Friday, April 27, 2018

Creating Peter & Ernesto!

I thought I'd take a moment and reflect. I'm not the best at reviewing and analyzing my process but I get asked enough about how did I make a graphic novel that I figured it may be wise to just write it all down here. As best as I remember it!

How did Peter & Ernesto come to be an early reader's graphic novel published by the wonderful people at First Second?

Well, it started with Goldilocks and the Three Bears I believe. I did a silent take on that classic story for the anthology title "Fairy Tale Comics" edited by Chris Duffy. It was published by First Second and so I lot of folks there quickly became familiar with my work and style. I suppose it also helped that I had been doing indie comics for the last decade or so before that too under the title of Grickle.

When I first set out to tell a story for younger readers I initially thought I would do a completely visual, wordless book. But I soon found that concept a bit daunting and in struggling with different ideas my thoughts became focused on Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. The Frog and Toad stories are absolute classics in the kid lit world and rightly so. Their brilliant simplicity and complete sincerity are a wonder to behold. I wanted to see if I could create something in a comic format that would come even close to how good those books made me feel when I read them to my kids.

That is how Peter & Ernesto began. Two friends, much like Frog and Toad, working through problems together. I wanted a story that showed the differences in their approaches but emphasized an equal value in those different outlooks.

When I start to create a comic I usually build it up with little sketches and a lot of notes written around them. Stuff that pretty much only I could decipher.

Once I've got a general idea of a beginning, middle and end I doodle out really loose, tiny page layouts and try and push the story forward from start to finish. Usually a couple hours a night where I'll hammer out 3-4 page layouts and that's it. It's like eating a meal very slowly. Just small bites, then put down the fork and think about how that bit tasted. Wait a little bit and then begin a new bite until after a month or two and you've finished the meal.

These doodle layouts are done on paper with either pencil or pen (whatever is nearest to me). Once that stage feels complete I'll use my paper layouts as a guide and recreate them in Photoshop, drawing on a Cintiq monitor. At this point many little changes will occur as I've had further time to refine thoughts and get a grip on how the whole story is flowing. When I've got the entire book up on the computer and generally feel okay with it, I'll bundle it into a pdf file and send it off to trusted friends, my editor, and agent and get feedback.

People send me notes and I gather them all up and mull over which things make the most sense to me. I tweak the stuff that my editor and I agree needs to change and then it's time to ink the book! Oh! And do the lettering! Actually, the lettering comes first.

It used to be that lettering was the most tedious part of making a comic for me. I understood it's obvious necessity but I really had no interest in wasting valuable artistic energy on writing words in my story. I wanted to focus on expressions and characters, not spend time dotting i's and crossing t's. I'm happy to say that these days lettering is but a blip in the overall process now thanks to John Martz! A fellow cartoonist who masterfully created my own personal font file of my lettering for me to use. Now lettering just involves typing in the words and drawing balloons up! It goes so quick and with the clever way that John designed the font file it looks every bit as natural and varied as it would've if I had painstakingly lettered it all out by hand. Total game changer for me.

So, yeah, lettering is done in a matter of days now and then it's onto inking.

Calling it inking is a bit misleading in this case. There is no ink involved actually. I do the final line work on the Cintiq monitor once again so maybe I'd be better to call it the "final line work" stage. This is definitely the longest and slowest part of the process for me! It's akin to walking a long path that I've already hiked before but now I've got to travel it again and go at a careful, meticulous pace. One foot in front of the other. Page by page, carving out the rough doodles and turning them into clear, concise images but not losing the 'life' of the original sketch underneath. This is the part where I definitely procrastinate the most.

When the line work is done I usually send out another PDF to the editor and make certain that everything is feeling good before hopping into color. The color stage has the potential to be as tedious as the line work stage but it isn't for me. It's the final step and it's like putting the icing on the cake! You have to go slow and be methodical but now you are seeing the completed image with each page you do. It stays exciting all the way through for me!

And then that's it! All done!

Well, sort of. Actually, not really.

The final art files are sent off. And then there is a bit of time waiting. Then notes from editors and design staff start showing up in your inbox. Also the planning for the cover image, extra interior pages, and book flaps happens. Lots of discussion occurs at this point as we all try and determine what the most effective cover image would be and there's a bit of fussing over all the peripheral imagery.

Then things get quiet again.

And you wait.

Then you receive a digital proof of the layout of the interior pages and everyone gives one last comb over to make certain we haven't missed any visual mistakes or grammatical errors. Once that stage is signed off you wait a little longer until one day a package arrives on your doorstep. The physical proofs of the book! Printed on the actual paper the book will be printed on! Woo! It's the absolute last point there can be any tweaks or changes made and it's super exciting to see the story in a nearly book like format!

Then things get quiet yet again.

Really quiet. And you wait. Again.

Then another magical day happens where you get a few comp copies of the book! It's hard to breathe at this stage because you've waited so long for this to happen that most of your major organs stop functioning as you page through the book. It's terrifyingly exhilarating. In the most awful best way.

Then you wait for awhile again. And suddenly it's your book release day! You visit schools and talk to kids about your process and story! You do interviews and tweet, facebook, and instagram your face off about the new book! People email you about it! Dioramas are built! Kids do drawings of your characters! You obsessively look at Goodreads to see how it's doing out there! It's all glorious and overwhelming.

You return home exhausted and sit down with your book. And as you leaf through it you realize that it's probably time to start making a new one again.

And that's how I create graphic novels! Whew! Thanks for reading everybody!