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QC Artwork Tutorial

I get a lot of email and forum requests and interview requests that ask the same basic questions about the artwork of QC over and over: How do you draw QC? How do you get the linework to look so smooth? Is using a Wacom tablet better than drawing by hand? This tutorial aims to illustrate the steps that go into the average QC panel's creation and to answer those basic questions as well as more specific trivia concerning my production process. In plain English- this is how I make comics. Hopefully you will find some of it interesting and useful, or at least fun to look at.

Update November 2007: I do some things pretty different now (and draw a lot better) so here's a revised edition!

Some Basic Info

Here's a quick breakdown of the equipment and software I use to make the artwork for QC.

Step 1

The first thing I always do is open up a blank image in Photoshop. The dimensions for my current panel setup are 5000x2812 at 300dpi. I like to draw as big as possible (more on this later).

Step 2

This is the sketch layer, where I figure out the basic panel layout, characters postures/proportions, etc. If I have to draw a new background I'll usually sketch it in here too, but for this particular comic there were no new backgrounds so I didn't bother to do that. I like using light blue ink, mainly because it's pretty.

Step 3

Here we see the start of the ink layer. I always start with characters' heads, it's just a habit of mine. Lately I've just been using the regular round brush in photoshop, usually set to 10 or 15 pixels wide with pressure sensitivity turned on. When inking, I use the eraser to clean up any areas where the linework overlaps, but beyond that the ink really is that smooth. Here's a full-size version of this shot for proof.

Step 4

The inking is finished! Inking is my favorite part of the whole drawing process, and fortunately also what I get to spend the most time on now (more on this shortly). Once the ink is done, I make a copy of the ink layer above the original, hide the sketch layer, and...

Step 5

...Have a schizophrenic episode.

Step 6

The madness seems to be getting worse! What is going on?! This will make sense in a second, I promise.

Step 7

Okay, here's what I'm doing. I'm using a couple of Photoshop plugins to do the "flatting" (laying down of flat colors) for me. They're called the BPelt plugins, just Google "BPelt" and it'll show up. Here's a breakdown of how I use them:
Step 1: Create a new layer beneath the lower ink layer, and fill it with white.
Step 2: Merge the lower ink layer down onto the white layer.
Step 3: Use the Threshold controls to remove all antialiasing on that layer.
Step 4: Run the "Multifill" Bpelt filter. This fills each seperate white space in the layer with a different color, making sure that no two adjacent spaces match.
Step 5: Run the "Flatten" Bpelt filter. This expands all the colored areas until the black linework is gone and all the colors are touching. The result is the image you see in step 7 above.
As you can see, all of the black lines I made in step five are now seperate blocks of color that I can simply fill using the paint bucket tool. In step 8...

Step 8

...You can see what it looks like when the upper ink layer reappears over the color layer. Now I can just paint-bucket in all the flats and shading that I marked off in step five and filled in steps six and seven. This saves an UNBELIEVABLE amount of time.

Step 9

Here's a close-up of Hanners' face after the basic flatting is done. You'll notice her eyes, mouth, face, and other little details aren't shaded yet. I prefer to do this by hand.

Step 10

And here's Hanners, all colored in and cleaned up. Now to do this for any other characters in the panel, and the artwork is basically done!

Step 11

Especially if the background is as minimal as it is in this panel. Usually I can paste in a pre-drawn background from an earlier comic, and sometimes I draw entirely new stuff or modify older stuff to fit the panel better.

That's basically it! Once I've got all the panels done, I shrink them down and plug them into my strip template, then do the lettering in Adobe Illustrator (but that's a tutorial for another day, especially since this particular strip didn't have any dialogue in it).

A Note On Copying And Pasting

I used to copy and paste elements from panel to panel fairly often- panels 3 and 4 from this strip, for instance, are basically the same with a few hand gestures and eye/mouth positions altered. My reasoning then, which I still think is fairly rational now, is that if you've got a strip with two people sitting on a couch talking, they're probably not going to be moving much from panel to panel anyway. It also saved a lot of time, which was important back when I had a day job and couldn't draw nearly as fast as I do now. Nowadays I basically never copy and paste anything from panel to panel, other than background art (which is frequently modified or re-drawn anyway). I'd much rather spend the extra time and effort making each panel interesting and unique than look the same as all the rest. I think my artwork has improved substantially as a result of this, and I enjoy doing it substantially more as well. I used to be really paranoid about getting comics done by midnight on the day they were supposed to go up, but for the past year or so I've just been working until they're done instead of rushing to try and meet some bullshit deadline. Nobody's ever complained!

Am I saying all copy and pasting in webcomics is bad? Of course not! Some of my favorite comics ever, like Diesel Sweeties and Dinosaur Comics use tons of copy and pasting in their artwork and their comics don't suffer from it at all. However, I can think of WAY more comics that I enjoy less BECAUSE they copy and paste their artwork. This is just my opinion though. It's up to you to decide how to do your artwork, there is no hard and fast right or wrong way.