September 27, 2009

This week: Replacing a crappy panel

Sometimes you just don't hit it out of the park. Sometimes, you lose your balance swinging your bat into thin air and fall over.

When you realize you've just inked a crappy comic panel, and it's not just a matter of a few corrections, it's that the whole thing needs to go, and you can't sacrifice any of the work around it by starting a new page, you have several options, depending on what tools you have at your disposal, and preferences you may have about your original art.

Example crappy comic panel:

If you had a computer, you could just re-draw the panel by hand, scan it in, and change it out, or even re-draw it digitally if you liked. If you didn't, you could just paste a piece of illustration board over it and draw on that. Both work great and are super-easy. But let's say you're very anal about your originals, or you want the original art to look pristine because you're going to sell it, or give it to someone as a present. Although I'm slowly moving out of it, it used to be very important to me that my art look in person exactly like it does in reproduction. I still find it unsatisfying not to, a little bit. So I developed this technique, which as far as I know I invented, for replacing a panel in such a way that's so seamless you can't tell a repair has been made in the page from the front, even looking closely.

I should mention, this technique doesn't really work if your panel borders aren't straight.

So, first, you take a thin pointy thing, like a really thin pin, or in this case, an antique drafting compass point:
You poke a hole at exactly the inside of the termination of the border lines:Then tape a piece of illustration board (the exact same as you're using) over the offending panel, making sure it's a little larger than the panel you want to replace:

If you turn it over you can see the holes in the back of the original:
Now you should be looking at a setup like in Fig.1. (click to enlarge, I'll explain the rest of the Figures below.)

Fig. 2: Then, cut from hole to hole, being very careful to line up your cut EXACTLY with the holes and being very careful with the corners, as demonstrated in the Cutting Technique post last week. The tip of your cutting tool should start and end in the pinholes.

Fig. 3: flip everything over and carefully extract the newly cut replacement square, being very careful of it's delicate edges. Now clear out the old panel, and lower the new panel into place.

Fig 4: You should have a nice, tight fit, because the way we stacked the paper means that the widest paper left by the wedge of the blade as it came through is now the front of our replacement sheet, and the widest part of the original sheet left by the blade's edge is also facing up. If you look at Fig. 2 again, you'll see that those two edges are almost perfectly even. In fact, the'll often meet with just a little puckering, due to the tightness of the fit. If you do this right you can hold the joined edges up to a bright lamp and not see any light through the cut.

Fig. 5: Finally, you tape the back seam or as I prefer, seal it with a sheet of thin cotton marker paper backed with archival adhesive film. Then buff the edge with a bone folder to flatten any puckering, making the cut edge look like an uninterrupted sheet of paper, and forming a smooth surface you can actually ink over. That's right, you can INK OVER the cut and it won't bleed into it, it's so tight. It feels exactly like drawing on a new sheet of paper, which no correction fluid or patch could ever do.

If you're totally accurate, the seam will lie on the panel border inside edge, and you'll never be able to find it without a microscope:

I actually messed up a border, however, which is good, because you can see what it looks like on open paper:
I marked up the edges of the new panel with HARD pen strokes, to show how it won't bleed, even in the exposed part of the join:

It feels like drawing on a brand new sheet of paper. Unless someone looks at the back, they'll never know the difference.

The back, taped:

(Not my preferred method, but it works. Just make sure what you use is archival.)

Here's the excised panel sitting next to it's replacement:
Next week, I kick off a multi-part series about scanning technique. This and my anatomy tutorial are gonna be the big ones of this whole endeavor.


Deimyts said...

I was wondering; what recommendations do you have as far as paper? I can't recall seeing very much about this in your archives, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I bought a brush for inking on your recommendation and discovered how much fun it is, but I haven't really come to any conclusions about paper yet, especially for that specific purpose. You said illustration board in this post, but that makes me think of that really thick stuff that looks like mat board, which isn't what the pictures look like. So I guess the actual question is this: What kind of paper do you prefer for inking, and why? What effects, good and bad, do other sorts of papers have on the way the brush works?
I've been experimenting a bit on my own, but I'm a poor college student and don't have as much money as I'd like to buy paper just for that.
To conclude this long and rambling inquiry, I'd just like to say that you and your blog are awesome, and altogether inspirational.

Comic Tools said...

Let me answer the only question of yours I can actually answer first, even though it's out of order: Illustration board refers to any thick, stiff paper used for illustration purposes. This could mean bristol board, watercolor paper of various kinds, even comic backing boards if you wanted to get really ghetto. Basically, in comics you need 2 things out a a paper: you need it to be thick and well-sized enough (sizing is the glue that holds the paper together and seals it against water in some cases)that inking won't cause it to pucker and distort, and tough enough that it will hold up to whatever level of abuse your penciling and inking exacts upon it.

Now, as for what paper...dude, you could start a messy fist fight with that question. I'd need to ask you a whole bunch of questions to even narrow you down to maybe five to ten options. (which I'll do if you like- email me at I don't use the same paper with different tools- hell, I even have different papers I prefer for different nibs. Not one of my friends uses the same kind of paper I do. Many of them couldn't stand drawing on my paper, and I'd rather eat glass than have to ink on theirs.

I can give you one good tip for TRYING papers, though, which is what you need to do and lack the money to do: Know how cigarettes are expensive and people will still let strangers borrow one? Paper is like that. Ask every artist you know for a sheet, maybe even a sheet they've thrown out or cut into scrap. You mention you're a student- ask your instructors too. Ask what they like and why and have them give you a sheet or a scrap of everything. And try every tool on each kind of paper- notice how the same tool won't make the same kinds of marks on any 2 kinds of paper. This is how the cartoonist on a budget can figure out what they like.

Chris Schweizer said...

I find myself cutting away the bad panel, just outside the border, and blue taping a piece of board behind it, slightly larger than the hole. It thickens things up a bit, but not too much.

I've found that, if I try to line it up right with the panel borders, they come out looking uneven, but mine are clunky and imprecise to begin with.

Sarah said...

i never make mistakes.

ok that's not true. i usually just tack down another piece of bristol and draw something else. i'm way too lazy to cut out and replace the paper. brilliant technique though! i was wondering what the cutting tool stuff was about and now i know.

also, i want that duck picture. it's awesome.

Comic Tools said...

Sarah: This technique probably accounts for .000001% of my cutting chores as a cartoonist. Most of it is from making books or trimming raw sheets of paper into comic page sized sheets.

Unfortunately I tossed out the duck- it was actually sitting in my actual garbage in the title photo.

Michelle T said...

Does every panel has to be drawn and inked on an illustration board? That's news to me. I thought that the whole PAGE is drawn on an art block or some choice paper.

Comic Tools said...

Michelle: I can't tell if you're being really sarcastic. If not, I just didn't want to ruin and entire page for the sake of a demonstration. I figured it was better to use a piece of scrap instead.

Sam said...

Nice technique!

Boom Trucks said...

thank you for all the great tutorial on your site.

Michelle T said...

I was not being sarcastic actually. I'm being curious because the way comics are published in America is different from Japan and my country.