Monday, September 11, 2006

How my first manga book was made

Creating a manga book has a lot in common with other tasks like writing computer software, conducting scientific experiments, or painting a detailed picture. You generally have to do a lot of planning before doing anything that’ll be part of the final work.

So for an educational manga book, that means that before you do any of the drawings, you first need to figure out what exactly you want to put into the book. You might ask if this takes away the spontaneous creativity needed in art. To some extent, yes, but making an educational book is a complicated enough process that you’ll benefit much more from mapping things out to make sure the book makes sense as a whole. Small details can be changed later, but the more you have things planned out, the less likely you’ll have costly mistakes from which you can’t recover.

For the manga Darwin book, I first started by brainstorming ideas for content and figuring out what I wanted to accomplish with the project: Who’s the audience, what would they like to know, and what would be the best way to explain these things. This would then be turned into an outline that I’d flesh out with lots of researched material.

Now if this were a regular book, I’d be done with a little editing. But because this is manga, I still had to convert all the material into drawings. This meant that I had to rework it to flow with dialog and humor so it won’t look like I was just adding illustrations as an afterthought. The researched material takes its final form as a script that specifies what’s shown in each frame and who’s saying what. It’s only after that’s done that I can actually start the drawing phase.

As far as the actual drawing of the pages is concerned, my first manga book was made in a semitraditional way. Using a thick paper meant for manga, I sketched out the drawings and frames with a pencil. Once I was satisfied with the drawings, I’d ink with a pen nib. After waiting for the ink to dry, I’d erase all the pencil lines and scan the inked page. Finally, on my Mac (yes, I’m an Apple fan) I’d typeset the text and add shading, frames, touch-ups, and any special effects using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

Once a page is done, I would make a compressed low-resolution file and email it to my editor who would check it for content. When this is done for all 205 pages of the book, my editor and I would go through a couple of editing passes before sending them to the printing company. One of the subtle things I caught during these editing sessions was the inconsistent number of fingers on Darwin’s hand (at first he’d have four and later only three). I also noticed that my Photoshop use improved over the course of the book so I made some tweaks in the final stages to equalize the look throughout the book.

So that’s how the first book was made. The overall process used is pretty general, so it’ll essentially be the same one that I’ll use in the future. Going forward, though, instead of paper and ink, I’ll be doing everything on the computer in an all-digital workflow, so that’ll be a lot of fun!


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