed animator Preston Blair shares his expertise on how to develop a cartoon character, create dynamic movement, and coordinate dialogue with action. Topics include character development, line of action, dialogue, timing, and, of course, animation! This valuable resource provides all the inspiration and information you need to begin drawing your own animated characters.”


Last but not least…
First published in the 1960s, the following Jack Hamm books are a mainstay on my bookshelf – Highly recommended!

JackHamm

There’s many more art books I could list – Rendering in Pen and Ink by Guptill and any of the Andrew Loomis books come to mind – but I think the preceding is at least a start. As mentioned with the Jack Hamm books, they are all on my bookshelf and are all well worn from years of use.

If money is tight, some of these books can be checked out from the library – that way you can give them a test run before investing in them.


If interested in more info about cartooning, check out my previous post Working Professionally as a Cartoonist.


All my work related links are posted there for easy browsing and access.

-Jim Keefe

Categories
Business of Cartooning Conventions Steve Bissette

Networking and the High Cost of Comic Conventions

Artist Alley at C2E2 in Chicago.

It’s been my experience that networking is the key in getting work in the art field. I know it seems basic but it bears repeating that if an employer is not familiar with you and your work then they won’t hire you. And this is not a matter of “it’s not what you know but who you know.”

The following is from The Essential Principles Of Graphic Design by Debbie Millman.

“The most delusional graphic design belief system is this: becoming a successful graphic designer is all about being an extraordinarily talented designer. It is not. Talent is only one part of the equation for a successful career in graphic design. In fact, in the field of professional graphic design, talent is simply what is considered “operational excellence” in business school. Talent is essentially a given, a point of entry. A career in graphic design brings with it the assumption that you have talent, and in isolation, talent will not guarantee success for any designer or design program.”

For more from Debbie Millman, check out her podcast at Design Matters Media.


One great way to network is comic conventions – but it can get costly. I was a guest at Dragon Con awhile back and had a complimentary table that otherwise would have cost $500 (at that time). I sold more stuff than at any other convention I’ve been at – but still couldn’t break-even after I added up the cost of airfare, hotel and meals.

What balanced it out for me and made it worthwhile was the networking. Along with the standard touching base with fans and other professionals in the business, I was interviewed for two podcasts – Sidebar and Comics Coast-to-Coast– which was great publicity.

Doing some commission sketches at Dragon-Con.

The following is some hands-on experience from artists/cartoonists from the trenches.


Tyler Page back in 2010 did a great post where he broke down the cost of self-publishing and promotion for his book Stylish Vittles. In part 2 of the post he cited convention costs over a seven year span.

“…the grand total of all my business expenses from 2002 through the printing of Nothing Better Vol 2 in late 2009 is $46,918.60. Yes, that is a lot of money. It is. But it’s important to realize that was spent over the course of 7 years – it’s not like I dropped it all at once. I also tried to be as thrifty as possible in my spending when I could, especially when traveling.”

“In the end it wasn’t the cost of printing books that really rang up the bills – it was the traveling and conventions.”

Excerpt from Publishing Pt. 2 – How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

– Click on image to go to Tyler’s Tumblr –


Daniel Davis of Steam Crow LLC had an informative blog post where he related his experience exhibiting at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con in regards to what works and what doesn’t. In summation he noted;

“It’s getting more difficult to profit at comic conventions, but I’ve seen it done, and know that it’s possible. It’s no longer a space where one can simply show up, and expect to profit. But, with ample year-long preparation, and strategy, it is doable.”

Daniel and Dawna Davis


Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing, Tyrant, Taboo, and current instructor at The Center for Cartoon Studies) has years of experience as an artist and publisher.

Godzilla sketch – Steve Bissette

The following is an excerpt from a Facebook post of his where he did a comic con post-mortem.

“Professionally, it ratified all the reasons I stopped investing in conventions…

In short, while I met some great people, signed a ton of SWAMP THINGs, and had fun with my cronies, I didn’t get to see/shop/experience the con outside of my table space; my being there didn’t sell even ONE World of Strange Bissette t-shirt (and we were just an aisle apart, right NEXT to each other!); I didn’t make a dime on sales (lost $$ after shipping costs); and my add’t commitment to a three-lecture/workshop day following was a wash, at best (again, personally, great to do; didn’t earn me a dime).

Had I paid for travel/table, I’d have busted my entire fall budget at home to do the one convention. Whatever I made at the table, I spent eating during my stay (and spent more). If I’m going to travel, it’s going to be TRAVEL, with Marge, to see friends/family, not to do cons.

Just being pragmatic. I mean, look. I’m thankful I went, and thankful Rick, Tom, John, and I have so many folks who came out to see us! Folks & our fans are great—kind, generous in their comments, and all want their SWAMP THINGs signed, but most of ’em sample nothing else, by and large. Money’s tight everywhere, particularly these days, and SWAMP THING is still all folks want from us, and those they’ve got. Whatever else I have, I’m better off selling via online sales. In fact, only ONE person bought one of everything new from the table.”


I’m often asked from readers/fans which upcoming comic conventions I’ll be at. In general, not too many, as I’ve cut down on going to cons. If I do attend a con it’s likely because it’s close to home (because of cost), and if I do a show out of town it’s usually because I have family living in the area that I can visit and save money on hotels by crashing at their homes.

My daughter Tessa and I at the MCBA’s ComiCon here in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Another big deterrent is the time involved, which if it coincides with a tight deadline can be MURDER. I’ve tabled at way too many cons where I’ve had to bring work, which just ends up being a disservice to fans looking to say hello and should be avoided at all cost. Add to that the time it takes to recover from that kind of scheduling and it’s lose-lose situation all the way around.

Is tabling at a convention worth the time and effort? If you go in ill-prepared you’ll probably just end up pissing money down the drain, with no benefit other than the same enjoyment any random attendee walking through the door could have had.

If you attack a convention in a business sense where you’re budgeting cost and working your butt off (commission sketches/networking/research trends) then yes they are. If you want to work in this business, I’d advise treating it as such.


I’ll end with some stellar advice from Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil, Amazing Fantastic Incredible Stan Lee, Troll Bridge). This is related to networking and making the effort to get your work out there…

Colleen Doran at Wizard World 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Lots of people assume that the reason they can’t get hired is because publishing is some kind of closed circle. It’s really not. Clients are always looking for new talent. REALLY. They are DYING to hire the next JK Rowling, the next Jim Lee, the next James Patterson. Who doesn’t want another money-maker?

The truth is, almost everything that comes over the transom is not very good. When I write this, aspiring creators cringe thinking “Oh, she means me.” No, I don’t. If you have any idea of the level of just how bad submissions are, you would be appalled. It is rare to see anything of quality. I don’t know anyone in publishing who enjoys going over submissions, because it’s depressing. If you are good and if you’ve got something to show, DON’T GIVE UP. Trust me, clients are DYING to find you.

SECOND THING: a major reason clients don’t like to hire new people is they have a tendency to screw the pooch at an alarmingly high rate. The joy of creating for fun evaporates when you HAVE to create. Creating all the time: not so simple. And, especially in comics, the workload is awesome. Almost everyone in graphic arts will try to steer you away from comics and toward advertising because comics pay is usually terrible and advertising is less work. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve tried to hire up from fandom who have completely vapor-locked, including people I’ve tried to hire from other areas of publishing…

Everything in comics is labor intensive and often techy and boring these days, since artists have to do their own production work. You have to really know what you are doing. So, next time you think that publisher isn’t going to give you a chance, think of it from the publisher’s point of view. If your portfolio is good, and you show a real, steely willingness to produce there’s a publisher looking for you.

Really. Don’t give up.”

For more on Colleen Doran, go to ColleenDoran.com
or check out her Patreon at patreon.com/ColleenDoran

Categories
Business of Cartooning

Getting a Portfolio Review

I was recently asked the following question through Facebook Messenger:

“I want someone to review my work so I can get feedback on what I’m doing right or wrong. I have no idea how to initiate that kind of conversation or who to turn to. What do you recommend I do?”

Quick thoughts:
Sending your art unsolicited to a professional cartoonist for a critique is usually a bad idea. It’s like wanting your car fixed, and instead of making an appointment at a repair shop and getting an estimate, just driving it into an auto repair shop (sans appointment) – parking your car on a mechanic’s lift – then expecting them to get to work.

Not good.


Posting it online on social media can be hit or miss depending on the experience and professionalism of those giving the critiques.


From personal experience I find Artists Alleys at comic cons to be a good bet. The reason being that you are not infringing on the artist’s work schedule – they are specifically there taking the time to touch base with readers and fans. This one-on-one from an artist you respect can be invaluable.

Research who’s on site before the con. Then when approaching an artist be sure to ask if they’re open to, or have time for, doing a portfolio review (they may not depending on time constraints). Also a heads up that the critique you get can be instructive and/or eviscerating depending on the artist’s demeanor. Be prepared for either.


A surefire way to get a critique is to take a class or correspondence course in cartooning. Heads up that the Minneapolis College of Art and Design has an online portfolio review for potential students.

I would also recommend the Joe Kubert School Correspondence Course (and no, I don’t get paid for this endorsement). In this case it’s a matter of getting what you pay for.

You can check out the Kubert School at Comic Cons they’re scheduled to appear at as well.
Here’s Kubert School Alum Brigid Allanson and Angie Fernot at C2E2.

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Any other suggestions? Write them in the comments section as I’d love to hear them!
And wishing you all the best in your artistic ventures!

-Jim Keefe