Guest blogger, Kate Brown: how I work

Hello! Firstly, a big thank you to SelfMadeHero for giving me a slot to chat about some aspects of Fish + Chocolate. I’ll be making four blog posts: this first one focuses a little on the technical bits and pieces of how I pulled the book together, and the following three will cover the stories themselves in more detail. I hope each will be fun and/or interesting to read!

Let’s go! ^_^

So, for each comic I make, I usually employ a slightly different method, which will vary depending on what the finished product is to be, what I want to achieve with it, whether I’m working with another creator or an editor/publisher, and so on. With Fish + Chocolate, I was writing and creating pretty much entirely alone… this meant my working method ended up being rather scrappy! In a way, this was freeing for me, as I didn’t have to worry about clarity of handwriting, etc., on top of everything else! In fact, it was great… up until the point when I was unable to understand what some of my own thumbnail sketches were trying to portray… ahem.

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Before I started working with sketches/layouts/thumbnails, I made sets of notes for each story as a base. Looking back on these notes, they actually differ quite a bit from the finished comic strip. I knew it might end up this way, so it didn’t worry me. I actually quite like watching the process of developing a graphic narrative… it’s like watching a photo develop, like: “Hm, okay, I got these things… alright… now let me add some of this stuff… okay, it’s… oh! Wait! There it is! Wow! That came out way better/worse than I expected!” (I am not an experienced photographer. Just in case you couldn’t tell). Again, I felt I was only really free to let F+C evolve in this loose way as there were no other people attached to it at the time.

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Following notes, I bashed out quick and tiny thumbnail sketches. (These are completely illegible – even to me, eventually, as mentioned above). This may seem like an unnecessary step – and actually, it’s not a stage I’ve incorporated before as I usually go straight into what I call my layouts (more on this below). I think it happened because I was working in a less restrictive manner of creation with this book. At the time, it felt less labour-intensive to quickly make a mess of tiny sketches and get a rough idea of how the book would look and read visually, rather than going into the more labour-intensive layouts and then realising something very important wasn’t working, and having to go back and re-do it all.

So, my layout stage. With comics I’ve done before, I’ve often just headed straight into this section without bothering with the previous stuff. For F+C, I wanted a more solid basis as the stories did not only have to work as separate pieces, but needed a coherency as they were to be read together, as three sides of the same coin, if… that makes any sense at all.

Here are my layouts:

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I find this very useful – it really gives me a good idea of what the finished comic will look a bit like since it’s visually closer to the finished product than a bunch of notes (however tightly written). I can also give it to a willing individual at this stage, so they can read it through and see what they think as well. This is very useful! In my experience, more useful in the long-term than having someone read a script, as scripts and finished comics differ so wildly simply because… they are different!

Finalising layouts can take a long time for me. One thing I’m not terribly concerned with is ticking off speech bubbles and/or any other text, as I like to be able to fiddle with the exact dialogue up until I’m ready to push the files off for publication. (Perhaps it’s my indecisive nature). What I am concerned with is making sure the layouts are easy to read. For me, that’s the most important thing about comics, above anything else. If a comic is difficult to “follow”, then however clever the writing is, however smart the dialogue is, however pretty the art is… none of it matters if the reader has to struggle to pick out which panel to read next, and in which order the speech bubbles are, and so on and so forth. I think Hergé and Rumiko Takahashi are excellent examples of creators who make exceptionally easy-to-follow comics.

And then we’re on to drawing the pages! I actually changed my method part-way through making F+C. I used to draw on cheap printer paper, and then used a lightbox to neatly line over the roughs with fresh paper (I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of this particular set-up). I quit this, and moved on to sketching the rough in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet, printing it out in faint coloured lines onto paper and then neatly lining that. By the way, I line with a mechanical pencil – it’s what I’m most comfortable and quickest with.

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(This method might seem like more of a kerfuffle, but it saves paper and actually does save time, for me.) The neat lines are then scanned back into my PC and coloured in Photoshop. I was assisted by the lovely Jio Butler with the first part of the colouring stage: flatting. Jio laid down the basic colours following a set of swatches and guidelines I’d provided. After this, I used cel-shading to shade the page. It’s an effect I like, and it’s also fast to do. I also add specific textures, lighting, any patterns or details, tones, highlights… and speech-bubbles. Here’s a basic visual step-by-step:

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I enjoy working on Photoshop as it does allow room for mistakes. I used to work with markers and watercolours, and throw tantrums if it went wrong. When working to a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise), I don’t enjoy the added stress of knowing I can completely mess a page up at the last minute. It means I can experiment with a page multiple times without worry. I might begin lighting/shading a scene and then realise a few pages on that it’s messing up some aspect of the story, and want to go back and re-think things. I mean, ideally these kinds of things are ironed out in the layout stage of making my comic, but, eh… mistakes happen!

So, that’s basically it! I have left out the artistic tantrum-throwing that occurs around and within every stage to provide you with a smoother reading experience.

Thank you for reading! ^_^

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You’re reading the behind-the-scenes story of Fish + Chocolate exclusively on the SelfMadeHero blog. Lucky you! Join us on Monday for the second guest post by Kate, where she’ll be writing about her tale ‘The Piper Man’, the first of the three stories in Fish + Chocolate.

Fish + Chocolate by Kate Brown is published by SelfMadeHero this month! If you live somewhere remote or heaven forfend… abroad, you may like to consider purchasing it from our online store, powered by the mighty Amazon. But, if you live or work near a comicshop or bookshop, we ask that you consider supporting them first as it is widely stocked.

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2 Responses to Guest blogger, Kate Brown: how I work

  1. Pingback: Guest blogger, Kate Brown: The Piper Man | SelfMadeHero

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