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Valiant Presents: The Craft of Comics Part 2

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Part 2: Penciling

The second session of Valiant Entertainment’s and Hasting’s special Craft of Comics series was livecast on September 26. The focus for this session was penciling and featured Valiant artist Clayton Henry.

Each week of this live workshop has a different focus: writing, penciling, inking, and coloring. Hastings guests receive a free exclusive workbook in which to create and hone their artistic skills. Guests can then enter The Craft of Comics contest, where one winner will have their work published in an upcoming Valiant comic. Official rules and submission forms are available in the exclusive book and online at goHastings.com/Valiant.

The role of the penciler is to interpret the script and illustrate the story. This involves laying out pages, determining panel breakdowns, and showing action. Artist Clayton Henry (Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger Wars, The Fall of X-O Manowar) explained the process of bringing a story to life.

The panel was moderated by Jacob Rivera, who directed questions to Henry. During the discussion, Henry was sketching Armstrong, and several times referred to his actions to elaborate on a concept. Henry also fielded questions sent in by fans via Twitter.

An overview of the art process was given. Typically, a penciler will draw out the story. An inker will then tighten up the lines and shade. Some pencilers will do their own inking. Others leave this step in the creation process to an inker. The last stage is coloring. Henry said he typically is not involved in this phase unless he has notes that will be helpful to the colorist, such as noting that the scene is meant to appear dusty.

Henry explained that his approach to drawing a book was to first read the script. As he does so, he imagines it as a movie, and chooses “freeze frame” moments that best portray the intention of the writer. He determines panels, including the layout/number of panels on a page, and sometimes makes recommendations not included in the script.

Since pencilers create the panel layout of the story, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Always consider your camera angle. There are times when zooming in is appropriate, and other times when a distance shot is more applicable. One such instance where a “zoomed-out” panel is best employed is when there will be more written content than usual. This will allow plenty of space for the dialog bubbles.

Henry does his own inking over his pencils. Some pencilers sketch loosely and allow inkers to tighten lines. Henry’s own lines are tight and finished. Though he started traditionally, he now draws digitally. For inking, sometimes Henry inks digitally; other times he prints out his pencils and inks directly onto that.

When asked why he switched to digital, Henry said that it saves time. The downside for him is the loss of the feeling of the texture of the paper against the pencil. He also joked that the extra time that penciling digitally saves him is now spent obsessing over details.

Henry fielded several audience questions, including what tools he uses. For traditional drawing, Henry prefers mechanical pencils. Digitally, he draws in Manga Studio, but switches to Photoshop for inking and adding textures.

Henry told the audience that he loves drawing, and when he’s working on a story, he wants to be fully invested in it. His best piece of advice for anyone interested in drawing comics is to learn to draw “real life.” Draw as much as possible, as often as you can. There is no “comic style” – learning to draw how things and people actually appear is key to being a successful artist. He spent years working on still life and figure drawing, honing his skills. Learning traditional art is important, as is experimenting with different mediums such as painting or photography.

When asked specifics about the process, such as time frames and handling character style, Henry revealed that he takes about six weeks to draw and ink a book. As for drawing characters, if there is an existing style or look for a character, he doesn’t change what has been established, but he still retains his own personal style in the work. In other words, his art is not a copy of anyone else’s, but his personal interpretation of the character.

Henry was also asked what he has drawn that he never expected to do. Henry said that Harbinger Wars presented him with a unique opportunity: the character Animalia. Animalia is a young psiot who can change into animals. The twist is that due to her sheltered life, the animals she turns into look like cartoon characters. This silliness is in stark contrast to the violence that she delivers with them. Henry never imagined drawing scenes for a character like that. Secondly, he created the character design for Animalia. Since she is a young girl, and based on the encouragement from the author Joshua Dysart, Henry designed her to resemble his own daughter.

I asked, via Twitter, what Valiant character or title he would like to work on if given the chance. Henry responded that X-O Manowar was a character that he had long wanted to undertake, and has now done so with The Fall of X-O which will be out later this year. Next on his wish list is Ninjak, which is currently his favorite Valiant book.

I thought it was an interesting session and enjoyed watching Henry sketch during the proceedings. The video of last week’s session was published on YouTube:

There has been no announcement if they will continue to make the rest of the sessions available after the fact.

The next Craft of Comics session will be on October 3rd. The topic will be inking, and Ryan Winn (Divinity) will be on hand to lend his expertise. If you have questions for Ryan, be sure to tweet your questions ahead of time to @goHastings #ValiantLiveQA.

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