Manga Studio Custom Tools

I’ll probably have multiple posts dealing with multiple aspects of Manga Studio, both the advantages and shortcomings. This is the first in that series…

I’ve never really bothered using custom tools in any other art package, preferring to use, simply, the keyboard shortcuts. But my current drawing setup sees my Cintiq (a 12″ one) separated by quite a distance from the keyboard – the Cintiq is on my drawing board, the keyboard is on the computer keyboard.

So, suddenly, I find myself using toolbars a great deal more. (As an aside, I’ve also tried using my iPhone as a virtual keyboard, and while it works, it’s slightly frustrating to have to wake it every time I need to undo something).

Custom Tools, finally comes into its own – Here’s the current custom tool sets I have setup. MS allows you to set up multiple custom tools, so I’ve setup “Pens”, “Transform” and “Rulers”.

  • Pens – or, rather, “Most Commonly Used Tools” includes the following:
  • Undo – Obviously, I never need it (much… er…)
  • Save – which means it’s a one-click button to save the file, essential when you’re moving out of the physical world and into the digital
  • Cut, Copy, Past – all clipboard options. Though used rarely (unless I’ve done something stupid, like inked onto the wrong layer)
  • Clear Selection – this is the CTRL-D command (more commonly called ‘Deselection’ – hence the CTRL-D shortcut)

And then, the tools:

  • G pen – I have this set up as a nice, thick pen – acting much more like a brush – though has a weird tendency to digitally ‘blob’ – I suspect that a processor speed issue.
  • Kaburu – nice, thin pen – very like a a fineliner, except it never really gets rubbish. Typically set up as .4mm/.5mm
  • Eraser – I can flip the pen and rub things out, but I actually find it quicker to select this tool and erase using the pen.
  • Fill – ah, fill, it’s fast, accurate and completely unsatisfying compared to inking a big black area on a page. But it’s fast. (Also: no more smearing or waiting on ink drying).
  • Laso – The Laso selection tool, great for cutting out masks that you can then ink within – giving nice sharp inking and allowing great big sweeps of the arm to do it.

Transform / Rulers.

Unfortunately, there are some obvious shortcomings – the most obvious of which is that the Transform Tools are all called “Move and Transform…” – actually, they’re not, they’re, variously, called “Move and Transform: Scale”, “Move and Transform: Distort”, etc. Unfortunately, the Custom Tools button width is fixed, which means all of those names are rendered indistinct from one another. This same problem effects Rulers – “New Special Ruler” is the only text you’ll see here.

Similarly, though, less obvious, the custom tools for pens – while they’re colour coded, are simply ways of selecting between the different pens – you can’t, for example, set up multiple pen tools with multiple widths.
I’m hoping, in a later version, they’ll allow the user to either customise the button text – or simply remove the “Move and Transform:” text from the option, so they become the much more sensible “Scale”,”Distort”, etc. (ditto for rulers: no real need for “New Special Ruler”).

Also, with a bit of luck, they’ll allow better customisation of the drawing tools on the Custom Menu, setting up various sized pens at your fingertips.

Have you set up custom tools? Let me know what’s working for you…

Manga Studio vs Photoshop Part 1

I’m gradually moving from Photoshop (PS) to MangaStudio (MS) and here’s why: Workflow*. Workflow isn’t something I’ve ever seen covered in any how-to-draw comic books, a lot of that is to do with the fact that workflow becomes more important the more of the art you do yourself – in otherwords, if you’re simply doing pencils workflow is less of an issue. When you’re pencilling and inking (and maybe colouring and lettering) workflow becomes a pretty big deal. Every minute you shave out of workflow is another minute you can spend drawing (and every three/four hours you can shave out of workflow translates to another full page of drawing for me).

So, as best as I’m able I’m gonna compare the two programs for the comic artist.

Continue reading “Manga Studio vs Photoshop Part 1”

2000AD Prog 1233 March 2001 Sino-Town

So, here it is, almost 10 years after first publication, my first 2000AD commission. Some caveats: I’ve removed the lettering (which is a shame as it’s a particularly funny story) and the story is (c) Rebellion Developments.

Some back history:

Andy Diggle first told me at DreddCon (the first one – 11th November 2000) that he’d be happy to commission me. 2000 was the year I turned 30, and it was also the year I became determined to get work into 2000AD – by that stage I’d become known online and I’d become friends with Gordon Rennie who kept pushing the idea of me doing something in front of Andy – without Gordon I’d’ve been useless and who knows where I’d be now ? (Possibly working for the big two, but who’s to know?)

Anyhue, Gordon wrote a very funny story called Sino-Town – the main ingredient being that Dredd’s helmet computer was damaged causing all of the Sino-City language (ie Chinese) to be mistranslated into English, or, something approaching English – great lines like “<My Iron Balls Are Like Marshmallows Now>”)

So, got the gig, did the work, redid the work, redid the work and redid it. Faffed around and noodled. I had no deadline, you see. Once I had a deadline it was all go. Sent the art to Andy who was a little … underwhelmed (as well he might be) and offered to redraw the entire strip. He was taken aback, I think.

Anyhue, what was published was the redraw, and here, to the best of my abilities is the sort of critique I’d give anyone who asks (which is why you’ll find some praise in there, even though it’s slightly weird me praising myself and I’m sure now, 10 years later, I could draw it better, but, you know, if it’s good it’s good…)

Page 1

Tall vertical panel – a trick I still use, helps (in my mind) to establish the entire scene, neatly leads the eye down to the young lady at the bottom who isn’t actually very important (first comments about this page in print? why are her boobs so small – cus she’s chinese, I responded). Johnny Woo, on the other hand, is behind her. In hindsight I might’ve made him the main figure on that panel – but that may have been a little too on the nose, the background figure tends to reward anyone who just spots it. Which is nice. (As an aside, hard to make out, but it’s there : “UNCLE WU’S CH[op and go]” and transgender back street ‘chop-shop’ this was a stupid joke that Gordon dared me to put in the art, which I did, later on it became the plot point of a Johnny Woo sequel written by Gordon and drawn by Patrick Goddard for the Megazine.

Let me get this out of the way early: there’s a LOT of bad drawing in this strip – I’ll refrain from commenting on it unless it really needs it, bad shadows, weird heads, Dredd looking like a gorilla, etc. Instead, I’m gonna concentrate on some story telling aspects.

Actually, page 1, looks fine for story telling – some panels could be a LOT clearer on what they’re displaying, but the reader moves about the page as you’d hope – the last panel really is hard to see what’s happening or where, but I remember the pain I went through drawing it, so I’m leaving it all unsaid…

Page 2

Panels 1, 2, 3 I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking there – story telling is all over the place – I think I was trying to avoid drawing Dredd’s bike, in the early days a lot of my story telling choices where dictated by what I could and couldn’t draw.

Panel 4 – neatly frames Dredd, shows a good bug shot of Woo – some of the figures are awful (and the ones that aren’t awful are just bad, but still). And as for that Balloon bubble BLAM! BLAM!… sigh. Tom Frame WAS a great letterer of S/FX before the advent of computers, his BDAM had a meaty chunkiness to it – I don’t think he ever really adapted to the computer age particularly well, which was a shame.

Panel 5 – again, skillfully avoided drawing much of a bike.

Page 3

Panel 1, 2 – fine, neat angle on panel 1 (where’s the backgrounds though? it’s as well Chris Blythe was soaking the art with colours!).

Panel 3 – why are Dredd and Woo shooting at each other in the same direction? That’s stupid. I assume he’s landed or something after a fall – could be we’re looking directly down on him? hard to tell the fabric should have a little more weight to it – although the fact that the bullets are bouncing off the bottom at least hints.

Panel 4 – a face that so resembles a John McCrea’s faces that when I first saw the preview image of Dredd they used in the inside front cover credits I’d assumed my strip wasn’t in it, and John had done a Dredd. Weird, as I’ve never knowingly been influenced by John.

Panel 5 – could’ve done with a little more perspective – closer to woo or dredd, just to make the panel interesting, but it gets the job done (though leaves a massive amount of dead space in the middle of the panel)

Panel 6 – much more interesting angle, good foreshortening.  Not sure about the silhouettes behind Woo though, and I know that’s the inside of a building but it’s a little lacking in anything resembling a real building.

Page 4

Panels 1, 2, 3 – yeah fine, panel 4 – could’ve ramped up the jeapordy a fair bit more by coming in closer to woo and having something not so straight on (basically the “camera” would be beside woo, catching the side of his face a little but facing the oncoming bullet)

Panel 5, 6, 7 – I quiet like the little middle “beat” (which was scripted) but the body language and angle help sell it. I’ve maybe have changed the angle on the last panel to get it similar to the preceding panels (maybe the exact same angle but tighter in on his face and the bullet…)

Page 5

The whole thing has the feel of being in what someone imagines a building would look like – even though they’d never seen a building. Could be a warehouse, could be a hotel lobby, certainly bland. Luckily the story has a rapid momentum that means the reader isn’t hanging around oogling the scenery. Some terribly lazy background figures (a crime I’m still guilty of)

Last panel could have a good foreshortened shot looking own the barrels of his gun as it went klik klik klik, much more dramatic.

Page 6

Storytelling is, at least, fairly solid (even if the drawing is ropey and dredd looks like a gorilla). The reflection of Woo in Dredd’s visor (unscripted, iirc) doesn’t really work – reflection isn’t well enough drawn) and the last little smile with an open panel works fine, even if it is a little bland.

Just before sending the artwork off, I looked at the last panel and realised the story telling on the page would be massively improved if I simply flipped the face into the mirror image – which I did. Giving plenty of room for Dredd’s dialogue and making it look like he was sauntering off into the world.

There you go, hope you enjoyed it. Wasn’t as bad as I was expecting (well, the drawing was but the story telling seems to clip along and keep it readable). I’ll try and do more of these if I can get a chance, please let me know what you think either in the comments (better!) or on twitter.

Tools of the Trade: Whiteout

I know, I know, you don’t make mistakes. Even so, being able to apply white to an already inked black page is a pretty handy tool. So we’re gonna cover a couple of the more popular methods of doing that, along with a trade secret from Jock.

Tippex (or Liquid Paper)

The great thing about tippex is its ubiquity, every stationary store across the land sells it. And, for most artists, it’s the first way they discover of applying white. It’s pretty rubbish though, it’s glopey and horrible and almost impossible to ink on top of (and it smells terrible). Still, these days there are neat little pens that make applying it easier, but, even so, it’s not a precision tool.

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Process White

Ah, process white, this is what most people come to next, it’s the ‘textbook’ method of applying white. Process white can be put down with a brush – and will often need to be reinvigorated by applying a little dab of water to the paint (it usually drys to a brick in the pot). Process white can be used to do all sorts of cool effects, including splatter for stars, painting thin lines over things (great for rain) and, just, generally correcting things. The problem is, it’s not water resistant. If you go to paint black OVER process white you’ll end up with grey – the black ink will damp the white and cause them to mix, added to that, Process White – with the advent of photoshop – is something that’s disappearing from the shelves, developed originally, to add lettering to photos/

Acrylic W

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hite Ink

Here it is. Jock’s secret white (well, it was Jock that first suggested it to me, years ago). Acrylic ink, as with process white, can be applied with a brush. You’ll need to mix it, shaking it up in the bottle will, inevitably, involve lots of white ink flying everywhere (it’s quiet a thin liquid). I recommend leaving the lid off for a little while so it can thicken up a bit. The big advantage over Process white, is that you can paint over acrylic white ink – it’s completely water proof. Allowing you to paint a thin layer of white over a mistake, and then paint black over the top of that. There’re a number of brands available, my ink of choice is Winsor and Newtown (pictured right) mainly because it’s the only one I can find in the shops!

Splatter!

And here’s a thing, rather than using a toothbrush dipped in white ink (and splattered all over the page) try dipping a small brush into the pot and flicking the brush along the lip of the pot around the area that you want the white (or black) splatter. The result is a finer, more controlled spray of ink along with a lot less mess on your fingers and thumbs.

(The links on above are intended for information purposes only, I haven’t purchased from either of the shops online above so can’t say whether they’re any good or not – most art supply shops will stock Acrylic White Ink).

Tools of the Trade: The Scanner

Being a comic artist involves, as one might expect, quiet a lot of drawing. But, a good proportion of your time isn’t spent on drawing, it’s spent on various admin things. Back in the old days (you know, a couple of years ago or so) lots of that time would be spent dealing with post (packaging art, heading to the post office, waiting in queues, getting annoyed and, generally, NOT drawing). Now, the job a lot of artists dread is scanning.

Every page needs to be scanned and, often, touched up to clear up various things. And, if you’ve only access to an A4 scanner there’s lots and lots of patching things together moving them about and joining them up.

The first scanner I ever owned was a four inch wide hand held scanner (actually, I never owned it, I worked in a shop selling computer equipment – so equipment like that passed through my hands before it ended up with customers). Course, those scanners were useless (though, comparatively cheap), but, to be fair, the computers weren’t really potent enough to do anything with big scanned images.

The next scanner I saw was a monsterous A4 monochrome scanner, costing around a couple of grand (it used a SCSI interface and was lightening fast – in the old days when light travelled really slowly).

Once A4 scanners became cheap, I bought one and have, over time, come to both rely on and really detest the whole scanning process.

I managed, over time, to procure an A3 scanner – a Mustek, horrible it was, slow, grinding, incompatible with mac os x (and, despite new models coming out, one of the most read pages on my old blog was a page explaining how to make it work with a mac) BUT it scanned A3 art – one pass scans were within grasp but it was so shoddy in quality, that, ultimately it sat, dead on the my shelf.

I bought better and better A4 scanners and finally, ended up with a Canon LiDe50. Great scanner, but it had a horrible lip over the border of the entire scanning area making scanning an A3 page in two passes a nightmare (not something I found out until I bought it and unpacked it). Turns out almost all modern A4 scanners had some sort of lip – so I ripped a portion of it off, taped the glass on that side into place and, voila, an A4 scanner that would allow me to scan in two chunks. And, the lip that I left gave me a neat guide to shunt the page into to keep the paper steady making it easier to match up both sides.

And while this was a lot better than the A3 scanner in terms of quality, it was still a pain to have to ensure the pages are lined up perfectly, scan in two passes and then merge together in your graphic tool of choice – sometimes lining the pages up was such a pain, you’d end up scanning in multiple passes – grabbing a panel with each pass.

So, finally, I broke – it was time to spring for an A3 scanner – and THIS time, the market had entirely changed. When I bought the Mustek (£99) the next cheapest scanner was around five grand – my new A3 scanner/printer cost £270. Lots of cash, but worth every penny, and it’s fairly changed how I work.

The process, before, was:

Thumbnail > pencil page > ink page > scan page (avoiding scanning pencils unless I really have to)

NOW:

large thumbnail > scan > print in blue > ink > scan (oddly more scanning, but less effort required to do it)

Tried the new process on a few pages so we’ll see if it sticks, but it’s great. The other thing it’s letting me do, is stop worrying about drawing panels – I now do all my panel borders in the computer on top of the blueline pencils. Print that out and I have a pre ruled page with borders completed, all I’ve gotta do is attack with some ink. Normally, I measure all panel borders out – to try and keep them totally straight, this is a fairly time consuming and laborious process that I’m pretty glad I’ve found a workaround.

Added to that, I can also add photo reference directly to the page, turn it into a blueline guide, print that out (with all the other pencils on a single page) and ink it, thereby totally integrating photos with the art in a way that makes it pretty much impossible to tell photo reference was used.

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The large thumbnails are drawn in a moleskin book and, oddly, the proportions of the moleskin end up being almost exactly right for American comics.

Anyhue, if you’re thinking about A3 scanner/printer combo: The Brother DCP-6690CW is brilliant and worth every penny.

Here’s the key info, if you’re dealing with comics:

Pros

  • Doesn’t take up too much foot space.
  • Prints to the edge of the page
  • Seems happy to take my Canson Bristol Board (220gsm) pages (though does leave an impression/dirty mark on the BACK from the roller when they’re printed and, to be fair, they’re heavier than the manufacturer recommends).
  • Cost £270 from Amazon, ink seems cheap (found unbranded ink for £8 for two sets of all colours+black) – have yet to replace a cart (uses individual cartridges for each of the colours). So I imagine I’ll be replacing the cyan and black a lot, but not the rest 🙂

Cons

  • Weirdly, doesn’t quiet scan to the edge of A3 – you can lose about 2/3 mm from the edge of whatever you’re scanning. Not a problem for 99.9% of things, but a little a mysterious, none the less. This may be a software issue – I’m not sure.

UPDATE

I’ve had the scanner long enough now to form a decent long term opinion, which is: I wish I’d bought one years ago. Scanning A3 pencils, converting to blueline, printing and re-scanning really helped me get Happy Valley in easily within deadline (including a 12 page Megazine story at the same time). Deffo worth the cash.