Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cartoon Questions Answered

Several commentators on this blog have asked me to go into more detail about how I create my comics, color them, convert from panel to strip, make them squeak when you step on them, etc.

So here goes:

This is the cartoon I published last Xmas, and a gag I like pretty well. The original ink drawing looked like the black and white image here, is about 6"x7", india ink on bristol board. (Have these riveting details put you to sleep yet?)

This is the cartoon after it is colored, which I do in Photoshop, CMYK mode. I won't explain exactly how I do it because I spent a lot of years experimenting with various techniques to arrive here and I don't want just anyone to be able to perfectly knock it off (assuming there is anyone out there who might want to). But I will say that I color in transparent layers, a technique I learned from oil painting.

You can see that the color scheme in this one is a bit unorthodox, using a slightly different monochromatic
palette for each character. I don't do it often, but in a composition like this one with lots going on, it can be a nice way to simplify the image a bit, instead of it looking like a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand different colors.

Here is the strip version, concocted on the computer in Photoshop by cutting, pasting and moving things around. I have a cool computer screen which you can draw directly on with a stylus, called a Cintiq, made by a company called Wacom. In this way, I can draw extra stuff into the blank spots created by the new format.In this case, I had to add a whole new character to deliver the punch line, the original speaker having been decapitated. I also reversed the image, which I do frequently. There is a principle in comedy that you want the punch line to be as close to the end as possible. In a cartoon, sometimes the image is the punch line for relatively straightforward dialogue, sometimes the dialogue is the punch line for a relatively normal picture, as in this case. In the panel version, I don't have a lot of choice of whether the reader sees the pic or the caption first, but in the strip version I have more control. So the punchline always goes to the right, whether it's the pic or the words.

I hope this was less dull to read than it was to type. Enjoy the rest of your day and feel free to ask specific questions about the process in the comments.


Penny Mitchell said...

Dan, about how long, on average, does a cartoon take from the time you sit down to the time it's finished?

And do you take notes when you see something that sparks an idea? Like, literally write stuff down? I imagine you being a paper person as opposed to an iPhone/Pod/Mac person. I'm a paper person. My husband's an iPhone person. Ebony and ivory and all that good crap.

Erik Marcus said...

So what do you do, drawing in India ink, when your hand slips? My response would be to rip up the drawing, start screaming, tear at my hair, and beat the carpeting with my fists. Just askin'.

isee3dtoo said...

That was interesting and somehow I knew that photoshop had made it way into comics somehow. I always assumed you had a big canvas and you just picked a piece of the canvas depending on the format of the strip to use. Having two formats makes for more work but I love the fact you change the cartoon around to fit the format. Makes you a perfectionist or as I tell my students "you must have pride of ownership when you design", and your work shows that.

I had noticed before that the number of hidden items and their locations could change between formats. In your example you have 5 in one and 7 in the other and so that also puts extra work into comic.

You have previously mentioned, with the classic examples being the "Medusa" and "Payback" strips, about cartoons that weren't accepted by the syndicate. So "Cartoon Questions Answered Part Two", if I could be so brave to ask: How about a cartoon that wasn't approved the first try, or even the second try, but finally made it to the nation papers?

ldisme said...

i'd ask if you enjoy your work, but it's art.
i think the process is simpler,
um, make that much more complicated.
it's pure genius.

Unknown said...

Dang, I had hoped the link from "oil painting" was going to be Bob Ross.

Penny Mitchell said...

Bob Ross = aural Valium.

He completely rocked, even if his art wasn't all that sophisticated. He truly seemed like he had a great heart. said...

"Remember, the music is not inside the piano."

- Clement Mok

Lorie said...

RIP: Opus

isee3dtoo said...

Opus will somehow someday rise again. Just look at Bill the Cat and his reincarnation. I know Breathed is saying not so but...

I still love it when Bill the Cat and Opus ran for President. Their motto was "Vote for the Worst"

Unknown said...

Thanks for the insight!

isee3dtoo said...

lorie: If you read the last 10 Opus' it is rather sad and can bring a grown man to tears. Opus is part of all of us.

You can get them here:

The article: The end of Opus
Is a really interesting read, especially the part about censorship on the bottom of page 1 and his comment about Calvin and Hobbs on the middle of page 2.

Cooperphile said...

Why not use the Cintiq for the whole kit and kaboodle?

derekamalo said...

Hey guys,

Go to 4:55 on this link fido ismentioned as the culprit :)

Lorie said...

Funny you mention that article, isee3dtoo. Seriously, I used this quote in an essay I wrote about the demise of the newspapers. "Fear doesn't so much rule the wood pulp news industry. More like pee-on-themselves existential terror." - Berkeley Breathed

Spot on - Opus is everyman. I've been following BB's strips since day one.

I hope Dan Piraro continues to use his strip for social commentary and not buckle to PC editorial pressure. It must be tough.

Anonymous said...

coloring your work in CMYK mode with some transparency is pretty much Photoshop 101.

Nik Daum said...

I liked this post Dan. It's great to get some insight into your work process. It's hard to imagine how tough it must be to not only come up with ideas every day, but also put them to paper.