A Peek into the Process

For all you process geeks out there, I’m opening the studio up for a little virtual tour. Today we’re highlighting the making of comics.

My process is a blend of physical and digital. Over the years, I’ve gleaned my ideas and skills from a variety of in-person and online learning. There’s also a fair amount of trial and error, as you might imagine.

I’m going to skip over the writing part, since that’s a wild-assed mess. But, once there is a rough draft of a script, the making of the pages begins.

To start, I make a pile of “layout sheets:” regular sized sheet of cheap copy paper with little boxes to represent the entire page. The boxes are about 25% of full size. I leave lots of room to scribble notes or sketch out things on the side. Then the scribbling begins, sometimes it just flows and the page just appears in miniature. Other times, it takes a few tries or I even leave things hanging to come back to later. Up to now, I’ve gone in order first to last. That may change as I try longer books.

It may seem like this is just the warm-up for a main event. In reality, however, this is where the magic really happens. Where experimentation and iteration are key. What happens here sets the stage for everything that comes after—if this part is off or lacking, the final result will suffer.

Once I have the story or book laid out, roughly, I start back at the beginning and draw full size, or larger, line art on the Cintiq (a combo tablet/monitor designed specifically for drawing). I like working digitally at this stage as it’s freeing. Mistakes and do-overs are less costly. Repeated elements are more easily copied and modified, and so much more. Think manual typewriter verses a Google doc.

Once the page is completely drawn, art and words to meet for the first time. I shift here from Photoshop to Illustrator for a first pass at adding in the dialog, captions, and sound effects. The script undergoes extensive revision at this point—usually a trimming of verbal fat. Things are still very fluid at this stage so I take full advantage of that to create the most cohesive blend of image and word that I can.

Here I leave the realm of the digital and return to the physical. I print out the line art created in Photoshop. I chop up some watercolor paper, or use a standard size, depending on the project, and lightly trace enough of the line art onto it to guide the painting that’s to come.

Here’s some visuals to show the progression from blank page to finished art. There’s a lot that goes on here, a lot that changes from page to page depending on what I’m painting and the story I’m trying to tell. For the most part, it’s watercolor, but I’m happy to use whatever the situation calls for. A single page is a full day’s work for me. This is neither mass production nor the road to riches.

Once the paint is dry, it’s into the scanner and back to the digital realm. I’m not working on art for display here, the goal is reproduction. And this last stop on the tour is where it all comes together in preparation for that reproduction at the printers.

What I’ve just described here varies pretty widely from what happens at DC, Marvel, or Image. I am charting my own path and creating something that doesn’t look the same. I confess to moments of doubt, to desires to conform to gain the validation that might bring. Yet, I keep coming back to this way of doing things. Time, experience, and different stories will each pull and push on this process I have no doubt. It will be an interesting journey, I hope you come along for the ride.

You saw one page of Chasing the Flame, how’s about a few more?

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Published by Edward Ficklin

Edward Ficklin (he/him), maverick artist not afraid to say gay, is a self-taught painter, writer, publisher and sometimes technologist. He creates sensuous and erotically-tinged queer surrealist art, publishes queer-centered sci-fi comix, and pontificates regularly on a range of topics in his Queer Quantum Dispatch newsletter.

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