Here's a visual tour of my comic-making process. If you are not already a syndicated cartoonist, just copy these steps.
Please excuse the random formatting of this post. I don't have time to tweak the HTML.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
This is me at 4:59 AM, just before my BlackBerry alarm goes off.
5:02 AM, I put on some clothes and head downstairs to eat a banana.
Put the flip-flops on and begin my commute.
Usually it's dark when I go to work. And I'm not smiling so much. Clearly these photos are staged.
47 seconds later (I timed it), I reach my office. I wave to the guy delivering newspapers. At that time of day, it's just him and me.
Upstairs to the office.
I head to the office fridge for the first of many Diet Cokes. My office cat, Sarah, hears the refrigerator open from the next room and will be waiting for me in her designated spot.
Sarah demands quality time on the rug or she literally won't let me work. She'll scream and start ripping my stuff to shreds unless she gets her quota of petting. This part of my routine has not varied in 17 years.
I take Sarah with me to get additional petting while I check blog comments and e-mails. She looks uncomfortable but she's actually totally relaxed. It's her favorite petting position.
After I write my blog post, I start the comic-making phase. In step one, I look at a Word document where I saved a bunch of suggestions from readers. I peruse the suggestions to see what inspires me.
Once I have a general idea, I use Photoshop to call up a blank comic format, 600 dpi. I draw directly on the computer screen using a stylus. The monitor is a Wacom 21UX. This is the equpment I've used for the past two years or so. Before that, it was all on paper.
I draw the first panel (in rough form) and type in the words using a font I created of my own handwriting.
When you draw on the computer at a "natural" size, the limit of the technology is that your lines will be jagged. That's fine for the rough draft. (If this were paper, the rough version would be in pencil.)
To finish the art in clean form, I change the rough lines to a light gray, then adjust the viewing size to 200% and "ink" over the rough art. I get a smooth line when I work at that size.
In Photoshop lingo, the rough draft is a "layer." To turn that layer into a light gray, I adjust its opacity. The layers are the digital equivalent of tracing paper. You can see the layer below, but your drawing only touches your current layer.
This is the size I use for the final clean lines. Any imperfections disappear when the image is shrunk to publishing size.
Sunday strips are a somewhat different process because of the color. It starts the same, with a black line art version. Then I copy the file and create a second version with color. The color version is then stripped of its black. That leaves me with two files. One is only black lines, the other is all the colors except black. Both files go to the printer, who combines them during the printing process. I assume this kludgy process has something to do with the legacy equipment used by the newspapers. I just prep the file the way I'm instructed by United Media.
This is where I sit for most of my work day. There's a huge amount of paperwork with this job. My desk is normally covered with contracts, tax stuff, accounting things, and various projects.
Here's the view from my chair. I have the TV on when I do the mindless step of adding the final art. While working, I usually watch recordings of The Daily Show, tennis, Real Time, or Battlestar Galactica.
I keep my original art table in a corner for historical and sentimental reasons. I refinished that little table in 1988. I'm not what you would call a "craftsman," so it's poorly done. My original chair, also shown, was created when I was a teenager, using parts from two separate chairs. Originally it had legs. I attached it to the base of an old office chair and my mother gave it some upholstery. It is also poorly constructed. I love it.
Here are the art supplies I used before moving completely to the computer. That's a daily strip, so you can see its size as an original. About half of all Dilbert strips were drawn with the mechanical pencil shown. The green thing on the art is what I used to keep the lettering on a straight line. The pen was for the final art.
If you plan to become a syndicated cartoonist, here is a summary of the equipment you will need:
2. Diet Coke
4. Computer with Wacom 21UX monitor