I Don’t Want to Make This Comic
By Sarah C. Bell
I am a lazy artist. I get some silly/brilliant/stupid idea for a script and get really excited. Epiphany! Light bulb! Yes — this comic about a dead moth I saw must be drawn! The world simply must have it. Moaning and whining and procrastinating, however, quickly follow this bolt of inspiration. I want to sit down and work, and I will, for 5 minutes. Then, it occurs to me that those dishes really need doing and, honestly, the toilet is gross and needs to be scrubbed. What I am saying here is that, sometimes, I would literally rather clean my toilet than sit down and draw a comic.
Eventually, I will drag myself to my “studio,” (the half of my kitchen that is not taken up by my Ikea table that I found on Craigslist for $60), and gather my drawing board, a half-empty tablet of Bristol Board (a hot press, heavy paper that many comic book artists use), a pencil, a ruler and some pens. Then, I will half-heartedly limp over to my couch, put my legs up on my coffee table, put on some music or turn on the television, and begin measuring out tiers and panels.
Generally, unless an idea is complex, I don’t write an entire script before I begin the drawing. The idea (whatever ridiculous thing it is), usually forms itself on the page as I draw, although I always have a pretty good script in mind. Once and awhile there’s a thumbnail or two in my sketchbook, but more often it’s a few lines of chicken scratch outlining the general text.
After measuring out the number of panels I think I will need on each page, I sketch the narration (if there is any) onto each blank panel. I then begin to rough out the figures, and speech balloons. Once I’ve got rough sketches done of the main action and dialogue, I return to the first page and draw the details in pencil.
Then I go get something to eat and spend at least ten minutes looking for my pencil, which is, inevitably, stuck in my ponytail.
Once the pencils are complete, meaning that the entire comic is sketched and the narration and dialogue are satisfactorily placed on the page, I give the whole infernal thing the once over to decide if any changes need to be made, as, once inking begins, it is a huge pain in the ass to make changes.
Writing and drawing comics is a lot like directing a short film. One wants to make sure that each panel (or shot) is conveying the mood and perspective that is best for the story. In my work, particularly, it is important that the characters’ expressions are perfect. I rely on facial expression and gesture to convey what shouldn’t need to be written. In comics, especially, the idea of “show, don’t tell,” is paramount. Comics should never be wordy when they don’t need to be. If one can say what needs to be said using a raised eyebrow, or a look between two characters, or an atmospheric mood, that’s all that should be used. As my work is greatly emotionally driven, much of the dialogue and narration can be dropped in favor of the subtleties of the drawing itself.
Inking sucks. Usually, I do a preliminary inking where I draw over the major pencil lines with a Micron pen, a quill or a brush, and then lay in the lettering. Hand lettering is difficult, but, in my opinion, and for my work, I think it lends a more personal touch than any computer font could do. So, after a great deal of talking to myself about how much I hate it, I sit myself down and lay in the text. After the initial inking is complete, I furiously erase the underlying pencil, scattering grey bits of eraser all over my clothes and couch cushions, surely inhaling at least one chunk of the rubber.
The next step is the easy one. Using a large black artist’s marker, I lay in all the large black areas. Comics with a lot of large black areas mean that I don’t have to do a lot of detail work and that makes me happy. After all the large areas of black are laid in, that’s when I really get antsy.
Unless I have a deadline, there could be up to a week before I begin the detail work on any comic. Sure, I will walk guiltily around the neglected drafting board with the half-finished comic on it, and think, “Today I will finish inking!” But, the reality is, I am easily distracted. Yes, I would rather go to the movies. Yes, I would rather go out for cocktails with my friends. Yes, I would rather do the laundry, stare at the wall, walk barefoot over broken glass.
Eventually, however, the guilt of being a professional artist who hasn’t finished such a simple thing as a three-page comic about the weird next-door neighbor, or the moth, or the last boyfriend, will get the best of me. I will sit down, and start the painstaking work of adjusting all the inked work until it is perfect, re-lettering the lettering I screwed up before, rushing around the house searching for White-Out, and finally, look all the pages over for the tiniest flaw.
Despite my laziness, I am a perfectionist. I will obsess over every detail, until even the smallest area of cross-hatching or the slightest turn of a lip is exactly as it should be. Some flaws I leave, because I believe that it is the flaws in hand made work that makes it beautiful.
Now, with ink-covered, overly-caffeinated fingers, shuffling the large, stiff pages in my hands, I am in love. Even after torturing myself for weeks (or perhaps because of it), having made this lovely piece is the most satisfying feeling I can have. Nothing compares to the feeling of having crafted even the simplest story from a glimmer in my mind into a fully formed work of art.
Now, I better get back to my inking… except, that bathtub is looking pretty grubby…
About the author:
Sarah C. Bell is a graphic novelist, illustrator and painter living in San Francisco. Numerous presses, such as Nerve House, Fairytale Review Magazine and Fantagraphics Books, have published her work. The first full-length volume of The Urban Fairytales, “La Niña, Paperdoll” was published in 1999 by Baksun books. Currently, her short piece, Nubo (a graphic essay) can be seen in The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore and Politics,” University of California Press. Her short piece, Bug Soup, is awaiting publication in Peanut Butter, Gooseberries and Latkes: Writers Invent Creation Myths for their Favorite Foods. Sarah is also the Staff Cartoonist for Absurdist Monthly Review, online literary magazine. She is also the Illustrator, co-publisher and co-editor for Baksun Books (Boulder, Colorado). She can be found at http://theurbanfairytales.com/index.php and http://www.facebook.com/pages/S-Bells-Urban-Fairytales/103286320451?ref=ts
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