Top tools for traditional comic making, Julia-style

I’m kind of a cheap-ass. 

Drawing with pen and ink appeals to me over paint and other mediums because its such a low risk investment. Give me high quality paints and canvases and presently I begin shaking, terrified that the first mark will ruin it all. Drawing? Just grab another piece of paper. The stuff is compact and travels easily, too, compared to other mediums.

So that’s probably why, when my husband and I packed all our possessions into the Ford Taurus for a cross-country move, I was able to keep all my comic-making equipment. The bulky jars and boxes and bundles of supplies went to dear artist friends. I took what would fit. And this just one year after a previous purge-everything cross country move.

Economy, therefore, is at the heart of all I do. Saving space and saving money because it’s the only way I can keep my stuff. So, for cartooning, here is what I can’t live without:

  • Two nib pens, one for black ink and one for white. No matter how much you wipe down that pen, how much you scrub it, there’s always going to be cross contamination when using the same pen for two inks. It’s a crestfallen type of feeling to see your shining white turn partly-cloudy grey. Just get two pens and save the heartache. Inktober fans, take note.
  • Ink, black and white bottles. I’m still testing various brands for a favorite. So far all I know is the Black Cat stuff sold by the gallon feels a little runnier and not as black. And the Liquitex acrylic ink almost feels sticky on the page after drying. The pictured stuff is Higgins. One thing’s for sure, get the waterproof stuff because you never know when you’ll get caught in the rain. Do I know this from experience?

  • Bristol board. I’m embarrassed to admit I like the 11x17 pads with a patronizing cover that practically screams “hey kids, comics!” or otherwise a vaguely sexualized image. For Canson, it’s the “Fanboy” line. I put up with the packaging because the pages come pre-printed with blue border guidelines for live, trim, and bleed marks. And best of all, there are even hatch marks that measure where half-panels and third-panels should go. No more guessing and hoping that the tiers are all the same height. There are other ways to measure out a page and panels, but for me, this is worth it for the convenience.

  • Mechanical pencil with blue lead plus eraser. Doesn’t matter if I’m drawing a simple ball or a suplexed train. My underdrawings are layer upon layer of scribbly mess only I can decipher. Doing it in blue allows me to ink directly over the mess and Photoshop it out later. There are a few ways to do this; I follow this method using the Black and White Adjustment Tool. For you, it can be any color, the Photoshop process is the same. I like blue because it makes me feel legit! /flex
  • Drawing surface. A tilted drawing board is of course the ideal, but this article is about making do. For me, I use a wooden box on top of a side table and a pane of glass with the edges taped off. The box adds height so I’m not scrunched over the table hurting my back. The pane of glass lets me tilt the page. The art store sells portable flat drawing boards which you could prop up on your knees in bed if you wanted to.

There’s plenty other tools available for cartoonists, but this is my arsenal at the moment. 

For more talk on inking, illustration, and traditional comic making, follow me on Twitter and Tumblr. Like this? Share using the link below!