Dan

The Same Faces pt.1

I get asked questions occasionally about the process of making comics. I’ve passed this particular question on to a handful of the people I’ve interviewed for them to answer, and I’ll post up more as they come in.

How do you make the faces look the same from panel to panel?

I remember this being a big concern of mine when I started drawing comics, and I get asked this pretty frequently. Probably more of a concern that actually telling a story if I’m honest. I think this is a question that gets asked a lot because it is so apparent when the characters don’t look consistent. Here’s how John Allison, Viv Schwarz, Glyn Dillon and Sarah Glidden tackled this topic;

John Allison (Listen to his interviews here and here)

I’m not sure I ever worked this out in a scientific way. When I was a kid, I drew Transformers comics, and because I was a kid who liked the toys, I knew where all the different bits of their faces went. Optimus Prime had that barn door over his mouth, Jazz and Blaster had visors over their eyes, Shockwave had a hexagon head. Their blocky appearance made getting all those bits in line easier.

I think that’s still what I do. I know what shape a character’s face is, what shape their nose is, what kind of eyes they have, and I put them in the same place each time. And I know that if I don’t properly work out a new character today, and try to draw them several times in the same comic, they don’t look the same each time. It’s not magic, you just get better at copying yourself.

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Viv Schwarz (interviewed here and here)

Good question.

I draw my characters without worrying too much beyond a simple set of rules about their individual proportions, concentrating more on their stance and expression. Then I check all the drawings, comparing them carefully and correct them in Photoshop where they are too far off.

I allow myself some room for variation because my characters tend to be a bit amorphous, their whole shape changes with emotion and their features wander a bit – that’s what I’ve observed happens in animals where feathers, fur or loose skin allow for a lot more expressive shape shifting. I am allowing that for my human characters to some extent as well because I think it reads just fine. I’m also making all the characters in any given story look quite different so that they are easy to recognise even if their shape varies a bit.

I couldn’t keep the faces completely consistent anyway because I myself can’t recognise real people by their features and have to memorise their voice, smell, stance, hairstyle and so on instead. I think that actually helps my drawing more than it hinders.

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Glyn Dillon (Interview here)

I try and learn the ‘ingredients’ that make up a characters face, & the position & proportion of those ingredients, sometimes it takes a while for them to settle, which is why often a character will look one way at the beginning of a project and quite different by the end.
If you do enough ‘pre-production’ work, character sketches, drawings where you’re trying to learn the ‘map’ of the face, then that effect should be somewhat diminished. But it’s still likely that your characters will change & evolve. Even seemingly simple characters like Homer Simpson have gone through changes… the basic ingredients are all there but the positions and proportions have changed slightly over time.
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When I did Nao, I didn’t want her to remain the same throughout the book, I wanted her to look like she’d ‘evolved’ in terms of varying clothes, hairstyles and ageing slightly. So I tried not only to have a consistency to the ingredients of her face but also to have a consistency to her expressions. I tried to give her a recognisable smile that I could repeat, so that even if her hair style had changed, she would be recognisable by her tight lipped smile.
I can understand why it’s a FAQ because it is one of the hardest things to pull off. I look at pages of Nao where I think she looks different from panel to panel, (the one where she’s putting on her make-up springs to mind) but over the book as a whole I don’t think it’s too bad.
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Sarah Glidden (Interview here)
Its hard to keep characters consistent, especially if you’re style is still evolving over time and you’re working on a long project. I have it a little bit easier because my characters are pretty simple, differentiated mostly by their hairstyles/hair color and clothing. Really, if you just looked at their faces, they don’t look the same from panel to panel, but I do my best to make sure you always know who is who.
What is most important to me is that each character comes across as an individual. Part of that means that I am very careful about how each character “acts”: their body language, their facial expressions, whether make eye contact when they talk to someone else, all of these things are less noticeable from panel to panel if you’re just flipping through the comic, but its all very considered. 
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Woodrow Phoenix on The Grid

I talk fairly regularly about how I use a grid to plan out my comics. The grid I use is based on one that the wonderful Woodrow Phoenix distributed when we were working on Nelson. I get asked about it quite often so I asked Woodrow to explain what it is all about. Take it away, Woodrow Phoenix!
If you draw comics regularly you will be familiar with the boredom of marking up page after blank page with the grid you have planned to use, measuring panel borders and margins to make sure everything is consistent. When you’re doing thirty or forty pages, that time really adds up.
One of the best things about working for US superhero comics publishers is that they give you paper with non-repro blue grid markings already printed on them so you don’t need to work that stuff out for yourself. Luxury! And that gave me an idea: I could do the same thing for myself. So I did.
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I drew myself a template that had every possible division on it I could ever need. I work at A3 so I print out an A3 copy and place underneath a blank sheet of paper so that I can then quickly mark out a 4, 6, 8, 9 or 12 panel grid.
There are two templates – one is A4, the other is based on a standard comic book page which is narrower than the European A sizes are. They are both 300dpi so you can print them out or just open them in photoshop and place them under your art to size it correctly. It is also very easy to use the ‘transform’ tool in photoshop to make the templates a different shape if you want. Just open this page, click on it and’select all’ then select edit > transform > scale. Pull the handles to make it wider, narrower or taller as you need it to be. The proportions will remain the same so it will still work perfectly well.
The page is marked with divisions into halves, quarters and thirds which will give you the standard six panel, nine, twelve or 16 panel grid. There are lots of other divisions in between these to make different grids of your own devising, up to 40 panels!
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It looks a little complicated now because there are so many lines criss-crossing this page but as soon as you start using the division you have chosen you will see how they all work.