For those of you who are interested in how a RETAIL strip is created, here’s a step-by-step look at my creative process.
Writing is really a subject all it’s own, but to describe it in strictly technical terms I write the strips out on my laptop – usually a week at a time. I don’t do any “rough sketches” during the writing process. I think about the visual logistics of each gag as I write them and have a general idea of what I want to do in each panel, but I don’t sketch anything out until I hit the drawing table.
My tools are pretty simp
le. I draw on Strathmore 300 Series Smooth Bristol. I ink most of each strip with a Kuretake Brush Pen. I use a .60 Rapidograph for the panel borders and the occasional minor details.
Of course my most important tool is my iMac. I use the computer to add the lettering, halftone fill, coloring and to deliver the strip electronically to King Features.
Here’s a picture of my basement studio.
The first thing I do with each strip is to lay out the lettering. Since the dialogue has to be a certain size to be legible, I have to lay it down first to be sure I don’t draw important details over an area that ends up needing to be filled with words.
First I type the lettering into a preset template I have on the computer in Photoshop using a font I created from my own handwriting. When I’m done, I print it out and cut around each individual bit of dialogue.
Next, I set the printed words onto the drawing paper and lightly sketch out the panel divisions and balloons. Sometimes I have to go back to the computer and reformat the lettering if it doesn’t fit.
When I’m done, I end up with a bunch of blank panels and balloons that look like this.
Once the balloons are done and the panel borders are set, I lightly sketch the characters into the space available. I’m not picky with the pencils I use. Generally I’ll use a 2B or 3B of the cheapest brand at the art supply store. In a pinch a regular yellow #2 will work just fine.
When I’m done drawing, I end up with sheets that look like this. As you can see, I do two dailies on a single sheet of paper.
Once the strips are sketched out, I ink right over the pencil lines using a brush pen.
I ink in the panel borders using a .60 Rapidograph pen and ruler.
Now it’s on to the computer. First I scan the strips in.
Once a strip is in Photoshop, I adjust the contrast and fix any mistakes I might have made. I don’t miss White Out.
Next I type the dialogue into the balloons.
Then, I add the copyright tag and URL for Cooper’s Blog.
At this point I need to save two separate files – one for the black and white version that appears in print, and another for the color version that appears on the web.
For the black and white version of the strip that appears in newspapers, I add a halftone fill (little black dots) to simulate shades of gray. Before everyone had a computer, halftone was applied directly onto the artwork using clear adhesive sheets. You cut out the shape you wanted with an X-acto knife, then stuck it where you needed it to go. Luckily, the effect can now be easily duplicated in Photoshop. I’ve heard of a couple of different methods that cartoonists use to do this on the computer. This is how I do it.
I created three 6”x6” halftone templates (10%, 30% and 40%) in Photoshop by scanning in actual leftover halftone sheets I found collecting dust in an art supply store in Providence. I keep the templates open, but shrunk down at the bottom of my tiny screen to save space. The picture above is what the 10% template looks like blown up.
To fill in an area in the strip, I first have to block off any open sections with a single pixel width line that will be invisible when the strip is reduced to its final size. For those of you familiar with Photoshop or any image editing software, this will be intuitive to you. If you don’t use this kind of software, basically you can use the tools in the program to select a specific area of your artwork, but only if it’s completely enclosed with a black line. If there are any “holes”, the tool will select more than you want.
Once an area is blocked off, I use the “cloning” tool to copy dots from one of the open halftone templates into the selected area.
When I’m done, I shrink it down to print size and I have a finished black and white strip ready for print.
Coloring a daily for the web is fairly simple. First I block off the areas I need to fill using the same method I do for adding halftone. Then I use the “paint bucket” tool to fill in the areas with color.
When I’m finished coloring, I shrink it down and I’m done.
The routine for a Sunday strip is pretty much the same. The coloring process is a bit more involved because I have to create a separate color file on a different layer to facilitate the color printing process for newspapers, but essentially it’s done in the same way.
And that’s a RETAIL strip from start to finish!