A fun aspect of working digitally is the ability to easily save progress. While working on Episode 1 of The Shadow of Ragnarök (if you haven’t read it, warning: these sketches have spoilers) , every time I opened my document to draw, I saved it as a new file with the date. The result is a timeline of all the compositional decisions made.
I started out with a sketch. My very first sketches were humble scribbles on paper. There I realized the experimental potential of the infinite comic format. “Infinite Canvas” is a term coined by Scott McCloud in his book Reinventing Comics. He uses it to refer to several experimental comic formats that make use of the internet interface, including Zoom Comics, Slide Comics, and Scroll comics. I am very influenced by The Wormworld Saga, by Daniel Lieske which is in the Scroll format. Like any webpage where there is more information than can fit on the screen at one time, it is necessary to scroll downwards. I was drawn to this format because it is mostly distraction-free. Unlike other comics that are in paged format, which require patience to load a new browser page for each unit of comic, the infinite comic requires loading only between chapters, instead scrolling for new information. The viewing screen acts as a window on the story. The context of the content can be controlled by the creator in this manner.
As this was the first time I’ve worked in the format of a long digital story, I ran across some surprises. Firstly, the amount of physical space necessary to create an effect equivalent to panel gutters while scrolling. In recognizing that the screen restricted the viewing area, I thought that aspect-to-aspect panel borders could be achieved by manipulating the space viewed, and not by linear differentiation. As I developed the compositional sketch, I realized that I’d crammed my moments too closely. Repeatedly when viewing the comic full-size and scrolling, I had to revise and add more space, then even more space. When sketching, I zoomed out a great deal to draw the overall flow of the composition, but the change in perspective to the actual size always required tweaks in timing. As I worked to refine the sketches, I applied this revelation by working as much as possible at the actual size.
Another realization was that the low resolution prevented me from over-detailing. When zooming in, it became pixelated at about 250%. For scale reference, the dialogue lettering is one pixel wide. When working at a print-ready resolution, it is incredibly easy to zoom in and keep on zooming, creating fine detail that is impractical working on a physical scale. Some physical comic artists such as Jeremy A. Bastian actually achieve that level of detail – if you’re hungry for a detail feast, head over to (insert preferred book vendor) and nab a copy of Cursed Pirate Girl (use the preview to see some pages!). Whenever I need humbling as an artist, I open that book up and remind myself he drew it at-scale with a tiny brush and pen. Equally awe-inspiring is the converse: an example of digital detail-density is Nonplayer by Nate Simpson. He has few, if any, impatient fans – I think anyone appreciating his work acknowledges that drawing all those leaves take forever, and is willing to wait.
This is the first project I’ve created in which the initial sketching was done digitally. Previously, I’ve planned things and refined composition with physical sketches which were then scanned in and used as the lower-level framework for a digital drawing. Developing the framework digitally was even more freeing, because semi-detailed elements could be moved around without being re-drawn. Not only moved, but also scaled, rotated, and turned off if necessary. Layers and select tools are so fun, especially in tandem. I’d worked in layers before, but not in sketching – At first, I drew everything roughly on one layer and used the select tool to move bits about. Then, in a face-palming moment, I realized I could put each different element on a separate layer, each ship, each group of people – so that it would be easier to reselect and manipulate. The greatest advantage of this working method was in the refinement of the sketch once the structure was established. On a new layer, I zoomed in and re-drew each element with greater precision and detail. After redrawing, the layer with the sketch of that area could be turned off, leaving only the refined version in view. This is roughly akin to inking pencils in the industrial comic-making method and erasing the original pencil marks – however, there’s no chance of having pencil smudges left over!