Make Comics Forever!!

Make Comics Forever is a forum for cartoonists dedicated to improving their productivity. This is not a forum for wimps! This is not a forum for flakes! We are here to share tips and techniques on how to produce more work and better work. Become a comic-making machine! Join the discussion now! To become a member, email a request to robyn @

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

some thoughts on listening

Wow! I'm really excited by all the recent activity. I have to admit, I had lost some of the inspiration that fueled me start this blog. I think it was triggered by hearing that Yoshihiro Tatsumi (of Push Man fame) did 50 pages in one night (for the record, I have issues with The Push Man, but I can't deny Tatsumi is one hell of a cartoonist.)
50 pages in one night! After hearing that, why even bother?

But I'm reminded now of a good bit of advice my buddy Alec Longstreth told me: don't compare yourself to other cartoonists. I shouldn't try to be Daniel Clowes, or Chester Brown, or whoever. I should just try to be Robyn Chapman.

My absence was also strengthened by something very practical Kevin Heuzenga said. It was something like this: if you spend all your time writing about how to be a productive cartoonist, when will you have time to draw? It's true, it's true. So I backed off the theorizing, and put the theory to practice (more or less.)

Still, I think this blog is a valuable resource, and I have a lot to learn. I'm beginning to feel comfortable in my own work patterns, but I’m excited by some of the new ideas presented here.

My new obsession: working and listening!

It's not exactly new, I have drawn while listening to books on tape before. I find that listening to engaging audio really helps me put in the hours. Unfortunately, I haven't found a reliable source for good audio books. I had a subscription to for a while, but I'm not very happy with their selection.

I've begun to listen to podcasts, which I really enjoy (especially if they're informative or educational: working + learning, double productive!) Again, I'm faced with the same challenge: where do I find good podcasts? I've listened to some pretty crappy ones, I'd like some suggestions.

But my newest thing is chatting on the phone while I draw. My boyfriend is a cartoonist; he lives in New York, I'm in Vermont. We spend a lot of time on the phone, talking and drawing. It can be distracting at times, but it's nice to feel connected and social. Cartooning can be a lonely pursuit! When it comes to drawing on the phone, I definitely recommend buying a headset (a nice one, not a cheap one.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Use your OTHER hand!!!

This was getting a bit of action in the comments, so I figured I'd write this up as a proper entry, just in case some people aren't obsessively digging through the comments, or have this blog on RSS feed...

When I started art school (Illustration) in September 2005 my wrist suddenly began hurting like HELL. Drawing all day at school (sometimes for 6 hour stretches at a time) and then coming HOME and trying to draw comics all night finally did me in. My wrist would just SCREAM with pain and I found that I had to take more and more breaks to try and "protect" my wrist.

I've also had a bad back for YEARS, and for Xmas that year my mom got me a book on alleviating back pain. One of the key ideas in that book was that PAIN IS YOUR BODY'S WAY OF TELLING YOU SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT!!!

So back in February of 2005 I had the epiphany that I actually have TWO hands and it is ridiculous to have ONE hand (my DRAWING hand no less!) doing 99% of all my tasks. So I started paying attention to when my drawing hand hurt the most...

1) I noticed that after using the computer my hand hurt A LOT, so I switched my computer mouse to my non-drawing hand. It took about two days to get used to it (surprisingly fast!) and was surprised to see that it helped a TON. I think there is something about that clicking motion which is very similar to the fine motor skills involved in weilding a drawing stylus (using the same muscles/bones) and switching that over to my other hand helped a lot!

2) For me, this goes without saying, but if people are dealing with sore wrists and fingers, YOU SHOULD REALLY BE TYPING DVORK, it helps more than you can imagine!

3) I also noticed that after brushing my teeth my wrist hurt a lot (all of that violent back-and-forth action) so I also switched that over. It took about 2 weeks before I could really do it at full speed, without getting toothpaste all over my face, but it was worth the investment in time!

4) I write a lot of letters and obviously that hurt too, since it was basically the same motions as drawing (though more tight and frantic which hurt even more!) So for a long time there I also switched my HANDWRITING to my left hand. That was pretty "hardcore" and since my pain went away I don't really do this any more, but it's on standby if my hand ever starts to hurt again (maybe when school starts back up again?)

5) Even the smaller stuff can really help! When your drawing hand is in pain, try to keep it loose at your side when you are not drawing and FOCUS on using your non-drawing hand for all other tasks: erasing, opening doors, spreading peanut butter, washing your hair, etc. etc. You have TWO hands! Use them both!!!

Like Liz mentioned, one of my greatest fears is that my drawing hand will "give out," ESPECIALLY since I am investing a lot of time and money into training myself to be a person who's livelyhood will depend on my ability to draw! We are human beings and are therefore incredibly adept at ADAPTING. Sure, it is hard to learn to write with your non-drawing hand, but you CAN do it if you are just patient and stick with it. Go ambidextrous!!!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Unproductive Dog Days

Holy crap, what a summer.

Rapid-fire freelance design work, an incredibly busy time at the day job, plus an sinus infection that last three months (THREE MONTHS!), has added up to make my comic productivity drop to negative numbers.

3 pages on one Part Time Story (that's 42 pages long), 1 page on another, some sketches on the next print project, and that's about it. Ugh.

Now that I'm wrapping up all those above items, hopefully I can back on track. It makes it tough to get back on the wagon when you fall off though.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hitting the Home Stretch

My wrist aches. My ink rag needs replacing. I have denied invitations from others to socialize. Diagnosis? HOME STRETCH.

I always get this way when I’m getting to the last quarter of a book. I spend almost all my time drawing and inking (and the only reason I’m not doing either of those right now is because my forearm and wrist are useless after a full day’s inking – my cross hatching has started to resemble that of an 80-year-old). It’s both the most difficult and the most exciting part of drawing a comic. It’s like the moment right before you kiss someone – the feeling of anticipation. However, once I’m done, well… I’m done! Until the next issue, of course, but I have production and other projects to keep me busy until I start the next one.

Alec posted some great tips below that everyone should check out, but I just wanted to add a few of my own:

1)Don’t do anything to damage or unnecessarily strain your drawing arm, especially when you are trying to keep to a schedule. Last night, I went to a concert and pumped my right arm in the air so much I had trouble finishing the inking I wanted to finish today.

2)PODCASTS, PODCASTS, PODCASTS! I can’t believe I never thought of this before. I get bored with the same old music on my iTunes, and I have one or two podcasts I regularly listen to, but for some reason I never thought of subscribing to more. I couldn’t think of something better to listen to whilst inking! Plus, it makes me feel less lonely, all holed up in my studio for days at a time.

3)Instant Messenger – a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have friends at my fingertips when I get lonely in the aforementioned studio, especially when I have a quick question or just want to share a minor frustration I’ve encountered. On the other hand, the chatting can get out of hand if you get into a heated discussion. That’s when it’s time to turn off your instant messenger and get back to work.

4)Breaks without guilt. I know this has been discussed before, but we cartoonist types tend towards the obsessive compulsive and it’s easy to be hard on oneself, as odd as that may sound. Schedule your breaks, or say to yourself “I will finish this panel in the next half hour and then I will treat myself to a banana.” I have been amazed by the results when I tell myself I will finish something in a given amount of time.

5)Rewards!! This kind of goes into what I mentioned above. A friend of mine suggested to me, when I was stuck in an unproductive rut, that he used to tell himself that once he finished a panel, he’d give himself a whole bag of M&M’s as a reward. Usually, after finishing that panel, he’d end up doing the whole page anyway, plus he’d get M&M’s, so it all worked out. I usually reward myself with a piece of fruit and a 15-minute internet break after each page penciled or inked.

6)Don’t forget about life! Outside of my day job and my comicking, I force myself to do at least one social thing a week, even if I’m in HOME STRECH mode as I am right now. You need it even if you think you don’t.

7)I find this little snippet from Dave Sim super inspirational and I read it whenever I feel like I'm trying too hard to be "perfect." I'm not fond of Sim's rampant misogyny, but his thoughts on comics and self-publishing are borderline genius.

Okay, well I’ve rambled on for way too long already, so I’ll stop here and go to bed. Happy comicking everyone!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Back on Track!

Like Robyn said, let's get this blog back to its original purpose: tips on COMICS PRODUCTIVITY!!!

I just finished another issue of my comic book Phase 7 and it only took me five months to do it (as opposed to the issue before this one, which took a year and a half, or the issue before that, which took a year). I did 48 finished pages in 131 days, averaging a page every 2.7 days (and YES, I was IN SCHOOL for 3 months of that). What caused this jump in productivity? Well, I approached this issue in an entirely different way, so I thought I'd share some of my ideas, since I think they might be helpful to others:

1) One of the main things I focused on was LOOSENING UP (and/or SPEEDING up) my penciling. I mean really, let's face it, they are PENCILS. They are NEVER going to be seen by the reader! After it's inked, they are gone! So they do NOT need to be that tight or crisp or detailed. The information needs to be there, so you know what to ink, but if you already know how to ink something and it's in the background or something (the leaves on a tree, books on a bookshelf, etc) save some time and just don't pencil it. I penciled my entire issue on the subway train, riding to and from school and that looseness didn't hurt at all. In fact it probably HELPED!

2) I know this will make some of you cringe, but I decided to NOT rule out all of my lettering. Sure, it does not look as clean and "professional" but my handwriting is extremely legible, pretty straight and I can not even tell you how much time this saved me. And actually, after doing a few pages, I decided to do the ENTIRE ISSUE without using any rulers whatsoever. (It's a MINICOMIC, you know?? Does it NEED to look "professional"???) All of my lettering on the cover and in the endpapers, etc. were all just hand-pulled lines, which makes the whole book seem more organic and less cold and robotic. I really think people should try this out. If you can still write your speech bubbles and captions LEGIBLY without ruled lines, it will save you SO much time.

3) My Mantra for this issue was, "No one is going to look at that, keep moving." I think I have a tendancy with my comics to obsess over the smallest details. And granted, in some work that is really important and endearing. I like having at least one project going where I am doing my most absolute precise work (for me, "Basewood") but for this comic, it was just supposed to be a fun, quick read. So I consciously tried to speed up my drawing. Thoughts like, "Well, that's not exactly what that room looked like, I had another bookshelf over here" were shut down. Instead I thought, "The reader is going to look at this panel for a fraction of a second, so don't get overly involved in it. Give just enough information to get across the setting and the characters and the action." I got it to a point where I could pencil a page in 2 hours (1.5 of that was on the train) and then ink it in 3 hours. This down from 10-70 hours pec page for Basewood (!?!)

4) I also tried to take out as much cross hatching as I could. This is especially hard for me, because I love cross hatching. But it takes a lot of time and energy, and frankly, doesn't make the images that much stronger. Instead I tried to use more areas of pure black (STRONGER! FASTER!)

5) Rapidographs! I used three Rapidographs for my A) Panel borders B) Word ballons and C) Lettering and that also really seemed to help speed things up. It's a lot faster that dip nibs which you have to dip and clean constantly. Faster! Faster!

Anyways, I was really happy with how the issue turned out AND that I was able to turn it out quickly. In Comics, (as with any other story-telling format) THE STORY is the most important thing. And I don't think my story suffered any from this quicker art approach. If anything, it probably benefitted from it! (Not... so... stiff...) You can see my progress chart and a brief blog entry about the issue over on my site, as well as samples from the issue.

Now get out there and DRAW!!!!