Harrow County Process - Layout

Added on by Tyler Crook.

I thought it would be fun this week to start a deep dive into my process for Harrow County. I'm a firm believer in having a clearly defined process. I'm also a firm believer that the instant a process stops working it should be abandoned and a new process should be established. The important thing is that I never want to be in a situation where I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish and I always want to know what I'm going to be doing next.

With that in mind let's dig into the first step in my process: the rough layout.

It can take me anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours to do the rough layout for a page. I think this is the hardest part of the comics making process. It's the part of the process where I am interpreting the script, deciding on compositions, working out staging, figuring out the basics of the acting and making sure that everything is not only clear but fun to read. It's a lot like those plate jugglers who do somersaults while keeping a dozen plates spinning on the ends of sticks. 

It starts with reading the script that Cullen Bunn sends me. His scripts are wonderfully easy to read. Each scene pretty much always has a clear purpose within the overall story and is designed for clarity and emotional impact. Cullen is rad. He's a really good writer. So I go over the script until I have a clear understanding of what I need to accomplish on a page. Then I grab a pencil and start working out my panel layout.

One of the less glamorous things that has a huge affect on my layouts is the number of panels on a page. If there are 4 panels on a page (like the one shown above) there are actually a limited number of ways that you can layout the panels and have them still be readable. I may have missed some but I think this is all of them:

The relative sizes of the panel might change but there are not that many ways that the panels can fit together and still conform to the basic English rules of reading (left-to-right, top-to-bottom). So for this page I chose the layout highlighted above. The idea on this page is that Kammi and her butler are approaching an derelict barn and talking to a monster called the Abandoned.  So I built the flow of the page around the approach of the barn. In each panel we get closer and closer until we are peaking in through the crack in the door and see the eyes of the abandoned peeking back. As we get closer to the door, I wanted the panels to get smaller. In fact, I kind of wish I had made that last panel a bit smaller. My idea was that the reader would feel like they were tightening their focus a little bit more with each panel.

The other big consideration I have is the speaking order of the characters. With this page it's not really an issue because there is only one person speaking in each panel. But in most cases, I work to get the character's heads to line up so that the first person speaking is on the left and the last person speaking is on the right. I will often break the "180 rule" to achieve this because I think speaking order is more important than the 180 rule in every instance I have run into. This can get pretty tricky when the speaking order keeps changing and there are three or more characters speaking in each panel. 

Here's what the final page looked like. Maybe I could have picked a better page to illustrate all the thinking that goes into my layouts. But I picked this page because I liked how this one turned out and there's nothing worse than ruminating on a lousy page. There's probably a lot more that I could say about the way I do layouts. It's a deep and interesting part of the process. But I'm going to stop there.

Next week I'll dig into my penciling process. I've been getting a few questions about that on Instagram so hopefully folks will find it an interesting topic.

Thanks! Bye!


Weird Tools #4 - The Spikey Comber

Added on by Tyler Crook.

This week's weird tool is the Spikey Comber! This is a special effects brush that I got from Rosemary & Co. It's basically a flat synthetic hair brush that has small clumps of hair that reach out past the tip of the main body of bristles. The result is that it makes a rough, streaky mark.

It's great when you need a bunch of roughly parallel lines but don't want to spend all day making one line at a time. The only drawback is that it can be hard to control the beginning and end of the line. It's the kind of tool that's really helpful when you want to make a big mess. I've used these brushes with ink when I want to have a sort of impressionistic or out of focus looking background.

It's also a great way to build up interesting layers of grass or foliage with watercolor. It has come in handy many times while working on Harrow County. In the image below, I laid down a flat area of green and then went over it in darker colors with my spikey comber, building up layers of grass. 

These brushes cost between $5.50 and $12.50 depending on the size. It's not a tool that I use every day but it's a tool that I always enjoy when I do use it. 

Weird Tools #3 - Omni Grid Quilter's Square

Added on by Tyler Crook.

This thing is rad. I was in a fabric store a few years ago and came across a big display of quilter's squares. They are used to trim and square-up quilt blocks. Here's a nice video on how they are typically used. But I use mine to measure out panel borders when I'm penciling. 

Quilter's squares come in various sizes and ratios but the one I use is 12.5 inches x 12.5 inches. It has marks every 1/8 inch. It's made out of plexiglass about an 1/8 inch thick. It's kind of heavy for a ruler, very rigid and it's transparent. 

When I layout my panel borders with a regular ruler it's a process of measuring one side of the page, making a tic mark, then measuring the other side of the page making another tic mark and finally lining up my ruler between the two tic marks and drawing a line. With the quilters square it's just a matter of lining up the square and drawing a line. 

I don't use it for inking panel borders because it's a little too thick to comfortably run my paint pen against. And it doesn't have that little cork riser that prevents the ink from wicking under the ruler. 

So that's my quilter's square. I guess I only use it to pencil panel borders but it works great at that task.

Weird Tools #2 - 10-Point Divider

Added on by Tyler Crook.

I love my 10-Point divider. It's a silly, overpriced tool but I use it a lot. I first learned that these things existed from this interview with Paolo Rivera on YouTube. About a year after I saw that I blew $140 and bought mine in a fit of perspective grid rage. 

This tool will give you 11 evenly spaced points (but it's still called a 10 point divider for some reason) that can be set at any arbitrary distance between 1/8 inch to 3/4 inch.  It stretches kinda like a really good Wile E. Coyote trap.

When laying out perspective grids, it's often the case that the vanishing point is off the page. Sometimes it's WAY off the page. What I used to do was tape down my art board. Then I would stick a little piece of tape on my desk way off to one side where my vanishing point should be. Then I would rule out a grid with my longest ruler. It was irritating and it sucked and I hated it. 

A 10-point divider solves the problem by letting you just use the sides of the panel or the edge of the page to lay out a grid. It's quick and easy. You just mark points on one side, stretch or contract your 10-point divider and mark points on the other side. Then you can connect the dots.

It should be noted that you can do the same thing with a regular divider for about three bucks. But my 10 point divider is so cool that I don't even care. So I guess the point is don't buy one of these unless you want to play with something super overpriced and awesome.

Weird Tools #1 - Painting Pen by Loew Cornell

Added on by Tyler Crook.

I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the weird tools I use to draw comics. Most of my tools are pretty typical of things you might associate with making art: brushes, pencils, paper, watercolor paint. But I have a few tools that I really enjoy that many people may have never seen before.

The first tool I want to talk about is the "Painting Pen". I didn't know this thing existed until Riley Rossmo mentioned it on Twitter. I ordered one from Dick Blick the same day. A paint pen is basically a itty-bitty bucket with a teensy-tiny pipe sticking out the end. You can fill it up with ink, watercolor, thin oil paint, just about anything that is watery enough to flow out the end. 

I've had it for a couple months now and it is hands down the best tool I have ever found for ruling my panel borders. I have used tons of different tools trying to find one that is easy to use and would give me the results I want, a clean, fat line. Microns, Rapidograph, ruling pens, nibs, they all failed me. But the Paint Pen is so simple and so easy to use and gives me such a nice line that I don't think I'll use anything else for a long time. 

Using an eyedropper, drip 2 or 3 drops into the itty-bitty bucket. Scribble on a scrap piece of paper until the ink begins to flow out the tip. The surface tension of the ink should be enough to keep the ink from just falling out of the bottom. You might have to lightly tap the pen on the paper to get the ink flowing. Once the pen is ready, you can start drawing to your hearts content. It makes a thick, dead line that is perfect for panel borders but kind of terrible for everything else. The weird, bent handle is great for drawing lines with a ruler but is somehow awkward to use when drawing any other kind of line.

Cleanup is easy: I run it under some water and wipe the bucket out with a paper towel or a little bit of toilet paper. Once it's pretty clean, I'll blow through the bucket forcing out any remaining water or ink out of the tip. It's made of brass so it won't rust. It also comes with a little "cleaning tool" that is basically a tiny piece of wire that you can stick in there to clean out the spout. 

So that's the painting pen. Let me know what you think if you use one.