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How to Draw Comics 101: Choosing Paper

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When I made my first attempt at drawing a comic with the intent of publishing, I had a hard time finding the right paper. This was about fifteen years ago and I knew that most comics were drawn larger than print size (11×17 for the standard American comic) but I couldn’t find that size anywhere.

I drove to every art store in town and a few out of town. Nothing. Finally, I ran across what was then probably the only online place that sold that size paper and as a bonus had the template printed right on the page.

Fortunately, the market is a lot different today and companies are catering to the comic book artist with products that were considered specialty items back when I started. If you’re new to making comics, finding the right paper you need is the easiest part of the process. If I were teaching How to Draw Comics 101 here’s what I’d say about choosing paper.

 

PAPER SIZES

For a book published at the standard size for American comics, the artwork is drawn larger than the finished product. 11×17 is pretty much standard, but you can draw smaller (or bigger) as long as the image you draw fits the roughly 6×10″ area that the book will be printed at when reduced. Pads of 9×12 Bristol Board (a very common type of paper used for illustration) are easy to find if you want to draw smaller.

You could even use 8.5×11 copy paper with the right template for your drawing area.

 

WEIGHT & THICKNESS

The brand of Bristol Board that I typically use (Strathmore) comes in different series of papers that are progressively thicker. I’ve used the 200 series, but in my opinion that series doesn’t hold up very well (the layers of the board seemed to come apart at the corners.) I’ve been using the 300 series for years and it works just fine for me. The 500 series is  really nice, but a tad more expensive. If you’re just starting out I’d try the 300 series and go from there.

Without going into paper weights and all that, just remember the thicker paper, the better it will hold up. Bristol Board is a good type of paper to use and holds up well (except for the 200 series mentioned above.) I’ve never used what’s marketed as Illustration Board, but my understanding is that it’s good, but not intended to hold up as well over time. If you’re wanting a piece of art that’s on a durable surface that’s both meant to be held onto, framed, or sold to fans and collectors, then I’d say stick with Bristol Board.

 

BRANDS

 

Strathmore

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The Strathmore pads of Bristol Board are pretty much everywhere. Go to any art store or online retailer and you can find 11×17 Bristol in 200 or 300 series. As more companies have realized the market among comic artists they’ve packaged them with comic panels on the front so they’re easy to find.

 

 

TIP: Buying in a chain art store like Micheal’s can be twice as expensive as ordering somewhere online like dickblick.com. If you’re just going to buy one thing, though, go to the store’s website and get their weekly coupon. They always offer 40% one item–which brings the price of that one item down to what you’d pay online.

 

 

Canson

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Canson was probably the first company I noticed that started to put their comics and manga papers in stores. I used their pads of 11×17 paper for a while when they first came out and found them a pretty good drawing surface. They also have smaller sized 8.5×11 pads. And the good thing is they already have the drawing areas pre-ruled.

 

 

 

Blueline Pro

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This was the first company I found way back when I first started.  Our studio used to get paper from them with our logo and drawing template printed on and the quality was fine. They offer different paper sizes and weights as well.

 

Eon

I’ve  never used Eon boards, but I know a few people who have. They’ve been around for a while but I can’t speak to their quality. Give them a try and let me know what you find!

It’s definitely a lot easier to find the materials you need to get started making comics than it used to be, especially when choosing paper.  If there’s something I’ve missed, let me know in the comments below. And if you have a brand to try, let me know that too.

Next time: How to Draw Comicss 101: templates!

 

 

Dad’s Sketchbook

My Dad passed away 16 years ago today.  I don’t know how much of the drawing “talent”/desire/proclivity or whatnot is passed down in families, but he was inclined to doodle earlier in life. Though by the time I came a long I can only remember a handful of times he drew and most of those were drawings of Donald Duck.

I think most everyone draws when they’re children, but usually seem to stop by high school if they’re not really into it. I’ve always thought it was odd that dad both continued way past that point, but then stopped later. He joined the Army when he was 18 and had this sketchbook–I know because he stamped his name and serial number about a hundred times on the cover. Inside I imagine he tried to escape the routine of Army life, which he said he never cared for.

 

 

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I think some of these images were copied from an old cartooning book (the good old, oversized ones that they don’t seem to sell anymore) as he tried to practice. jms3

 

He was a very precise guy. When he hung a picture, out came the tape measure and level. It was in his nature and I think inclined him to be adept at lettering. Just not spelling. He was excellent at math and horrible at spelling.

jms4jms5 jms6His Army time was in the early 1960s, before Vietnam (which he was never called up for) and right in the middle of the space race.  Between the drawing of the bulky tv console/furniture unit above and the rocket ships below, a future historian would have no problem placing this in its proper decade.

 

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By the time I was born his drawing skills were limited to deliniations of floor plans. He only went to college a few years but worked his way up through the architectural/construction industry. The lack of education would eventually cap his advancement, though I’m pretty confident in retrospect he had through experience acquired just as much knowledge as anyone with a degree. I still have the blueprints he drew for an addition to our house, though it was never built. I imagine the funds were never there.

 

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Years after he put away this sketchbook, his youngest son –the compulsive drawer– would find it and draw the bossest car ever.

 

 

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Freelance: A Day In The Life

I took the long way round to becoming an freelance, actually-working-from-home, don’t-have-to-shower-until-2pm-if-I-want-to artist. I’ve done the 8-5 job, taught school briefly, and then worked part time at Starbucks while I broke into comics.

If I ink in a cameo by Lee Majors, will my editor notice?

We had a plumber come over last week and when I told him what I did he said that it sounded like a pretty sweet job, then added “but I suppose like anything else there are things that get frustrating.” He’s the first person who’s gotten it exactly right. It is a sweet job…and it can be frustrating and exhausting. He also did excellent work on my kitchen sink.

One of the biggest perks of being freelance is the flexibility it gives me. As long as I meet the deadlines, I can rearrange my day to accommodate whatever family stuff comes up. Here’s the basic template for how my days go (with a few dozen variations depending on what life throws my way.)

  • 7:00am – Wake up to my son yelling “Daaaady! Where aaaare you?” I then bring him to our bedroom where he snuggles up between me and my wife and I think I can sleep a little more. I never do.
  • 8:00am – Drive my son over to my mom’s where she cooks us breakfast. Every morning she asks him what he wants. Every morning he says “pancakes.”
  • 9:00am – I’m back home, checking email/twitter/facebook and reading the news.
  • 9:30am – I sit down at my drawing table and warm up with a sketch that I’ll usually post to instagram.

    These fine lads know a thing or two about bottling in their emotions.

  • 10:00am – Working on the pages that pay the bills.
  • 12:00pm – I eat and watch something stupid on Youtube. Check email/twitter/Facebook etc. Vow to check them all less.
  • 12:30 -Back at my desk working.
  • 6:00pm – My wife pulls up in the driveway and I go out to get my son out of his car seat.
  • 6:10pm – I tell him he can play ball/run laps around the house/or whatever else he’s doing “one more time” then he has to sit in his high chair. This usually works.
  • 6:20pm – He rolls dice to see if Daddy or Mommy is going first in their game of travel Yahtzee while we eat. My wife usually wins.
  • 7:00pm – I sit in the den while my son watches a cartoon. He’s into Caillou these days. I’m very NOT into Caillou
  • 7:45pm – Pajamas, brush teeth, wash hands…his, not mine.
  • 8:00pm – I read books to him. Then he “wants cuddles” and for me to tell him stories about when I was a boy. Or about when he was a baby.  But mostly he wants to procrastinate going into the crib.
  • 8:30pm – We finally get him in the crib.
  • 9:00pm – He falls asleep.
  • 9:01pm – I walk back into my studio, check email/twitter/facebook. Then work if I have a deadline, or have a tasty adult beverage and relax.
  • 11:00pm – Get in bed.
  • 12:00am – Fall asleep.

Before my son was born, most of that would have read “drawing, working on comics, reading, surfing the internet.”

I think this schedule is better.

Comic-con Journal: A Thursday Afternoon Interlude

I’m waiting for a friend in front of a hotel barely a block from the convention center. Two security guys are checking for room keys before letting people into the lobby. A short teaser trailer plays for the new spider-man movie. Over and over–designed to engrain itself in your mind through sheer sensory overload. I imagine that should I live to be 100 I will still know that the villain in the second movie of the Spider-man reboot is Electro.

A black SUV pulls up. A man with an earpiece asks security to make a path. Cameras come out, the door opens and a young smiling man walks past within feet of me. For a few seconds average people transform into the paparazzi. He’s ushered in quickly. I don’t recognize him and am almost convinced most people don’t either. I begin to wonder if they’re taking pictures of the star or simply taking pictures of fame. A menacing voice reminds everyone once again that he’s Electro.

A group of young women dressed in generic superhero costumes gather around another young woman holding a clipboard. They’ve apparently been recruited to promote a movie on demand service. There’s a problem with their time sheets, they’ll sign them tomorrow. The menacing voice is still Electro.

The group disperses. I’m asked if I’m a San Diegan. I say that I’m not and the man, disappointed, says he is looking for fish tacos. I send him across the street. I’m proud of myself for knowing where to get fish tacos. Electro doesn’t seem to be impressed.

My friend shows up and my evening gets underway after my brief pause. The man re-emerges from the fish taco place complaining about the wait.

Electro.

Comic-con Journal: Thursday Morning

It was five years or more before I realized there was a diner within walking distance of the convention center. Its been less than that since it agreed to clothe itself in one big advertisement for whatever TV series or channel is (or wants to be) the next big thing. The staff is friendly and the food is good and relatively inexpensive (by San Diego standards) but the experience is like crawling through your television screen into a commercial and ordering eggs.

I was handed a comic book and shown to my seat at the end of the counter where the waitstaff hustles into the kitchen. Before I sat down a man asked me to spin a wheel for a “prize.” I did, hoping that my prize would be that he’d go away but instead received a cheap pair of sunglasses I’ll never wear. He explained the complimentary iPhone charger in front of me, the ATM outside, and the upcoming signing on Saturday by the stars of the TV show. He then sets up an iPad so i can watch clips from the show, if I so desired. He left, more servers shuffled by, and a voice asks me if I’m ready to order. I wasn’t.

Large TVs on each wall played, ad nauseum, the same four or five clips from a reality show that centered around childish pranks. As much as I didn’t want to look, I couldn’t stop watching. Not because of interest, but because it was there. I finally ordered and tried to stop looking up. I noticed no one else was given an iPad and wondered if it was a prank in keeping with the theme du jour. It seemed a pretty expensive thing to leave on the counter in front someone without first sizing them up for honesty and coordination. If I spill my coffee on it, would they add $400 to my ten dollar breakfast? Perhaps I was sized up and found adequate for being given random technology. In the end I managed to avoid spilling coffee or water on it. I also opted out of using it.

I finished up my breakfast, full of eggs and toast and a mild sense of mourning for the decline of western culture. With two more hours to kill before the show I wandered a few blocked up to a Starbucks, but not before passing a parking garage that drove the point home that I had indeed payed too much for parking.

Comic-con Journal: Wednesday Afternoon

I painlessly went through process of getting my pro badge and headed outside to wait on a friend. I find the perfect spot for people watching, right next to an entrance and in the shade. People pass back and forth, some of them multiple times while looking for the right line to stand in, the right door to go in, or the right place to meet a friend who had picked up their badges for them. Costumed folk both worthy of Hollywood and worthy of pity entered and exited and dodged and said “sorry…excuse me”. Some people do that professionally I hear (cosplay that is) though I only know the names of one or two. One of those two wandered by as She-Ra followed not long after by an anonymous young girl in a much too skimpy getup holding a sign that reads: “Fat chicks cosplay too.”

It’s preview night–a mass of human movement, noise, and odors. Exclusives and limited edition items draw them in and I have a hard time imagining wanting something bad enough to endure it. Maybe it’s a personal defect on my part.

A text from my friend lets me know he’s ten minutes away. I’m in no hurry and want to get my money’s worth from the parking lot. Two young men with accents that I can’t pinpoint try to enter through a closed door. A security man tells them which door they need to enter, but they think he’s sending them to stand in another line. They eventually leave, needlessly disgusted.

Jet lag sets in and all of a sudden I want to rest and be somewhere quiet. My friend arrives, badges are exchanged, beers are drank and eventually I get on the freeway still feeling like I overpaid for parking.

Comic-con journal -Wednesday Morning in Carlsbad.

I settle in to a small table on the patio of a cafe, look over the menu, and order an omelette and coffee. Joggers periodically jog past, stopping at the edge of the patio with their backs to me as they wait to cross the intersection. There’s only a handful of people at this early hour. They’re scattered about the empty tables and umbrellas and towering silvery space heaters that look like props from an old episode of Star Trek.

Across the way there’s a man in a grey business suit leaning forward as if to launch his ideas at his companion, a younger man in a black polo with a stitched-on company logo. The young man sits back in his chair, arms in his lap. The be-suited man gestures and talks and then rests his forefingers on his lips, as if waiting on an answer to sift through his experience and knowledge. He wears his suit like a symbol of rank, a officer instructing a young enlisted man in some matters of duty.

The officer begins to check his phone. The enlisted man sits, still leaning back in his chair. The the officer must organize his day full of responsibilities. The enlisted man’s duties are organized for him.

I check my own phone from neither responsibility nor duty but from bad habit. More coffee is offered. More coffee is poured. Tables are pushed together for a party of twenty two. The number is repeated among the wait staff like a piece of gossip. I calculate 20 percent of fifteen and sign my name.

Three older men are the first of the twenty two to arrive. A waiter tells the next table they’re retired Marines. They look to be the right age to have been in Vietnam or maybe Korea. I want to stay and eavesdrop on their stories, but the day is getting on and I should give up my table to another customer.

I drink the last of the coffee and meander out into the street among the joggers.

Vex Kickstarter!

640px-Kickstarter_LogoThe Vex Kickstarter is on!

Vex is the story of an arrogant high school jock who wrongs a gypsy lunch lady. So she curses his yearbook so anything people write in it comes literally true. The story went online a couple years ago and now we’re trying to fund the first print run of the actual book.

Go check out the story and the campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/792881637/vex-a-graphic-novel

UPDATE:

We’re off to a good start! Thanks to everyone that got on board within the first hours. As part of the rewards for backing the project, I’ll be doing original sketches of characters from the book. Here’s an 11X17 sketch that would be part of the top tier reward package.

 

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