The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics

After a five-year gap, the DC Comics line of guides to creating comics has been brought up to date with the newest entry, Digitally Drawing Comics.

The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics cover
The DC Comics Guide to
Digitally Drawing Comics
Buy this book

I was previously unfamiliar with 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 book will be released on September 1. A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.

11 Responses to “The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics”

  1. Dwight Williams Says:

    So long as they keep the Pencilling and Inking volumes in print alongside this one, I can’t see any problems. Everyone who’s got interest and talent working hand-in-hand is going to have different strengths with different tool sets yet still be able to Get the Job Done On Time with the tools they prefer.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I’m guessing they will — Williams recommends both of those earlier volumes in this book, actually.

  3. Craig A. Taillefer Says:

    I haven’t seen the book, so I can’t comment on it directly, but I’m a ‘by hand’ artist of a few years experience, and I’ve been working digitally for about a year and a half now. I started back when I was inking the MIGHTY MOTOR SAPIENS for Insight Studios (which I did digitally more to force myself to learn the tools, just in case), and I kept going when I took over the pencils. I did my contribution to COMIC BOOK TATTOO digitally (again more as a learning experiment on a one-off project), and I’ve been doing my storyboards digitally for about a year now. There are some definite advantages especially when it comes to revisions. The most common revision in animation (for me) is fielding changes or frameing, which is a simple re-size or shift digitally, where by hand would involve either a trip to Kinko’s or re-drawing the whole scene.

    If you have the forethought to draw and ink characters and BG’s on different levels, it can make edits a lot easier.

    As far as the ‘re-sizing and tweaking forever’ goes, which is, I think, what you wanted comments on, a few months ago I started doing my thumbnail layouts for the remainder of Wahoo Morris digitally for that reason. I tend to do a lot of re-sizing and tweaking and shifting by hand when doing the pencils anyway, so I figured it would speed up, or at least simplify my layout process. And it did. One sequence that was written as 4 pages, but felt cramped once it was thumbnailed out, through cutting and pasting and resizing got expanded to 10 pages with only minimal drawing.

    My initial intention was to just do layouts digitally and to print them out and trace them for the pencil stage. Next thing I knew, though, was that my thumbnails were coming out more detailed and I was doing final pencils digitally.

    I’m using Manga Studio, so there are a lot of tools specific to it (and not in Photoshop) that make my life a lot easier – like the perspective rulers. I’m no longer tapeing multiple sheets of paper together and trying to keep a 3 foot long ruler in place trying to find that distant vanishing point. And the ability to draw a character on one level (or multiple levels) and the BG on others means I’m no longer erasing an element that’s drawn properly while trying to work out an element that isn’t. Like for example, say I drew a character with their hands in front of their face, and I just couldn’t get the hands right the first time, I can do my scribbling and erasing on another layer without damaging the drawing of the face. I also recently drew two people kissing, and it was looking a little off, so I drew the head in behind (that was mostly obscured) in full on one layer, then drew the head in front on another layer, then erased what shouldn’t be visible of the first head, and I had a nice convincing shot of two people kissing.

    I’ve tightened up the layouts into final pencils on thirty some pages with another thirty some to go, so it’ll be another few months before I have to figure out how to ink them. I posted some examples, including a stage by stage walk through of one page up on my blog if you want to take a look.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Thanks very much for sharing your experienced pros and cons. I’m glad to get a working perspective. I was asking for more information because it seemed to me that the pros were so much more than the cons, as the writer presented it. I found myself wondering why everyone doesn’t switch to digital creation. That blog URL is for anyone else interested.

  5. steve B. Says:

    I started doing hybrid work a few years back, drawing various panel elements separately and then putting them all together on a digital page, and I don’t think I could ever go back to traditional drawing again. I love the freedom that comes with being able to tweak and arrange every element in a panel. Granted, I don’t have any original art to sell in the end (just a bunch of small drawings on copy paper), but I’m willing to make that sacrifice. I love my electric art box!

  6. Craig A. Taillefer Says:

    “I found myself wondering why everyone doesn’t switch to digital creation.”

    I think it’s a matter of personal taste, really. It doesn’t matter what the “pros” are, I know artists that would rather shoot themselves than draw digitally. Some people hate staring at a computer screen for hours on end, and some just can’t get past the loss of the tactile feel of pencil on paper.

    I, on the other hand, have sometimes struggled with “fear of wrecking good paper” and with my traditional pencils there were always bits left unfinished for the inking stage. Where I sometimes struggle to sit down at the drawing table, I have a bit of a puzzle-solving OCD way of working on the computer, and drawing on the computer taps into that and avoids the fear of “wrecking” anything by putting pencil to paper. It loosens me up a lot and gets rid of any of that fear of blank paper that I often struggled with.

    Also, when I have to switch back to the “day job” (animation storyboards) schedule, normally any momentum on my comics would be shot if I was working on paper (and another desk). But, I find it very easy now to just open up my comic file and draw a figure or two up to a panel or two every morning as a warm-up before switching over to the storyboards. It’s keeping my momentum on comics going while working the day job – albeit at a snail’s pace, but better than stopping altogether for 8 months at a time!

  7. Daryl S. Says:

    Quick trick in regards to the tactile feel of pencil on paper…put a piece of paper down over your tablet with say a pre-drawn design to trace over and you pretty much get the feel of traditional drawing while working digitally. I can’t wait for this book to come out. I’m always looking for new tricks to help in illustrating.

  8. man of steel Says:

    I saw this one in the LCBS today, it looked pretty awesome, i loved the part near the end when he goes through how they place the S logo on superman. simple tricks that make all the differance

  9. ROB Says:

    I’ve been experimenting this year with a hybrid or digital workflow, still trying to find my way, though and a book like this looks like it’ll give me some great tips. Here’s my 2 cents…

    I found that a cross Painter-Photoshop workflow works well, where most of my hand inking is done in Painter, especially with the scratch tool.

    Concerning the lack of money selling originals, I agree that it is a problem though high quality, possibly limited edition prints could be an alternative.

    However, end of the day I still prefer pencilling the roughs by hand. Inking digitally or by hand both have their pros and cons and I’m still 50-50. However, a brush and ink can be so nice, though its easier to separate layers for dig inks.

  10. Richard Says:

    Going Digital? If you can afford it, get a Cintiq. I got a 12wx and drawing on LCD display is the next best thing to paper. Sure is a LOT faster than scanning paper into photoshop.

    Best Comic-style apps is Manga Studio and Corel Draw (Media Brushes!!!) gives you great looking inking. Been using Project Dogwaffle 4pro for coloring.

  11. Dennis Sweatt Says:

    Can’t recommend this book highly enough.




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