Reflecting on a Year of Making Comics

How it’s been going and my aspirations for the next year, plus a collection of my art from the first year

I started making comics seriously a year ago in September 2017. It was an intentional change from exploring the world of filmmaking with the hopes of being able to tell visual stories entirely on my own. I can’t believe that a year has flown by. I’ve been enjoying the process of making comics and growing as an artist. It’s been slow going at times but ultimately rewarding.

My Intentions

When I started making comics, I specifically wanted to focus on making sci-fi stories because I enjoy sci-fi and it’s a genre that’s full of so much possibility. My big inspirations were (and still are) the works of Tsutomu Nihei, Moebius, and Taiyo Matsumoto. My hopes are to produce works that folks can read and enjoy and think about. I’m committed to putting in the work to make art and improving my skills.

Inktober 2017

I started with Inktober 2017, where I drew 31 illustrations in ink. I was able to finish the challenge, even though I ended up just doing some copies of other artists’ styles. It was a great way to get in the groove of drawing daily.

Inktober 2017 - Day 6
One of the Inktober 2017 pieces that I look back upon fondly

Waves

A little bit before, during, and after Inktober tried to do a weekly humor comic strip called Waves. It was fun, but I couldn’t keep up with the weekly schedule. Also, my intention was never to draw humor comic strips. I want to tell long-form stories. So I decided to end Waves to focus on learning the fundamentals of making comics.

Terminal

I studied and went through Drawing Words, Writing Pictures, a fantastic book on how to make comics. I’ve revisited it multiple times since finishing it. The book has so much great information. While going through that book, I started and finished my first multi-page comic, Terminal.

Terminal_008
A page from Terminal

There was so much new stuff I learned making Terminal, like drawing on larger-sized paper, panel layout, using an Ames Lettering Guide, printing it, and so on. I printed it at digest size, 8.5″x11″, and I sold a few copies to some friends. It’s also available online to read for free. It took a few months to make it, but that’s okay. It’s a short comic, only 9-pages long. Looking back on it, I’m quite proud of Terminal. Even though the art isn’t great, the comic captures the vision I had in mind.

Lunar Space Colony

After Terminal, I got ambitious and started to plan out a longer-form project designed specifically for vertical screens. This project became Lunar Space Colony, which I worked on for a couple of months in pre-production and then a few months in actual production. My intention with the project was to tell a full story with multiple characters with a new episode released every week. After about six weeks of making the episodes, something snapped and I totally lost interest in the world and characters.

Illustrations of Bri, a female character from Lunar Space Colony
Concept art of Bri from Lunar Space Colony

I produced the eighth episode, but I was unhappy with how it turned out, so I decided to not release it and put the project on hiatus. I think there’s still something there to the original idea of a self-sufficient off-world colony after Earth’s grave degradation. But the process of working on the project was making me miserable. I’m not as interested in vertical comics for phones as much as I thought I was. There’s something about a page that I appreciate and like thinking about. Also, the project’s length was too ambitious for where I’m at skill-wise. To go from a nine-page comic to something that’s probably closer to 80 was a huge leap.

The leap from black and white to color was another aspect that I was not ready for yet. I haven’t studied or even experimented much with color, so coloring the episodes was difficult. I’d like to learn more about color in the future, but I’m okay with black and white for the immediate future.

Made it to Space.jpg
A color panel from LSC

LSC is a failure in a sense since I started the project and haven’t finished it. Even though I learned a lot, I wish that I didn’t release the first seven episodes and leave it in the state it’s in. Lesson learned: have most, if not all, of the production done before releasing it. Even if it is serialized upon release, I just don’t like working that way right now.

Lavender

During the pre-production of LSC, I took a weekend to participate in a 24-Hour Comic Challenge where I made a 24-page comic in 24 hours. It was such a blast. The result was Lavender, an action comic inspired by shonen manga. The art is quite sloppy, but I did what I could with the time limit.

Lavender - Page 18 - Far
A panel from Lavender

I would love to do another 24-Hour Comic Challenge, and I’d like to revisit the world and characters from Lavender. I think there’s potential to flesh out that story and produce it with higher quality art.

Analog to Digital and Back Again

I started drawing using mostly analog tools – ink on paper. I eventually switched to inking and coloring digitally for Lunar Space Colony, which I thought was fine. But I realized that I wasn’t enjoying spending more time than I already do on the computer. So I decided to switch back to using ink and paper and adding in screen tones (the little dots) digitally. It’s felt like a nice balance, and I’m thinking that’s what I’ll stick with moving forward for now.

There’s just something I love about making lines on paper.

Core Challenges

My two big challenges from the first year were drawing in a style that I was happy with and telling an interesting story. It’ll take time and practice to get better at both, but those were the two things I’m the most unhappy with. If I keep studying, writing, and drawing, I think they’ll start to improve. Finished, not perfect.

Celebrations

I’ve got a lot to be happy about from the first year: finishing two comic projects, drawing a whole lot, learning more about the comics medium, and actually printing comics to share with folks. I have been loving making comics, and it’s something I look forward to working on every day. I’m going to keep doing my best to stick with it.

Year One

To wrap up the year, I collected my single-page comics, strips, and favorite illustrations into an artbook titled Year One. I’d like to try to make one every year from here on out to document my journey and growth as an artist. You can download it for free by tapping on the cover below:

Year One cover, illustration of a figure standing on a pathway
Tap to download Year One, a 24-page collection of my illustrations and comics from my first year of making comics

What’s Next

When I decided to put LSC on hiatus, I started immediately working on a page-based short comic called Lost Ship. It’ll be 28-pages long, and I’m hoping to make it my best work yet. I’m currently in the process of making medium-fidelity thumbnails and will begin penciling and inking it soon. Lost Ship establishes a set of characters and universe that could be expanded upon, so I’m looking forward to those possibilities.

Captain Harlow Concept Art - 2018-09-24.png
Concept art of the main character from Lost Ship, Harlow

I’m also doing some small art challenges, like trying to draw 100 unique spaceships and participating in Inktober 2018. I’ll have art to share from those in the coming weeks. I want to draw even more during Year Two than Year One.

Beyond art challenges and Lost Ship, I’m interested in developing my skills and style. I’m not quite happy with my ability to take an idea and render it yet. Drawing pretty much anything is a challenge, so I know I’ve got to keep putting in the time and practicing. Lettering, perspective, anatomy, and expressions are all on the top of my To Learn Next list.

2018-09-25 - Mesa Space Watercolor
A watercolor piece of a ship lost in space

I’m thinking Year Two will be focused on producing shorter comics like TerminalLavender, and Lost Ship and growing as an artist. I’ll keep releasing the new comics for free online and making printed zine versions. It’d be cool to table at a con or festival in the next year.

Thanks for following along, and I can’t wait to share what’s currently in progress.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist

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