The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics
I was previously unfamiliar with author Freddie E Williams II, probably because he only began working for DC in 2006, and I cut back on my superhero reading around then. His best-known credits are Robin, The Flash, and Final Crisis Aftermath: Run. He works entirely digitally, providing him the expertise for this book.
The book aims to teach an artist how to create a comic page completely on computer. Such a process is promised to provide quality work faster, since touch-ups, corrections, and delivery (among other factors) take less time. Williams explains a full digital workflow, from start to finish, after introductory chapters on how he got started and pros and cons of the method. Pros: it’s easier to experiment, flexibility in tweaking, no physical scanning, cleaner pages, and reusing backgrounds. Cons: cost of equipment (although he also talks about saving by not having to buy pencils, pens, and other tools), the risk of data loss, and lack of original art to sell. To counteract the last, Williams has taken to hand-inking some pages (he selects the most dynamic and desirable) as a final step. He provides what he calls “hybrid workflows” like this to encourage artists who want to incorporate computers into their process without going all the way.
Williams has worked digitally for most of his professional career, so I’d be interested in hearing some artists who have done more work “by hand” comment on this section. I’m surprised there aren’t more cons — for instance, his pro titled “You can resize and tweak forever” seems like it would also be a downside in the wrong hands. And we can all think of times when artists have gotten carried away with their digital tools to create silly-looking pages, as with the overuse of lens flare. I suppose you can’t really blame the tools for that, though, since there are also artists who get carried away with traditional methods, like cross-hatching.
The book assumes use of Photoshop with a Wacom tablet, and the tools and techniques are expressed in terms of menus and palettes for that particular application. The meat of the material is contained in these core chapters:
- Digital and Hybrid Workflows — The all-digital flow features roughs, wireframes, and inks done on computer, while the others use printouts and hand techniques at various parts of the process. Includes a step-by-step exercise.
- The Master Page — Creating a template that matches your publisher’s requirements. Williams also saves script pages, sketch ideas, and reference images in his Photoshop files as separate layers.
- Time-Saving Libraries — Organizing reference material, stencils of superhero logos (which can be automatically put into the proper perspective), buildings and backgrounds, brushes and textures, and recording actions (macros).
- Digital Roughs — Page layouts and initial setups.
- Wireframes — Building the page structure by layering characters (using a “cardboard cutout” technique) and backgrounds to refine compositions.
- Pencil Hybrid Workflow — In case of working with a separate inker, or if the art is going “direct to color” without traditional inking, the artist creates printed breakdowns that are penciled over.
- Inks — How to “digitally replicate the look of some traditional inking techniques”, whether inking over wireframes, finished pencils, or hand inking.
I can’t really judge the specifics of the book’s techniques, since my Photoshop knowledge stops after crop and resize. But the approaches presented here struck me as professional and reasonable. They’ll certainly spur good habits in an artist who wants help organizing their work and process in a repeatable system. An accomplished illustrator will likely make their own modifications to the workflows and instructions presented here, but it seems a fine starting point. Typical of the books in this series, an assembly-line workflow is assumed, with Williams receiving a script from someone else, passing off his pages to different colorists and letterers, and working under the supervision of an editor, who provides direction, approves work, and makes some artistic decisions, like cover designs. (The publisher provided a review copy.)