This is Part 1 of a series of posts I’m writing about how I made Final Track, a 34-page shojo manga I worked on as my submission for the Yen Press New Talent Search.
All comics begin from ideas. Final Track was an idea I came up with having breakfast in the kitchen one day. From there, it was refined on and off for about two years. However, this post is about cultivating ideas before production even happens. Where on earth do you get ideas?
I used to be incredibly jealous of my younger sister who could seemingly pull brilliant comic ideas from thin air. She would come up with dozens of unique characters and situations and it never seemed like she broke a sweat. It took me a while before I started coming up with plenty of my own and it’s then I realized they don’t really come out of a vacuum. To come up with a decent amount of output, you have to make sure you’re getting equal, if not more, input and feeding the machinery in your mind first.
I have an incredible love for stories and look for great ones in movies, books, podcasts and TV shows. I don’t limit myself to comics just because I’d like to be a comic artist. Similarly, I also read graphic novels, not just manga, even though I primarily work in the latter medium. I’m not afraid of getting influenced one way or another because I believe stagnant art is boring art. As an artist, we should be constantly trying new things and evolving.
I started paying closer attention to all these stories and the elements that made them interesting for me personally. Often, it wasn’t so much the content I would get ideas from directly, but questions like “What if?” or “Wouldn’t it be cool…?” got me thinking about the subject matter I was taking in. Sometimes, it was just the character featured and one amazing trait I admired about them. So I could be listening to an amazing podcast like This American Life and come up with a similar situation (but with an urban fantasy twist!). The point is it usually comes to you when you’re not trying so hard anymore. (This is why most people get their best ideas in the shower.) Now, when ideas come, I find it helpful to be prepared to put them down somewhere.
All of these wonderful new ideas had no organized place to go until I read Walt Stanchfield’s Drawn to Life lectures. He suggested carrying a small sketchbook and an ink pen everywhere you go because it helps you take quick impressions of everything around you. This in turn helps sharpen your brain and makes you a more efficient artist. Illustrators and animators often recommend carrying a sketchbook with you at all times because it does keep you in the habit of drawing. For a writer, having one around makes it easy to jot down bits of inspiration and ideas. As a comic artist, it functions well for both purposes.
I tried the Moleskine artist sketchbooks first but found Ecosystem’s sketchbooks have brighter, thicker paper to hold my ink sketches, are made from recycled paper and are cheaper by a few bucks. I use the 3×5 because it fits perfectly in my handbag and I can easily take it out whenever I’m waiting in line somewhere and start sketching away. They can last me for two months and Barnes & Noble (which seems to be the only place that carries them) usually ships free over $25 so you can get a few of them in one go if you like them.
I originally used the Pilot G-Tec C3 pen for inking super fine details. On Moleskine paper, they did take a longer time to dry and occasionally smudged if I went on to another page. On ecosystem, they work beautifully providing a thin, bright consistent line. I’ve never had any of these pretties vomit ink all over myself or my bags so I absolutely love them. I got these 0.3 pens back in the Philippines and was lucky enough to be given an entire box by my friend. If you’re interested in one, Jetpens carries them for $3 each.
Now, as a kid, I remember actually preferring a ballpoint pen over the blunt No. 2 pencils lying around the house. I loved the smooth, steady flow of ink and drew stick figures all over my parents’ newspapers and other available paper surfaces I could find. Using ink makes your drawings last longer and it forces you to be more efficient with your strokes, making you a better artist. So, not only are all those stick figures still present in my 2nd grade piano books two decades later (much to the amusement of my parents), they’re also a testament to how much I’ve improved.
Keep in mind, these are my tools and they work for me as other tools can work for other artists. You don’t have to get the actual items above to do the same things. My sister likes carrying a portable watercolor sketchbook, a brush and colors because she can do colored illustrations in a flash. What will work for you? I think it could be fun finding out!
Next Post: Comicking Part 2: Writing and Thumbs