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Guest post: Nick Bertozzi talks process

Nick Bertozzi is an amazingly talented and prolific cartoonist, a teacher, and a good friend. I was thrilled when I saw this post about the process he used to make his new book Lewis & Clark over at the First Second blog, and asked if we could repost it here. The book itself is out, and it’s is spectacular. Just look at this cover! If you’re in NYC, come celebrate the book release with Nick at Bergen Street Comics on Friday, Feb 25. Matt and I will be there, too! Follow Nick on Twitter @nickbertozzi or, even better, follow Lewis & Clark! @Lewis_Clark_Twt

STEP 1:

Write a script. People will tell you this is hard to do. They are not lying to you.

STEP 2:

Lay out the pages with rough drawings and roughly positioned text.

[Here is a full spread]

I tried using a new roughing technique for LEWIS & CLARK, putting together all of my layout using Adobe Illustrator. It’s great for positioning text exactly where you want it, but drawing right onto a computer is a crazy idea. Just think, you can draw your image up to 800% magnification which means the awesome detail that you’re drawing on Meriwether Lewis’s epaulets will look like a muddy splotch at 100% magnification. Stay AWAY from the zoom tool is my advice here.

[Here's a detail of the layouts spread]

STEP 3:

Pencil the pages onto 11″ x 14″ bristol board using the Roughs in Step 2 as a guide. This is the stage in which I try to get the characters’ poses and facial expressions just right. If I get the pose right, I can give an emotional resonance to the dialogue balloon that the character is speaking in order to make that character seem more real.

STEP 4:

Ink over the pencils using an old-fashioned pen nib and brush with india ink. This is the part in which I try to make the pages look good; thicken up the lines so that the pictures are easy to read, and using different inking techniques to make the background elements and props look like they’re supposed to: Plants are inked like plants, example. Sounds easy, but it’s hard for me…

STEP 5:

Scan and manipulate the image to get it to read as clearly as possible. Even though I spend all that time on Steps 1-4, there’s still lots of little things that go wrong and I don’t often see them until someone points them out to me. On these pages I added black to the tops of the buildings so that the entire two-page spread appears more solid, I moved some panels around purely for design sake, and most importantly, I added more space in the word balloons so they’d be easier to read.

The whole process takes a few days and I haven’t even mentioned the time spent researching the buildings and costumery of the era, nor the hours spent trying to get better at drawing horses–not sure if I succeeded on that last one–but I think it’s worth it, since it makes for a really quick and smooth reading experience that I hope you like. Thanks for reading!

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