We’ll be updating this periodically with more thoughts on producing ‘full time quality’ on a limited schedule.
Hopefully this is inspiring for those of you getting ready to publish a project or weighing the pro’s and con’s of getting started.

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In 2013, we attended San Diego Comic-Con (which is an ironically rare treat for us, since we’re illustrators living in San Diego and rarely get to go). We were lucky enough to sit in on the Korra panel on Friday morning, and we did our share of roaming the show floor, but the main draw (pun intended) for us were the educational panels. The very last one we sat in on was on Sunday at four in the afternoon, just before the whole convention came to a close. It was run by a small panel of artists, who were talking about practical advice for artists who have to work full-time, but still want to create a comic. It sure hit home for us. So after a year of illustrating the Tale of Tashi and Nima, we were inspired to reflect on our own production and maybe inspire someone else to work on their own projects more.

On an average day, we have to wake up at 7am. We leave the house just before 8, and spend about an hour in traffic, give or take. Thankfully, we both work in the same direction, so we carpool (our second car was destroyed a while back and we weren’t able to replace it.) So, after work, our commute home starts around 6, and we arrive home about an hour after that. So that’s 12 hours out of our day, right there. Which doesn’t even account for eating dinner, any chores or errands we need to get done. And of course, the 8 hours of sleep we’re supposed to be getting… That only leaves us only a few hours a day that we can call our own. So, how do you get a comic out every week with such a limited schedule?


Have a schedule!

At first, we just threw ourselves into the work, to get an idea of how long it took for each stage of creating a page. We were building up the Prologue and the majority of Chapter 1 for a big release, instead of weekly updates, so we didn’t have any deadlines. As we did more and more pages, we figured out that we could probably do one page a week, and not compromise quality. Sure, we could churn out more pages if we did them in black and white, but we really wanted to do this in full color. So we broke it down into a daily schedule, which may sound daunting at first but is actually way easier – sometimes working on something in small increments is better when you’ve been working all day. Here’s kind of a general breakdown: Friday and/or Saturday are penciling days, Sunday and/or Monday is for inking, Monday is also for laying down flat colors, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for coloring everything, and Thursday is when we apply the word bubbles and finish up for publishing that night. Having this schedule in place helps us stay on track, but also serves as advanced notice if we’re going to be late on an update so we can let everyone know when to look for the next page.

Now, of course, we’re two people working on one project, so that gives us some advantage in that we can be working on the comic, entertaining one another, watching TV, running errands or even doing chores at the same time. It doesn’t usually give us an edge in production speed though, because at any given moment only one of us can really work on the comic at a time (unless pencils are done ahead of time.) So, yes, working as a team certainly has its advantages, but don’t think of it as necessary to do a comic. You can still work solo if you commit to a schedule and break down all the steps by days or times that will work for you.


Thoughts on product quality.

We wanted this comic to look its absolute best, but also realize that we still need to have a life. So, we only have our absolute spare time to create it…and maybe down time at my work or a lunch break if I can sneak in some flats.

Working as Advertising Art Director, I’ve learned that being a purist doesn’t help you hit deadlines. When I first started, I was frustrated and annoyed with what I considered “shortcuts” or “cheating” that I was seeing in some of our display advertising. If you’re going to cut an image out of the background with Photoshop, you use the pen tool and layer masks! Yes, that’s true, but when press deadline is 6pm and you have to recreate an ad at 5pm because the client didn’t send their artwork in on time, then the magic wand and eraser tool are perfectly acceptable substitutes. And that translated over into my artwork.

I used to be very perfectionist, and refused to do any comics until my art was what I thought of as “good enough”, so it stayed offline for the most part. Learning that you have to accept small flaws and be okay with them to move on to the next page (or project) is important. Otherwise, you’ll be paralyzed, and unable to grow with more practice. I’ve established a rule for myself, I call it the 90% Rule. For everything I do, as long as the product is within a 90% quality range of what I would consider my absolute best work, then it’s good enough to publish. If it’s below that threshold, then I need to redraw it, or do more studies on that before moving on. In this way, I create lots of content and creating lots of art is the best way to improve. It helps you get faster, too, which helps you hit weekly deadlines. So, for example, if I draw a page out, and it’s really good, but one of the character’s sleeves doesn’t look quite right, I’ll weigh my options: If I have time, I’ll look up some reference, or make my own and work on fixing the art. If I don’t have the time, I’ll accept that it’s just “okay” and make a note to do better next time. The page gets inked, colored, and published, flaws and all. But, at the end of the day, I’ve got a published page and I’ve targeted something that I want to improve. Win-Win!
Just do art – even if it’s not great – and get it done.
Then do more.
Rinse and repeat.
Let yourself make mistakes.

This is our first real comic that we’ve put out there for the masses. Oh, we’ve both had story ideas and characters and full universes worked out since our ages were counted in single digits. There are shelves worth of sketchbooks with art, studies, and all the rest at in our home.

In my own experience, I started a few comics – and even got to inking them – but never finished them because they “weren’t good enough.” But, I learned from them. When we first started this project, I was terrified by the prospect of churning out a fully colored page every week; I was virtually certain we wouldn’t be able to keep up. And it does take a lot of effort, even though it’s something I love doing. There’s a huge amount of personal reward and satisfaction in it, though, and I would do it even if it didn’t have a readership. Because I absolutely have to draw. Not drawing leaves me feeling like I haven’t eaten. So being driven to create art is certainly a necessary component. But, you have to temper that instinct; left alone, you might just do character sheets or posters, but never actually work on the story you want to tell through a finished project of sequential art. So, along with having a schedule, treat it like it’s a job.

Specifically, I mean, treat it like something you have to do. So to hammer back on the ‘make a schedule’ train of thought: Make deadlines for yourself. Of course you have leeway to say, “Hey, I have to get new tires on the car and it’s going to take a long time, so the next page is going to be delayed.” That’s fine, of course things are going to come up and cause disruptions. But do your best to keep a schedule, even specify a work time. For me, it’s usually from 8pm to 10pm on weekdays.


Like any job, you’ve got to take breaks or you’ll burn out…

Take a break during the illustration, to rest your hand and maybe get some stretching in, stand up and walk around – all of these are obvious. But remember to also take a breaks from the project and do other things.

My wife and I absolutely love animation and series like Avatar (obviously, lol!), we love this project, we love art, and we love working together. But if it was the only thing we ever did, we would go nuts! Go to dinner. Go see a movie. Ride your bike (or ride your bike home from work every now and then, if you can). Watch TV and veg out. Play some video games. Do another hobby. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? If I’m doing all this other stuff, doesn’t that take away from creating the comic?

Sure it does, but it keeps you fresh, mentally. It also lets you work on art in a passive way; that is, when I watch a movie, I’m enjoying myself, but a small part of my brain is watching as an illustrator and thinking about composition, color, framing, storytelling, and how I might study/replicate it in my own art. Or if I’m working out or biking, every now and then I’ll look at my posture, how I move, and make a mental reference to use that when I draw dynamic poses. Little things like this help you still get art study into your busy schedule, while still balancing your time with day-to-day activities and recreational activity.


…To be continued…

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