This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on August 13, 2015.
I spoke with Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt, the artists of Princeless volume 3 and Raven: The Pirate Princess, last week for Comics Bulletin. They’re interview (which you can find here) revealed a lot of interesting things both about the series and their approach to comics. The single most fascinating element though is the unique process Higgins and Brandt utilize when creating a comics page. Each page is divided into five steps: layouts, pencils, inks, colours, and lettering. Between each step of the process, the page alternates between their hands, providing opportunities to feedback and improvement as new elements are added.
Higgins and Brandt keep meticulous records of their work, and offered to share all five steps of a single page from Raven: The Pirate Princess #1. Below you can see the evolution of a chase scene from the roughest outline of an idea to its final presentation, along with notes from both artists. It’s a valuable look into both their process and the various stages of development behind a completed page of comics.
Ted: Both of us work purely digitally these days, mostly for the expediency of transferring pages between us as we work on them! We’re both using first-gen Wacom Cintiq Companions, which are all-in-one drawing tablet-computers.
TED: This is where it starts, with me slicing up the page and trying to find the best way of telling the story as clearly as possible. Most of the time I get it, but every now and then Rosy needs to step in and show me where I went wrong.
ROSY: One of the reasons we picked this page for dissection was it’s one where I had a definite impact at this stage! As you can see, panels 2 and 6 were changed: panel 2 was changed to help give a cleaner flow of action across the page, while panel 6 was changed for two reasons. The new composition within the panel gave a greater difference to the previous panel, and provided a good framing device for the boys on the floor.
ROSY: For the first volume of Raven: The Pirate Princess, because it was set in just one town, and we were pressed for time, we used a customised SketchUp model to help create the setting. Firstly I would find an angle that would match the layouts, and take screenshots; then I would work out any other references that I would need, including the occasional photo for poses, to make sure the acting was as clear as possible.
By acting I mean trying to make the characters feel real, in terms of gestures, body language and expression. A good example on this page would be Sunshine, in the third panel, putting her weight behind shutting the window, or the boys in panel 6, frozen mid-play. Those can be difficult moments to sell, as you have to make the reader invest in them.
TED: This is where the bulk of my work lies. Once Rosy has finished the pencils for a page, it’s my job to actually get it inked. There’s rarely any substantial changes to what Rosy’s laid down, though I try to make sure that as well as clarifying linework I also provide small tweaks on body language, clothing etc, to really help sell her intent.
It can be as simple as, in the first panel, just shifting Sunshine’s pupils a fraction, so that she is looking over the reader’s shoulder, rather than completely away from us. It’s a small detail, and I doubt anyone would notice it consciously, but it serves to pull people in, and feel like they’re within the chase, rather than just observing.
ROSY: I generally prefer to flat* the whole issue before I start really getting to the business of colouring; the flats aren’t necessarily reflective of the final colours, but they allow me to get a feel for the issue as a whole. Then I turn off the flats, and start figuring out the lighting and shadows; it’s easier to visualise without the colours behind, for some reason! Once those two elements are done, I just play around with layer settings to see how the colours interact; as we’re working in Manga Studio, I’ll also often use specific adjustment layers to harmonise what’s on the page.
TED: My only contribution to the colouring is at the end of the inking stage – I tend to block out backgrounds and figures in two different layers, just so Rosy has everything all set up for her when she starts flatting.
*Flatting is essentially like treating a drawing like a colouring book – the purpose here is to just block out all of the areas to be occupied by each colour; the colours themselves don’t matter at this stage, as it’s just about defining shapes.
TED: We don’t always work out the exact placement of the dialogue balloons before I get to this stage – it depends on how verbose the page is! So lettering starts with just testing different placements, trying to find the one that aids flow rather than obstructs it. Again, lettering is all done in Manga Studio; its text tool isn’t quite as sophisticated as Photoshop, but it makes up for it with the actual balloon tool. Once that’s sorted, all that’s left is to prep the page for print (shrink to print size, convert to CMYK, etc) and send it off!
Raven: The Pirate Princess #1 is available on Comixology now!