I drew Hereville on my computer, using a Cintiq tablet, which is a kind of interactive pen-on-screen tool that I couldn’t possibly live without. The software I use is Photoshop CS4. I used to draw with CS2, but I upgraded to CS4 because it lets you rotate an image while you work on it.
Okay, so let’s see the sequence of drawing. The example panel here comes from page 12 of the graphic novel (I posted the pencils to page 12 here).
Mirka starts out as a stick figure. I usually start with the head, and usually draw it the same way — an eggshell shape first, then a line halfway up the egg to find the level of the eyes, then a 45-45-90 triangle to find the placement of the top of her ear. Sometimes I get lazy and just start drawing the face without those underlying lines, but then I often end up having to erase and start over, so that’s not the best idea.
Then I do a couple of lines to show the placement of her body and the set of her shoulders. This may not seem like much, but it’s actually really important — in a panel like this, where we only see Mirka’s head and shoulders and a little of her trunk, the set of the shoulders is going to do a lot of the work of conveying Mirka’s expression. It’s not uncommon for me to redraw the initial stickfigure “shoulder line” two or three times trying to get it right. In this case, I opt for slumped shoulders, as if the surprise has made her go limp, combined with leaning forward.
Then I added scribbly lines to to show her hair and clothes, and different parts of her body, and more details of her face. Scribble, scribble, scribble, erase, scribble, erase. I erased and redrew a lot at this stage, until Mirka finally looked “right” to my eyes. I don’t use photo reference for figures unless I’m absolutely unable to draw the pose otherwise, and in this case the pose was easy so no need for reference.
Then I drew in the word balloon. I draw all my word balloons freehand, rather than using premade shapes, but in this case I tried to be especially all over the place drawing the balloon, to convey Mirka’s shock and excitement.
At first, I thought that was pretty good. But over time I realized that it wasn’t working for me. Sheila, my editor at Abrams, agreed with me: The drawing didn’t have enough oomph to show how awestruck Mirka felt when she first saw the witch’s tower.
I tried again, this time giving Mirka a more stunned expression. (This is where a cartoony drawing style really comes in handy!). I also changed the “Oh wow” speech bubble to an exclamation point graphic. And I rotated the whole drawing so that she seemed to be leaning back to look up, since the tower ended up being quite tall. (So much for the leaning forward! Oh, well.)
Better. But still not there. And the exclamation point graphic I created looked jumbled and confusing to me, rather than conveying an emotion clearly.
So instead of an exclamation point over her head, I put Mirka in an exclamation-point-shaped panel border. (Doing this cropped out the set of the shoulders I worked on earlier. Oh, well!) I also enlarged the drawing of Mirka a little.
And now my internal “how stunned does Mirka look”-ometer said that this worked. So now it’s time to go on to “inking.”
Of course, since I’m doing all this drawing on computer, there’s no literal “ink” involved. But there’s still a stage where I draw the panel using solid black lines, trying to keep the lines as lively as I can without losing accuracy. Then I send a copy of the page to Jake, and Jake adds colors, using Photoshop on his computer.
And finally, the completed panel!
(Remember, Hereville is now available for preorder!)