Thursday, December 3, 2009


Issue #4 of my monthly Vertigo comic SWEET TOOTH was released this week. This issue is the penultimate chapter in the first story-arc "Out of The Deep Woods". The issue also introduces a few new characters who will end up playing a big part in the overall story. I thought I'd select a scene from the issue and outline my creative process, from script to final art...

1. Script: I have the entire saga of Sweet Tooth outlined in one master document that I wrote when I pitched the book to Vertigo. This master outline, or "series bible", contains all of the major story points, character arcs and the overall plot. As well as more detailed notes on key scenes and even ideas for important dialogue here and there. At this point Sweet Tooth is projected to be 5 or 6 story arcs long (aprox. 30-40 issues), with a lot of room for the story and characters to expand and grow as I go along if need be.

From this master outline, I then break each story arc down into roughly 6 issues each. Then of course break each issue into 22-page outlines. From these I write my full script for each issue before I start drawing. These scripts are probably a bit sparser than an average comic writer's, because I don't have to spend time explaining the visuals for another artist to render, that's already in my head as I write. So, it's mostly to block out all the dialogue and make sure everything I want to do fits into the alloted 22 pages. I use a program called Movie Magic Screenwriter to do my scripts. It already has a couple of comic book templates built in, and lets me focus on the writing and not mess around with any formatting issues. Here is a four page (pages 2-5) excerpt from the 4th issue (click to enlarge):

2. Breakdowns: From these scripts I then thumbnail out a very rough page layout. These are really rudimentary doodles, probably so much so that only I could decipher them. But they just let me work out the panel structures and layout as well as the visual flow of the page. I take my script and reinterpret it, pacing out the beats of a scene or a conversation over panels. I often end up with a finished page that is very different from the script, as I tend to "write" best when drawing. The script is only a jumping off point :

3. Pencils: I then start on my pencilled artwork using these thumbnails as my skeleton. I used to pencil VERY loosely while working on Essex County and The Nobody. But, for whatever reason, my pencils have become increasingly tighter and more finished with each issue of Sweet Tooth. I do a rough, loose pencil draft with a blue pencil first, just getting all the basic composition and anatomy down, then go over this with a fine mechanical pencil, working out details and any drawing problems. I then take these pencils and trace them onto my bristol art board using a light box. The result of which can be seen below:

(Recently, I finished the artwork on Issue 9 of Sweet Tooth, and my pencils had gotten so tight that all the work and spontanaeity was gone by the time I went to inks. So, I've decided to go back to looser pencilling from now on, just go at the page with ink and have fun, take more risks. For me that's the real joy of cartooning.)

4. Inks: I then start inking these pages. I use Speedball India Ink and a steel point Hunt #2 pen tip for most of my linework, then go in with an Escoda 1212 Sable Hair Brush (usually a #1 size) and do my blacks and add accents to the linework where needed.

Escoda Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable Brushes

Once I have my pencils set, and I know there are no major drawing problems left to figure out, I start inking. And I like to ink VERY fast, and very loose. Let that energy translate onto the page. If I make a mistake (and I often do) I just keep going and go back later to fix it with white out, or I just redraw it.

5. Colors: From there the pages go to Jose Villarubia and he works his magic. I don't have to give Jose many color notes. He's a real pro and an accomplished artist in his own right, and I just let him do his thing, which is always beautiful.