The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

A Quick And Easy Way To Create Comics Digitally

Posted by BigWords on January 11, 2010

There are probably the better parts of twenty or so comics on various hard drives, so I have plenty of elements if I ever decide I really want to torture myself trying to pitch a title, but with the Commando character I’m in uncharted waters. I haven’t thought of trying to do a comic which harkens back to the old days of paper rationing and gung-ho national pride (because I get fixated on the irregular size) but I’m willing to see how well I can use the styles and distinctive mood to create something new. The main difference (‘cept for the shape of comics back then) is the text boxes and page layout in the better examples. I’m going to focus on elements rather than the bigger picture – no pun intended – to show my method through this.

First of all we are faced with the physical comic itself. Given the harshness of white paper, and when trying to recreate the feel of a Golden Age comic this is important, the look is completely off – so it is necessary to use a  suitable substitute. Yes, that is a Photoshop recreation of old paper… And the original is 2.7 GB in size and seven layers deep. Obsessed much? Probably, but I like playing with the software. The paper used on Fawcett and Fox comics are prone to browning (as are other publishers to greater or lesser degrees), but I don’t want the base image I’m building on to look too dirty. Off-white is enough to give the impression of age and distress without turning people off the idea of looking at it in the first place.

If you have never seen a GA comic, you might be surprised to find the name of the comic printed at the top of each page throughout the book (just like in some novels), and trying to match this is damn hard. The first attempt (using – appropriately enough – ‘Comic Book Commando’ font) is overlaid with a 50% fade of the background to break up the solid black. It ain’t perfect, but it’ll do until I can start scanning scratchier, hand-written fonts. There are many little details I want to capture, and some of the most distinctive elements are the stuff that isn’t considered important any more – such as letterboxes. But I’m getting ahead of myself… First there is the basic page shape to deal with.

I can’t work irregular shapes. I’ve tried. I’ve attempted three or four different shapes which correspond to GA comics, but each and every workaround is hampered by the restrictions which I need to impose on the underlying framework. Before I even consider adding any visual elements to the page, I start with a new Photoshop file 12cm x 18cm (at 500 pixels per cm – more than enough for b&w printing), and a white background. Onto the white background I drop in a layer that assists with scaling, being a grid of ½cm black and white cubes, and a layer of solid red (at 25% opacity) so I can pick out any stray pixels that need correcting. Yes, that does come under the heading of obsessive, but it works for me.


For anyone wanting to play along at home, this is what the image ought to look like thus far. Using the Magic Wand Tool (W) – add to selection – I select the four corner boxes from the grid layer, and then create a new layer. It is simply a matter of joining up the boxes to each other to give a border to work within – this is an easy way of checking how cluttered the artwork looks with text inserted – using the full page would look cluttered anyway, and this gives a better approximation of the printed image.

Save this, as it can be used and re-used for multiple images.

When I need to use grids, a rather outdated style these days, I have them set up as standard images ready to re-use when needed. The gutter width varies depending on the number of panels per page, but I like to keep them as close as possible throughout the length of the title.

The boxes are still red, being ‘layer via copy’ from my red layer, though putting in black borders this early seems as if I am rushing things. I like the images ready to use before I decide on how strong the borders are going to be rendered. Of course, my natural instinct would be to use as many quirky border effects as possible. The following element example is from a kung fu comic I started a while back, and demonstrates how unusual border elements don’t necessarily have to be complicated.

This, of course, is redundant with a Golden Age comic, so I’m having to treat every single panel as if it was fresh off the page. Too many clean lines will ruin the immersion, and it is complicated enough trying to work out the depth of image I can get away with as it is. The most complicated pieces of the puzzle (ironically) will be the text boxes, as some of the best examples hail from the early forties.  Yes, I know it looks awkward and too faded at the moment, but it should look okay once I have gone over it with several more layers of rendering, smoothing out the gray background and darkening the text.

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