My plan for the Public Education book is to collect 180 strips. One for each day in an American school year. Sticking to that plan I'm entering the home stretch after about a year and a half of work. I've noticed lately that I'm a lot faster at getting strips done than when I started. Sure I could just chalk this up to the nebulous term 'experience', but I decided to really try and figure out a few things to concretely increase my productivity.
When I began Public Education I was very regimented in finishing one strip per day. I'd get home, sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and try to recreate something that I remembered from work. This wasn't a bad pace to get comics done but several of them suffered from feeling forced. I later cut back to three strips a week and the quality of each strip improved. I only post one update a week. That way I'm still constantly building in more wiggle room, and I never have to pull a strip out of a day I wasn't paticularly enjoying.
This, for example, was an early strip of mine that feels forced, lame, and possibly doesn't even make sense.
Cutting back on my personal mandate was good for morale and the quality of the strips, but lowering your workload is no way to increase your productivity. I needed to keep thinking about what has changed.
Since I completed my first 24 hour comic in December I've been approaching my cartooning a lot differently. It's a hard goal to get 24 full pages done in 24 hours; I had to boil down the process of comics into a process I could follow in an almost assembly line style. I trace in the master copy of my panel borders first. I don't digitally copy or create the borders because I want everything about the comic to look like it was done at a teachers desk. Inconsistencies in borders may not really make any difference in the world, but I like it, so I'm sticking to it.
After that I pencil in my sketches with my lettering. This was a big difference that helps a lot every time I hand letter. It helps me to frame the panels relative to how much dialogue is being given, which it turns out is really important. After that comes the inking with the microns, which generally don't follow the sketches exactly, but try to improve upon them. It's probably a common beginners error to think inkers are tracing the pencils. Inks are there to add to a pencillers work, I feel this is true even with my fixed tip Microns. I try to give the line work life even if I'm not playing different line weights.
The biggest asset to the comic has been my inspiration for the strip, the kids. I always carry a clipboard with me at work with the schedule for the day, notes about the students, etc. My true moment of genius (if you'll allow me the sentence to toot my own horn) was to use my work day as direct and immediate research for the comic. Sitting in my room trying to think of something funny from the day was asinine. I am literally surrounded by pencils and paper in an elementary school. When something funny happens, I just jot down notes on what I see.
If I'm lucky I even get it on a few different lines of dialogue and can work on plotting out how it will become a strip during work. If something is amusing, I can immediately record it for the strip. Most days I have the strip already written, and plotted out before I get home. Not only that, but more often than not I have several moments in my notes to choose from each day. This has helped me in myriad ways. I can do several strips a night if I feel like it. I can save up good ideas from busy afternoons, and then catch up on the strips on a weekend. I also can separate the wheat from the chaff, and get rid of funny musings that don't really work in a comic.
Wow, this ended up long. I'm not sure people want to read a big text wall, but it also might balance out Tim's great new work with his sketch blog.