What are Comics? My process

This is a transcript of a talk given at Heritage University in Toppenish Washington.

There are four elements to comics. Drawing, writing, caricature, and layout. In this post, I’ll give a quick summary of the ways I approach all these fundamentals except writing.

Any artist has to confront what seems like a world of information overload. Google and the internet has made drawing from life or imagination unexceptional. Why? Almost anyone can search for artworks from any time, any period, any place, including writing, video, or static artwork. Many examples of all styles of drawing are available to anyone who can type into a Google search box. This wealth of information has made it hard to draw something and have it amaze people.

What has replaced drawing? Obviously photography.

Similarly to artworks, viewers are inundated with photos – a search for photographic content also gives an overwhelming number of examples. Photography provides the images people look at, the things they care about. I am photographer and I use photography in almost all the panels in my comics.

Just as drawing seems to lack wonder, photography has a similar problem. Right now in your pocket or purse you have an amazing camera. The shots have high production values: white balance, saturation, focus, shutter speed, and auto flash can be all automatic. The default settings are usually correct. If one takes a bad shot, then it is thrown away seconds later, and the shooter can take another one. There is no need for skill or craft to take a photo with high production values on a cellphone.

Given those facts what does a fine art photographer do? An artist has to offer photos that one can’t take on a cellphone. I have two main ways of creating comic panels using photographs.


One process I use is to pose models (ordinary people) in positions and attitudes to illustrate the story. They match the lines and topics in the story, such as when a character discovers something or when two characters are interacting. These photos could illustrate the text of the story, but I process them further.

I take the shots and put them on my phone and lightbox them. Lightboxing for me means to go over the photo using digital pencil making cross hatching to show the visual facts of the photo. Crosshatching goes back hundred of years to Rembrandt and Durer See this post link! Using the phone means the pen is pressure sensitive – pushing harder results in a line that is darker and thicker. It is an incredibly useful tool that I always with me,

People respond very actively to handiwork – to skill. In a large number of cases this means fine muscle control and/or eye hand coordination. Think about music. To play an instrument requires fine muscle movement control. I expect people to see that someone skilled made the black and white panels .

Why black and white? In part to contrast with another type of panel.

These second kind of panels come more directly from color photos. I make still lives, dioramas, little scenes and then take a photos of them. Those photos are high quality, but different than a cellphone shot. I use a macro lens. I shoot the same scene with different points of focus and then combine the pictures in photoshop. This makes for a very sharp photo – jewel like sometimes. The depth of field is completely under my control due to multiple shots.

All my photos are manipulated in in Photoshop. My opinion is that Photoshop is a major contributor to our sense of images in the world. I admit that most of the time Photoshop is used to fool a viewer, to tell a visual lie. Models are thinner, food more appealing. I claim there are a lot of capabilities in Photoshop that can be used for artistic effect, without intending to deceive.


Caricature is another fundamental aspect of comics.

You might think that caricature has nothing to do with photography. In my case I do use a photo. I iexaggerate features using Photoshop. I then put that alered photo on the phone and use the pen to draw the caricature.

For caricatures I mostly draw an outline.


Effective layout pulls the reader into the story flow and emphasizes or de-emphasizes parts of the narrative.

Comics are a sequential art form. The story happens in some time period which has a beginning and an end.

Usually the time movement of panels is forward.

I use a program called Comic Life. It has all the basic graphics for comics. Things like comic fonts, speech balloons, panels and display text (Pow!). The finished product exports to jpg print nicely. Even at a resolution of 20 inches by 30 inches, all the parts of the picture are sharp.

These are my methods to make my comics.

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