The last time I wrote a blog post showing my full page process was when I was working on the 2010 FCBD story and before that was this process post about a Winter 1152 page. I thought it was time again to explain my process for any newcomers, but to also show how some of it has changed since those write-ups. I'm using page 11 from Black Axe #3. There are not any spoilers on this page if you haven't read the issue, but if you haven't read it and still don't want to see the page out of context, here is your warning to turn back now.
Script: With Black Axe, I'm writing full scrips before I draw the issue (I've progressed to this point having started with Fall 1152 and no scripting until the issue was completed). I still use an outline for each issue, and I don't write the script for a given issue until I need to start that issue. As before, I make tick marks along side of the outline guessing how many pages I think I'd need to tell that part of the story. The script is written keeping those ticks in mind, knowing where I can be more verbose and where I need to tighten up the dialogue. On this page's script, you can see I've made all sorts of notes on my typed sheet for where the page starts and stops and also what dialogue I think should go in which panels (A,B,C & D). I make these notations in pencil after I've written the script because I don't want to disrupt my flow to think about those breaks when I'm writing the story.
Text Layout: To help me shape the page and figure the panel arrangements I'll place the text into a page template. With my notated script I may know how many panels are on the page, but not know their shape. Placing the text can help me figure how big a panel needs to be or if I can combine text into one panel or break it up into two. Here I've deviated from my script a bit. Instead of having all that text as narration, I've re-worded some of it to be flashback dialogue. With the 'E: shape of this panel arrangement, the three panels on the right will be flashbacks and the first panel will be Em & Luthebon's dialogue that cues the flashback. This also gave me a time to play with font choices. I try and have different species have different fonts for their dialogue to help push the idea that the species all have different sounds, like the text equivalent of accents.
Sketching: I've combined a few pages of sketches into this image, but the idea is the same, if you flipped through my sketchbook. I'll draw the various characters and elements for each panel scatted over several sheets. Often they are not in relation to each other. I'm just thinking about the shapes I'll need to fit each piece into each panel. The visuals I'm working toward here are Panel A: Em making a statement, B-D: various animals being overheard by Ferret hunters. You can see I made a note at the top of the page for which animals I might use to deliver the dialogue in the flashback. I settled on a wild boar, a hedgehog, and some cranes (I wrote 'birds' in my note).
Layout: I don't fuss with the drawings in the sketchbook too much. Sometimes I'll realize I've drawn something too big or small or that the piece is out of proportion with itself. I leave that fixing for once I've scanned these sketches and I'm placing them in the template. I tint the different drawings different colors to help me see where one drawing ends and the next begins. I am able to rotate and re-size any drawing, sometimes flip them left to right, and make any corrections. I'll take some care to re-position the text here too. That way I know it will all fit and not cover any important part of the image.
Inks: I print out a full-sized version of my layout and tape it to the back of the Strathmore 300 series bristol board I use for the final inks. On a lightbox I can ink the page using my layout as a guide. If I haven't drawn something tight enough in the layout, I'll pencil some on the page, but I mainly just tighten up the details ink ink as I go. This saves me a step and worry of erasing. Too often I have smeared ink, lightened ink lines, and even scrunched paper when erasing final art, so the less of it I have to do, the safer for the page. I'm using Copic Multiliner pens (0.7 mainly) for the linework and a brush & ink for the larger fill-in areas.
Flats: In this stage I have scanned my inks and I'm preparing the file for color. The goal is to establish what areas are what colors. I tend to group color areas on different layers in Photoshop: Fur, Cloak 1, Cloak 2, Skin, etc. I have also established the color holds (previous tutorial) at this stage. They may look off at the moment (as well as some of the color choices) but all I'm trying to do is get the various areas established and not focus on the color selections themselves.
Rendering: To get the painterly feeling of Mouse Guard and to add shadows and highlights to the flat colors, I use the Burn/Dodge tools (previous posts about them 1 & 2) In short, Burn darkens whatever the base color is and Dodge will lighten it. I use a brush called 'Drybush' that came standard with Photoshop 7. It's a bit uneven in it's application of either tool and that ads a nice mottling and texture that I like. The entire page, every part, every layer, is rendered, adding the depth to make the characters and settings seems as real as I can.
Final: Once I've completed the rendering on the full page, I make minor color adjustments and add any effects (like the overall lightened tone over the flashback panels). The text all gets tweaked a bit again and the balloons and boxes are placed around them.
2012 Appearances:London Super Con: Feb 25-26
Forbidden Planet London signing: March 1
Comics & Graphics Berlin signing: March 3
Comic Combo Leipzig signing: March 5
Emerald City: March 30-April 1