I wish I could spend forever designing the characters for Cross Hare’s world, but in this particular instance I had less than an hour to come up with the Maitre D’ for The Sandwich Club. From day to day, I sort of rework my dialogue and story over and over in my head. I had definitely imagined the Maitre D’, but I had yet to sketch him out onto paper. The character that I kept seeing in my head was the Hotel Maitre D’ from Ghostbusters. If you are familiar with the movie, he is the fellow who wants to refuse to pay the ghostbusters after they trash the ballroom of the hotel. When it came time to start sketching my character, I popped Ghostbusters in and did some sketches of the actor from the movie.
At this stage, I’m not concerned about design, but just drawing what I see. I’m looking for details that stand out to me, or that I wouldn’t have thought of solely from my imagination. I noticed that a few times the actor lifts his chin above where his neck meets the base of his head. Also, his hair just seems like lumpy shapes around his large forehead. I’m just being very loose and gestural with my sketches, trying to get the feeling right. These sketches are literally just a way for me to take visual notes. My goal is not to make a caricature of the actor from Ghostbusters, but just to pick up on some of the nuances of a snooty maitre d’ character.
To begin designing my character I sketch out some solid volumes in blue pencil and then add in facial features while referring to my sketches. I liked how the cheek bones in one of my sketches sort of jutted out from the profile, also how the brow above the eyes stuck out similarly. Part of this process involves simplifying, I need to lose lots of detail to make my character fit into Cross Hare’s cartoon world. Working with the blue pencil first, gives me a chance to simplify things further with my black pencil on a second pass. I did a couple quick designs, and I liked the one where his eyelids were large and raised, with his eyes just peaking out from under them.
And that was pretty much it; a character design in less than an hour. I didn’t really have much more time for exploration. I still had that night’s comic strip to plan out, write, draw, scan, and edit… in about 4 hours time. So the next time I would draw my Maitre D’ would be in the final strip. Oh! And I didn’t forget the trademark of snooty maitre d’s everywhere: the thin mustache.
Click the image below to see the first strip with The Sandwhich Club’s Maitre D’!
When I started drawing Cross Hare comic strips, I never thought beyond individual strips. I had picked some old newspaper strips that I liked and figured out how tall and wide they were. This determined what size I would make my Cross Hare strips.
After I had drawn about 30 strips, I attempted to combine them into a book. It wasn’t going to be a professional printing job. I was just going to print the pages out on my cheap desktop printer and staple them together. I soon discovered that my strips didn’t fit well on a comic book sized page. I should have realized this would be the case. After all, I had collected anthologies of newspaper strips for years that were odd sizes. All of my Calvin and Hobbes anthologies are either in a small 9 X 8.5 inch format, or a larger 8.5 x 11 size.
For some reason, I really want Cross Hare to fit into a standard comic book size. So, with my latest storyline, I’ve been planning out pages in advance. As you can see above, I’ve planned 3 strips that fit neatly into one comic book page.
This also ads more structure to my previous writing habits. Originally I was just sort of outlining a story or strip with a sentence or two and then worrying about layout and dialogue the night I posted the strip. With this new process, I’ve got all the drawings and word-balloons planned and laid-out weeks in advance. Seems like a no-brainer now, but it’s taken me a while to realize this is a more efficient and more organized way of doing things.
What do you think? Am I doing something terrible by abandoning a newspaper comic strip format? Or do you like the new format that I’ve been using?
My first 50 or so Cross Hare comic strips were created very haphazardly. At the time, I wasn’t drawing out the entire strip, but doing sketches on different pieces of scrap paper, scanning my drawings, and then doing much of the work digitally. However, that system of working was a total mess. It took way to much time, and left my strips feeling very disjointed. This lead me to come up with a process that I feel saves me time and leaves me with a better product in the end.
I actually start by writing out my strip and laying out the panels and words in the computer. Sometimes I’ll print this out and use it as guides for drawing my strip. For this particular strip, Cross Hare is just narrating and I don’t have to worry about word balloon placement. This layout does give me a good idea how tall to make the drawings in each panel.
I sketch out my pencil lines and do inking on 11×17 board. I use both Bristol Board or Index Paper.
Blue Pencil: Sanford col-erase
Pens: Micron .35mm & .50mm
I do a general outline for Cross Hare several weeks in advance, and then write each strip the same night that I draw it. Writer’s block can be scary, but I tell myself I have to post a strip every Tues & Thurs with no excuses. There is an on-going storyline for my characters, but I try to have a punchline in each strip. This sometimes adds to the writer’s block. In this strip, I had story that I wanted to tell, but I didn’t feel there was anything funny in the words. Cross Hare is walking across town in the rain to borrow a car from someone. On his way, a car drives through a puddle and soaks our fearless detective. The words don’t really mention the splashing, but hopefully having some funny drawings makes up for not having funny words!
Once all my drawings are done, I scan them all into my computer. This is a multi-part process because my scanner isn’t large enough to accommodate the 11×17 sized paper. I stitch the drawings together digitally. I then remove the blue pencil lines and do any touch-up work. In this strip, I decided to add the rain digitally instead of including them in the original drawings. When I began, I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted the rain to look. Doing it in the computer allowed me to play around with the rain and not mess up my drawings.
Finally, I drop my scan in behind my original text and panels. I came up with some rain that I liked and I also add any large areas of black in the computer. This keeps me from running out of ink in my pens.
I’m continually updating and changing my process. With every strip, I feel there are things I can do better with my drawing and my story. I’ve given myself deadlines and I have to post the strip for the night and hope the next one will be better!
Click on the image below to see this strip in all it’s finished glory.
Cross Hare has yet to encounter one of the sworn protectors of The Jade Rose. Sooner or later one of the Knights of the Jade Rose is bound to pop up, and I don’t even have a character designed yet! I’ve spent my Memorial Day sketching and doodling what a Knight of the Jade Rose might look like. I definitely want to see a ram in a fez. So far all of my sketching seems a bit too detailed for Cross Hare’s world. Once I find something I like, I’ll make the final version more cartoony.
Chester Gould drew one character completely different from the next. Dick Tracy’s rogues gallery is a menagerie of squiggles, curves, dots and lines that form outrageous personalities that were always over the top.
Check out this 1978 program for an art exhibit featuring 200 of Chester Gould’s outlandish characters via Mike Lynch Cartoons.