Making a Comic Book

I made a comic book last year. This is the culmination of a dream I had since I was a child stapling together typing pages of scribbles. I ended up getting into music and playing in bands, but I never stopped wanting to make a comic book. After too many fucking years, I finally wrapped up band life and my old dream into one book, Kickstarted it, and successfully drew and printed this puppy.

It was extremely gratifying to go to a print shop and pick up copies of a comic book that I drew, laid out, and got printed all on my own. Physical copies are available here on my website, or if you prefer cheaper digital, I have them available for sale on comixology.com. But if you’re just interested in the process of creation…

The whole process started in 2015. I wanted to make a comic book and spoke to an old friend about making one for the band Ghoul. I was no known comic creator, so tying my first one up with a band that had a rabid fan base seemed a great idea to have a sure fire hit my first time out. I wrote an anthology style script, I drew the book end host pieces, and my friend acquired the talents of some young artists to draw up the stories. I never saw those pages. I asked and asked, but he would only send me a few cell phone photos, despite repeatedly asking him for proper scans. I even contacted the artists to see if they had the originals; they did not. After hounding him for those pages for three years, wanting to produce something and pay those artists, I gave up.

I scrapped everything and started fresh. I was determined to do it on my own this time, so success or failure would lie solely on me. First, I wrote a new script.

I really had no idea what I was doing, armed only with the knowledge of having read a lot of comics. The script was pretty good, but lucky through music I had a few friendly connections I could lean on. Aubrey Sitterson, an ex-editor at Marvel Comics and famous for his work at IDW on G.I. Joe comics as well as his own creation, No One Left To Fight, was nice enough to give my script a once-over. He gave me some tips on storytelling and how to format my script. It helped immensely.

Drawing the comic was the next and formidable step. I set up a timeline for myself to finish and prepare a Kickstarter for it. With limited time and upcoming tours scheduled, I decided I had to go fully digital and sacrifice a few things. The first was lettering. I’ve hand lettered some of my own attempts at comics before, but this time I’d use a typeface. Since I was doing that, I thought, why not go the full EC route for my horror comic and do all the lettering first and lay out the panels and then draw. It worked for them! I even used Leroy stencil typeface just to sell it as an artistic decision.

I used an old copy of Manga Studio 5 on my 7 year old laptop. The program is now been rebranded as Clip Studio. This was convenient over other programs I could have used to lay the book out, because Manga Studio can arrange your pages into a book form for easy editing and previewing. Laying it out at the standard comic book size of 10.25″ x 6.625″ with borders and bleed was a cinch using the program and it has all sorts of customizable cut-tools to create even borders and frame strokes.

Before I headed to South America with Exhumed for four weeks, I furiously sketched the comic out using my very old Intuos drawing tablet. It’s not ideal in that I have to look where I’m not actually drawing. Oh, it would be nice to have a big fucking fancy Wacom Cintiq so I could actually draw on the screen, but I’d opted to get an iPad instead. So the plan was to export these sketches and ink on the iPad while traveling.

The advantage of sketching it all in Manga was using their extensive perspective rulers and [says with shame voice] photo reference here and there. Now, Clip Studio has an app for iPad, but this wasn’t available to me at the time.

Now, imagine a photo of me waiting in a South American airport, furiously scribbling on no sleep while alternately running back and forth to the bathroom to deal with Montezuma’s revenge. This was my tour. The exported sketch pages were imported into Procreate, one of my favorite drawing tools for the iPad, and I “inked” furiously. The Apple Pencil feels super nice compared to my bulky stylus for the Wacom Intuos.

Inking in Procreate allowed me a lot of what some would call cheating, I call using the tools at hand. I was able to zoom in and out in a way I could never on paper and really clean up my sloppy drawing style. I didn’t finish everything on tour, but this system helped me to be able to work anywhere at anytime over the next few months and get this comic done in the timeline I’d set out for myself. Being in multiple bands while working a day job has its drawbacks when it comes to making comics, it turns out.

After finishing the “inks,” I exported the procreate files back into Manga Studio. The art ended up dictating a few edits to the dialogue, so it was easy to re-arrange some things in Manga Studio.

Then these were final files were exported as images [jesus fucking christ there has to be an easier way this is so much exporting and importing] into Adobe InDesign to be made into a print ready .pdf for PS Print, right here where I live in Oakland. I also added a 15% black overlay on everything because while I really wanted that old B&W newsprint look, it’s near impossible to find a printer that will print on that newsprint anymore.

With the interior art done, I needed a flashy, color cover. I went back to Procreate on my iPad. I’d had an idea to do a parody of the cover of Queen’s News of the World for a long time, but Ghoul really had no use for such a thing… until now. This was my book, so I could do whatever the fuck I wanted. It also tied into one of the stories nicely. I downloaded the cover and just digitally painted right the fuck over it. Cheating, fuck yeah.

I made the art bigger than I needed because I had ideas for the Kickstarter reward pledges. This ended up a nice giclée print. But before that, it had to be on the cover. I laid out the text and frame elements in Adobe Illustrator, my favorite program for designing. In addition, after the Kickstarter was going and hit some stretch goals, I had to add a separate vector layer for a foil-stamp. Originally, the logo had a black stroke then a white stroke, but I reversed that; if the foil was stamped a little off on some of the books, the white stroke would give the printer a little leeway to fuck up. Always give your printer room to fuck up.

Before I even started the Kickstarter, this was all done. I’d already given the files to the printer before I started, so even if the Kickstarter had failed, I was gonna print some of these damn comics. As it turned out, the Kickstarter was a rousing success and I was able to turn around the rewards way fucking faster than any of the pledges expected. Of course, how I ran my Kickstarter is a story for another post.

For those wondering, there is a dedication in the beginning of the book to a “Sister Sewage.” That’s my sister, who passed away after dealing with stage IV colorectal cancer for a few years. She was always my biggest supporter and fan. She got to see the book in progress, but sadly passed right before I launched the Kickstarter and got the book printed. It sucks, because I know she would have been stoked and proud. It also makes me even more angry about the first aborted version of the comic she should have seen and that I had to start from scratch. Time is of the essence people; don’t let it slip by and hug the ones you love as much as you can. I miss ya, sis.

Bro Sewage, Sister Sewage, and Dok Sewage at the Ghoul show, 2018

Having succeeded with my own comic book was an amazing feeling. I used tools I already had lying around and my own determination to make it all happen. I hope to do it again, but maybe next time I’ll just draw on some damn paper and sod it with all the exporting and importing.

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