It wasn’t so long ago while attending Angoulême that I was pompously telling a fellow cartoonist that I could never work completely digitally as it lacked the tactile qualities of applying pencil and pen to paper. Those traditional tools were a link to my love of drawing as a child, lying on my stomach on the living room carpet with lined paper and a fistful of felt tips scratching out X-Wing battles. There was no pleasure in tapping a stylus on glass, I blathered on at length. The fellow cartoonist smiled, recognising a kindred spirit. We shook hands and exchanged brush pen recommendations. We were brothers bonded by ink and white out, calouses and paper cuts. The proud, the few.
Fast forward a year or so and I have spent the last three months working almost exclusively digitally. I am no longer one of the proud. A traitor to the mini me on the living room carpet cursing another dried out felt tip pen. After my getting an iPad coincided with a prolonged period of thumbnailing and layout work I find I have been seduced by the technology. I can integrate text and artwork on the page and it will harmonise with the editiorial work flow of my publisher. I send them layouts in a PDF, they volley them back covered in virtual post-its. It saves me scratching out my roughs in pencil on scrap paper, scanning them and typing decipherable text on top via Photoshop.
Scanning artwork is a tedious chore. The only process more tedious is cutting out and adding letratone to pages by hand. I notice that this method has enjoyed a rebirth of late. Artists are on the look out for vintage sheets of half tone that have been discontinued. Cutting out and applying the adhesive sheets is incredibly finicky and frustrating work. I seem to recall that the stuff wasn’t cheap either. Way back in my student days when I was making my very first comic on a shoestring, I drew them with Berol felt tips (a bit of advice to would-be cartoonists, don’t use pens with washable ink unless catastrophic tea spillages are part of your process) on photocopy paper and I bought a single sheet of letratone and made multiple photocopies of it. Being photocopied they weren’t transparent like the real thing so I cobbled together a homemade light box from a sheet of glass, four house bricks and a bedside lamp. This worked okay for ten minutes before the glass became too hot to touch and made the paper curl. I would then glue the scraps of paper to the pages with Pritt stick. What the finished product lacked in slick professionalism it made up for in scrappy DIY enthusiasm. They are now rare and highly priced collectibles. Okay, well, they go for considerably less than cover price. I won’t be joining my fellow cartoonists in the letratone revival. For me it is consigned to a distant past, along with spangles and rickets.
Whether the joys of Procreate will travel with me further than rough layouts remains to be seen. I do still enjoy the pleasures and frustrations of putting ink on paper. The way different tools and paper stocks influence art styles and the tone of a story. Perhaps I am too far gone. When I draw on paper I find myself double-tapping the page to undo a misplaced line. My assimilation is complete.
Thanks to my nimble adoption of cutting edge technology I’m able to create books like Kerry and the Knight of the Forest and The Book Tour. Save me from the red hot light box and photocopied letratone by supporting my store/digital comics/patreon or leaving a positive review online.