If you pick up this week’s issue of Vegas Seven, you might notice a lovely three-page comic about Chef David Chang and the upcoming opening of Momofuku and Milk Bar inside the “17 Things We Are Excited For in 2017” cover package. It’s the first editorial comic I’ve done for Seven since my downtown Henderson cover story back in 2013–and typing that made me realize just how insanely quickly the last few years have flown by.
It was editor Melinda Sheckells’ idea for me to take her interview with Chang and turn it into a comic about how and why he’s finally opening restaurants (with Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi) at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.* Most of his dialogue is based directly on quotes from that interview, but I obviously took some creative liberties to make it fun (I hope) and tell a somewhat cohesive story.
For the process geeks out there (like me), I thought it would be cool to share a little behind-the-scenes look at the comic’s genesis. For starters, here are some loose sketches I did of Chang while I listened to the audio of Melinda’s interview. You’ll notice these are drawn with a ballpoint pen. I prefer drawing with pen (versus pencil) and I almost always do sketching and thumbnails in pen.
I knew I wanted to frame the story from the perspective of the “present” (Momofuku’s grand opening, which hasn’t actually happened yet), and then have Chang tell the story in flashbacks. I started writing a loose outline, but then started working through the story beats via loose thumbnail layouts. And I do mean “rough.”
It was in this process that I realized I’d need three pages instead of the planned two to tell the story, and Melinda graciously gave me the space (although, yes, it created more work for me. FUN work.).
From there, I wrote a full outline, and after getting that approved, went to work on turning these extremely loose thumbnails into actual layouts. My usual process–especially when there’s a lot of image reference involved, like I did for this comic–is to draw full digital “pencils” in Photoshop, which I then print at about 25% opacity onto Bristol art boards so I can ink the artwork.
Then the inked pages are scanned (I do the pencils in red because it’s easier for me to drop them out in Photoshop), and cleaned up in Photoshop. I usually make mistakes and do dumb stuff like smear ink with my hand, so my inked pages are not great collectors’ items. These particular pages were not actually that bad. (Note that I don’t draw the panel borders. I prefer to use PS’s guides to help create “perfect” borders.)
From there, it’s onto digital coloring, which I love doing, but also takes a ridiculous amount of time. I normally keep my coloring pretty simple (as seen weekly at The Utopian Foundation), just a flat layer with clean, animation-style cel shading, but for this strip I experimented with more brushes and textures than usual. It’s really easy to go overboard, but I had a little thing called a deadline to keep me somewhat reined-in. But I did have fun with details like the pattern on the journalist’s dress.
Final step was, of course, lettering, which I typically do in Illustrator, especially when a comic is intended for print, versus for the web (I letter my webcomics in Photoshop). This allows me greater control and flexibility over balloons, FX, etc., plus it means I can provide the art director with a print-ready file that includes embedded fonts and other stuff that only graphic designers and print shops care about. I actually did loosely pre-letter the pages when I did my digital pencils, so I could make sure there was enough room for the balloons in the art.
The thing to keep in mind is that in the production of your favorite comic book, all of these duties are typically split between a TEAM of people. I basically did all of the artwork and production for these three pages in about 30 hours over four days. So, I hope you enjoy the finished product!
*Full disclosure: Yes, I also work in digital marketing for The Cosmopolitan, but this was independently conceived and executed (though, of course, I got blessing from the resort to do it).