Saturday, February 9, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #6

Previously: Mr. Gillis, the investor for City Mouse's movie, insists that CM make his movie in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Gillis' home and the place where CM used to live as well.

Let's talk about the way I lay out a strip this week. I begin with the rough idea of what will happen. In a four-panel format like this, it's essential that I boil the action down to its most important parts. In this one, the idea I'm after is simple: City Mouse has arrived in Columbus and has begun forming ideas for his film. In terms of plot, it's simple enough that I can allow myself a "character moment," in this case, Collie greeting CM at the bus terminal.

After diagramming the panels, I approximate space for the dialogue. If you've seen enough of my CM strips by now, you know that I often place the word balloons on the tops and bottoms of the panels, though if I have fewer dialogue, like in panels 1 and 4, I'll often liberate the balloon from the panel border. 

Positioning the tail of the balloon is vitally important, and sometimes it gets tricky. Note in panel 2 how much longer CM's upper-left-hand balloon tail is compared to Collie's. That's because it needs to be clear that CM is speaking in that moment. Then there's the character of the word balloons. See how CM's lower-left-hand balloon in panel 2 is kinda squiggly? That's meant to emphasize the fact that Collie's bear-hugging him (cow-hugging?) and as a result his voice is strained and weak. The smaller lettering also helps sell the weak voice.

After sketching the balloons, I work out the art on tracing paper and transfer the finished design onto the Bristol board paper via light box. When I lived in Columbus with my cartoonist friend Max (whom you'll meet later on in this strip), I couldn't believe he didn't use a light box. I had depended on mine ever since college and I missed it terribly while I was over there. Max gets by fine without one, as do many other artists, but for me it's absolutely necessary. 

The most important element in cartoon art is the need for one's pictures to tell the story. One does that with things like setting (the background of the bus terminal in panels 1 and 3, plus the Columbus skyline in panel 4), gestures and body language (Collie hugging CM in panel 2), and facial expressions (Collie's over-exuberance and CM's discomfort in panel 2) for starters. One does not need to be able to draw like me or anybody else to do this. It can be done with stick figures as easily as anything else. Once the artwork is in place, I ink both it and the lettering, then erase any stray pencil marks, and that's it! 

These are the goals that I strive for whenever I sit down in front of my drafting table, and some days I'm better at it than others.

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