YOUR QUESTION: How much work do you put into creating a comic strip?

MY ANSWER: LOTS! It might be different for other cartoonists, but for me, it's a long process.

  1. For starters, I need the idea. Luckily, they come to me pretty easily. Some cartoonists like to isolate themselves when they come up with ideas. Not me, I like to get out and see things. That's one of the reasons why I like working in a big city like New York. I ALWAYS see something interesting. I almost never sit down at my drawing table and force myself to come up with a joke.
  2. Once I have any idea, if I don't think that I will remember it, I'll take out a pad that I always carry and write it down. If I need to remember how something looks, I'll do a quick drawing of it.
  3. Next, I begin to sketch out the strip itself. My original strips are about 14.75 inches wides by 4.75 inches deep. When you work large like this, it's a lot easier to draw things like backgrounds.

    I begin by writing the words at the top of my paper so that I can have an idea of who says what and in which panel. Sometimes I do the last panel first since that's where the joke is and it's the most important panel. Then I work backwards. That way I know I'll have room for the punchline. I have special paper that already has the borders printed on it. It also has lines for lettering printed on it. Both sets of guides are in light blue. I also do my sketches in light blue which is called "non-repro blue." This is short for "non-reproduction," meaning when I make a photocopy of it, the lines would not show up.This is good because it means that I won't have to erase any pencil lines later like I would have to do if I drew it with a regular pencil. Take a look below:
  4. I know it's hard to see, but remember it's non-repro-blue. The only reason why it's showing up is because I scanned it in color.

  5. Now that I have an idea of where things are going, I read over it again and again to see if I can improve the writing. I also like to take out all of the unnecessary words so that it can be read very quickly. Right now the text reads:
  6. PANEL 1- Mom: Here, Tyrell, these clothes are for you.
    Tyrell: Thanks, Mom, I... wait a sec, these are Yusuf's clothes!
    PANEL 2-Mom: Well he outgrew them so now they're yours.
    PANEL 3: Tyrell: But, Mom, he's my younger brother!
    Mom: Tyrell, take these clothes and stop acting silly.
    PANEL 4- Tyrell: (sigh) Who wants to wear "hand-me-ups"?

  7. Not bad, but how can I make it even better? I took it to the next stage which is just inking over the lines that I like so that I can see it better. And this is what I got:

    In the first panel, I changed "wait a sec (short for second)" to "wait a minute." Since you never see "sec" written down, it may confuse people. Especially kids. Then I made a note to remove Tyrell's hand in the same panel since it is blocking the clothes that Mom is carrying. I also underlined the word "younger" in the third panel so I will remember to make it bold later. Finally I added Mom walking away at the end.

  8. But I'm still not done.Take a look at the next version. I start to add background. Not too much though, since it's not important in this gag. It would be different if it took place in a restaurant and I had to show the background to let you know where they are.That's called an "establishing shot." I added more motion lines to show surprise and movement. But the biggest change comes in the final panel. I got rid of the words "who wants to wear" then I bolded "UPS" to stress the joke. Plus, I thought that Tyrell's expression would be funnier than showing Mom walking away, so I made him bigger and just showed him from the waist up. That way you can see his face better. Take a look.
  9. Once I have the sketch how I want it, I put it on a lightbox (which is a table that lights up) and put a piece of Bristol paper on top of it. Then I start to trace the sketch with my blue pencil (I use a Pentel mechanical pencil with .05mm blue lead). This is my last chance to move stuff around because in the next stage everthing is done in ink. When that is done I take out my jar of FW ink and one of those old fashioned dip-pens and start to ink the strip. This ink will last much longer than a felt tip pen, which fades over time. The dip pen allows me to make a variety of lines depending on how hard I push down. I can even make some lines that start thin and end up thick. I use two Speedball dip pens to do my lettering. One for the regular words and one for the bold words.

    When I'm done inking, I let it dry then scan the strip into my computer. Using Adobe Photoshop on my MAC, I redraw the panel lines so that they are nice and even. Then I fill in the black areas with the click of a button. I can also delete words or move letters around. My original strip is 14 3/4 inches wide, but I shrink it down to about 6.5 inches and then send it via e-mail to my clients. I make two versions, one for MAC users and one for PC users. Here is the finished newspaper version:

  10. The very last thing I do is to add color. This version I can use to send to magazines or with a few adjustments, it can be posted on my website. I also use the computer to paste in my logo and copyright. Plus I can color bold words in red to really make them stand out!

    And that's the story. The process of going from a sketch to a finished black and white version takes me about 2 hours. The coloring process can range from a half hour to an hour depending on what I want to do. Just keep in mind that this is how "I" like to work. Everyone is different, and just because something works for one artist doesn't mean that it will work for another. I've met cartoonists who have let me try their pens and I wasn't able to use them at all. So see what works for you, and go with that. Once you discover your style and what's comfortable for you, your work will look that much better. Good luck!

    Have a question for me, e-mail me at: