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How I Create A Gag Comic

It’s not magic, voodoo or some gnome that does it.

So, you want to create a gag cartoon, eh?

Hey, why not?

Whether it be for the New Yorker, your Instagram account, syndication or possibly for a greeting card, gag comics are still very relevant. They’re my “go to” format, typically. I love how you can change the topic, characters and design in one, simple panel. Plus, I have a short attention span, so a gag cartoon gives a person like me a quick dose of humor without having to think too hard.

I wanted to shed some light on how I go about doing it.

Of course, there are many ways to complete one. Any cartoonist will probably tell you something different, but again, this is how I do it. Feel free to tweak, replicate or create a new breakthrough in the gag genre.

First, you write a gag. I know…I know…that’s a given. However, I must mention it.

I stare at a blank sheet of paper in my notebook. Sometimes then, an idea hits. It may take days; it may take minutes. That’s where a good writing routine comes in handy (and coffee). An idea WILL come to you, with a little bit of patience and perseverance.

Above: How it all begins. Scary, huh?

“Hey, look,” I say as I scribble a bunch of gibberish down.

“I think I came up with an idea. It might be a bad one, or maybe not.”

Above: There might — MIGHT — be a good idea here.

What I do, especially if I’m unsure of an idea, is just sleep on it. I’ll review everything I wrote the next day. If I can read my own writing (that rarely happens) and I think it’s a good idea the next day, then bingo – I have something.

If I have that something, it goes to the next stage of being created in a panel.

Here’s where I’ll get a bit technical. Don’t worry – it’s nothing too in-depth.

I have my panels all made for me already. I created a 5.5” x 5.5” panel once on Photoshop years ago. I’ve been using the same one since.

Oh, by the way, the resolution on this bad boy is 600 dpi. That’s important, because if I ever want to print this out, it’s all set. You can get away with 300 dpi as well, but I like it a bit higher.

I work entirely digitally now. It didn’t used to be this way. Before I made the switch, I would hand-draw the panel for each comic. It wasn’t that tough, but I like having it all made for me already now. I doubt I’ll go back to the “old school” ways. I’m officially a comic tech geek.

So back to my premade panel.

Along with my 5”x 5” panel, on a separate layer in Photoshop, I also scanned in some penciled lines that are ¼” between each other, with a spacing of a millimeter. You’ll notice that below. It’s Layer 3.

“Why do you do that, Nate?” I hear some internet person asking while crunching on Doritos.

“Well, it’s easier to write text bubbles like this. It’s all spaced out; nice and neat. I like it and it sets myself up for an amazing comic,” I say as I’m talking to myself in a dark room.

Seriously. Lines work well. And below is what it looks like when producing a comic.

Above: You see how the words are spaced-out fairly well? 

Moving on…

I use a software called Procreate. It’s on my iPad Pro and it’s awesome. Along with that, I draw with an Apple Pencil.

My panel is uploaded into Procreate, and here’s where the magic happens (not in a dirty way).

I’m now free to sketch out things in my tiny panel that have never been imagined before. Or, if they have, I must not have been able to google it very well.

I use the pencil setting in Procreate. It just brings me back to my roots of sketching with graphite and it’s a natural fit. To be specific, the settings of the pencil are seen here.

Above: The rough – VERY rough – sketch in Procreate. I know it looks shitty, but it’s organized chaos for me that works.

In this example, you’ll see I’m NOT using the text lines. I already showed you that, so no biggie.

Next, after I sketched out this (hopefully) amusing cartoon, it’s time to ink.

I used to always use India ink and a dip pen before the digital age came along and wiped all of that away for me.

I was able to tweak the inking on Procreate to just about replicate what I once used with a Hunt 513 pen nib. (Sorry, Hunt. Love you guys, and I still use you on occasion, but I don’t buy as many nibs as I used to.)

Now that I have my weapons ready, it’s inking madness.

Above: You can see I use the Technical Pen, however, use what works best for your purpose.

What’s really cool about going digital is you can clean-up any inking mistakes very simply. Back in the day (boy, I sound old) it was White-Out and messes. Not anymore, folks. It takes a quick swipe with the amazing digital eraser to clean up mistakes. And I tend to have a ton of them.

Nice. I have everything inked. That means coloring ensues.

I like to create my comics by layers when coloring. I keep the inked layer on TOP so everything under it doesn’t get covered up.

I start with typically doing the background first. In Procreate, you can use the little ‘S’ tool (it has a real name, but I just go by what it looks like) and outline areas to fill with color. You simply fill in areas by dragging the color from your color wheel – or block – and dropping it into the designated area.

Doing this by layers saves you a lot of headaches. Really. You’ll know what I mean after getting into Procreate and practicing.

Considering this isn’t exactly a coloring tutorial, but how I create a gag comic, I’m not going to go massively into how I color. However, I’ll quickly mention that after I have the blocked areas of color completed throughout the comic, I go in and shade, detail, etc. with typically the Round Brush tool.

And how about that? A completed comic! Well, almost…

As you can see, we need the caption in here, right? Also a copyright might be beneficial (it is).

What I do is send this file back to my Photoshop.

There are many ways to transfer this to your “system.” You can Airdrop it, or – if you have Dropbox or something similar – just send it there directly from Procreate. Whatever you want.

The objective is to get it to Photoshop so I can add the text and copyrights.

I get it in the system, add some space to the bottom of the image, and put text in…

…then…

Look! A finished comic.

As for copyrights, I have an entire .PSD file that has EVERY copyright I use. I simply grab it from there. Like my panel, I created the copyright sign(s) years ago and use the same one all the time to avoid typing each time I create a comic.

Above: A few of my many copyrights and signatures I use for my clients and myself.

Hit the ol’ ‘save’ button. Save as a .jpeg or whatever.

And yes, you guessed it. That’s it! That’s how I create a gag comic. See? Nothing too intense, right?

I’ll just finish with this: If you’re thinking about going digital, the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Procreate seem to be the cheapest option out there. You technically don’t need Photoshop even — that’s just my preference. You can do it ALL on the iPad. It used to be thousands of dollars for digital art software, but not any more. Procreate is $9.99, a good, used iPad Pro can run about $500 or so on eBay and an Apple Pencil is about a hundred bucks brand new. Adding it up, it’s still a lot cheaper than it used to be and you save money on paper.

If gag comics are your thing, I hope I squared up the process well for you. (I had to throw in an awful pun, right?)

How do YOU go about creating your gag comics? Leave some comments and let’s hear it!

Comments

  1. Jim says:

    Very interesting, Nate! How long did it take for you to feel comfortable in full digital mode?

    I’d like to try it some day, but currently it’s pencil on paper, ink over the pencil, and corrections and color digitally.
    My day job is 8 hours in front of a glowing rectangle each day, so I think I cling to pencil on paper as an antidote to that. I think it takes me back to countless peaceful hours drawing as a kid.

    1. Nathanael Fakes says:

      Jim, I was always one to say, “There’s no way I’d ever go completely digital.” Seriously, I was so anti-digital, I could’ve held a protest march. Plus, I’m a huge fan of original art. That being said, once I bought the iPad, it all happened very quickly (within about a month). I bought the iPad just for coloring originally, with no intention of using it for drawing or inking. But, with Procreate, the feel and ease of use sold me. I was hooked and never looked back. I was amazed how quickly I adapted to it.

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