This Week on Comic Tools: Things you should read

I think I have the only blog dedicated solely to the kind of information I post about, but I'm certainly not the only one posting about their tools and technique. And thank goodness for that, because the gaps in my knowledge are so big a drunk oil tanker pilot could careen through them without being in danger of hitting the edges. I love following artist's blogs not only to see their art and keep up on what's going on with them, but also because every so often they'll post a tip or tutorial, and very often they'll fill in those holes just a little bit more.

One of the hugest, most glaring gaps in my knowledge is ink wash drawing. I know how to work in Guache and watercolor, but ink wash is something I know nothing about. So when Comic Tools reader Andrew emailed me requesting an entry about ink wash drawing, I lit up the Comic Tools signal in a plea for help from the readers. And boy, did it pay off! Reader's Raluca and Sarah left great information from their experience in the comments for that entry, and then Mark linked me to the greatest tutorial I could possibly imagine, a 14 page exerpt from a larger text titled "Famous Artists on Wash Painting. " It's exactly the kind of hyper-detailed, excessively specific, sort-of-bossy old-fashioned art tutorial writing that I bade my writing for Comic Tools off of. Comic Tools is, in fact, a pale, crappy imitation of exactly this sort of thing. Mark, if you're reading this, I want to kiss you, and probably so does Andrew.
Andrew, I give you Part one and Part two of the ink washing lesson. Click on all the pages to make them larger. And Mark, bless you, sir, you are a scholar and a gentleman. I notice that the site the tutorials are posted on asks for donations- if anyone has the money, you really ought to toss them something for making these resources available. I'm going to root around their site when I have more time, and I'll very likely find more there that I'll want to link to here.

A problem that plagued me for years, and which still gives me some trouble, is knowing how to shade ink drawings. Where to put blacks, and why? The amazing , made this 3 page handout for his inking students explaining just that. I had been planning to cover some of this on Comic Tools, but there's no way I could have done this good a job. Here's a link to Cho's original post. Go and thank him for making this available to everybody.
As long as I'm talking about Cho, I want you all to look at this sketch he did:

Makes you want to cry, right? Look How well-planned the blacks and whites are. Note how he hardly uses lines at all to describe forms, just light and texture. Look how unfussy yet neat his mark making on the brick is, how he changes it to fit the lighting. Look at the drybrushing he uses on the wooden fence and the overhang on the roof and in the clouds in the sky, how it gives the drawing softness and texture. This one sketch is like 30 Comic Tools entries rolled into one sublime expression of skill and control. And he calls it a "sketch." God damn you to hell Cho, you extraordinary son of a bitch.

Here's something that every single cartoonist should have handy. Hell, they should have it memorized. It's a guide to photocopying, silkscreening, and offset printing by Ron Rege Jr., Dave Choe, Brian Ralph and Jordan Crane. You can download the PDF by going here: Whether you make minicomics or professionally printed books, no professional should be running around without knowing everything in this guide. Absolutely mandatory reading.

Another piece of mandatory reading is the infamous critique Alex Toth gave to Steve Rude. Rude sent the penciled pages of a Johnny Quest story to Toth, asking him what he thought. Toth let him know. Some see Toth's intense, brick-by-brick critique as being angry or hostile. Quite the contrary, Toth thought Rude a good artist, and respected Rude enough to take quite a lot of time to look at Rude's work very, very carefully. He saw Rude being lazy and taking shortcuts, and as Toth said right at the beginning, Rude was too good to be that bad. Toth's voice should be the internal monologue in our heads, pushing us out of laziness and into greatness, calling us on our bullshit, loving us. The last page of Toth's critique is the purest expression I've ever seen of exasperation at wasted potential. Toth wants to see the work he knows Rude CAN make, but doesn't. He is saying to Rude, GET UP. BE WHAT I KNOW YOU CAN BE. BE GREAT.

If you've ever wondered when you should bold text, or when to use a double dash versus an elipsis, or when to spell versus write out numbers in comics, then you should read this nifty guide to Comics Grammar and Tradition by Blambot's Nate Piekos. It answers all these questions and more, and contains tips from people such as master letterers Todd Klein and Clem Robins, and Dark Horse editor Scott Allie.
Josiah Leighton wrote a post recently the got linked to pretty heavily, wherein he went panel-by-panel and described exactly why Jeff Smith is an amazing fucking cartoonist. It's kind of like the Toth Crititque or Steve Rude except good. But what I wanted you all to see was his summarizing paragraph, which may be the most concise, correct guide for how to frame a shot I've ever heard:

The lesson here, as I believe Smith so eloquently demonstrates, is follow your gut when it comes to framing shots. Imagine you are in the situations you have cooked up for your characters, and think about what you’d be looking at. If you’ve just reached the top of that mountain, you’re not going to be checking your shoes for dirt. Take in that scene. Would you even notice the wallpaper when you’re dining with a woman that beautiful? Show your reader what you would see, and only what you would see, through your eyes. And don’t think twice about moving that camera.

If you're not reading Josiah's blog, you should be. It's a comics course for free. I've paid for classes at SVA that taught me way less than any one of these articles on action in comics.
Go and pillage his blog for everything it has to teach you.

For years I used photoshop without knowing about any of the key commands. My room mate Erika Moen eventually clued me in to them. Don't be embarrassingly ignorant like me. Here's a nifty little guide to photoshop key commands. They will make your life easier.

Craig Thompson linked to my interview with him, and when he did he posted a photo of this great thing he has on his brush to help with his hand pain.
Craig is often posting process sketches and before-after pages to show his process, and anyone who likes Comic Tools should peruse his old posts and add his blog to their reader.

That's all for this week! Come back next week when I talk about How to get the Perfect White Out Consistency.
Is there an inkwasher in the house?

I just got this question as part of a very nice email:

A request for you -- have you considered doing an entry on ink washes? I've started experimenting with them lately, and it's not as intuitive as I would have thought. Is it better to lay a darker wash over a lighter wash or vice versa? How does watered down ink work versus watercolor? How does one get the pseudo-ink wash effect of someone like Toby Cypress? Etc, etc.

I know absolutely nothing about inkwashing. At all. I think I MAY have done it, ONCE, when I was ten. I'd ask an artist I know personally, but I don't know any who do inkwashes.

So I now call upon all the readers of comic tools: Can anybody help this man?

This Week on Comic Tools: Lettering Nibs There was a period of a few years where I was really obsessed with achieving lettering like you see in old Sears and Robuck catalogues. One of the principal tools used to achieve solid block lettering was the lettering nib.

A lettering nib is a fixed-width (no flex) nib made for laying a lot of ink down in a specific shape. The tip of a lettering nib is a large shape of varying size that can be round or squared off, and when you draw with it you press the whole surface of the tip to the paper. Lettering nibs all have an extra piece of metal that fits over the nib to hold a huge bead of ink to feed the surface area of that enormous tip. Here's 3 different designs of ink resevoir, seen from the side:
Lettering nibs are VERY easy to use, and much more forgiving to draw with than a normal nib. Because of the wide, inflexible tip, you can move slowly and deliberately and not get a wobbly line like you would slowing down with a flexible nib. In fact, there's only one trick to drawing with a lettering nib:

To get really crisp, invisible seams on the corners of your letters, latch the shape of the tip up to the line, and then draw. Perfect corners every time.
If you get really good at this the lines look so clean they almost don't look like they were made by human hands. Or you can use the nib less carefully for lines that look neat yet have personality.

Make sure you always clean your lettering nibs after every use, because they can clog and lose function if you allow buildup. Make sure to wipe UNDERNEATH that extra piece of metal. Really get in there and floss the ink out.

My friend Hilary recently have me some lettering nibs with this fantastic latch design that lets the nib pop wide open for easy cleaning. You'd think this design would be flimsy, but it's actually quite tight and robust.

Nibs depicted in this post:

Ross F. George patent Speedball U.S.A. made by Hunt Pen Co., Size A-3 (Small square)
Ross F. George patent Speedball U.S.A. made by Hunt Pen Co., Size A-1 (Large square)
Resterbrook and Co. Drawlet pen, size No. 3 (small round)
Speedball Flicker U.S.A., George Patents, Hunt Pen Co., Size FB2 (large round w/flippy latch)

Next week on Comic Tools: Things you should read
This week: Speckly Shit

By reader request this week: how to do that speckly shit you sometimes see in comics, usually being used as blood or as a background texture.

The most common tool for producing this effect is a toothbrush.
While you can just dip the whole toothbrush in your ink and go to town, I find that using a whole brush is messy, hard to control, and difficult to dip in the ink. So I cut mine down first.

I like to take my brush and cut off all the bristles except the blue ones. That's two rows worth, for those of you who don't use Oral-B brushes.
Then I cut half of the row off, leaving four columns of bristles. Then I trim off the top of the toothbrush to make dipping easier.

If you use a brush with wavy, uneven bristles, you might find that those make it way harder to smoothly thumb the brush later on. A generic, flat brush works best for this purpose. Now you just dip the bristles in ink, aim the brush in the direction you want the splatter drops to face (aiming straight down for round, even drops) and pull your thumb across the bristles as if you were running it along a deck of cards.

Here are a few suggested uses for splatter:

As this week's title suggests, I'm not actually that huge a fan of using speckly shit. It has it's place, but just like the gradient tool in Photoshop, it's overused and more often that not tastelessly used. I think it's often a substitute for drawing for people who can't be bothered to actually draw spattering or textures. Plus, I hate how dirty it gets my hand:
Next week: Lettering Nibs


CBC #3 cover
(Just in case you didn't know that already.)
UPDATE: Now on sale in the store!

Theo Ellsworth

I saw very happy to see The Village Voice pick Theo Ellsworth's Capacity as one of its top comics of the year---it makes Ellsworth story (a self taught artist who pushed himself to focus and make his art the central thing in his life) all the more enjoyable. I first came across Ellsworth self published issues of Capacity and was told that he somehow supported himself by making zines and selling them at art fairs. Whether this is true or not, it's interesting to think how it very well MIGHT be true for someone like Ellsworth. Ellsworth deserves the often batted around term "dedicated." He's also that rare artist whose work instantly appeals to an average passerby a a book store, and the most seasoned, critical aesthetic vet.

Here is Theo's publishers website:

and theo's website:

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

I try to spend as much time as possible drawing everyday. It's a constant battle. There's always a list of other things I should be doing, but drawing comics is what I want to be doing. I try to get up in the morning and get right to work. On good days, I'll work maybe 10-13 hours. I have periods of time each day where I have to make myself completely unavailable (no phones or computers) just so I can sink into my own world and live there for periods of time with no interruption. If I didn't live with my girlfriend, there'd be a lot of days where I just don't see anyone. Other days, I'm running all over town doing chores, trying to get my left brain to help me keep my life in check. Other days, I'll draw all day with friends, which helps me feel less isolated and strange. The goal is to make art whenever and wherever I can.

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

It's all just based on feeling. Some stories will feel like they flow right away, so I won't mess with them. Other ones, during the drawing process, I'll realize how awkward the story reads and start revising it as I go. I don't do preliminary sketches. I do it all right on the page, drawing lightly at first, them more boldly as I gain confidence in what I'm doing. Once a panel is inked, I very rarely go back and change anything, unless there is a spelling mistake.

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?

Stories come to me in flashes. I go on a lot of long walks and bike rides looking for these flashes. When something comes along that feels like it has potential, I'll replay it in my head and try to look at the scene from different angles, figure out it's rhythm and flow. Then I'll just sit down and draw it. With longer stories, I'll sometimes write down some dialogue or notes, but details always end up changing a bit once I'm drawing the actual page. I've never done thumbnails of the pages first. It works better for me just to get right to the actual page.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?

It's a little of both at the same time. When I'm starting on a story, I try to picture the way the story should flow, where I want the reader to have to turn a page to see the next scene, how a full spread of two pages will look. This is all done during the beginning, scribbly stage. Once I'm drawing more carefully, I focus in on each panel and try to make them individually satisfying.

5. what tools do you use (please list all)?

Mechanical pencils, Rapidograph pens with india ink, magic rub eraser.

6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?

I've been using bristol board for comics. Anything that takes the ink well and doesn't bleed is great. I use to just draw on whatever I had on hand, but I've spent hours working on pages only to find that the paper doesn't take the ink very well, but by then there's no going back. I'd just have to go ahead with it.

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?

I love reading comics. Reading good comics definitely gets me thinking and gets me excited to get to work. I feel the same way about reading a good novel, seeing an inspiring film, work of art, or architecture. Comics seem to be a place where all the stuff I love can merge into one creative focus. So yes, I read a lot of comics, but I try to take in other kinds of work just as much or more.

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?

I would love to make a living making comics. That's my goal. Right now I'm getting by on just my art, which feels like a good start. I sell my work (prints, zines, comics, original art) at an outdoor art market on the weekends, here in Portland, OR. I also teach drawing workshops a couple times a year. I contribute to a lot of gallery shows. I do some random illustration work sometimes. Making comics is the most challenging and satisfying aspect of my art for me. It's also the most time consuming, and takes the longest to make money, so it's always in danger of being put on the backburner while I try to make my rent.

9/ do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?

I do a lot of other art forms. Print making is fun. I've dabbled in music. I'm really interested in animation, especially stop motion animation, and miniature set building. But there's something about the freedom I have in comics, and how many of my interests and passions comics seem to be able to encompass, that I really do see it as the central art form for me.

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

I feel a huge kinship with Outsider Art. Adolf Wolfli is one of my favorite artists of all time. Artists like Ferdinand Cheval, Martin Ramirez, Augustin Lesage, Johann Fischer, and Henry Darger keep me going. I'm also in love with a lot of ancient and tribal art. I love Hopi Kachina dolls, the northwestern indian ceremonial costumes, Thai art, ancient Indian art, Mayan art. I could go on and on. I think the common link between all this is the concept of making art as a necessity. Art as a vital function of being alive. That, and the sense of care and intricacy in the works.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

It's very important. I've never felt like I really belonged to any big group, and usually get uncomfortable and disappointed when I try. But a lot of my close friends are artists, and I love getting together and drawing with other artists. I've been collaborating a lot more with friends lately, and it's really expanded my horizons. It's always reassuring to be around other people to think about the same kind of stuff from different angles than me.

12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?

My family has been pretty wonderful. They've been encouraging and supportive for a long time now. I'll probably never really know if what I do is really there thing or not, but they know it's what I need to do.

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

I guess that would bring me back to one of the things I love about ancient art. Style and idea seemed to serve the same function. Every color and line was part of the original intent and reason behind the work. The idea gives meaning to the style and the style gives life to the idea.

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

It's a huge pleasure. my brain just seems to start overflowing and consuming me if I don't draw. Drawing slows me down and gives my mind a place to focus. I love the state of mind I get into when I draw. The act of drawing seems to help me in every other aspect of my life. If I didn't have this outlet, I'd probably be a miserable, retched person.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

For the lack of a better term, an artist is what I am. When people ask, I usually say that I write and draw comics. A lot of the time when I meet new people, I find myself trying to remain a mystery for as long as I can and just learn more about them. It's not that I don't want to share, I just learn a lot more by listening to other people. I spend all day off in my own world, so I often find myself trying to steer conversations away from myself and get other people talking.

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

I love Jack Kirby. I've been picking up a lot of collections of his work lately. His character designs and the worlds he created were so endlessly inventive and weird. The stories themselves can be hard to get through, but his work gets me more excited than just about any other cartoonist. I'm still not super familiar with Steve Ditko, but I've been wanting to check out the work he did on Doctor Strange way back when. I think there's a lot to learn from the older pioneers of comics. And a lot to be unlearned.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

No, I want to draw comics more and more. When a page is feeling too challenging, I'll just sit and doodle for awhile, but I couldn't imagine a better job for myself, really. I just need to find a way to make it my full time job.

18. do you draw from life?

When I'm out in the world, I find myself taking note of things: a interesting windo on a building, someone's posture, a certain face. But for the most part, when I sit down to draw, it all just comes from my imagination. Every once in awhile I'll use a reference, but the drawing never looks much like the reference. Mostly, I'm really interested in drawing things from memory. If you try to draw a tiger, relying only on the image you can conjure in your head, you'll end up with something a bit distorted, but far more interesting than if you try to reproduce something from a photo. It depends on what you're going for though.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

With comics, I almost always pencil first. The pencils are the thinking stage of the work. But when I ink, I always end up elaborating a bit. I never end up following my pencils exactly. it's more fun that way.

20. what does your drawing space look like?

New PCR TV episode

In which an angel kills another angel with death.

This week: Cartoonists on their brushes
These last four weeks have been all me talking about how I do things. A point I want to emphasize is that my methods are my methods. The reason I always try to explain why I do what I do, and not just what I do, is so that you can see the path of reasoning that led to the way I do something. Everyone has different needs, and the path of reason may lead to different places. To prove this, I interviewed Hope Larson, Erika Moen, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and Craig Thompson about their relationship with the brush. As you'll see they all use and treat their brushes in very different ways.

Erika Moen

You went from using mircons to using the brush in your Strip DAR. From the reader's perspective, it looked as though you came out of the gate right away able to make smooth, meaty brush lines, but in fact you practiced for a long time before allowing the brush into your work. What did you learn about using the brush during this practice period, in terms of what you should or shouldn't do?

I've always preferred the look of brushwork, as it tends to be more fluid and undulating than pen lines, which are generally stiff, straight and mechanical. Although Howard Cruse manages to ink with pens and make it look like brushwork, so obviously I'm generalizing above.

Though I did try to practice using the brush before taking it to DAR pages, I kinda felt like I was just spinning my wheels. Not sure how to explain it, but I'm not much of a sketcher or someone who draws just for the sake of making a picture. Almost exclusively, I am only motivated to create art when it's in the form of comics. What I'm trying to say is that my inking didn't improve until I put brush to comics page.

Oh, and what tools you use make a huge difference too!! My work also HELLA improved once I stopped using printer paper and a shitty brush. Working bigger gives your brush room to have line variation and make nice, smooth long strokes. Now I use a Windsor-Newton Series 7, #2 brush (oh goooooood, it made suuuuuuuuuch a difference) and I ink on 11x14" Bristol board.

And the reason why my inking DID improve after I started using it in my weekly comic? Shame is an incredible motivator! Thousands of people and some of my idolized peers look at my comic each week and I don't want them to think I suck. Over the course of a week, I go back and review my comic several times to identify what looks shittiest. Backgrounds, proportions, confusing/superfluous lines, awkward word balloon placement, too much text for one panel, etc., etc. Outside feedback has been INVALUABLE to me. You, the folks down at Periscope Studio and my husband have given me the most useful, honest feedback that's really pushed me to grow. For the next strip, I try to avoid or improve on those specific weak points.

My advice to new inkers (of which I am still one, I should add. I've only been doing this for the last six months, at most) is,
  • Work big! Buy the expensive brush, it actually is better.
  • Bite the bullet and ink your "babies" (that pet project that you want to be PERFECT). If you're inking something you care about and not just a scrap that only you are going to see then your brushwork WILL improve.
  • Make your inked project public and update it regularly. If I could do more than just one comic a week, I'd be a muuuuuch better artist a lot faster.
  • Get honest feedback from your peers and people you respect. Ask them what needs work, what doesn't read clearly enough. AND DON'T GET BUTTHURT ABOUT IT. Thank them and then wait till you're alone to sulk.

How has your working method changed with this new tool?

Oh yeah. You can't brush ink on-the-go like with pens, so I've had to schedule my time more. Other than that... oh yeah, I've been simplifying my drawings too, to make them easier to ink.

You've chosen to keep using the marker for some parts of your work, for very specific reasons. Can you tell me why, and what effects using the marker versus the brush for some parts of a drawing has?

I still use a pen to ink the panel boarders, letter, and ink the smaller details that I'm not confident using a brush on yet.

For the panel boarders and lettering I think it looks better to have straight, rigid lines-- which is what pens do best.

For the small details, well, I still don't have as much control over the brush as I'd like /:) But the amount of small details I use the pen on have been getting smaller and smaller each strip. Maybe in another six months I won't use the pen for the little stuff at all?

Bryan Lee O'Malley

Bryan, in your early work your characters looked very similar, but your approach to the linework was very different. It started much looser, accented with lots of scritchy lines and textures, and over time you've striven for linework so smooth it almost looks like illustrator lines. Was this smooth style always what you wanted, but something you had to work to be able to achieve, or have your aesthetics changed over time?

I think when I started out I didn't really have the technical ability to execute a consistent style, so it wasn't something that I really worried about. I tried to let things evolve naturally.

Definitely for a long time I'd draw something in pencil or marker and be satisfied, but when I tackled something with the brush it had a good chance of coming out strange (or just bad). Still, I think I liked that feeling in some perverse way, and I definitely had my eye on the prize. The prize is the ability to ink like Jeff Smith by the time you're 30.

I don't think I'm there, and I'll probably never be as technically proficient as Mr. Smith, but I'm definitely about a thousand times better than I was five years ago.

If someone wants to produce a smooth, even ,almost mechanical line, they have to use their tool differently than for a rough line. You've clearly mastered the smooth line. How does one achieve such a thing? Do you hold the brush a certain way? Do you breathe differently? What did you learn along the way as you strove for smoothness in your art?

I've been using a "real" brush since about 2001 or 2002, and I started using "good" brushes (a Winsor & Newton Series 7, first) around 2005.

I can recommend nothing except constant practice, and building a relationship with the brush. They're fickle little bastards, but if you find a good one you have to work with it, let it breathe a little. Let it help you find the line, rather than trying to force it. Try different types of paper, too; paper surface can be just as important.

And remember to try new things at different points in your development - I just recently discovered that, these days, vellum-finish bristol works better for me. A rough finish used to drive me crazy, and now a smooth finish drives me crazy.

Things change!

Craig Thompson

It seems to me, as a reader, that French comics and life drawing totally rocked your world after Goodbye Chunky Rice. In the process you totally changed your brushwork. I imagine it took some experimenting to produce the effects you wanted, and I'd like you to share your experiences from that process. What's different about making your new lines versus making your old lines? Did you have to make any changes to your working method to accomplish this?

You are totally right to recognize the obsessions with French comics and figure drawing that shifted my inking style. Near the completion of CHUNKY RICE, I was sick of drawing cute stubby cartoonish characters with perfectly round heads and sick of the slick brush line. Partly, I felt, the slick brush line was too easily emulated with vector-based computer graphics. Sometimes, it was difficult to distinguish if a drawing was hand-drawn or not (now it's far more difficult to decipher). I sought a more raw and human line, and when I discovered the work of Blutch and Baudoin in December 1998, it completely blew my mind.

I inked the last page of CHUNKY RICE on February 2, 1999 and inked the first page of BLANKETS on August 24, 2000. The year and a half in between, I was working on the thumbnailed version of BLANKETS. And I have to admit I spent a lot more time on figure-drawing rather than honing new brush techniques.

The thing was that my CHUNKY RICE brush style was a bit contrived. The lines were modeled -- you know how people often simulate a brush line using markers? They draw the outside of the mark - thinning and widening the line, and then fill it in. I was often doing the same thing with a brush. These weren't the marks that came down naturally when I "drew" with a brush. The were labored over. Traced over to crispen the edge. So the transition to the looser, more expressive style was easy/natural. I just started "drawing" with the brush. And my brush experimentation took the shape of short anthology contributions.

Most notably a nine page piece entitled "Integrity" for the SPX anthology EXPO 2000 drawn in April 2000, and my BIBLE DOODLES mini-comic crafted in summer 2000.(Besides surface techniques, they also fiddle with themes of religion and sexuality.)

If I had any method then, it was to ink QUICKLY. If I remember correctly, I inked that nine page "Integrity" piece in one day. I took my time to pencil and compose the pages over the course of a week, and then just slathered down the ink on a single Saturday. I could probably use a dose of this method now, because my brush line has again grown labored - the HABIBI pages are so measured and detailed...

With all your complex patterns and sharp, tiny fingers, you're clearly still a precision inker at heart. It's not easy to control a brush on a scale that miniscule. How do you approach tight lines as opposed to sweeping gestural lines? Do you hold the brush differently? Breathe differently? Use really tiny brushes?

There's no grace to my method. I hold my pencil and brush in a clumsy fist - like the child just beginning to draw at age four. And I use the same brush for the tidy, precise lines and the grand & sloppy dry-brushing.

BLANKETS and CHUNKY RICE are both inked with the same brushes - the lesser of the Winsor Newtons -- Cotman III -- size 2. With HABIBI, I've upgraded to the Winsor Newton series sevens. And it's true that my method quickly destroys those twenty dollar brushes. But it's how I feel comfortable working -- getting lost in the process, and not worrying if I'm ruining the tools. I was always impressed by people who can switch up tools on a single illustration -- ink tiny lines with a nib, perfect brush lines with their precious brush, then fill in blacks or rock the dry brush with some old, rattier brushes. I've watched Blutch work with brush pens and he'll do just that. He'll have one brush pen with a crisp tip and a shallow ink cartridge to do precise lines, then a pen with a full cartridge to gush down patches of black, then a brush pen that looks like Beaker from the Muppet's hairdo or the toothbrush used for scouring bathroom tile to make those raw ragged dry-brush strokes.

Until recently I'd never seen a non-brush Craig Thompson inked page. Was the brush your first tool?

Yup, the brush was my first tool. In community college, age eighteen, I was given the opportunity to draw a bi-weekly strip for the school newspaper, and from the start I labored clumsily with a brush. Inspired by "How To" books, I suppose, and the work of Jeff Smith and Mike Allred. I'm happy I learned first with a slick brush line. Like a low-brow version of Picasso painting academically and figuratively before delving into abstraction. I learned to control the brush and lay down precise lines, before giving into chaos. (Of course, I started first with a cartoony style, and had to learn backwards to get some handle of anatomy and "realism". )

I drew my earliest pages big, and shrunk them by approximately 50% to sharpen the lines, but even then the final result was gushy thick. With BLANKETS, I reduced only 70% to preserve the "sincerity" of the line. What you see in print is closer to what I actually drew.

From the pen work I've seen from you, you're equally competent with both a marker and a brush, so I assume you've made a conscious choice between the two. What do you love so much about the brush? And are your comics exclusively drawn in brush, or is nib and marker showing up in places that I'm not seeing?

For the record, CARNET DE VOYAGE is the only book I've drawn with brush PENS - you know, those Pentel Pocket variety. I love how spontaneous those things can be and how they perfectly suited a portable page. But in the controlled confines of my studio, I prefer dipping a real brush in an ink well - it's more meditative and deliberate, and as mentioned in your earlier question, I feel like I can tempt a wider variety of lines out of a brush than a brush pen.

I'd love to do a book in nib-pen. In experimentation so far, I've been turned off by the aggressive scratch of metal nib tearing up the page. The fluidity & sensuality of brush suits my overall style more. Still, I'm fond of the scritchy drawings made in my CARNET DE VOYAGE when I lost my fancy brush pens in Morocco and had to resort to cheap marker pens bought in the souqs. I love the gritty and fragile and atmospheric effects that nibs are capable of, and would enjoy playing with that in the future.

Hope Larson

Pretty early on in your art you latched onto smooth, wet brush lines without much in the way of shading or texture. Did you ever make comics that had rougher lines?

Not really. I don't have a lot of opportunities to experiment while drawing my books, but I would like to experiment with drybrush at some point. That will probably mean investing in some cheapo brushes that I don't mind ruining! Did you ever use a different tool than a brush, or was the brush your first and only love? (I know you use nibs for some stuff, but I wanted to ask that as a leading question, because I think many will be as surprised as I was to hear how much nib is in your work.)

The brush is my one true love. I used quite a bit of nib (mainly G-nib) in Chiggers, but as I got closer to the end I found myself relying more and more on the brush. For the book I'm drawing now, Mercury, I've gone back to all brush. I do still use nibs, but only when I need to draw something really small.

Having drawn in a similar style myself, I know that learning to use a brush with that level of control is very difficult. What did you learn about using the tool as you were striving for this style ?

The only real secret is practice. It took me a while to get comfortable with the brush, and get comfortable shelling out wads of cash for size 3 sable brushes, but these days inking is something I do more or less by instinct. It's not effortless, but I don't need to pay full attention, either. I can shut off my brain and cruise.

I actually discovered my favorite brush through Jim Rugg's interview on Comic Tools. Raphael Kolinsky #3 for life! I don't take especially great care of my brushes, but they still last quite a while. I've inked 204 pages of my book and I'm only on my third brush.

My favorite ink is Pelikan Tusche A Drawing ink. It's not an especially dark or opaque ink, but it has a wonderful consistency, and doesn't flake off, bleed, or gum up my brush.

I hold my brush, somewhat awkwardly, between my thumb and the first knuckle of my index finger. This is pretty much how I hold a pen or pencil, too. I don't particularly recommend it.

Next week: speckly shit

Aaron Renier

Aaron Renier is the Eisner Award winning author of Spiral Bound. He's also a dear friend of mine. I've always loved Aaron's art, from the minute I saw it. he's like the guy you would sit next to in elementary school that could draw anything---only he's followed through on being that guy and ended up as a consumate illustrator and first rate storyteller. When I look at Aaron's art, I see all the manic interest of a precocious kid---knights, weird animal characters, impossibly involved story lines---turned into highly elegant artwork. I am eagerly awaiting his first book of a projected trilogy, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, coming soon(ish) from first Second.

Here is Aaron's website:

Above art from the forthcoming Walker Bean book. Colors by Alec Longstreth.

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

The first thing I do in the morning is turn on NPR in my studio. I'll let it run in the background as I make breakfast, and while I'm gone walking Beluga (my dog). As long as it's going I have this calling to get to work. When I sit down at my table... around 10:00 I set my alarm for 4 hours. I try to get as much penciling as I can get done in that time. I always have a cup of coffee next to me, or a glass of water. I have signs on my door telling me I cannot bring in my laptop... because it gets way too distracting, and... for the MOST part I listen. About 3 days a week I go and do this at a coffee shop. Sometimes just being in my house is too distracting. Around 2:00 I stop for a late lunch. I can check my email... watch the Daily Show or if there is a new Office or 30 Rock on . At 3 I set my alarm for 3 hours and I try to tighten my pencils and start to ink. Sometimes I can finish a page at the end of this time. I usually ink to a book on tape... or I have playing in the background or (Yes my laptop has made it into my studio if this is going on) At around 6 I stop to walk Beluga and go to the park and have dinner. If I'm done with my work I go see what people are up to, but if I'm not around 8:00 I usually try to finish my page... maybe watching a Netflixed movie, or listening to a book on tape. This time I'm usually replacing my coffee or water with something... stiffer. This is a bastardized version of Alec Longstreth's schedule

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

I do very little editing with my art. I have come to really like the mistakes I make, and only white things out if I really made a mess. With text I edit quite a bit. I'm always looking back and thinking somebody doesn't sound right. My portfolio books are filled with post-it notes trying to remember all the changes I want. But sometimes I look back and want to throw away the notes because my idea to change it was dumb... but I leave them so I can think about it longer... because future Aaron will be a wiser Aaron.

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?

I work on a rough draft... and usually a second rough draft. But before I even start a draft I keep these recipe cards with ideas on them. Just single random thoughts I have... like... "Monster in pond" and plot ideas like "stucky is better sculptor than turnip." And eventually as I get more and more of these ideas on cards I can lay them out and shuffle them around and decide what goes and what I need to come up with and then eventually the entire idea comes to me.

When I get the story stuck in my head I draw it out with stick characters just focused on my pacing and my story. I go through it once in a composition notebook. Then I wait a few days and reread it. Then I go through it with a fine tooth comb looking for ways to make it better, and become more focused on my layouts. I also work this way when I go to my final art. I look at what I originally wrote, see the problems with it, and try to correct the problems.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?

I try to compose the two page spread as a whole. I usually have both pages from a spread on my desk at one time. I am very interested in how each page flip looks.

5. what tools do you use?

I draw with regular #2 leaded pencils, although I should probably draw with a harder lead. I've inked most of the book I'm working on now with a Pentel Pocketbrush pen. I love it so much. All of Spiral-Bound was inked with Superblack Speedball ink, with a #2 watercolor synthetic brush. I letter with 08 Microns, and I do odds and ends with my Rapidographs and my Rotring art pen. I need to get a new fountain pen. I also have been using a razor blade to scratch up my drawings. very fun and makes my drawings even more organic ... and I use white out to make white lines. I love the foam chisel tip.

6. what kind of paper do you use?

I draw on 500 series Strathmore Vellum, but sometimes art supplies don't have it... so I sometimes use whatever I can get. (14x17)

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?

I love comics so much! I haven't been reading a lot lately, but I'm always excited to go get more. When I'm really into my own work I don't read many others. My reading has usually something to do with what I'm working on. Nonfiction and nonfiction used coffee table books are what get me interested in drawing. Books about boats, and animals and bugs. Children's encyclopedias. Big photo books on single topics.

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?

I make money with my comics, but I really pay my rent doing illustration work.

9. do other art forms often seem more attractive to you?

More attractive that I would leave comics for them? No. I very much feel like this is what I want to do.

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

With my friends who are creative. Most of them are cartoonists, but I have many friends from college who do fine art painting, sculpture, conceptual work, printmaking, photography, music... and I'm very interested in what they do. I was the cartoonist in my school... and they in turn are interested in what I do.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

Very important. I've moved five times in the last 10 years and every time I move I strongly consider what kind of artist community is there. I love being challenged by the people I know.

12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?

Very supportive, but I always think they would have been happier if I would have gone into advertising. My mother thinks I have a good mind for thinking of... advertisements. She is wrong. But everybody really loves what I do, and when I get jobs with things they've heard of ... like Nickelodeon... they really think I've made it.

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

Idea. I think my style comes along with idea... it's along for the ride. My work keeps growing, but I don't think much about what cool new way I can draw eyeballs or something. I sincerely try to draw as best I can. What comes out of me is what I am capable of. The more elaborate my ideas the more I challenge myself to draw different things.

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

Both. But there is nothing more pleasurable than being happy with a drawing. It makes my feel unbelievably amazing.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

I don't tell people what I do unless it comes up. I never say "artist" because I think that sounds pompous. I love saying I'm a cartoonist. I don't need to us a more vague word to describe what I do. "Artist" describes everything from basket weaver to naked bungee jumping. I'm a cartoonist.

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

I feel very connected to the artists I grew up loving. John Severin, Bill Watterson, Herge. I feel very connected to them.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

No. I'm frightened by the idea of not doing them. Terrified.

18. do you draw from life?

I used to more. I need to start going to figure drawing again.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

Always pencil. The only thing I don't really pencil are repetitive things like a pile of rocks, or water. If it's a texture type of thing I go at it straight with ink.

20. what does your drawing space look like?
That's gonna stop right now.

Listen up companies:

I've been building an audience base with this blog, and I'm going to start promoting it next week. I already have a couple hundred readers from word of mouth, and it's likely I'll have many more once I put the word out about this blog. Most of my readers are professionals, or will be.

The customer base for comics art supplies isn't big, so I get you wanting to promote yourselves. But there are channels.

You want your company promoted? Pay me to put up an ad. Got a product you want advertised? Send it to me and if I like it I'll give it a big old hand job right here on the blog.

But let me be clear: if you send an illiterate fake commenter to my site with a link to your company as their profile, I will use this as a platform to smear you and drag you through the mud.

And here's a tip: if you do send fake commenters here, tell the snotty little cocksuckers not to insult me and lecture me, mmmkay?

Visit Evil Twin @ NYCC! '09

Fred and Ryan will be hawking the more-or-less-completely-new COMIC BOOK COMICS #3 to a gullible public at table #B11 in Artist's Alley at this weekend's (Feb. 6-8) NEW YORK COMIC CON at Manhattan's Javits Center, within convenient walking distance of the Penthouse Club! C'mon down, say hi, get an autograph, and generally annoy us!
Care to buy a book I'm in?

Edited by Julia Wertz, the book also includes comics by Peter Bagge, Jesse Reklaw, Tom Hart, Sam Henderson, Laura Park, Emily Flake, Keith Knight, Janelle Hessig, Gabrielle Bell, Aaron Renier, Austin English, Corinne Mucha, Jeffrey Brown, Alec Longstreth, Minty Lewis, Joey Sayers, David Malki, Kazimir Strzepek, Ken Dahl, Shaenon Garrity, Rodd Perry, Abby Denson, Damien Jay, Sarah Glidden, and dozens more.

I had a lot of fun doing my piece for this book, and it's one of my personal favorites. This is the only new work you'll see from me for a year, so buy one, won't you?
New PCR TV episode