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So what’s the deal, is this a comic or something?

You’re a quick one, aren’t you? That’s fantastic! You’re just the kind of reader I’m looking for, so welcome! Also yes, Trouble Ticket is a web comic about retail, bromance, science fiction, and general shenanigans. As of now it updates Mondays and Thursdays.

When did the comic start?

That’s a tough question. I actually started a comic called Trouble Ticket back in October 2008 and it ran until about November 2009, with like two strips early on in 2010. During that time I changed formats about three times and unintentionally ran the comic into the ground until I took an indefinite hiatus. In November 2010 I came back, using the same title and characters, but with a fresh idea. I know that sounds weird, but since practically no one was reading it at the time it seemed like the thing to do.

So how do you make the comic?

That’s a good question and a difficult question. When I started the strip, I drew the comics by hand and inked them, and then transferred them to the computer where I’d digitally re-draw them because I wasn’t very good with my tablet. (I’m still not very good with it) After a while I got halfway decent just working digitally so I stopped drawing the strips in full beforehand.

All of this went out the window though somewhere around strip 40 or so when I decided to just draw it and color it by hand because honestly it’s more fun and it gives me something to sell. So I’ll describe that process.

First, I figure out what the strip is going to be about, or what storyline I want to dive into. I try my best to write everything out a week or two in advance so I’ve got time to figure out text placement and look up any reference photos I might need for a pose or something. Once that’s done, it’s time to start the layout.

I draw on a Strathmore Bristol 400 series Smooth 11×17 stock and I use a t-square to lay out a 5×15 rectangle in the center of the page. After that I create my boxes (usually 4) leaving gutter space in between. Once that’s done I take my trusty mechanical pencil and try to do a general layout of the characters for placement, usually just rudimentary block shapes. After that I write in the dialogue and go ahead and create the word balloons. I use a stencil with a bunch of ovals for most of my word balloons but I also draw them by hand as well when the dialogue needs to be spaced differently. A lot of cartoonists like to go ahead and ink the panel borders and word bubbles and dialogue but I screw up a lot so I do that when I ink the actual artwork later. It’s not the best way to do things, but it’s how I roll. This usually takes me about half an hour tops.

Once that is finished I can start on the actual art. I use the previously mentioned trusty mechanical pencil to draw the characters doing all sorts of wacky things. If I need a photo reference or I need to re-draw an image for more than one panel (which is a bad idea, but it happens) I have a really awesome lightbox that I use to line everything up and just trace over it. This process usually takes an hour or two depending on the level of detail.

Now that the art is done I can start inking. I prefer a combination of Faber Castell Pitt pens and Pigma Micron pens for inking. I’ve tried some brush pens as well, but I’ve got a heavy hand and I can’t get a consistent like quality with the brushes. I use a small to medium size pen for the outlines of the characters, and a finer point for the facial details, hands, and little things like props or the backgrounds. That way I try to give things a sense of depth and perspective. When I ink the panel borders, word bubbles, and dialogue I use a generic felt tip pen for the borders and balloons and a Pigma Micron or a Faber Castell Pitt pen for the dialogue. Inking the strip usually takes another half hour or so if I don’t screw up.

The next step is one of the most time consuming and also one of the most rewarding. I like to color the comics by hand mostly because of my insane jealousy at my wife’s ability to color her comic by hand. I use Prismacolor dual sided markers which ARE NOT CHEAP but I love them. They’re not archival, but they do say that they don’t fade so I guess we’ll see how one of my originals looks in 30 years. I laid out a color palette a while back and I keep a reference on hand when I need to remember what color a character’s shirt is in a particular storyline, or the hair color of a character I haven’t drawn in a while. This process takes about as long as drawing the comic, usually another hour to hour and a half.

Finally, once I have this awesome piece of art, I scan it and load it into photoshop. I scan at 600 dpi in color so that I can reproduce the strip for books or prints with no issues. Once scanned, I clean up and darken the dialogue and change the levels on the color to make up for some of the saturation that was lost in the initial scanning. When I’m satisfied with the strip I save a copy at 72dpi as a jpeg and upload it to the web for the world to enjoy!

As an added bonus for all you digital comics lovers, I’ve also included the steps I used to take when I drew the strip digitally.

First, I fire up good ol’ photoshop and break out the wacom tablet. I’m currently using an old Bamboo Fun model which is a piece of junk but it works for the time being. As my finished product 950 pixels wide at 72dpi, I started with that size and then increased it to 600 dpi on a blank canvas and created my template. I go a little larger than that actually just to have as much working room as possible. From there I do a rough sketch layer with a gray 20px brush, and once I’ve got the characters blocked off and basic details done I finish it off with a black 20px brush and spend about an hour to an hour and a half drawing the actual comic. A good thing to note here is to make sure your tablet’s pressure sensitivity is set right so that you can get a nice line weight that flows naturally and not just a static line width which robs you of depth and perspective.

Next, I do the text and word bubbles, because the text is kind of important in a comic strip. One of the best tips I ever received was to use twitter, every day. First off, it helps you talk to the comic community and build your own fan base and interact with eventual fans, and second, it gets you in the habit of making short, funny comments and not getting wrapped up in walls of text. I follow a lot of webcomic legends, some video game community managers, my friends, and some random people and celebrities whom I find hilarious. It’s great inspiration.

Once the comic is inked, cleaned up, and the word bubbles are in place, it’s time to color it. (sort of…)

I use black layers at 75%, 50%, and 25% opacity for the colors of the characters. I just use a simple fill for this, no brushes. Then I make a background at 10%. I go back in after this and use a 15% layer for the shading to give it that slightly more professional but still amateur look, but I’m always playing with new styles to try and get a better finished product.

Once that’s done I copy the layer, and then use the eraser tool to make the background light circle over the characters. It’s a cheap and easy way to add a little background and lighting to your comics if you prefer a more spartan panel like I do.

Once that is all done, I save the master file. (Actually, I do this several times over the course of the comic creation just to be sure that I don’t lose any progress. ALWAYS SAVE YOUR WORK FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!) Then I shrink it back down to 72dpi at 950 pixels wide which gives me a strip that’s web ready. I save that as a jpeg file and post it online for the world to see.

It typically takes me about four hours from start to finish to make a comic, but sometimes it’s longer if I can’t get away with a “good ol’ cut and paste” or I need to draw a new profile or character.

That sounds really complicated…

No shit…

Where did you learn to draw?

Well, as seen by the pretty shoddy nature of the comic, I taught myself. I drew a LOT in grade school, and then kind of stopped completely for most of college, and got back into it around 2006 and just practiced and practiced until I had a core set of faces and characters I was familiar with. I like to get inspiration from other strips in the newspaper and online when I need help with a post or shape I’m not too familiar with.

If you’re looking for good reference, there’s the entire universe of great comics on the web, and I think most of the Andrew Loomis art books are public domain now if you can find them.

What other comics do you read?

There’s a big list of “other stuff I like” on the home page. You’ll find an answer there. I will say though that I think PvP is the comic that influenced me the most and made me want to become a web cartoonist.

Are you going to be at [con name] con?

I just started the convention thing this year (2011) so I’m still working out the budget for getting my name out there. If the con is in the Southeast USA there’s a good chance I can make it. If it’s one of the other 99.9% of cons not in the Southeast USA, there’s a good chance I can’t make it.  I’m working on that though.

I’ve got a comic/blog/podcast, will you link it?

Send me a link, if I like it, I’ll probably give it a plug on my blog and tell my friends about it.

So, I play video games, do you?

Yes, I’ve got X-Box live… Shoot me an e-mail using the handy dandy contact form and we’ll talk.

Alright, I’m sold, how do I give you money so you can be rich while I starve?

Well, there’s a few ways to do that. You can buy an original strip or a high quality print of any comic that I’ve made, or you can hit up the store over at Pink Pineapple Ink and buy some buttons, original art, t-shirts, or anything else we sell.

I’ve got another question that’s not here.

Well, you’re special. You can e-mail me at chuck [at] troubleticketcomic [dot] com (or just use the contact form) and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.