Medical Mishaps

Launch Date January 1999

Concept This one was a pain in the butt, no pun intended.  The concept came to me pretty quickly.  I’ve got a bunch of little anecdotal stories like this that I’ve considered making into strips; and when John said we should do something autobiographical and “revealing,” this one seemed like one that I could tell without being too humiliated or embarrassed.  I had considered other, more disturbing aspects of my life, but I decided that it was best to start into this ArmzRace endeavor a little slow.  No sense in scaring everyone off the first time out of the gate.

I tend to “see” my strips in my head, and I sort of “talk” through them until I get a good sense of how the language should sound.  As I get closer to at how it should read, I start adding pictures to it; but it’s safe to say that the words and images generally happen at the same time.

I then pulled out my trusty sketchbook and did a very rough sketch, breaking everything into the basic 9 panel structure.  It actually came out just about right the first time, and the finished product would probably be recognizable from the original draft (which isn’t always the case).

Layout Then I set about laying out the page on the big 11x14” sheet. 

If you’re using 11x14’ paper, here’s what I’ve found makes good dimensions for a 9 panel grid:

  • 4” x 3”  panels
  • ¼” gutters
  • ¾” title bar
  • 3/8” border.

I draw this using a ruler and a T-square.

Then I went in and sorta half sketched and half lettered everything in pencil.

Lettering For the lettering I experimented with Scratch Art.  It’s a heavy sheet of white paper that has been covered with some sort of scratchable black ink or wax.  When you scratch on the black it reveals the white underneath. 

That means that I wrote out all the text on this scratch paper in pencil and then went back and scratched the letters into the paper with a special little knife.  This took a long time, so be ready to be patient if you’re going to try it.  As you can probably tell, it wasn’t super successful, but it ain’t bad.  The biggest problem was in my knife: it had a pretty sharp point.  I think a flatter tool would have been a lot simpler and kept me from tearing the paper so much.

The wording for this strip actually started out differently (longer), but I kept pairing it down in order to fit all the words onto the paper and not drive myself insane—because it takes so long to scratch it in legibly.

For lettering, I sometimes use a lettering tool.  It’s a little plastic thing with holes that you can turn to get the dimensions that you want.  Basically, it helps you draw your guidelines a little more quickly, but a pencil and ruler work fine. 

Although you can’t tell, I actually like lettering, but I’m impatient.  You don’t have to do guide lines but they do help you to get everything lined up a little better.  I find that using a 3/8” space for letters and a 1/8” space for in between works well.  Then you just have to letter slowly.

Inking Then I went back and started “inking.”  Like I said, my pencils were pretty rough, so I touched them up a little before I started laying down the black.  For fine lines I used a thin tipped pen called a Pilot Precise V7 Fine.  The brand isn’t so important as is the kind of pen: not a ball point, not a marker, but a thin tipped pen that lets ink flow easily.

For the rest I used a fat black marker called an AP Chartpak Marker.  Again, it’s not so much the name brand as the type.  The obvious advantage of the fat marker is that you can lay down your black pretty quickly, especially when compared to working with ink and a brush.  You can get a nice, flat finish.  I recommend a marker that has a tapered head. That way you can make fat lines, but also get into pretty tight corners when you need to.  It just saves a lot of time to work with as few pens as possible.

Then I went back and erased any stray pencil lines after the ink dried.  Which is another advantage of markers: they dry pretty quickly, unlike ink.

The biggest problem with markers is the smell, but maybe for some people that’s a source of inspiration.

Lettering 2 I had cut out all the text boxes before inking and positioned them on the page, just to get a sense of how much room I had.  After inking, I put 3M Spray Mount Artist’s Adhesive on the back of each of the boxes and carefully glued them into place.  The biggest hassle was that the spray kinda gets everywhere.  I laid down a newspaper, and then flipped the pages between every couple of sprays.  You should be prepared with a wet cloth.  Luckily it dries pretty quickly.

Reproduction I photocopied these at Kinkos on a standard photocopying machine.  The medium darkness setting seemed to work fine; it helped to flatten out the blacks so that it’s harder to tell that the text boxes are actually raised off the page slightly.  However, it did leave some splotchy white dots.  You can go from 11 x 14” to 8.5 x 11” by using the 77% or 78% reduction option.  It just about fits perfectly on the smaller sheet.

Overall Overall, I’m pretty happy with this one.  It ain’t a masterpiece, but I got some experience with scratch board and I got to play with black and white a lot.

I really like artists like Peter Kuper, Richard Sala, and Drooker (?) who use a lot of black in their work and so I’m pleased with the contrast that I was able to achieve.  I just think it looks cool to have a mostly black page, and then have the whites make the picture, rather than the usual black on white.  It’s that whole negative image thing that I think I like.

It’d be hard to estimate how long it took to do this one, since I worked on it over the course of a week.  The lettering easily took the longest, but I made up a lot of time by using the markers to ink.

What People are Saying About Medical Mishaps

Mark sez:

I’ve talked a little about the first ArmzRace and while I could talk a little more about the fun I had with it, I think that in terms of constructive improvements, I have little to say except maybe to have the Cej character look more “child-like”. Of course, it sounds stupid for me to talk about improving your art when you can just look at mine but I think it is valuable to remember the age that the characters are to reflex. I found a large improvement in that with the second issue.

John Sez:

I like the evenness of the black and white on this one.  I also like that you used the more cartoonlike style and knew what your tone would be in advance.

You do not appear to be 11 years old in the first two panels, basically 'cause of the cleft and pronounced cheekbones.  Is that kid on the right bald?  Who was that?
I think panel two might have been more effective with a simple "(gulp) oops" and the startled expression.
The quarter scratching it's way down worked well.  All of the medical stuff worked well again.  You seem to have an affinity for it...
Panel 4:  look at the chest on this kid!  Also, might have been better if the walls kind of bulged around the boat rather than that little groove thing that's going on there.
Panel 5:  no way that's an 11 year old kid.  You have pecs, muscular arms.  You're the same size as the doctor, maybe bigger.
Panel 6 and 7 were funky but got the job done
Panel 8 was really nice, I thought.  Panel 9 was nice too.
Overall, the pacing is good and the visual description is good.  Would've helped greatly if you appeared younger, but really that's about it.  When you're using a more comical/cartoony style you can get away with more, so most everything here works fine despite my criticisms.
It occurred to me a day or two ago that if I wrote a review like this of a regular comic, it would probably read about the same.  Maybe some day I'll review a few pages of one and send it to you, but not today...