In the morning, I drove downtown to meet my girlfriend on her lunch break and to check my P.O. box. One piece of mail was from a college student asking permission to make a short film based on one of my stories. I’m usually leery of any adaptation proposal … if there’s any chance of anyone involved making any money, it usually ends up being more hassle than it’s worth. Last week some guy contacted me about “integrating” some of my “story ideas” into a full-length film he was working on, which filled me with dread. The college guy’s proposal sounded OK, though … it could be interesting.
I decided today that in order to make some good progress on my comic, I would turn off the ringer on my phone and just work uninterrupted for the afternoon. After two hours, I had completed the final penciling of the figures on the page. The penciling is the slowest stage for me, because it’s where the real drawing takes place. I spend lot of time struggling to make poses look natural and expressive, and I become obsessive about drawing the folds in character’s clothes properly. I have a long mirror set up near my drawing table that I use to help me draw drapery and facial expressions. It’s possible that this attention to detail is the kind of thing that only other cartoonists will notice, but I hope that it makes an impression, even if subliminal, on the casual reader.
After completing the figures, I began penciling the backgrounds. This is the real drudgery for me, drawing every background in detailed perspective, but I don’t want to “cheat.” For every panel, I have to figure out the horizon lines and vanishing points, and then draw the lines with a ruler and a T-square. Some cartoonists can get away with very minimal backgrounds and it looks beautiful, but I think a lot of others skimp on perspective out of laziness. I envision my stories like little movies in my mind, so to me, the setting is very important.
The story I’m working on right now takes place in my neighborhood here in Berkeley, so as I started roughing in the backgrounds on this page, I decided to walk down the street to get some reference. I had a very specific setting in mind when I wrote the sequence, so I took my sketchbook to that intersection and made some quick drawings of storefronts and an outdoor cafe. As I worked, I noticed a girl across the street, also holding a sketchbook and alternately looking up and drawing. When I was finished, I crossed the street and glanced over her shoulder, and saw that she was sketching the same intersection from the opposite angle.
In the evening I ran into a person who is the partial inspiration for a character in my current comic. I felt paranoid that I might accidentally call him by the fictional character’s name, rather than his real name. Fortunately, he has no idea what I do for a living, and I doubt he’d ever see the comic anyway. Since all of my stories are based somewhat on my real life, this is always a touchy subject, but I don’t know how else to write.
After an excellent dinner at Everett and Jones’ BBQ, I got back to work on the comic. Using my rough sketches from earlier in the day, I started filling in the backgrounds in the panels. My girlfriend sat in the living room, also drawing, and I played the new Yo La Tengo album over and over.