Concept Phase: I hired an Artist, now what?

Concept Phase

Now that you have gone through the process of finding and hiring the right artist, you need to start production on your comic.

By the way, if you haven't found an artist yet, check out my last blog series.

My Experience

I did a concept phase with the artist I hired on my first production before we even looked at issue #1. It took a lot of work, but in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I made.

What do I mean by "Concept Phase"?

The concept phase should give you a color drawing of each character and main location that both the author and artist agree upon.

If you have written a complete set of scripts (several comic issues worth), it just makes good sense to work with your artist to get the characters and main locations finalized before starting work on the first issue.

Why?

It saves you a ton of time. Instead of going back-and-forth as the artist is drawing panes of your comic, he/she can focus on making the art great because he/she will already have an approved drawing of the character for reference.

Having the drawing also helps your artist draw from different angles and stay consistent with style/look as more issues are created.

The other nice part for you as the writer/producer? You probably will have very minimal feedback for your artist once he/she starts sending you storyboards and inks for the comics (everything was already hashed out in the concept phase).

I can count on one hand how many (minor) changes I gave my artist for the first ~25 pages of my issue, and they were all VERY easy changes.

It makes the production much easier for the author/producer, as the artist knows exactly what you want for each character/location.

Still don't believe me?

Professional Experience

I watch a lot of cartoons/anime, and I sometimes watch the behind the scenes stuff too. One sticks out, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender (great show) talked about the importance of the concept phase and getting all the characters and locations finalized before they started storyboarding the cartoon. If you watch the show and see the consistently great art from the first season to the last season, you will know what I mean.

Jason Brubaker, a well known self published artist, also talks about the importance of concept art in his blog post Model Sheets, Character Turnarounds and Expression Sheets!

The concept phase for me just covered what he calls model sheets (his definitions below). My model sheets were both for characters and main locations. I didn't request character turnarounds or expression sheets, and we did fine without them (up to you whether or not you use them).

Jason's definitions (might be official jargon too):

Model sheets are posed characters, styled ideally for a project. They can be referenced in order to keep an artist or team of artists “on model”.

Character Turnarounds are similar to model sheets but focus on the front, three quarters, profile and back views. I’ve seen Turnarounds with up to 8 angles. Some turnarounds only focus on closeups of the head at different angles.

Expression Sheets are examples of the range of typical expressions a main character might have to refer to later when trying to keep a characters personality “on model”.

Ok, you are onboard, now what?

Getting Started

Most artist are familiar with this process/phase, so it won't be shocker when you suggest it. In addition, many artists will do these drawings at a large discount or for free (talk to yours about it).

I ended up paying the artist I hired for my first series to do it, but it was at a pretty big discount.

I initially thought this would be a fairly quick phase, and we would be up and running on the issue #1 within several weeks... I was a bit wrong.

Timelines

The longer timelines won't necessarily be because the artist is taking too long. There is going to be some back-and-forth while you blend your vision of each character and location. He/She might actually add details that never occurred to you, and for me, the artist made my characters/locations much, much better than I could have imagined.

I thought because much of the artwork wasn't full pages with panes, I would get a faster output than the 2-3 color pages per week I expect for actual production, but I ended up getting that same output. 

It might be because there was some back-and-forth on fixing/changing things. My artist also moved countries in the middle of the concept phase, so that added some extra time that you probably won't see.

Luckily, I wasn't in a rush, and you shouldn't be in one either (unless it looks like the artist isn't doing the work).

How did I speed up the concept phase?

First, I created a spreadsheet using Google Sheets (any spreadsheet app should work). The spreadsheet listed each character and main location from my script. 

I copied/pasted the descriptions of each character/location from the script, and I added images/videos from the web to clarify what I envisioned.

Because I did all this work (descriptions, images/video examples, etc.), the artist didn't have to waste time trying to understand exactly what I meant with my descriptions (or dig through the script to find the right descriptions). 

The end result was many of the character and location sketches/inks didn't need a lot of changes from my end.

Tracking Progress of the Concept Phase

After my artist reviewed the sheet, he started emailing me sketches. 

At first, I would reply in the email with my feedback, but that doesn't work very well when you are getting lots of character/location sketch emails (some feedback lost in back-and-forth).

I ended up switching to a tracking spreadsheet, and it made things SO MUCH EASIER! 

Here is a template version of the Google Spreadsheet I used. Feel free to use it for yourself!

It is pretty self explanatory. I had 5 status states (color coded to keep things clear):
  • Done
  • Address Feedback (almost done)
  • Needs Color
  • Needs Ink
  • Not submitted
Outside of that, I just added/edited my feedback in the spreadsheet and changed status state as I got new submissions.

This was an online spreadsheet, so the artist could log in any time to review it.

I also moved "Done" items to another tab, so the artist could clearly see how much work he had left.

It cleared up almost all the miscommunications in the concept phase.

How long does it take?

I had 28 pieces (19 characters, 9 environments). All told, it took 79 days to finish everything in color (this includes the artist moving to another country and restarting work). That's about 2.6 months.

I am guessing you probably won't need to worry about moving, so it will probably be much shorter.

Anyway, 28 pieces over 79 days equals about ~2.5 color pages / week. That's the output I was aiming for in production of the comic. That roughly equals ~25 pages / two months which equals an issue. That is about the right output from various articles I have read online.

Conclusion

I hoped this help convince you to do the concept phase. It was very helpful for me and saved me a lot of time.

Please copy the spreadsheet I created for yourself, and get to work making your comic! Let me know if you have any other suggestions, thanks!

-Jeremy

P.S. - If this helped, please support me by reading my free webcomic halfwing, thanks!

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