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Last year, near the end of summer, just a few months after starting with a few political cartoons on this site, I went online and typed “horse” into the google images search. Then “cartoon horse”, then “unicorn”, you see where I’m going with this. I was looking up reference images for inspiration on how to draw a character that had just trotted into my head.
On the 6th of September 2016, the first “Naughty Unicorn” cartoon was published and became an immediate hit on Reddit, where I’d taken to posting my cartoons.
It was really quite a simple idea. I took the constant moans about Scottish independence supporters not quieting down, and turned them into the idea of Scotland’s national animal breaking free of its chains, only to have some unseen narrator declare that its wish for freedom from its imprisonment was really rather naughty. What a naughty unicorn.
It began a new style of cartooning that I was really wanting to get into, mixing the childish innocence of children’s books, with the harsh world of politics. Political cartooning, with a family feel, as I’ve come to describe my style recently.
Admittedly, my excitement got ahead of me, that week became “unicorn week”, with a new Naughty Unicorn appearing on the Scotland subreddit every day. I knew right away that the unicorn might make a really great idea for a book, though, at the time, I’d just assumed a collection of these “what a naughty unicorn” cartoons, all gathered up into one book, maybe with a few multi-panel comics mixed in between the pages. I submitted this, rather dry idea, to Unbound Books, and it was quickly rejected (in hindsight, unsurprisingly).
But over a year and two months later, the idea of a naughty unicorn book came rushing back to me as I was reading the Gruffalo (in Scots) to my son. Why couldn’t the naughty unicorn be a children’s book? Not a collection of old cartoons, but something completely original.
Well, that is what I am doing. Over the last few weeks, I have managed to come up with a transcript for the text of the book, all based around the idea of the original, centuries old, poem about the Lion and the Unicorn.
For those who don’t know, the poem goes:
The lion and the unicorn,
Were fighting for the crown,
The lion beat the unicorn,
All around the town.
The basic premise of the book is, “300 years later…”
It continues the poem as the Unicorn awakens and decides it’s time for change.
I’ve already started drawing and painting the pages. Unlike the original naughty unicorn cartoon, which was drawn in ink then coloured digitally, I’m drawing and colouring each page manually in watercolour.
Do follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for updates on how the book is going. And please do pester me for updates, because if you don’t hear any, there’s a good chance I need a push for motivation. Hopefully, I’ll have this thing ready soon 🙂
So I’ve been running Evil Dr. Eye as an actual thing now since March and I think I’m getting the hang of it. The issue I found was, it wasn’t so easy getting started. The fact is, all I’d ever done until this point was sketch things out on a pad and take photos of them, now I wanted my comics to actually look somewhat professional. It’s taken me a while to get used to this, from learning what paper works best for me, to what pen/brush I should use, right down to how to scan them and prepare them for publishing. Frankly, I had a lot to learn, and no single blog gave me all the answers that worked for me.
This is simply because most comics are done differently. Some people draw using sharpies on pads, some do the whole thing digitally in illustrator, some appear to even make all their comics in Microsoft Paint! As such, for every tutorial I found, not one had the full combination of solutions that I’ve now come to accept as my own personal method. That method, I am going to show you in this blog post, because, who knows, maybe there’s someone else out there, just trying to figure this stuff out. This does mean, though, that in all likelihood, this solution may not be perfect for you. I don’t know an awful lot about art, I’m learning it as a go along, but I am learning that no two artists work is the same, and that goes for their method too. You can try and copy what I do, but you’ll probably change things that work more for you, just don’t use one single tutorial to tell you how to make your webcomic, read a few, find the mixture of methods that works best for you.
So in this post, I’m going to talk about the whole process I have for creating a ready to publish webcomic, what tools I use (both digital and not so digital) from inception to saved comic file. I’ll be covering capturing the idea for a comic, what paper and pens I use, what settings I use for scanning, and how I edit it to make it ready for web.
Saving the idea
If you’re anything like me, you actually have to fit this stuff around the whole having a life thing, that means you can’t always just whip out your pens and paper and start drawing. But it also means that by the time you do finally get home to the drawing board, that awesome comic idea you had is now gone. So seriously, don’t just think to yourself “oh this idea is great, it’s so awesome I’ll remember it,” seriously, when you get home, you’ll not remember it properly, or if you’re like me, you’ll just be thinking “oh what was that? Was it a comic? Maybe it was an idea for what to have for dinner… oh never mind, I’m finding Voyager on Netflix.”
So, first tip, write it down! It’s really that simple. I prefer digital, but if you prefer pen and paper, just keep a little pad on you, so all your ideas are in one place. My solution is Google Keep. It’s like the note taking app found on iPhone, except it’s an app you can download from Google or visit as a website. The benefit of this is that no matter what device you’re near at the time, you can quickly make a note, whether you’re on your personal or work computer, or on your phone, just take a quick note of your comic. That way you’re not going to forget it, because there’s nothing more annoying that getting close to a promised publishing deadline (if you decide to publish to a schedule) and desperately trying to think of a comic when you know you had a great idea for one earlier but just can’t remember it. So seriously, save the idea, write it down, right now.
What stationary should I use?!
Wow, this was a question I did not expect to have so much trouble with. I’d always drawn this stuff on paper in a basic sketchbook, but it wasn’t easy. For starters, if you’re using ink, half the time, the colour bleeds through. Sometimes the paper wasn’t very pure white. Sometimes the paper would just be poor quality and seem to become damp and unpleasant as I applied pen to paper. I also had an issue that I didn’t even realise I was having until I started doing some real research on the matter, size. I’d always drawn on paper not larger than A4 (about Letter size for you American readers). The issue with this is the details, the smaller your paper, the smaller your comic, meaning the tiny details become very difficult to draw accurately. For me, the biggest issue was text, writing text small enough to fit in a speech bubble in a box that was already less than half the size of the paper’s width was not easy, I’d end up with much bolder text than I intended and when this was shrunk down later to fit on a phone screen, it became even trickier to read. Seriously, size up the paper.
I ended up using A3 Bristol Board. Bristol Board is a thick white paper that it turns out, professional comic artists use. There is an issue with sizing up the paper though, and it was easily the most expensive issue I’ve had so far, later on, you’re going to want to scan your comics, and most home scanners are A4 only. Meaning I needed to buy a new scanner. We’ll get to what I chose later.
I also discovered something surprising, which was that many comic artists don’t actually use pens at all, but instead use brushes. I wasn’t ready for this but did like the style of these bold lines, varying in thickness. After a little research, I took on the recommendation of a couple of artists and went with a Pentel Brush Pen. As the name suggests, this is quite literally a pen, using black ink cartridges much like you’d expect in a fountain pen, but instead of a nib, the pen has a brush head.
It took a bit of getting used to, but when I got myself a brush pen and begun using it, the effect was immediate, I started trying my normal characters using bold black lines using this brush, experimenting with the fine detail that its tip allows compared with the thick lines when using the whole brush. Colouring huge blocks in black in seconds when I wanted to, suddenly Evil Dr. Eye had a dark black pupil every time. I was not going back to using what ever pen I had to hand, from now it, it was going to be this brush pen everytime.
Okay, so what are the steps for actually drawing this stuff?
For me, I always start with my panels. If I’ve planned them out before hand, this should be much easier. For me, most of my comics are one, four, or six square panels, so for the most part, this is easy. Here, I tend to cheat, I don’t bother with rulers and measuring, I use a light board to trace over a previous comic. So once I’d measured one two by two comic, I was ready to just keep using it to quickly trace out my four panels using my brush pen! Once that’s dry (I’ve started making a few pages of panels at a time to save time later now), I begin sketching.
I use soft graphite pencils to sketch out a comic, but honestly, that’s just me being fussy, your bog standard HB pencil that you knicked from Ikea will do just fine. I’m not great at drawing, though I’m slowly getting better as I go, so I usually google for a reference image of the general proportions of what I’m going for and look at that as I draw. Just get drawing out the whole thing in pencil, including the speech bubbles and text to go in them, all in pencil. Believe me, do it in pencil first, if you make a mistake and find something doesn’t fit, or you’ve spelt a word wrong, you’re going to be so angry if you did it in ink.
Now then, erasing. You’re going to want a rubber (eraser for you giggling Americans out there) that doesn’t shred your paper if you get too enthusiastic and rub too hard (seriously America, quit giggling!). For this reason, I use a putty rubber. The great thing with these is they’re soft and mouldable, but also, if they get dirty, which they do, you can just knead it into itself to make it clean again. You can get these at any good arts and crafts store or, of course, online.
When you’re finally done, it’s time to start inking. That’s the fun part, seeing your comic actually coming to life. Don’t hurry though, this really is the part you can’t hit Undo on, you may be able to erase the odd blemish in Photoshop, but if you’re really wanting this to turn out well, done properly in ink, take it slowly. It’s amazing how easy it is to ruin a whole artwork just by trying to get it finished quickly.
When you’re done, you’ll have a full comic with both your ink and your pencil marks in place. The great thing here is, you can erase the pencil marks and be left with a complete comic that you can be proud of. I would warn you though, really, really wait it to dry first before bringing out your rubber, because if it’s not quite fully dried (which can take an hour or two, sometimes more) then you’re just going to smear ink around. I’ve made this mistake a couple of times. The good news is, this is a webcomic, and you don’t actually need to erase your pencil marks.
Finding an A3 Scanner
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with changing to A3 was that I didn’t actually own an A3 scanner. After a lot of digging, I was astonished to find that they’re really not cheap. Considering the drop in prices of A4 scanners and printer-scanner combinations in recent years, I had simply assumed their A3 counterparts would have dropped with them. The cheapest A3 scanner, with any form of recommendation, I could find was a Mustek that came in at well over £200 (over $260). Another came in at £170 but had some very poor reviews on its quality. Surprisingly, though, I discovered that A3 printers, are much cheaper than A3 scanners, which is ironic because most printers have built-in scanners now.
So I found a very decent A3 printer from Epson, complete with a high-quality scanner that was actually of better spec than the Mustek one. The Epson WorkForce WF-7610 came in at £120 (about $160), still more than I wanted to spend, but not all that bad given that I’d end up with a decent A3 printer out of it too. There was a cheaper one for less than a hundred by Brother, but I’ve had experience with Brother printers in the past and it was not good quality at all, plus the reviews confirmed that the scanner did not perform well. The one thing I would warn though, this thing is huge, so make sure you have a space for it.
Scanning your comics
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t actually need to remove the pencil marks on my paper before scanning. It took me a long time to realise this, the hours lost on waiting for ink to dry could have been used… well… honestly… in bed. Sure, let your ink dry, but you don’t need it to be totally dry like you would if you were about to take a rubber to it.
I scan my pages directly into Photoshop by clicking File -> Import -> Images from Device. It’s worth noting that you should try to scan your comics at least twice the resolution you may choose to print them later in the future. In my case, I assumed I’d want to print at 600 dots per inch (dpi) later, so I scan at 1200 dpi. I also choose to scan in Black & White (greyscale) only, because it will scan a lot faster, and there’s no need to capture any colour anyway. I scan in Tiff format because I believe this captures as much detail as possible with as little distortion to the image upon saving as possible.
Editing your comic in Photoshop
Now to get rid of that pesky paper background. When I first started out, I simply selected the background and deleted it, replacing it instead with a white background. This meant that for my first several comics, I had the full texture of my ink on paper visible in my comics. However recently, I have come to favour a different tactic, not actually using any of the original elements of the image at all.
First, I create a new blank layer. Then, I select my ink by choosing Select -> Colour Range. I then use the eyedropper to pick the black ink and turn the fuzziness to 100. I find this is enough to select all my ink, but none of my pencil marks.
After this, I select Edit -> Fill and choose to fill my selection with black. I then just create a new layer below that black ink layer and fill it with white. Done.
I don’t colour most of my comics but when I do, I just create a new layer in Photoshop and use my graphics tablet. I must admit, I’ve found I’m not a fan of drawing with the graphics tablet, never managing to make what happens on screen match what I think it should. I don’t know why, I just struggle with it. Anyway, by sticking a new layer underneath my black ink layer, I can easily colour sections in, not worrying if I go slightly over the lines because the colour will go underneath, rather than over. This really is the easiest part of the whole process.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you have scanned your image in black and white (greyscale), then your image mode is now in black and white in Photoshop, so every colour you pick will be some tone of grey. To fix this, choose Image -> Mode -> RGB. It’ll ask if you want to flatten the image; you do not.
Resizing and exporting your comic for the web
If I’ve got a more complex version of this comic, i.e. it’s got a colour layer/other things I might want to come back to, I’ll always keep a PSD photoshop format. Otherwise, I flatten this image and save it as tif format.
However, we scanned this at an extremely high resolution, so much so that a typical six panel comic for me can end up at 256 megapixels in size! Obviously, my destination for this is the web, so we need to shrink this down. So what is the best size for a webcomic? After a lot of looking around different webcomics and sites that host them, I’m going to say the best size for your webcomic is a width of 940px. So I resize my image to this size and then choose File -> Export -> Save for Web (Legacy)… and I choose to export as png-8 as this copes well with sharp bold lines while generally keeping the file size down. You’ll get a much smaller image size with jpg, but it’ll distort the image horribly. And that’s that, it’s ready to upload to your website/twitter/facebook/some comic hosting site like Tapastic.
I’ve seen a few variations of the Scottish Saltire in recent years, and I’ve also found many feel it difficult to tell if a person is flying the saltire as a show of pride in their nation, or to demonstrate their desire for independence. In Catalonia, they have a solution for this, you see in Catalonia, the flag is La Senyera, a gold and red striped flag. However a variation of that flag has been used throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century named La Senyera Estelada, quite literally translating from Catalan to mean “The Starred Flag” and is often just shorted to “L’Estelada”, or “The Starred”. It was originally based on the flags used by Puerto Rico and Cuba who gained independence from Spain in 1898 and 1902.
It’s worth noting that Catalonia does not intend to use L’Estelada when they do gain independence but, in fact, use the true flag of Catalonia, the simple Senyera with no triangle and no star. In this way, the Catalan flag that we all see so often by our kin in struggle for independence really is a protest flag. I felt that we could use a similar flag, and so I’ve put together the following, “La Saltire Estelada”.
The Saltire Estelada depicts the Scottish Saltire Flag with a gold star centred within its left triangle. The colours of the flag are navy-blue (#003399) and gold (#FFCC00) using the official colours of the EU flag and, of course, white (#FFFFFF) for the saltire. The star represents our wish for independence, its colour our wish to be a member of the European Union. It also acknowledges our friendship and shared, peaceful struggle with Catalonian independence campaigners.
I am licensing this as Creative Commons Zero (CC0) meaning it is public domain, everyone is free to use this as they wish without attributing me.
Ironically, since my comic about Scottish Summer, we’ve actually been having some rather splendid sunshine in this past week or so! It’s been great for comics as I’ve been out in the garden drawing comics then hanging them up on the washing line to dry! I thought this was a rather amusing sight so thought I’d share it with you.
To be fair, this sort of backfired on me later in the evening when the Haar came up the Forth. The Haar is a sea mist that sometimes arrives quite rapidly and swallows up cities and all else on the East coast of Scotland, it’s beautiful, but it’s still just water vapour. The page you see in this picture was rather damp when I brought it in, along with my washing. All was well though, the comic itself was just as it should have been and the page dried just fine indoors.
So we were introduced to Lavender in yesterday’s comic, that’s something. She’ll be joining Evil Dr. Eye as a main character within this comic. I’m still working toward my goal of 30 comics buffered up, so far I’ve managed to draw a total of about a dozen. I’m starting to think though that I need to aim higher pretty soon as even I feel like the gap between each Wednesday is just too long. Ultimately I’d like to go for the standard Monday, Wednesday, Friday release cycle, but of course, the trouble with that is that if I want to triple my release cycle, I should really triple my buffer too. So I need 90 comics drawn, and I’m only a third over my original target of 30 to begin with. Eugh.
I have to wonder how folks like Minna Sundberg do it. For those who don’t know, Minna has been publishing a full graphic novel called Stand Still Stay Silent, which is just incredible, I really do suggest you check it out. She’s been drawing and penning each page as she goes, and publishing five days a week! It’s an incredible feat I just can’t imagine doing. On the contrary, though, I look at Kristen Gudsnuk, who has been publishing Henchgirl, in all its Gudnukian charm, on a weekly basis for quite a while now. It was actually Hench Girl that encouraged me to realise I could actually try drawing my own webcomic, again, go check it out, it’s a really fun comic to read through. So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, maybe weekly is just fine. Hell, maybe I’ll come up with a million ideas and have a hundred comics lying around ready to publish as fast as I like. We’ll see.
For the keen eyed of you, you may have noticed a slight link in the latest comic and the April Fools one, and you’d be right to suspect, we have indeed entered into an actual storyline! It’s a tricky dilemma for me though, as I want each individual comic to be fun and shareable on their own, so I’m having to link comics together in a storyline in a way that people who just see one page don’t actually notice it’s mid-story. Yeah… we’ll see how long that lasts shall we?
Whelp, I’ve decided to finally take Evil Dr. Eye, a character I’ve been drawing since high school, and turn him into a real webcomic. It’s only taken me fourteen years to do it.
Evil Dr. Eye appeared as part of my constant bickering with my art teacher at school. He and I were often faced with the frustration that no matter my attempts, the fact was I could not draw as well as others in class. An argument with Mr Gould would usually arise after my own frustration at having had to draw a hand, or a thumb, or an eye. The thing was, could draw a fine hand and then the thumb would be too elongated, it became a mutant thumb. Mr Gould would become angered at the sight of my drawing, discovering that in my frustration, I had drawn a cartoon face with a large floppy tongue, truly creating a mutant thumb!
The best part of all of this, Mr Gould could always be appeased so easily, simply by stating “Oh, well actually, I was going for surrealist.” Every time, he’d tip his head, look at the drawing and suddenly behave as though I was on to something. My art teacher was an idiot. I super soaked him on my last day at school… I was a horrid little shit.
Anyway, Evil Dr. Eye was one of those frustation moments. I could draw an eye. I can really draw a great eye, full toning, detail within the iris, reflections in just the right places, eyelashes so realistic you wonder if I traced them. But the rest of the face? No chance. Mr Gould once requested that I now draw “the rest of him”, and so a little body wearing a T-shirt and shorts was stuck onto my eye and the caption “Evil Doctor Eye” scrawled underneath. He was pissed. Then it was surrealist and he loved it. Evil Dr. Eye has been my go to point when I’m doodling ever since.
To begin with, I am trying to create a buffer of thirty comics. I’m going to be publishing once a week, so I figured that this thirty would keep me safe. I’ve penned out eight so far, I’m not sure at what point I’ll decide it safe to start publishing, maybe at thirty, maybe I’ll get impatient and start sooner. If there’s an Evil Dr. Eye comic on the front page of this site, you know I’ve begun.