Monday, January 23, 2012

Anatomy of a Graphic Novel

Comic books have a long history, spanning many cultures, and can come in all sizes. For Heretics, I choose the current standard US/UK size. [17cm x 26cm or 6.625" x 10.25"] I liked it because it's a Golden Rectangle. And for my fist comic, I thought I'd stick to the standard. The Golden Rectangle is 1.618 time taller than wide. What I've done than to start is make a grid, shown below. The dark blue outside is the Bleed, or extra drawing to fill possible printing mistakes. The lighter blue is the margin. I often break out of a frame and have an illustration fills the margins; sometimes it's just color and texture, but nevertheless, that type of illustration needs to extend into the Bleed so if the printing is not aligned perfect, no one will be able to tell. Inside the blue is the live area. All of the frame boxes will be in this space. If I make an illustration that's not in a box, I'm sure to put everything important: speech balloons, characters, details inside that live area so there's no risk of that getting cropped in printing. I divided that live area into 10 squares by 16. Strictly speaking, they are not perfect squares, but they're too close to tell the difference. Each square is divided into 5. This space is the perfect the width for a gutter, the space between frames. At least in my opinion. If you want your frames closer you could divide into 6 or 4 if you want wider. Pick what looks good to you, but once you decide stick with it throughout the project.

In addition to using an industry standard size, I also stuck to the standard issue length which is 22-24 pages. 22 is typical for big publishers who want to sell pages for ads. I went through my collection counting pages and found that all the books I had were 24 so I ran with that. Although, I often wish I'd stuck to 22 to save on work. Oh well. It depends on the story type of course and you'll need to pick something appropriate to what you're trying to do. That said, using a standard can help keep your options open when it comes time to publish and distribute.

We're almost to my workflow now, but first I'll cover my app choices. There are several drawing apps available for iOS devices, but the 2 most professional are Sketchbook Pro and Brushes. Sketchbook Pro is better in almost every way, in my opinion, except one. And that's the most important one.

Brushes is an easy to learn and use painting app. It's fast to move through tools or colors. It's a joy to paint in. When you're done, you can email the .Brushes file to yourself and open it on your Mac. The have a companion app for the Mac that will redraw the file at up to 6 times the resolution. It will also let you export an MOV of you drawing which can be neat to watch. You can even critique your process like how an athlete might rewatch a match to see what went wrong or right. This redrawing app is important because Sketchbook Pro and most drawing apps are limited to the device resolution, which is not print quality. Even though SBP has more tools and features, in the end, I simply can't use it if I intend to go to print one day. SBP is still very useful which I'll get into in a sec and if a future iPad (3 if rumors be true) has the retina display introduced in iPhone 4 the SBP might yet become my primary app. Until then, all final drawings are done in Brushes.

Step 1:
I take each of the 24 pages and take a screenshot (Home+On/Off). This saves each page as a bitmap in Photos.

Step 2:
I open up this bitmap of the script and the grid shown above into Sketchbook Pro. The script is there as reference so that I don't have to switch back and forth between apps to see what happens on the page. The grid I use for guides to design my page. SBP has has line, ellipse, and rectangle drawing tools that I can use to plan the layout to my frames and placement of speech balloons. With the normal drawing tools a do a quick sketch of what the frame will hold. Don't spend too much time on this, the real sketching will come later. For now, stick figure thumbnails that have just enough detail to communicate to your future self what will be there... Is it close up? Panorama? Is it important to see a gun in the background? What expression do the characters have? It will look something like this.

Then save. SBP now has the ability to sync with iCloud, but you can also email or use Dropbox to get this back to your computer. The next entry demonstrate how to use this sketch to set up your Photoshop file where the final assembly will be done.

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