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John P. has a PATREON. / King-Cat 82 is OUT.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Where the magic happens...

Since everybody does it, and I've picked up some good tips from others in the past, I thought I would write a bit about how I make my comics. Before we begin, here's your grain of salt:  .


I tore, bent, and otherwise mangled countless pages of comics erasing my lines, so fairly quickly on I began drawing with my trusty non-photo blue pencil.  This way, unless you press super-hard (which I don't), you don't have to erase your lines before reproduction.  I've used many brands, and they all work well, but the one I've settled on is the Bruynzeel 552.  

Beginning in the late 1990's I started using Microns instead of Rapidographs for inking.  Those of you who have closely followed my online bloviating may recall my history with these pens.  They are far from perfect.  They take a bit to break in*, and then I get maybe seven nice pages of inking out of them before the nib starts to degrade, the line thins, and I begin to sweat and pull my hair out.  Consequently I have drawers full of these pens that are loaded with ink, but otherwise unfit for making comics.  (I use them to write letters, or fill in blacks, etc.)

So, what I do, to get maximum mileage, is mark each of the pens I use (I generally use the 02 size) with some identifying note so I can easily recall its state of degeneration.  In the photo above, pen "A" was the first I used on a project.  Now it's unsuitable for linework, and I've switched to "B" for that purpose.  Eventually they all go in the drawer.

A few years ago, I broke down and bought a new set of Rapidographs, telling myself I'm going to leave Microns behind, and go back to the classics.  I told myself that this time I'll clean my Rapidographs, pamper my Rapidographs, never get angry at my Rapidographs.  But then when it comes down to it, I just buy another Micron.

*I was delighted to discover that I break my Microns in using the same technique that one of my heroes, Lynda Barry, uses to warm up her hand:  I repeatedly draw alphabets until the nib smooths out.

In addition to Microns, I also occasionally use other media to "ink" with, especially soft graphite pencils (4B or softer) or Prismacolor black colored pencils.  These give me a line that I like, somewhere between a pen and a brush.  It gives me a little more control than a brush (which I've never been patient enough to learn to use effectively) but also enough looseness and line variation that I can find some happy accidents in there as well.

I've tried fruitlessly to find a disposable tech pen that works better than the Micron.  The PITT (above) has an amazingly inky black line that I love, but also tends to bleed for me.

I rarely need to break open a bottle of ink, since I mainly use tech pens, but when I do these are the ones on my table.  I use the Higgins black for washes, the Black Magic for deeper blacks, and the Pelikan for ?  (If you look closely you can see the dust on its lid!)  I keep bottles of T-100 around because that was the ink that came with my first set of Rapidographs, back in 1986.  The Pro Black is awesome, my new favorite, an opaque black watercolor that I use in non-comics drawings.

Ah, whiting out.  I think it's remarkable that cartoonists spend so much time and effort hiding all their mistakes.  No wonder we all have complexes.  I used the typically messy Wite-Outs etc until, in the late 90's, David Lasky clued me in to Pen Opake (above), an exquisite opaque white watercolor, that, used with a brush, covers anything and is easily inked over.  Unfortunately, and true to form, they stopped making it.  So for the next ten years I searched high and low for a replacement.  The best I've been able to come up with is Windsor and Newton's Process White.  It goes on well, but one thing I've noticed is you have to wait till it's REALLY dry to use a pen over it.  And it's still not as good as Pen Opake (which is so good, that I can't even bring myself to throw away the bottle!)

These are the poor, sad brushes I use to white stuff out.  They're tiny.  Brush fiends are probably vomiting right now over the condition of the bristles.  Well, I like 'em that way.  I find it easier to direct the watercolor when they're bent like that.  And I'm lazy.  I have a bunch of other brushes too, that I forgot to photograph, that I use for filling in blacks or coloring.

The eraser.  I like the Mars Plastic ones, though they're probably not noticeably better than other brands.  Or ARE they???

The eraser shield.  I bought this at Meininger's several years back on a whim, and have come to love it.  You can zero in on a problem area and really go to town on it, without messing up the other pencils around it.  That said, all that rubbing against the metal does a number on the eraser.  Still, very helpful to have around.

Ah, my secret weapon.  My sister bought this package of typewriter correction film for me when I was in High School.  It's my go-to tool for whiting out tiny, hard-to-reach areas.

Ko-Rec-Type is basically a plastic sheet coated with some sort of white film on one side.  You lay the sheet over the area to be corrected, and press, with a pencil, or if you're being really precise, the tip of an X-Acto knife.  Remove the sheet, and the white film adheres to the page, covering up your error.  I don't know if they still make this stuff.  I doubt it.  In 1998 I found a box of similar stuff on clearance and bought a lifetime supply of it.

This stuff is nice because it's so easy to apply, but forget about inking over it, especially with a nib pen.  (Ballpoint would probably work.)  So I use it for whiting out larger areas (often marginal notes) that don't need to be inked over.

Same thing, except easier to ink over.  I'll sometimes use this stuff to redo lettering, but only if the quality isn't super important, as the texture is nowhere near as smooth as bristol.

Ha, Misun had to special order these from an office supply store when we were in San Francisco.  It's a water-based cover-up that doesn't stink (in fact it has a delightful fresh pine scent!).  Surprisingly easy to ink over once completely dry.  I use it to white out lettering, but only when consistent quality isn't necessary, as pens tend to fatten out over it.

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  1. Dude, Im going to get you some of the pens I use from Taiwan. You'll see that they last longer than the Microns and the tip is very similar. If you go to TCAF next year Ill bring some.

    1. Almost bought a refillable/renibbable Copic pen the other day, but the ink was inconsistent, first strokes came out grey, and homey don't play that. What brand are you talking about?

    2. Well, the copics are pretty good, but too expensive for what you get in my opinion. I use some faber castell that are similar to pitts, but they last a LOT longer. I never saw them here in the states.. Ill get you some in Taiwan. If you come to White River Junction I can give you some of mine to test.

  2. I am vomiting over your white out brushes. This is a great post, thanks for sharing your materials and process.

  3. i only love microns after i've broken or bent the tip. but my drawing is about searching and failure and acceptance. when i want to control and manage my line (imitating herge) i go to these deleter pens i found at a local japanese bookstore. they're awesum:


    i use a lot of white paint and am always on the lookout for stuff that takes a beating.

    deleter white is pretty tuff:


    this presto pen should be crappy but isn't:


    cel vinyl white (used for animation) is good but you gotta shake it like mad (good exercise?) and water it down a bit:


    thanks johnny!

  4. My supply list is so small compared to yours! Mine is my sketchbook, Micron Pens and the German brand that is gray color on the barrel. I also use an eraser, and a mechanical pencil. When I am feeling saucy I bust out the sumi-e pen.


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