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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Paperless Cartoonist

I was invited to join this blog when I suggested a post about ergonomic and workflow issues while using drawing tablets—specifically pen monitor tablets, such as the Cintiq. Not long after I was joined the blog, K. Thor Jensen posted an article, Wacomics, on his recent tablet experiences. The post covers Mr. Jensen's initial loathing of tablets, through to his eventual conversion and endorsement.

I was an early enthusiast of the digital drawing tablet, asking for one for X-mas when I was 13 so I could draw animations on our Mac—I was such a geek. In university I got a second tablet, a standard middle-of-the-road Wacom Intuos. It worked great. I use illustrator and I liked the brush strokes I could achieve with it. I grew increasingly comfortable with it and used the tablet often for finished comics or illustrations. Eventually I developed the same problem as Scott McCloud—a tingling in my right wrist—and had to stop drawing for a while. It also forced me to think about health & ergonomic issues. In part due to a desire to stop working on paper entirely, along with having read McClouds and various other reviews, I decided to invest in a Wacom Cintiq, referred to as a pen monitor. Essentially it is a flat screen monitor with a drawing pen and thousands of levels of pressure sensitivity.

I spent the first four hours using it chuckling, and often outright laughing. I understood why animation studios are switching to them. There is a massive potential to increase workflow with this tool. And, for the first time in like, fifteen years of doing art on a computer, I actually felt that I was encountering something new. Along with the Cintiq there are already a few pen tablet laptops on the market. Apple is rumoured to be producing some sort of a tablet device. If technology continues to develop as it has, in a couple years from now we should have the potential to make pressure-sensitive sketches on something like an Apple iPod. I've never even used a handheld, but I'm sure they're starting to develop built-in sketching functions.

The pen monitor made me think more about the workflow of a cartoonist/illustrator. I began thinking about the workflow potential of it even more after reading The Pushman And Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (D&Q 2005). This book lead me to read an interview between Tatsumi and Adrian Tomine. The interview is long, but extremely interesting, as it's two grand masters of comics talking in detail about their working methods. I just love this exchange:
AT: Yeah. That's always been a mystery to me. How the Japanese artists are able to produce so many pages. I'm sure my publisher would allow me to create thicker comics, but it would just take me two or three years or something like that.

YT: I've done 50 pages in one night.

AT: What? 50?! Five zero?

YT: Yeah.

AT: How?!

YT: I didn't sleep, and I had four assistants.
A few lines down, it gets even better when they discuss a weekly schedule:
AT: So you were doing 12 pages a week? On your own?

YT: Yeah.

AT: I just can't believe it!

YT: 2 pages, everyday. It's far easier than 50 pages in one night.
Far easier indeed. After reading this I began to wonder how much a cartoonist could potentially produce in a night, using a Cintiq or similar device. McCloud has noted that he produces about a page per day for his new book with his Cintiq. That's 6-7 pages a week. I've managed to do a couple 2-page nights recently as well. They were long nights, though—lots of tea.

I still haven't found the ideal position for drawing on this monitor. I find I'm using the keyboard enough (in illustrator) to position it close to the monitor. I think I'd like the entire table it’s sitting on to be height-adjustable. I still find the best way to avoid getting sore is to regularly stretch, and walk away from the drawing board frequently. The Cintiq is a huge step up from the regular tablets simply in terms of ergonomics. You can lean over it like a traditional drafting table, or tilt it up and work as a painter would with an easel and canvas.

I haven't gotten rid of drawing on paper entirely, not by a long shot, but the Cintiq is a solid step towards the paperless cartoonist. When I have an iPod that I can scratch a few portraits on while sitting on the metro? Now that will make things interesting.


At 5:00 PM, Blogger colin said...

NB: Scott Mccloud posted a review of his Cintiq on The Comics Journal forums, but it has vanished. McCloud has a few smaller posts about using his Cintiq on his blog.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Tim Tylor said...

I've been using a Cintiq 21UX for a few weeks, and I'm pretty sure it's making things quicker and easier. (21UX is the model I found recommended for art work.) It's quite big even as a monitor, so you'll need a reasonable work area. I'm finding the cursor lagging slightly behind the pen tip like a child hurrying after a fast-walking parent, but I've got used to that quickly and it's not affecting my work.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous aaron said...

I'd like to try it out, but they're so expensive. Hopefully I'll come upon a huge amount of money that I can blow, or the price will drop.

I worked on a 24 hour comic with my friend Alec... where we both produced (together) a 24 page comic... so we both basically drew 12 pages in a day. I think they're really good, but deffinetly not our best work. Does Yoshihiro Tatsumi work on a tablet? I'd like to see those 50 pages. I'm sure they're great... better than I could do... but I don't want to be a comic machine. I'd much rather do a page a day... two pages even sounds easier (ha)... yes... lot's of tea. Maybe some coffee.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Allen said...

I had a Cintiq 15" for a couple of years (in fact I helped Scott find his, my little contribution to the history of comics, perhaps :) - and I had developed a nice little setup with a height-and-angle-adjustable drafting table, so I could stand when I wanted to and draw. I just kept the table high and used a tall drafting-style chair when I wanted to sit. Anyway, this allowed me to stand straight to rest my back and neck or lean onto the table for close work. I found it much more comfortable for long work hours. I kept the (wireless bluetooth) keyboard in front of it when needed, or off to the left side (to access my customized function keys for Photoshop and Illustrator) when I needed the screen closer. IN short, Cintiqs are an absolute dream for doing photo editing or natural linework. Oh, and I ran it off of a PowerBook 12" and had no cursor lag that I noticed, but that was the 15 (fewer pixels than the 21 by far).

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Neil said...

I got the Cintiq (21X) on Scott's advice, and its truly fantastic. I've done whole chapters of a book I'm drawing without any paper at all. Its increased my productivity rate and helped alleviate my wrist pains. I've gotten used to some of the lag too, but I think its only cause I've got it plugged into a four year old G4 PowerMac. Once these things are prevalent, I expect they'll be changing the nature of the process for us all.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

You should check out the tablet PCs from Motion Computing which use Wacoms technology (though with fewer levels of sensitivity).

The beauty of them is that they are small, lightweight, and can be carried with you pretty much everywhere in a bag, or a folio type case.

And if you want to be very mobile and can live with 800x600 for a display on the go, the LS800 they sell is just amazing.

Take a look at the photos on this guy's blog:

Specifically this post:

Now that's about the perfect size for me for a paperless portable sketchbook.

I'm planning on picking up the toshiba M200 since it's cheaper than the Motion Computing ones (about same price as the 21" Cintiq).

Definitely not for everyone, but I'm totally hooked.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger colin said...

I'm glad there are other Cintiq users reading this blog — thanks for your comments!

WIth regard to Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I don't know if he currently uses a tablet. I know he didn't when he was doing the 50 page-a-night stints because that was like 40 years ago. I don't know what the 50 pages from that night are either, he didn't specifically state. He does imply that some of the pages from Pushman were done with the 2 page/day method. You can see this when you look at the pages. It's loose and rough, but I like that.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger colin said...

I notice some lag, but only sometimes. I also draw and color totally in Illustrator and I gather that is usually as well. I'm running on a dual 867 g4, and I've noticed the dual processor helping with illustrator brushstrokes. I haven't even tried it in Photoshop or other programs.

But, I think all these issues of lag will likely quickly dissapear with dual intel Apples, etc.

In terms of set up, I have the cintiq on a regular computer desk. I'll raise my chair nice and high when working on the Cintiq so I can lean over it. I place a keyboard on the back of the desk (just behind the Cintiq) so I can type, when I need to. I think it's preferable to not have to use the keyboard altogether, and just stick with the buttons on the side of the Cintiq.

By the way, Aaron, the links from your most recent comment are cut off.

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

Awesome post! I use a Cintiq. It's the tiny one. First generation. And I love it. Honestly, I couldn't live without it. For color work it's perfect but in my opinion it'll never replace my brush for inking pages. I've actually inked entire comics with it, but it wasn't faster... in fact it took me a lot longer. Honestly though, time isn't the only thing to consider. The real problem is you're left with no original. :( And sales of original art are a key piece of making a living at this.

Also it took me a while but I think I've refined my setup to work rather nicely. If anyone is interested I could post an info. page about it... well, after I get this comic done. :)

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Hope Larson said...

I sincerely doubt Yoshihiro Tatsumi uses a tablet... Those numbers aren't unusual for manga artists, and many of them hardly use computers at all. CLAMP, a 4-person collective, produces 120-130 pages a week.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Mikhaela said...

I have a Wacom Intuos2, and I originally got it because I was unable to use a computer at all due to the intense wrist pain I had from using a regular mouse. I couldn't do my day job or my cartoons. But now it has gotten to the point where the Wacom causes pain too, so at some point I may need to upgrade. Ouch.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Neil said...

Thinking about it some more, I realized that the job I like using the Cintiq the most for is doing thumbnails. Being digital, it means I can rearrange and resize panels with little fuss, erasing, or redrawing.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Here are the links again:

Motion Computing tablets

LS800 blog:

Specific pics:

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Fang Langford said...

I'm using an Acer Travelmate C300 and it works great! It soaked my budget so I use the GIMP to draw and I've finally settled some issues I had with the pointer mispointing. Acer accepts the penabled drivers from Wacom, so I'm close to a Cintiq (which I so badly wanted). Only thing I need for the full experience is to get a 'paper-like' surface.

Now just to get back into drawing practice. See Costumentality someday!

Fang Langford

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Mal Jones said...

Asaf Hanuka just posted on his blog that because of a lack of paper supplies in his area, he's gone paperless.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Rafael said...

Hi everyone. I don´t know if this post is still being read or not... i´ve had a cintiq for quite some time, but haven´t been able to find a setup (desk, chair, cintiq, keyboard, etc) that is comfortable. My back and shoulder hurt a lot. Can anyone post pictures of your setup to see if I get a better idea? Thanks


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