by Scott Lawrence
On the other side of the screen...
How I make the NORT strip...
Hi there! I don't know about you, but I always love reading how comic strip artists make their comic strips. It's always fascinating to me. Many people have their own way of doing things, and I believe there's something to be learned from them.

While I'm no artist, and you don't really want to learn from me, I have made this page anyway. Deal with it.

I first start every strip with a sketch of what I want to do. This usually contains basically where the characters are in the frame, what they're saying, you know.. that kind of thing.

The comic shown in this sketch is 08, "Teamwork".

Really... It is... Trust me.

See? I told you I'm not an artist.

The main things I need to create the comic are crazy little things called "pixels". As you may know, pixels are squares of color. Sometimes they're not squares, but I won't get into that right now. The best place to get pixels from is from a vector based graphics program. I use I'strator 7.

You see, raster based drawing programs, like P'shop have a limited number of pixels you can use. Vector programs do not deal with pixels, they deal with lines or "vectors"... And if you remeber Geometry class at all, then you know that a line is an infinite number of points. If you look really close at your monitor screen, you'll see lots of points of light, or... you got it... PIXELS!!!

So, I start with the "old style pen looking thing" tool.

I use the "old style pen looking thing" tool to make squares of color. Sometimes they're not exactly square, but that's okay, since you can adjust it later. I draw lots of these by eye, as square as I can make them. There are tools in I'strator to move points, so I then spend time adjusting the points to make it into a perfect square. I'm getting good at this, so this only takes me a few hours these days.
Sometimes, I don't trust that the lines are really straight, so I use the "almost a real cursor" tool. You can do really neat things with this, like make most of your cursor disappear. I often spend hours just switching back and forth between this cursor and the regular cursor, playing "now you see it - now you don't". It's fun.
Anyway, you can use the "almost a real cursor" tool to move around these little lines that don't appear until you use this cursor... you can make the lines all squigly. This usually sucks down a few more hours of my time.

First I will play with the squiggly sides for a while. Then I make the sides straighter than they were before.

Once I have a few squares of color made, I then select them all, by hitting [command]-[A], then copy by hitting [command]-[c].

Next, I load up P'shop. You can paste vector graphics right into P'shop. It's cool like that. Anyway, I adjust the DPI settings for P'shop to the appropriate value, then paste in the squares. I never know what the appropriate value is so it's always a "paste, cancel, resize, paste, etc" cycle that lasts for hours.

At this point, I get fed up, and scrap the whole thing.

Next, I load my "Template" into P'shop. This is a bare base of a P'shop file that has a few layers. It is 700 pixels wide and three hundred something pixels tall... in the common 1.85:1 aspect ratio as used in many films. (No reason for this.)

The first few comics didn't use the template file. I would just load in an old strip, and delete the hell out of layers down to what you see here. This is why some of them have a slightly different look to them, like this comic has yellow glows around the seperators, rather than blue glows. Oops.

The layers, as seen in this snap from P'shop..
  • My email address, which appears over all other layers.
  • Two vertical seperators, with an outer glow.
    (I can slide them around to make space for the characters.)
  • A layer with just the sample text, in the correct size and font.
  • criss-cross of blue lines with a slight outer glow
  • Dark blue background

    Not shown in the layers is a stupid thing that somehow appeared one day that I can't get rid of that apparantly calls itself "point number 1"

    Anyhoo, the rest is pretty straightforward. I copy bits from other P'shop documents, like this one, each with lots of collected graphics in their own layers. I then paste those characters into their own P'shop window, make tweaks to the pixels, then scale them up, usually 400 to 500 percent... with the scale algorithm set to "nearest neighbor" so there is no blurring.

    I then spend hours moving these scaled up characters around on the template, adding in text, drop shadows on most of the layers, tweaking the text, then export it to a jpeg file at 80% compression.

    After that, I upload it to the server, run a script there, and BAMMO, it's available for everyone to get confused about.

    At this point, I usually spend hours staring at it, finding all of the faults, tweaking the file and re-uploading it to the server. heh.