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When we last left Page 29 of Isle of Elsi, it had just been scripted. The next step of my cartooning process is the "layout" of the page, which includes the panel borders, speech balloons, thought bubbles, captions and lettering. I have recently changed how I approach layout, so I thought it would be worth taking a look at how I used to do it, and how I'm doing it now.
"Old School" Layout
The first formal training I received for drawing was learning how to draft technical schematics for theatre sets. In that world, you begin by squaring off your piece of paper using a T-Square and then taping down the page and never moving it again. All subsequent lines are drawn using your T-Square, guaranteeing that they are are parallel or perpendicular to the edges of your piece of paper.
When I first started drawing comics, I basically did the same thing for all of my panel borders and lettering, using a ruler to mark out each of margins, tier heights, panel widths, gutters and the baseline and x-height guidelines for my hand lettering. In the photo above you can see these tools along with the two "cheat sheets" that I used for my graphic novel Basewood. The one on the left has measurements for pages with two tiers all the way up to six tiers, and two columns up to four columns. The one on the right has the 1:1 measurements for the top and bottom margins, the side margins and baseline and x-height lettering guidelines.
Every time I drew a new page, I would reference these sheets of paper, take out my ruler, mark the measurements and then use my T-Square to rule everything out. There is a lot of unnecessary repetition in this process, which I tried to eliminate as I began working on Isle of Elsi.
"New School" Layout
One of the restraints I have placed on Isle of Elsi is a four-tier panel structure (directly inspired by the comics of Carl Barks). Since this is not going to change from page to page, I decided to rule out a page of panel borders once. Tiers one and three are split into two columns and tiers two and four are split into three columns. I tape my piece of bristol on top of this grid and then place them both on a lightbox and simply trace the panels, without needing to measure anything (unless there is an odd-shaped panel that is not in halves or thirds).
Similarly, I drafted two tiers of panels with lettering guidelines that run down the length of the entire panel, once. After my panel borders are laid out on my bristol, I line this up underneath and then do my hand lettering using the lightbox, without having to draw any guidelines at all. This saves a ton of time.
You can see me go through this whole process in the time-lapse video that I have attached to this post. In it, you'll see about 30 minutes of work condensed down to one minute of video. Below you can see a scan of what this step looks like when it is complete (I have darkened the pencil lines, which are very light at this stage, so that it is easier to see what happened).
In the next process post I will pencil this page!