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Art Stuff
Sooo... long time, no see. A lot of you have been asking about how I do a strip. I think I've layed it out pretty well. I think. But first, let me start with where this whole Mac Hall style came from.

Long ago... like a year... Penny Arcade was running this little thing called The Bench. It was basically an open-source comic site. People sent comics in, they put them up. I made one comic for these guys.... Then they closed... Now what was I going to do with the other comics I had done for the site? They looked too much like PA to put up on another site and call my own without being hassled. So I sat on them and stuck them on my door. People in the hall really liked them and would often ask to be in the comic, so the comics became based around the stupid things we did. No one really cared what the comics were about just, that they were in it. Hence, that's where most of the Mac Hall characters you read currently came from. Eventually Matt joined up as my partner and we pulled away from the PA look and started going in our own direction.

Some of the notable style changes in the comic made considerable differences in the comic. For one, I thought the thick outer black line that was added around the third comic really helped... since then it has been dropped, added, and it's currently dropped again. Something about it just makes the characters too flat.

Another style that has developed is the use of image levels. Nowadays I hardly ever put up a comic without shifting the color levels in some way to give it the right tint I'm looking for. Most of the time I shift the comic to the blue range to give a quiet cold feeling. For morning scenes I often go toward the yellow range.

The characters themselves have also changed. Look at the first Ian... compare him to today. The differences are pretty damn amazing. Practically every character no longer looks like their real-life counterpart... well, except Matt... he looks pretty accurate. Heh. JM, however, is on the opposite end... He looks nothing like his character anymore. Oops. I guess if you want the most accurate depiction of a character, just look at their FIRST appearance. Well, Allan looks pretty crappy in all the comics, so don't count him.

All right... On to the the more specific ends of how I make a comic. Above you'll see the general (if not crappy) steps I take to draw a standard character. Practically EVERY drawing I do nowadays starts with a circle (1). I always seem to do that and then see where it heads. I follow this up with the rib cage (2). It usually helps me decide how the body is laid out and posed. Step three is the minor details, such as the bizzarly huge collar that seems to have developed, as well as te cat-looking nose. (3) The rest is all detail stuff.
Okay, this is where it gets odd. Here we have the ink and sketch art for the gift I made for Real Life Comics. Notice the pencil lines are all blue. This is the result of me scanning the original sketch and then printing it back out on a screen layer above a blue field. (Did I mention I do all my work in Photoshop?) This results in nice, light-blue lines... clean and easy to ink over. I usually use this method when I'm doing detailed or important art. Usually I just ink right over the original lines and then erase the pencil. The reason behind the blue lines is that the scanner won't pick them up, and only the pure black lines will show up. When I just erase, little artifacts of pencil crumbs can dirty the image up. (I probably could save a step if I just used blue pencil to begin with, but then I would have way too light of lines to judge how the picture is coming.) After I get this thing scanned in as a line art (Only black and white pixels... no grey) I move on to the coloring... the part everyone wants to know about.
All right, we have the ink. FIRST, we take the line art and the CUT it from the background and paste it twice. Set the top layer to a MULTIPLY layer effect. This will make the layer only darken (thus only black lines). Then I pull out the magic wand tool (hit "W") and select/delete the negative space around the characters. Next is basic coloring.
I grab the paint bucket (hit "G") and turn off its anti-alias option. I then set its tolerance to "0". This will make sure it will only paint in what it's clicked at, leaving only clean edges. Mind you, I'm usually working around 300dpi. I go through the whole frame using a basic color-by- number system. Each character in the comic has about 4 colors that they alonge use. It's like their color code. (Example: Compare Drew's skin to Jon's... notice the difference?) All of these colors are saved as swatches in my swatch list.
Okay... now it gets tricky. On a new layer between the flat coloring and the Multiply layer with the line art, I draw the cell shadows... Basically standard anime style shading. This layer is also set to MULTIPLY so that it only DARKENS without being as fake as a DARKEN layer. (Set the layer to about 30 percent opacity.) I pull out my pencil tool (hit "B") and set its color to a really dark blue... it's pure blue set to about 80 percent black. this is going to be used to create the shadows. Now over in the layers menu I click on the flat colors layer while holding down the command button (Control for PC) to select only the positive space on that layer. Now in the shadow layer in the middle I start shading. (Remember that cloth is basicly all triangles, fold-wise.)

New layer. This time above the shadows and below the top line layer. Set it to about 50 percent opacity. This layer is going to be an OVERLAY. This enables interesting effects for both lights and darks. This is mostly done to increase contrast between the shadows and the regular lighting. I select only the shadows from before in the same method I selected the flat colors. Then I use a BIG ASS airbrush equipped with black. Pressure is about 12%. I now glaze over anything opposite the light source. Now I do the the same thing with the parts that aren't the shadow... only this time with a warm or light color to create the contrast. (I feel this panel of Drew best shows this contrast.)
Okay, home stretch... On a new layer set to SCREEN above ALL the other layers we do the touch up lighting. This is all the lens flare stuff like glasses or um... matches.
Finally I add in blurs and such and put in a vague and blurry color mess that is the background... Finish it up with a levels adjust to make it all spiffy as said before... and we're done.
Final notes about drawing in the Mac Hall style.

One thing about this style is that I try and make everything into straight lines. I don't know what it is but that's just what happens. It looks cool.

Dynamic is good. Stale repetitive layouts get boring and talking-heads syndrome is bad. (IE when you have only the heads of the characters visible and all that happens is they converse. Try and open with a foundation shot to fit the scene with something wide angle. It helps a lot.

Lastly, after seeing FLCL, I noticed a wierd thing they did where the characters got CHIBI whenever something wierd, funny, or outrageous happened. I feel this works in comic form too. And as Matt pointed out, this is something Titanium Moose is notorious for. You rock man.

All right, I'm done for now. Take care and I hope this answers the many e-mails I've been sent about the comic.... and no, I don't have a tablet... only a mouse.

---IAN ( 1:02 am 10-29-01 )

Three stings won't kill me

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