THE SOURCE: How do you turn a script page into the art we see in a finished comic book?
FREDDIE WILLIAMS II: The creative environment that Rachel (Captain Atom Editor) and the higher ups at DC Comics have created, is amazing! My collaboration with JT Krul (writer for the new Captain Atom) inspiring! So far all of the arcs, and individual issue stories created for Captain Atom first starts with long, creatively rich- brainstorming sessions. Even calls that are supposed to be “quick questions” between the two of us, usually stretch into hour long conversations! After JT and I lay out the major beats and motivations for the story, JT will make all those suggestions, ideas and riffs a cohesive plot in a word document that he emails to Rachel, for approval/notes/suggestions.
After feedback is received from Rachel, and the higher ups, I get the “okay to start on the art on Captain Atom.
My “Blank – to finished page” process utilizes an imaginary camera (my mind’s eye) to capture the “reality” of the comic script. That sounds cryptic, event to me, so let me decode what that means:
I first read the script, as a “bystander” – just a first pass to lay the groundwork in my mind – to “set the stage” in my mind, for what I will eventually need to draw. This initial read through of the script is strictly to introduce myself to the themes, tone and settings that take place in the script… This is the MOST EXCITING part of the process to me – it’s pure enjoyment, I’m just letting the experience of the events in that issue wash over me, and enjoying it the way I hope I can deliver those experiences to the reader, when they eventually read the book a few months later.
Next, I re-read the script, with more of a “set designer’s” mindset. That second pass is a more clinical reading, where I make a list of any set locations, or characters that I need reference for, gathering some of that reference myself, or request it from my editor.
I then divide each page of comic script into its own Adobe Photoshop document (a digital document for page one of the comic book, another for page two etc) pasting the corresponding comic book script into the appropriate Photoshop document.
After that, I open each Photoshop file, this time, as I read through the script for page (now for a third time) with the mindset of a “Director of Photography.” I sketch, for each panel, small, abbreviated “scribbles” in the margin of the digital file. Often times these scribbles are so abbreviated, that no one but me would recognize what on earth is happening. This can be though of in cinematic terms as “finding my shot” (staging the scene in my mental camera)
After creating “Scribbles” for the entire issue, I’ll begin constructing crude layouts for each of those pages, by resizing, and flipping those scribbles, into more interesting page layouts, creating focus and emphasis on more dramatic panels by giving them more “page space”.
Next, I will make a light blue adjustment layer on top of the “scribbles” in each document, and on new layers, in Photoshop, I start sketching my actual “Roughs” for each page – these roughs are still fast sketches, but they are clear enough to be understood by my writer and editors (I will also use text labels to make clear which characters are doing what on those pages).
After I get feedback from the writer and Editors, and make any appropriate revisions to my roughs, I begin a process I call “Wireframes” (tight structure drawing, devoid of shadow or texture) for each page of the comic. The “Wireframe” stage is an excellent to catch any continuity errors I may have made in the pages (ie, forgetting to draw the correct rank to a military officer, or the correct symbol on a heroes chest).
Once the “Wireframes” are approved, I ink the pages, either through a “hybrid method”, where I print out the Wireframe structure onto the bristol board then ink on that page, using traditional inking tools, such as brush, quill, and pens, or I will ink the page in Photoshop (keeping the page completely digital. The later of those two options is faster, but leaves no original art at the end of the process. (Note much of this process is detailed in my how to book “The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics“)
Lastly, I scan any pages I used the “Hybrid Method” to create, and prep all the files for the entire issue, for upload to the FTP server. That prep includes making notes for the colorist and letterer in a separate layer, so the notes stay with the file, making it easy for the colorists and Letterers, and making them easily discarded, when they are no longer needed.
The last time I see the pages, before I see them in a printed book, is after the colorist has made their first pass. Then myself, my writer and editors all have a last chance to make sure nothing slips through the cracks, especially hair and costume colors etc.
Any little hiccups that occasionally slips through, into the printed book, can be noted, fixed, in the digital files and stored on the servers until they are re-printed in the trades.
That was a long and clinical analysis of the creation process, but it’s like trying to describe how magic happens! This whole process; from chatting with my writer on the phone, to late nights, inking – my fingers covered in India ink, the whole process is a lifelong dream come true for me, and I am forever grateful to DC Comics for affording me this privilege!
Skitch Commentary: One thing I have loved about all the interviews DC has put up with the creators behind the New 52 is the excitement everyone has over their books. I am not sure Captain Atom needs a book, but Freddie Williams III sure makes a strong case for it.