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EMPOWERED's panel grid

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Hey, THIS piece should really rack up the pageviews, huh? Anyhoo, just out of sheer perversity, I decided to post the “ panel grid” sheet I use when drawing pages for EMPOWERED, my “sexy superhero comedy” published by Dark Horse comics.

EMPOWERED is drawn on cheap, letter-sized (8.5” X 11” ) copy paper that’s so flimsy and fragile that I can’t tape it down and rule off panels with a T-square, triangle and ruler, as I would normally do with more conventionally robust art board. Instead, I measured off a grid of thirds and quarters* on the sheet of letter-sized paper above, and now use this “ panel grid” to mark off panel sizes on other sheets of copy paper. More specifically, I make marks on either side (or top and bottom) of the new paper at, say, the 1/3 proportion, connect ’em using a pencil and my trusty triangle, then go back over the resulting lines with a Sharpie marker (and triangle) to produce the bold black panel borders seen in EMPOWERED. (Note that I can “bias” the Sharpied borders to one side or another of the original line, in order to gain a li’l bit more size for a particular panel.)

I originally developed this “variable grid” technique strictly to cope with the fragility of the paper, but I’ve noticed a few other advantages to it: A), Tracing marks off a pre-ruled grid is much faster than taping down art board and measuring panel sizes with a ruler; and B), working off a grid tends to make my pages a bit more simply laid out and easier to read. Much of my earlier work often featured sharply tilted or angling borders and other somewhat exotic layout techniques, which might be offputting to “comics noobs,” if you will. As I’m interested in EMPOWERED being as readable as possible to a wider audience than much of my other, more techy-oriented material might be (er, despite EMPOWERED’s adult-skewed content, that is), this was a bit of a happy accident.

Note that there’s one more step I could take to make EMPOWERED even more readable... Namely, I could use “manga gutters” on its pages. In manga, the vertical gutters between panels are very thin and the horizontal gutters are VERY thick (usually in a 1:3 vertical: horizontal ratio), in order to ensure that the reader’s eyetrack stays on a particular (horizontal) tier of panels and doesn’t stray down to an out-of-sequence panel below. In general, I recommend the technique to almost all comics artists, especially ones aiming for a clearly “manga-influenced” vibe to their work... but I myself DON’T use the technique. That’s because the extreme thickness of multiple “manga-style” horizontal gutters on a page would lop off the equivalent of a few lines of lettering space from my word balloons, which would be highly problematic**... especially since EMPOWERED’s lettering size is quite large, for maximum clarity. This problem is worsened by the fact that EMPOWERED is drawn 8.5” X 11”, a far shorter, “squatter” size than the normal, “taller” proportions seen in most comics pages. Thus, vertical headspace is always at a premium... and THAT’S why I don’t use “manga gutters.”


*And, you’ll notice, some assorted measurements BETWEEN the quarters and thirds, for when I need more space for a given panel.

**Obviously, this isn’t an issue for the vertically oriented copy of Japanese-language comics.
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fwrussell's avatar

I know i'm on an older thread, but would you be willing to show an example of your completed work on the "cheap and flimsy" paper before you transfer it over? I know at least i'd be interested to see how it looks at this stage, instead of just the before-an-afters that i often find. I feel others might also benefit from seeing the work on this grid pattern to help give a visual to the documented explanation above (at least i would).

DavidVArt's avatar
So does this mean that you don't sell the original pages? Cause I'd love to have some original Emp art.
Zepeda's avatar
Ah! But is your finished work still done on linen paper or just cheap copy paper inquiring minds what to know.
rsj's avatar
Have you ever run one of those comic artist workshop panel things on the convention circuit, or in a school or something?
I definitely need to attend one of those to learn these post-Empowered "guerrilla comicking" techniques. You are like, the Che Guevara of comics right now.
tigerqueen's avatar
It may seem odd to favorite this but I suppose it's like the issue of Wizard all those years ago that I dog-earred the Adam Warren Basic Training in... lol. This is very educational, and I'm far too lazy to say, print the info on a piece of paper that I might lose (since I also draw on copy paper)...
aseariel's avatar
Fascinating. Thanks :)
Very helpful to us aspiring comic artists
idolhands's avatar
I find this FREAKIN fascinating. I love that you included this and your thoughts. You know, you are WAY better at expressing yourself and your opinions are 100x more interesting then many "do it yourself" books that seem to be exploding from the industry.

....just sayin. *nudge nudge*
EricMor's avatar
Nice technique... i've printed this image in copy paper, very interesting results :D
Unfortunately, papers, leads and brands vary per country, so there's no other way back here than try out every brand until the artist reaches the desired result.
I stocked a large collection of pens and leads back here because of that...
shtl's avatar
My favorit piece from you!
You finaly accessed a superior range of zen conceptualisation of what the symbolism of comics should be!
:p

No, seriously, thank you very much for sharing your tips. Smart method, thank again for sharing :)
DreamsxofxPain's avatar
Haha... you know it may just be the fact that you posted this that i looked at it but to be honest I'm glad i did. learn something everyday kids or go kill yourself.
thank you Mr. Warren.
bigbigtruck's avatar
What a great idea! I'm going to incorporate it in my own layouts. So far I've just been stumbling in the dark, drawing till things are set, and then cramming everything into a tiny panel, but with guidelines like these, layout will be a LOT easier.

It's also a relief to see that a pro is drawing on copy paper too :D
Jason-Troxell's avatar
Not that I am anyone to poke someone else on technique but why don't you just use regular bristol board or something sturdier? I use regular copy paper too but only when I'm brainstorming and am likely to throw away a large amount of the paper used. It seems you went through quite a few steps to compensate for bad paper which really is like punishing yourself. Your grid is pretty cool and i think you could apply it to sturdier paper pretty easily.
Teremiao's avatar
Hello! I'm the one who, a few weeks ago, asked about yours tools on EMPOWERED. Hey, I use copy paper too! Tough the one I use is not fragile like yours, I think. May I ask you about the surface of the paper? I mean, is a smooth one rather than a rough one? . Since the 3B pencil doesn't worked the way I expected, I suppose it's because of the paper.

Thank you very much for your advices and, again, sorry for my raw english!
AdamWarren's avatar
That's correct, I use copy paper with as smooth a surface as possible... Currently, I'm using Hammermill Inkjet paper (24lb., 96 brightness) for my EMPOWERED pages.

Also, the interaction between pencil leads and paper stock can vary considerably, with different manufacturers' leads (and papers) giving very different results... The only 3B lead I like is Mars Lumograph, as all other 3B leads I've tried are too hard or too chalky or otherwise inadequate. Unfortunately, Mars Lumograph recently stopped producing 3B leads, much to my annoyance... So, one my stockpile of discontinued 3B leads runs out, I'll have to find a new penciling medium. Ouch.
Teremiao's avatar
Thank you very much, you are always very kind!
AdamWarren's avatar
You're welcome... However, it just occurred to me that I should clarify that I don't use ONLY 3B leads on EMPOWERED. While I do use my precious 3Bs to draw the characters, I usually switch to harder leads, either 2B or B, when drawing technical stuff such as detailed backgrounds, speedlines, or characters seen from a distance (in a crowd scene, say). Otherwise, the 3B lead might smear uncontrollably if, say, I tried to draw a complex background or building with it.

Also, I sometimes switch over to much harder HB leads for lighter shading tones, usually as delicate shading on "fleshtones" or as an intermediate background tone. Along with the fact that I use H leads to draw my perspective grids and base "underdrawings" (which are occasionally still visible in EMPOWERED pages), this means that I often have five different leadholders at hand, each with a different lead in 'em!
Teremiao's avatar
Well, I imagined that but thanks for the clarification anyway. ^__^
Whoa, five leadholders at hand at the same time? And no cramps? You lucky man...
By the way, sorry for the delay in my answer (okay, I know you weren't waiting for it!), but in the past weeks I had an amazing mix of little accidents and pressing works to finish, so I didn't come round here very often...
Thank you very much, as usual!

Best,

Teresa
Elvan-Lady's avatar
Sad. even a grid of yours gets more pageviews than a really good drawing of mine.
nunchaku's avatar
Very informative. Especially about the manga gutters. I didn't know that. That is one of things I like about this place, you can learn new stuff from great artists.
Kai-suke's avatar
That sounds like a rather intellient thing to do, making a template and whatnot.
MrBIGAL's avatar
Thanks for sharing! May be useful in the future.
iHustla's avatar
Pretty interesting, man. I learned a little there!
MojoCroweJo's avatar
Golly, thanks! I also draw my pages on flimsy 8.5x11 copy paper - I'm glad that I'm not the only one. Actually, you're something of an inspiration to me. I've always thought that to draw good pages I'd have to pencil and ink. However, after reading Empowered (thanks for that by the way, it's awesome) I realized that a person could draw finished work in pencil provided their technique is at your level. So, that's what I'm doing now - practicing pages in pencil and attempting to refine my pencil technique. Long story short, little tips and tricks like this are super helpful. Thanks a bunch!
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