Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A BCN Daily strip: From pencil to print! How the March -July 2017 strips were created!

Edit: Starting July 24, 2017 all of the 'Breaking Cat News' strips are now painted in watercolors again. This is how the strips were done between March 2017 and July 2017.

Now that 'Breaking Cat News' is in newspapers, I thought it would be a great time to show how one of the daily strips comes together!

In the funny pages, there are "dailies" and "Sundays." Dailies are just what they sound like, strips that run Monday-Saturday. Sundays are exactly what they sound like; they're strips that run on Sundays and they're usually longer than dailies.

Traditionally, dailies have been in black and white and Sundays have been in color. A few of my favorite cartoonists, most notably Bill Watterson, hand painted their Sundays. Growing up in the 80s (I was born in 1981) this is how I saw most comics. Sundays felt really special. When the time came to decide how 'Breaking Cat News' was going to make the jump to newsprint, I requested to paint my Sundays. I take a lot of pride in picking up that brush to paint every Sunday.

(...Not that I paint them on Sundays, I paint them throughout the week as I work... You know what I mean!)

Right now I ink my dailies in black and white, and paint my Sundays in watercolors. That's what I hand in to my editor on Friday afternoons, at the end of my work week. Six inked dailies, and one Sunday painted in watercolors.

Most newspapers still print their daily comics in black and white. Readers see BCN very close to how it appears when I put my pen down. Minus the font I made using my handwriting; I type that out in the bubbles before I hand them in. (The font you see is actually my eight or ninth attempt at the font! Tweaking those little letters to get them just right is addictive!) Some newspapers print in color now, and so a great colorist at my syndicate--Universal Uclick (GoComics!)--colors my inked dailies for those papers. She knows the difference when it comes to what will print correctly and not better than I do.
I could have learned digital coloring and done an amateurish "new to digital coloring" job, or trusted a long time professional colorist who colors many of the comics we see and love everyday... And I admit--It was really hard for me at first to do that at first! I worried about that more than anything else when we were developing the strip for newspapers--Until I saw the finished strips and breathed a huge sigh of relief and loved them so much. I have a lot of gratitude to the GoComics' colorist, I love what she has done! We've worked together to create a palette of colors for the BCN dailies, so the apartment looks familiar to long time readers.

(Even though, remember--We're not in the Big Pink House yet! We're in the original apartment, before the move in the original run where the People made all those cool box forts. The Big Pink House is just around the corner!)

The colorized versions are distributed where you see the comic online, too. That's why the dailies look a little different online and in papers that print in color.

When it comes to the Sundays, not a lot has changed from the 'Our IX Lives' Christmas special to now. They will look like that. Right now, I draw the Sundays on paper, ink them, scan them, and then paint them. Then I scan them again, and lay the first inked scan over the painted scan digitally. This is so the lines will be dark and sharp enough for print. Believe it or not, until this past August, I drew the comic in sepia colored inks! (Look back--yes, I did). Drawing it in black ink and adding a layer that is just the inked lines has given the comic much of its new look.

Here is a peek at how a strip comes together! I'll use Lupin's introduction as an example!

To really see the beginning, I should be posting shots of my notes, but I can't do that without giving away some of the other strips. I keep a few notebooks around me, in my purse, in my pencil bag, on my nightstand, etc, and I scribble down ideas for headlines all the time. It might be an entire headline, or an observation about cat behavior, or just one random line of silly dialogue. When the time comes to write a new strip, I read through my arsenal of ideas, and pick one out.

Next, I do a pencil sketch of a strip. My pencil sketches are usually very close to a finished strip, because I lay out my boxes, bubbles, and text at this time too. Sometimes I mark a little box that says "live," and other times (like this time) I paste the "live" box on before I send it in. I keep a working file of all the BCN station identifiers, and add them to panels the way Burt might for a broadcast.

The penciling can be the longest part of my process, because this is when I do most of my writing. Lines change, poses need to be tweaked or tried differently a few times. Drawing is part of writing for me too. I might not write words like "excited" or "anxious;" instead I tell the story by making Lupin's ears leap straight up or Elvis' plaster back against his head. I'm writing the comic with words, gestures, the way a character stands, the clothes they're wearing, the time of day, etc--I write in pictures, and every inch of each panel needs to pack a thousand words.

Now that I have a penciled strip, it's time to send a quick scan to my editor! I usually wait until I have all six strips for the week written out. She looks them over, makes notes, and passes them on for one more look. I'm very proud to say, I don't get too many big notes! Sometimes my punctuation could be a little better though, and sometimes a suggestion is made to make a joke or a movement more clear. The big changes everyone feared are not coming. As time goes on, and I weave in more and more, (the same as in the original run) the strip will become more detailed and more nuanced (...the same as in the original run. Can you imagine if this had been the first strip, instead of this? I have to build the world back up, or nothing will make any sense!) My editor reached out to me originally because she was a fan of BCN too, and she knows the characters as well as any fan (also, can we all take a moment to appreciate what an awesome job that must be to have?) She has recently met the boys in real life, too! She loves this comic as it is, that's why she went to bat for us to get it into newspapers in the first place.

I look over the notes, and we talk about them. Most of the time, I agree with the notes, they're usually very solid, as you can see above! 

Now it's time to ink! I ink this strip, along with five others from its batch, and hand them all in! For newspapers that print in black and white--and for me,--the strip is done and on its way!

For newspapers that print their dailies in color, the process continues! I mentioned that I created a palette of colors for 'Breaking Cat News' and the colorist works with those colors. Most of the time this turns out GREAT! It's fun to look at the first tests, though, when a few things came out just a little different. This was one of the very first colorized strips I saw. 

My notes for this strip were that the couch is red and Lupin's pants and hat are the same color as his suit jacket. Lupin looks dapper in a little grey hat--but then the Indiana Jones jokes would be lost later. This batch of strips lead me to realize (because I had never quite put this thought into words before!) that the clothes and objects in the apartment are usually the same, with their own set look. I think this has always added to the feeling that the apartment in BCN is a familiar, friendly place to visit.

The big red couch, the green rimmed oval mirror in the bathroom, the grey flowered bedspread, the kitchen counter tops, the yellow fuzzy blanket, the "fancy" bowls that come out for potato salad on the 4th of July and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, the white laundry basket--You can see them in the background of many strips, even when they don't play a part. This began because many of these objects are actually real or at least based on real objects in our home. I wouldn't go as far as to say the People in BCN are poor, but there are limited resources in their home. Headlines like, "
There's a new scratching post in the living room," or "there's a new picture on the wall," wouldn't be as exciting if the backgrounds had an endless rotation of random lamps and pictures. It's new for everyone.

Even the boys each have a small, unchanging wardrobe. They all have their own pajamas, fitness attire for "the bi-monthly 2am running of the cats", and nice suits. On Thanksgiving they dress a little more casually, and we get glimpses into their personal off camera styles. Limited resources is the key here, though. Everyone in the apartment, cat and human alike, are all making due with what is available, and I think it makes the setting feel more cozy and like a real home for readers.

These were hundreds of decisions I made subconsciously, and never examined until it was time to bring a colorist in. Getting to think about the setting and why it looks the way it does was interesting, and I think it tightened up the look even more. The window frames are brown, the outside window frames on the Big Pink House (which the BCN family and crew will move into soon!) are green. The carpet is blue. Most of the walls are white, but the bathroom is light green. Many times long time readers know what room the boys are reporting from, even when they don't say. A lot of comics might just have any color in the background, and it works great, but green would signal "bathroom!" in BCN. If the Big Pink House was suddenly The Big Olive Green House, things would feel off. Deciding to keep the setting and the colors static was important to the storytelling, and having a chance to pause and think "why?" was cool. Working on the color palette was a lot of fun! If you're a cartoonist, you might want to take a night or two and think about what colors you'd like in your comic and if your background is going to shift and change and grow or if it's going to stick to a series of established settings.

Here is the revised strip!

And that is how the strip appeared online Tuesday on GoComics and in newspapers that print in color!

Here are a couple of more strips to look at, from start to finish!


Ink (there were no notes on this one,
but we decided to change the last line during our
weekly Skype call to discuss the comic!)


Revised coloring


Ink (Again, the last line changed during our Skype call).


Revised coloring

Once I have a published Sunday strip I can share, I'll make a second post on how the Sundays come together. Those are interesting, because many of the first Sundays are actually the first strips from the original run! I'll post comparisons between the two, and the sketching and inking between. There were no notes on the Sundays, they all went in as they had been--BCN classics, finally in newsprint!

And so, that's a behind-the-scenes peek at how daily strips come together! Now that I've written one of these posts, I'll try to remember to follow a strip from actual notes in a notebook to this point. I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the process!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Monday is the day!

Spring has been sneaking into our area of Washington, peeking in through short patches of blue skies. Luke and Gwen point them out during our walks with all of the confusion of two Seattle toddlers who have been away from California for six months. "The sky is blue! It's blue!"

We keep careful, dutiful observations of the daffodils stretching their necks and some lovely little puffy pink flower sleepily blinking its buds open. These are big happenings in the toddler world. Bubbles are remembered from last spring and requested every day. The rain--which comes and goes all day long--pops them before they go far, to Luke and Gwen's delight.

My days are filled with making peanut butter sandwiches and discussing ABCs. Counting every step, and cup, and goldfish cracker. I'm liberal with cartoons and laugh alongside the kids. Gwen brings book after book for me to read. Luke has learned about digestion and explains in great detail during every meal, putting us all off every meal. He loves science and the human body, particularly bones. He's discovered The Octonauts, and the past two months we've all learned a lot about the ocean.

At night, after the kids go to bed, I sit down and work on 'Breaking Cat News' and the ten commissions I recently took on. (The commission and original artwork sale went tremendously well, thank you so much! The commissions sold out in under two minutes, and the original 'Breaking Cat News' artwork sold out in under six minutes. I was amazed and overjoyed and humbled and shaking for most of the afternoon, ha!) My nighttime work is quiet and steady. Sometimes it's conducted downstairs at our kitchen table, over tea to the sound of British mystery shows. Other nights I join Ryan upstairs. He works on the video game he's creating with two of our friends at night. Many evenings we work together at our separate desks in our bedroom; me painting, him animating game graphics. We re-watch 'The Office' every year, and right now we've just hit season seven. We listen while we each toil away, pausing to look up at our favorite moments.

This may sound excruciatingly dull to many folks, but it's a great secret to the success of our relationship. We both were people who needed a lot of solitary time to work on our own projects. We each had a lot of old flames who did not always understand this, or eventually saw our work as a rival to their attentions. We were each somewhat selfish in past relationships, saving up alone time and shutting people out to work. Early on in our romance, our nightly work patterns fell beautifully into sync. Each night--for the most part--around 8:30 pm, it's popcorn and tea time. We sit down to our desks, put the popcorn between us, get to work and take turns throughout the night refreshing the tea water with a hot kettle. (Ryan proposed to me St. Patrick's Day 2011 this way. When I came back with a fresh kettle, he was in the middle of our candlelit living room on one knee). We take breaks to request critiques ("Does this arm look weird?") or watch funny YouTube videos. We have both worked on art and stories (in book or comic or game form) since we were kids, and we'd be working every night regardless. It's a big reason why we get along so well.

Some nights friends come over and they work on projects too. Working on their video game, or podcasts, or test runs for the game marathon Ryan runs around Halloween. My work is still solitary, though, just by the nature of it. I paint and ink, and pause to visit over snacks or share a joke. When my comics are done, I email them to my editor. ...Then I make more comics.

I'm taking you through my daily routine so that you might understand how incredibly surreal and spectacular and completely unbelievable it feels that on Monday people all over the country will open their newspapers and the comic I work on every night will be there, waiting to be read. So much of my work is created alone, or happily in a quiet sort of shared home office space. And how I work has changed so little, only now there is an audience, beyond friends and family.

Monday is the day!! I don't think I will believe it until I have a newspaper with the comic in my hand. On Monday, 'Breaking Cat News' will launch in newspapers around the country. The strips will run on GoComics, too. The original site still experiences trouble when there is a lot of traffic, and for all the reasons I explained a few months ago, we're looking into a way to add a button to the menu that says "Comic," probably to the left of the "Meet Our Reporters/Past Reports/etc" buttons. That button would bring anyone to the daily strip on GoComics.

As of tonight, 'Breaking Cat News' in around 100 newspapers, which I'm told is a great, solid start for a launch. I'm very hopeful it will continue to grow, and the sales reps for my syndicate have told me newspaper orders are still coming in!

If you open your paper on Monday and BCN is not in the funny pages, just let the editor know you would like them to add the comic! This is the best way to get the comic into your newspaper. If enough people ask for it, newspapers will add it, that's how any comic gets in, and I have strong hopes that people will enjoy it enough to keep asking.

As Burt explains today, in the world of BCN he's finished editing the footage the studio had lying around. What does this mean for the start of the newspaper comics? What is changing? What is 'Breaking Cat News' going to be like now?

Burt remarks to Elvis that a lot of video never made it to air, and that's how I treated writing for newspapers. I began writing for newspapers in November 2014, about six months after the comic began. I wrote the web strips and the newspaper strips at the same time. When it came to recreating the world of the Big Pink House for newspapers, I wanted to carry it over whole. The best way I could think to do this, so that new and old readers alike would experience the same history and meet the same characters in a way that was not maddeningly repetitive, was to create a split in the station between "old technology" and "new technology," (ironically to exchange the new tech of web comics for the old tech of newspapers. ...Stay with me).

And so I thought to add an AV Cat, and asked my lovely and gracious friend Christine if I could model him after her laid back, sweet farm kitty Burt. Burt would bring in new cameras (to explain the drawing style tightening up for print) take over the scroll (hence, the scroll began getting a little cheekier, as Burt wrote out headlines to amuse himself during broadcasts) and someone would be able to operate Camera One more frequently, and outside more too. Burt would add more station identifiers, and basically create everything for the station that I was adding to the newspaper strips.

Now that I've gathered you all here to this blog post like Hecule Poirot explaining a suspect's motives, let me continue my reveal... By establishing that Burt worked with video and loved soap operas and drama, it's easy to think that he would enjoy sneaking peeks at the old archives from time to time. It was only a matter of time before he would offer to edit all of the old footage to get at more of the good stuff. I prepared to time it to a hiatus, as BCN took a break for station updates. (I hoped that this suggestion would subtly make the newspaper comics an expected kind of different, vs a jarring kind of different).

Burt would discover a ton of headlines and stories that happened during the original run of the comic and never made it to air. It's not hard to imagine an overwhelmed Elvis skimming tons of video for a few soundbites, there was no time to air everything! Lupin goes with the flow and Puck would be too concerned about Elvis' blood pressure to push it. They did the best they could with cheap cameras and little editing knowledge. As Burt edited the archives, old classics like "The Woman is Making Bacon" (or as I call it, "the bacon strip") would be enhanced through all of his know how and green room technology. Kind of like taking an old movie and converting it to high definition tv, was my thought process. And as old classics were edited, he went through the previously unseen headlines and added them in.

Many of these were likely tossed onto the BCN cutting room floor because Elvis felt he didn't look dignified enough in them, so yeah, seriously, I promise: You're going to enjoy the new stories.

As I wrote the web strips I saved a lot of material and wrote it within the newspaper timeline. Vet visits, take out night, Elvis confronting trick-or-treaters through the window, mythical creatures visiting the mailbox, litter boxes out of commission due to routine cleaning... While I wanted to acquaint new readers with the characters and the timeline, I wanted there to be plenty of new headlines for long time readers. And I wanted them to see moments missed before, or add in things they only caught partial glimpses of the first time around. (Like the greater rivalry with the vacuum cleaner that Burt hints at today...)

"What did you take away?"


"Who are you leaving out?"

No one. Even Louie the skunk is coming back (just not right away!) NO. BCN. CRITTER. LEFT. BEHIND.

I hate when things I love change, and I especially hate when stuff is left out. (I could write a book of essays on movie adaptations of 'Jane Eyre,' titled "You Left Out the Fortune Telling Scene and I'll Never Forgive You.")

My greatest goal has been "elaborate and expand." The comic will be daily now, so you will see more. And my guidance from my editors has been, "don't change what you're doing. Keep the details, keep the unexpected punchlines, keep every weird chart." I've done it. I've kept every weird chart, and added so many more. GET READY FOR NEW WEIRD CHARTS, EVERYONE.

Long time readers will see the intros Burt is about to whip up this week--and of course, you don't need them. You know everyone--but understand that I tried to write jokes that would be funny for new readers, and hysterical for long time readers, knowing the cat's personalities so well. You're going to see a lot of classic strips early on, especially the Sundays, as I re-establish the world for newspaper readers too. New moments will be woven in right from the get-go.

It's late and I've eaten the bowl of leftover spaghetti I bravely resisted the first two thirds of this blog post, so I'll end with one more thought on the transition into newspaper strips.

As my editor and I pieced together the newspaper strips and the web strips, and I began to tinker the timeline for the first six weeks, I realized something kind of awesomely sweet. 'Breaking Cat News' is not quite 'Breaking Cat News' until Tommy joins us. The news desk is there, the microphones are wired, the coffee is hot. The cameras are rolling and the headlines are hitting the page. Elvis, Puck, and Lupin are there and they're as serious and dedicated as ever... Hilariously, a little too serious and dedicated.

I came to realize that the story of 'Breaking Cat News' truly began with the appearance of Tommy at the window. He shakes up the serious little world on the other side of the glass, and nothing's quite the same after he begins to visit. All of the cats are ultimately better for meeting Tommy (as we all know, one Siamese in particular...) The first few strips of BCN's original run are funny, but Tommy carried his heart in with him. And it's as big as his fluff.

What if we could be there the first time Elvis spots him?

...Well, Burt's got you covered. ;)

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I can't wait. It feels a lot like waiting for Christmas morning.

Here's to Monday!! If you do see it in your newspaper, I would love to see a photo! Please, please feel free to post photos of your newspaper on Monday, seeing them in different newspapers would be amazing!!

Okay, wow, now it's way too late. Goodnight, everyone!