January 16th, 2014
by John Hambrock
The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee launched with King Features in the fall of 2006, which means I’ve created over 2500 daily and Sunday comic strips.
When I compare the early strips with those I’m creating now, I see a vast improvement, both in the drawing and the writing. The drawing has gotten looser and the writing has gotten tighter. However, while the strip may have improved, and the style evolved, the process I go through to create each and every strip has remained essentially the same. I’ll usually start off by acknowledging I have deadline, followed by major panicking. After the dust has settled, it’s on to writing, followed by making coffee, panicking some more, baking cookies, purging the boiler (during the summer I’ll vacuum the air conditioners), then more writing. Somehow or another I’ve managed to make it work. Following is a step by step breakdown of how I generate 7 strips a week, 52 weeks a year.
Some cartoonists pick specific times to write. This has never worked for me. I’ve found that I can’t just flip on the writing switch and jot down what comes to mind. Some days I can write a week’s worth of material in a few hours. On others I may come up with absolutely nothing. And it’s not as though certain days are “magic” days for writing. I may come up with my best material on a Tuesday, or a Friday, although I’ve discovered that I write some of my best stuff when I have that deadline breathing down my neck.
My wife Anne contributes ideas and scripts as well, and I frequently ask her to read what I’ve written. I trust her judgement and, if she has any reservations about a particular strip or strips, I’ll almost always put them aside for a rework at a later date. Plus if she doesn’t laugh at the jokes at this stage it’s unlikely adding visuals will change that. Tickling her to get a laugh only makes matters worse. I have found that a great visual can generate a bigger laugh than the script alone but no visual will save a joke that isn’t working.
Comic artists tend to either write first, and then draw, or else they draw first – maybe just doodles – and then turn those doodles into comics. I write first.
Generally, I write scripts on my laptop, although there are times when I’ll use anything that’s available – the back of an old bank deposit slip, a gum wrapper, cardboard tubes, the bottom of my foot (I still have an idea for January 4th written in laundry marker on my big toe). I used to write everything on stacks of printer paper attached to a clipboard, but my horrible penmanship and my habit of going through numerous edits made most of my writings undecipherable. I also lost the clipboard. When I’m writing, I storyboard the strip in my head, and I write visual cues into the script to use during the penciling stage.
I usually wait until I have all of my ideas written before I start drawing them up. I do this because I like to have the order set. Some strips are more appropriate for a Saturday, others for a Wednesday. Sometimes I’ll ink up a week’s worth of material in a specific order, and then completely rearrange them. Paying attention to the order of my material is somewhat important to me, sort of like the order of songs on an album.
My tools are pretty old school. Here is a list of everything I use to create my strip:
Sample script with visual cues
I start each strip by lettering the words in light pencil, then working up quick character sketches for position
After I have everything where I want it, I start tightening up the pencil drawings. I discovered that if I get too tight at this stage I lose some of the energy and spontaneity.
I finalize the art by inking over the pencils with my brush and ink. When the ink is dry, I erase the pencils, touch up any bobbles with the bleed proof white, and the art is ready to scan.
I can usually pencil and ink 6 daily strips in 8-10 hours. Sunday strips can take 4-6, depending on the complexity.
Using Photoshop, I scan the strips in grayscale at 600 dpi. I need to save one file as a black and white bitmap for newspapers that print their daily comics in black and white, and a second, layered CYMK file for the papers that run theirs in color. The colored version is also needed for the various outlets that publish it online. We do not handle the CYMK to RGB conversion for online use.
Then, at 11:30 pm on the night before they’re due, I hand off the layered files to my wife Anne (I’m exaggerating, although there have been times when I’ve done this), who colors them using a Wacom tablet and her own special set of colors created specifically for the strip.
At the end of each week, I need to have 6 daily and 1 Sunday strip inked, colored, and ready to send to Reed Brennan Media Associates, the company that handles the final editing and distribution for King Features.
That’s it in a nutshell!
If you have any questions, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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