Monday, July 23, 2012

Drawing 'My Friend Dahmer'

Thought you might be interested in a look at process. 

I've written before that this book took 20 years to produce. That's true, but a bit misleading. I didn't work on it continuously. I was doing other things, a weekly comic strip and two other graphic novels and lots of other work, as well. But I did work on it regularly. This was mostly research, digging through files and reports, interviewing friends, classmates and neighbors, and slowly assembling the photo reference I needed to re-create this "sinister, Seventies adolescent world," to shamelessly name drop and quote Robert Crumb.

The result of all this homework was when I finally sat down to write the book, I wrote it in two weeks! That's how clear it was in my mind. In contrast, my last book, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, took nearly a year to write! Here's how I work:

I write in thumbnails (above). I take 8.5" x 11" paper and cut it in half to make little comic pages, then sketch in the action. These scenes play like film loops in my head. I see and hear the dialogue very clearly and I get them both down as fast as I can. As you can see, they're very rough, just enough there for me to remember that initial film loop. Sometimes I need to work a scene, but mostly they came very easy.

From there, I go straight to pencil. Many creators do a series of layouts, each one more detailed than the last. I don't. I like to get pencil dragging over paper as soon as I can. I think this brings an energy to the art. As you can see, it's a pretty tight pencil.

And then I come in with the ink. I ink directly over my pencils. A lot of creators use a light table, so they have both pencil and inked pages when they're through. Not me, although I do make xeroxes of my pencils, just in case. The grey shading is added in Photoshop.

Here's another page. You can see how little pencil work I need before the inking. I know how I draw the texture of things– grass and trees and clothes– so I don't need to pencil in all the details.

It's a fairly quick process. I drew four or five pencil pages a day, depending on how complex the scenes were. Inking takes longer. On a good day I could ink three pages, using a variety of Micron artists pens and Sharpie markers,  before my hand gave out. I spent about six weeks adding the grey tones. It's a long, hard slog. In mainstream comics, Marvel and DC and the like, a whole team of people works on a book: writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colorist, maybe more. It's like an assembly line with page after page constantly running down the conveyer belt to the different people in the process. So the turnaround time is very quick. Book after book can come flying out of these publishing houses, like the corporate product it is. Some are good, most are dreck. When you look at My Friend Dahmer or other "indie" books, in contrast, all that you see and read, every word, every pen stroke, every shade, was put there by me, by my hand.  The result is as personal a work as you can get in comix. No compromises. It's my vision.

That's all there is to it. Making comics is easy. Making good comics is hard.

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