Chunking Express

07 March 2019

You don't make comic books. You make comic pages, one panel following on from another, one page at a time.

Take the next issue of Slang Pictorial. Saying I have a comic book to make doesn't actually get me any closer to producing the thing. If anything, it actually sounds quite daunting. A whole comic book, you say!? What exactly is that going to take to complete? How long do I need to spend working on it?

However, if you think not in terms of the book but of the comics page as being a more manageable unit, well then I do know that to be able to make this next issue I have to actually produce nineteen pages of comics. More than that, I know that there is a process that I need to work thru to get these pages made. First I have to print the pencils, letter then ink the page, scan and then clean-up the files in Photoshop. Rinse and repeat.


To help me keep on target and stay motivated and energised I always print out an overview/checklist that I tape near my drawing table so that I can tick off tasks as they are completed and which visualises all the actions I know I'm going to have to complete to make the issue.

There seems to me to be two distinct approaches you could take to getting these pages done. The first is to approach each page as a distinct unit to be tackled in a linear, chronological manner. So you'd start with page one and print out the pencils, then letter and ink, scan and clean-up before printing out the pencils for page two and beginning again. The benefit of working this way is that it keeps you very focussed on the page as a unit, however it's not particularly efficient and when time is of the essence it's not the most productive method for creating comics.

Instead, when I'm fully on my #makingcomics grind I tend to use a different approach. Just like it's more manageable to think of a comic as being made of smaller "chunks" or pages, and pages are themselves just made up of smaller chunks called panels, I like to think of my checklist as being just a way to track my progress thru the various "process chunks" that need to get completed. These tasks can be completed most efficiently I find, when tackled together in batches.

For example, it's obviously a more efficient use of time to print all the pencils out on to Bristol board in one go rather than as and when they are needed. I put on some music and mindlessly feed card thru the printer until the job's all done, and then I get the satisfaction of being able to tick off the first box on all my separate page columns!

Once that job is out of the way I then draw out the panel borders and hand letter a batch of three or four pages. This is less mindless a task than printing but doesn't require as much focus or energy as full inking and so I'll often do this in the morning before work or when I'm feeling too knackered from work/kids to face tackling inking proper.

I then do two separate inking passes on each page, the first to outline characters and foreground elements, the second pass to fill in backgrounds and render figures more fully. The way I do this tho, is to stagger the pages so for example, I'll letter a batch and then do a first pass on a couple of pages. The next day I'll warm up by going back to ink backgrounds on a page and then do a first pass on lettered pages from the previous day. The next day I'll go back for a second pass on those pages before needing to panel and letter a whole new batch of pages.

"How the sausage gets made"

Using this "chunking" method I'll usually have three or four pages on the go at any one time, each at a different stage of the process. This means while I'm literally waiting for the ink to dry on one page I can be progressing on another, which again helps with maximising my work rate most efficiently. The other thing that tackling pages out of order lets me do is to attack the more demanding scenes only when both my hand and pen are sufficiently warmed up.

There's a great moment when, at some indeterminate point during the inking process, you start to hit your stride and your wrist, the nib, the ink and the paper all begin to do just exactly what it is that you want them to. The trick then, is to get as much drawn from within that state of flow as you can, before tiredness creeps in, bringing with it mistakes, accidental ink splatters and the dreaded hand cramps!

Right, enough chatting, it's back to the drawing for me!


Nick Prolix (@nickprolix) is a writer, artist and cartoonist living in the Fens.

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