Sarah Glidden talks about the process of creating HTUI Part 1
I had already completed two chapters of HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS when Jon Vankin asked me if I would consider publishing the book with Vertigo. Jon had picked up those two chapters at MoCCA, where I was selling them as minicomics. I couldn’t wait to get started on the book. Although my editors told me that I didn’t have to redraw the first two chapters, I decided that I would scrap them anyway and treat the minicomics versions like rough drafts. I was looking forward to the chance to make improvements and changes.
For one thing, the minicomic version of the first chapter used a strict 9 panel grid from start to finish. In the Vertigo version, I still use a 9 panel grid for most of the pages, but I loosened this up a bit in order to have panels that are wider when need be while still sticking to a 3-tier format. I also just wanted to improve on the art a little bit, as these minis were already a year old at that point.
But redrawing would come later. First came the script. Before the Israel minis, I hadn’t made any comics pieces that were longer than 8 pages, so scripting had been pretty easy, and usually just scrawled on a piece of notebook paper. Even for the Israel minis I hadn’t had to think of page count restrictions, so I would just write the script by hand and then start drawing. But for the Vertigo book I was suddenly faced with the task of writing a complete script for a 195 page comic…and ONLY 195 pages. That means instead of just writing the comic until I thought it was done, I’d have to plan everything exactly. So the writing stage of the project took on a new weight and it had a lot of steps. There was the outline to the whole book, broken down chapter by chapter, and then each chapter had to be mapped. This is what a chapter would look like when I started outlining it:
I can’t even read that anymore but I guess at the time it somehow made sense. After that would come another outline and then another one which would tell me how many pages I would have for each scene. Then finally I could sit down to write the script.
I had never written a script like this before. Unlike my notebook jottings in earlier comics, this script had to be legible. Not only would my editor need to read it, but eventually our letterer, Clem Robbins, would be translating it into word balloons. It was hard at first to get used to the format, but after a while I loved writing this way. Its a little like mental thumbnailing. You’re visualizing what’s going to be in the panel and writing that visual description along with the dialogue. It got to the point where the script had kind of replaced thumbnailing. With the details of the panel described in words for me to use later, thumbnailing became all about blocking out the composition.
Here, for example, are the thumbnails for page 105:
After the script was finished and approved, it was time to draw the book. I decided that I would pencil the whole thing first, then go back to the beginning and do the coloring and inking. I decided to do it this way because I was still pretty new to drawing comics (I had been drawing them seriously for about two years at this point) and I thought my style might change over the next year of drawing every day (it did), so separating the pencil and ink stage would alleviate that a little bit. Also, I still didn’t know how I was going to color the book at this point.
Here is the same page of story as in the minicomic example above, this time for the Vertigo version of the book:
I use Prismacolor Col-erase pencils religiously. Not because they’re photo-safe blue (they are not) but because I like the texture and feel of them on Bristol board. For some reason I can’t get the same control when using graphite.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2!