How D'Israeli Drew Leviathan

(Or, Drawing Comics from Scratch on Computer)

The bad news, if you're starting out and you want to get the sort of effects I get, is that I do all my work on computer using some fairly expensive software. I draw using Adobe Illustrator, though most of the steps shown here could be done just as well in other graphics programs such as Photoshop, Painter, Paintshop Pro or CorelDraw.

Click on an image to see a larger version with more detailed notes. Technical information is printed in red, so you can find (or skip!) it easily. (Technical information requires some knowledge of computer graphics programs. I'm sorry I can't explain more, but the time I had to do this site was strictly limited...)

My basic method of drawing comics - thumbnail, rough layout, pencilling and inking - is still the same as when I was working on paper. The idea is to break the drawing down into lots of little steps, which sounds as if it would be slow, but it means that no one step becomes daunting, so you can zip through them quite quickly.


What is a Graphics Tablet?

The advantages of drawing on computer


Brushes and Tones of Grey

I use only 5 tones of grey (from white to black) and 5 Illustrator brushes to create black & white art.

Most of the drawing is done using two different widths of pressure-sensitive brush. These will produce thinner or thicker lines depending on how heavily I press down on the stylus while drawing.. This mimics the dip-pens and brushes that I used to use when I was working on paper.


The Script

This is Ian Edginton's script for the page I'll be using as an example. In a UK comics script, the action in each panel on the page is described, along with any dialogue and sound effects.


Thumbnail Roughs

This is my first step in designing a page. In a notebook I do a rough scribble of the page (left), showing the size and position of panels, and the action and speech balloons in each panel. Sometimes I'll do two or three thumbnails until I'm happy with the layout.

I trace the panels from a grid (right). The grid has the same proportions as the comic page, but is much smaller. Working on a grid means my page layouts will fit the finished page perfectly.



Rough Drawing

Moving to the computer, I open a file in Adobe Illustrator. I work from a template that has a larger copy of the page grid built into it; so I can easily lay out the panels to scale with my thumbnail rough.

I then put in the rough drawing (little better than stick figures) to establish composition. I draw them in pale grey as I'm going to be drawing over them again, and I use a thick pen so I can't get too precious about the drawing; I just need to block in rough shapes at this stage.


Rough Drawing with Perspective Grids.

I delete the panel grid, and make perspective grids for each panel that requires one. The perspective grids act as useful guides when I'm drawing buildings or machines; they also help to establish the sense of scale that's so important in Leviathan.


Rough Pencils

I do a more finished drawing in pale blue over the top of the grey roughs. This drawing is in proper perspective (thanks to the grids I made).


Rough Pencils with Black Background

Using the rough pencils (in blue) to guide me, I drop in the big areas of black shadow in the main image.



I start "inking" the image - putting in the finished drawing. I draw in black on the white areas, and in mid-grey over the black shadows. The mid grey makes a comfortable contrast against the black - lighter grey or white lines would be too contrasty and uncomfortable to look at.

It's easier to ink over the blue drawing with the black background hidden (left), but every so often I check the drawing with the black background (right) to see how it's coming along.



I ink the whole page, putting in outlines only. I've added black only where I know I'll need to ink in grey over the top.



Blacks and Greys

I add "spot blacks" - patches of black that act as shading - and also some lighter highlights to the outlines on the monsters in the foreground.

I put grey tones onto the image - both flat greys, and gradients, which are patches where one colour blends into another. Here I use gradients that blend from white to grey, to show the fall-off of light coming through the open door.

I also start to add rendering - little pen strokes to make the scene look gritty and dirty - I add score marks in the grime in the floor where the door has opened.


Finishing Touches

I add further refinements to the drawing - putting grey highlights on the monsters, to make them look more 3D.

I also add white highlights and use spatter effect Art Brushes to add gore to the shooting of the monster in panel 3 (inset).


Finished Product

This is the page as it appeared in 2000AD, less the lettering. The page is exported from Illustrator as a TIFF file, which prints easily.

Lettering was added later by Tom Frame using a program called QuarkXpress.