Behind the scenes: The process behind Now Recharging
This is a walkthrough of my general comic-making process using Now Recharging Chapter 0 page 15 as an example. I also share some overall thoughts on the experience of making this happen consistently over a period of time for this webcomic!
Prepandemic, I periodically did workshops and talks on making zines and comics. These images are slides from a guest lecture I gave on comics and my experience as an indie comics creator.
I think of my general process for drawing comics as a kind of organized chaos. It can be roughly split up into the following “steps”.
- Pencil sketch of actual pages
- Painting (colour)
- Scan and final edits (colour retouching the scanned painting, adding text, etc.)
In actual practice, there’s a lot of overlap especially across steps 1-4; often I’ll go back and forth between them. But the sequence is generally how things go – e.g., I will usually have some kind of written note before I draw any thumbnails. And at any one time, I might be at different points in the process for different sections of the comic!
Ideas and writing
When I have an idea, I jot it down so that I don’t forget. This could be physically or digitally – in a note/sketchbook, as well as on my phone, for example. Text over images is my preferred way of capturing most of my initial ideas, mainly because I can cover a lot of ground with a quick point-form note. For instance, I can write “Emmie sits down and sighs dejectedly” while rushing from one appointment to another – and a month later, when I look at it again, I can still tell what I was thinking. Trying to draw that all out in a clear way takes a lot more time, effort and brainpower!
When I have a free moment to sit down and give things more focus, I compile my jottings into a Google Doc. This is a mish-mash of point-form notes, snippets of dialogue, and descriptions of scenes I’m thinking about. The document keeps getting updated over time. I bring in more notes, move things around, and slowly tweak and refine it from a messy brain dump into more coherent, fleshed-out script-like scenes. These scenes get grouped together as needed to make a self-contained chapter. Within each chapter, they are then roughly broken up into what I think will likely work well as individual pages.
Thumbnailing and sketching
Once I feel I’ve got a pretty good sense of the details of the action and pagination, I start thumbnailing – like a storyboard or wireframes, very rough drawings of page layouts and panels. I usually batch pages together to work on so that I have more wholistic sense of the scenes and the transitions from one page to another.
As I thumbnail, I literally start to get a stronger picture of the details of the action – things like the direction a character is facing; what else is in the panel with them; what I’m playing up moment to moment as a director; how someone is going to experience the order of the panels and speech bubbles and what their eyes may be focusing on as they read. Based on this, I may repaginate and reorder/update the script as I go along.
Art (pencils, inks, painting)
When I’m fairly satisfied the pagination and paneling are feasible, I draw up my margins in pencil, and start sketching the actual pages with more detailed light drawings. This is the base of the final physical art, and will includes panels and speech bubbles. In retrospect, drawing speech bubbles right into the final art instead of adding them on the computer is something I would regret at times, since it limited my ability to move them around if I discovered things weren’t working later on.
Here’s how Chapter 0 page 15 looked over the course of pencils and inking:
For Now Recharging, I used the Canson XL Mix Media line in 11×14 size for the paper, and ink with my trusty Pentel brush pen loaded with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink.
After inking, I paint the pages with watercolour, then dry and flatten the pages. Once flattened, I scan each page in two parts because my scanner isn’t big enough for the entire 11×14 page. Then I stitch the scans together and clean any artifacts off of the scans. This is followed by colour retouching, fixing any mistakes I find, and adding text. The text and dialogue may continue to be adjusted and finetuned up to the evening I post the finished page… and in at least one or two instances, even afterwards, haha.
You can see more examples of art in progress in some of the previous behind the scenes posts – “The colours of Now Recharging” and “The last page”.
Commitment over time
Before I started working on Now Recharging, I wasn’t confident that I had the discipline to make a webcomic – that is, to keep up an output over time that would allow for a consistent update on a longform(ish) narrative. My main experience with comics before Now Recharging was drawing short stories, finishing and sharing them all at once in small zines or posted online.
With Now Recharging, I approached it as an experiment. I started in September 2015 with no real “end-game” in mind. I put my stakes in the ground, so to speak – setting up core ideas and a general sense of what I wanted to cover. My world-building upfront was fairly minimal, and my intent was to let things unfurl and discover them as I go, with no idea of timelines or schedules. Just finishing one page at a time, feeling things out as I went along from both a story and process perspective, finding little ways to improve my workflow without feeling pressured to meet specific deadlines.
After four months, at the end of the year I reviewed my progress. I never really timed myself, but I thought that at the pace I seemed to be working, updating with 2 pages a week seemed doable. I somewhat arbitrarily picked Monday and Thursday, because Monday meant I could have the weekend to finish things if needed before posting, and Thursday seemed like a reasonable amount of days after Monday and tide people over till the update next week. I did a quick look around and there seemed to be other webcomics also on a similar schedule, so that was that!
Here you can see a comparison of the first four months of output (September to December 2015) and the next four months (January to April 2016). These are screenshots from my Tumblr archive since page Now Recharging was posting there at the time:
(Funny story: this is also why page updates were at 7pm EST instead of at the beginning of the update day. At that time the Tumblr scheduling feature was new to me, and after queuing up a page I couldn’t figure out how to easily see it anymore to confirm its existence… and I was too afraid of glitches and my own capacity for scheduling errors to use it. So I manually posted pages around 7pm after work/around dinner time. After that I kept even automated updates around 7pm for consistency.)
The first four months at my “no pressure, feel it out” pace was a total of 13 pages. The next four months of “getting serious, committing to it” 2-pages a week gave me a total of 34 pages. Quite a difference! All of this was juggled around my full-time non-art job, and other projects and commitments. Over the next few years, most of my free time – after work, on weekends – would be focused on making Now Recharging. The support of my understanding family and friends was huge in making this possible, especially when work got really busy. I’m super grateful for that!
I didn’t really bother keeping records of this, so take the accuracy of any numbers with a grain of salt. But I recall at the beginning I was finishing pages pretty much the weekend before they were being posted. Eventually I started to batch more pages to be completed at once. A batch was usually about 8-13 pages, which covered about one month and maybe a bit extra of posts. It took around ~3 weeks to get such a batch done from thumbnailing through to queueing up the final artwork. I started to get more experience pacing myself and squeezing in time to build these buffers, and was even able to buffer for a few trips I took to Japan and Taiwan.
Again, I cannot understate the support of friends and family in making this possible. Thanks to these factors, I was lucky enough to pause the comic only once – for the 2021 holidays.
Whew! This all feels like a lifetime ago…!
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a safe and special holiday since we last met here. It’s been a whole half a year since I posted the last Now Recharging page… and I bring some Now Recharging-related news!
- Now Recharging was listed as one of GlobalComix’s Most Popular Slice of Life Titles for 2022! It was so wonderful and humbling to be recognized alongside so many other amazing creators, and I’m so grateful to all the readers and to GlobalComix for this feature!
- I got into the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) 2023! It takes place April 29-30, 2023. I’m really excited about this and am hoping to attend in person, which would make it my first in-person event since the pandemic started. This will depend very much on the pandemic situation and also safety measures being taken at the venue – especially masking, air quality considerations, etc. – as I need to protect my family’s health first and foremost. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll still be participating through the online marketplace, and I’m very grateful that that’s an option!
- I’m hoping to have the print version of Now Recharging Book 3 ready for TCAF! It’ll wrap up the first “story arc” at Chapter 6 (A Part) alongside the first two books. After that, I don’t know if I will print the other books with Yùzǐ and Shiny’s stories due to the expense, we’ll have to see… but they are all available as ebooks! And in case you didn’t already know, all of the books have some art and content that isn’t available on the site, including a little story/mystery in 4 parts through interviews with our four main robots (Emmie, Morio, Yùzǐ and Shiny)!
Also, not specifically Now Recharging related, but I moved from Twitter to Mastodon! I really like it there so far; there’s a lot of emphasis on accessibility. You can find me at https://mastodon.art/@maiji.
Wishing you all the best for 2023. May it be a year full of possibility and opportunity that bear much fruit for you!
♥ Maiji (January 9, 2023)