Miriam Libicki, an American Jewish girl from a religious home, enlists in the Israeli Army one summer against everyone’s better judgment. Many qualities seem to make her unsuited for IDF life: her Hebrew isn’t great, she is shy and passive, and she has a tendency to fall in love with anything that moves. If that weren’t enough, the Al Aqsa uprising, a.k.a the second Palestinian Intifada, erupts a few weeks after she is stationed as a secretary in a remote Negev base. Will Miriam survive threats of terrorism, the rough IDF culture, and not least, her horrible taste in men?
I chose this page more or less because it was the page I was working on when I was offered to blog about my process, so I was able to un-tape it from my drawing board and scan it several times before I finished it. Below, find more detail on my process than anyone could possibly want!
I script a whole issue and break it down into pages before I start drawing, though I will sketch out the amount and configuration of panels as I am scripting. After a few years of writing comics, I have figured out how much text/dialogue I can fit in a panel and how many panels/scenes I can fit on a page (the answer to both is: a lot less than you’d think) without shortchanging the drawings.
Then I will make thumbnail drawings in an 8.5”x5.5” sketchbook. I try to lay out the pages facing each other the way they will be when printed, so that I can design a two-page spread in a harmonious manner if possible.
This page has three scenes on it. I originally had each scene occupying one row of panels (I think in proper comix speak they’re called “tiers”), but when I got to my thumbnails, I thought the second scene wouldn’t be well served by really skinny panels, and the third scene wasn’t important enough to get a whole tier to itself.
So I’ve got the last panel of scene two occupying the same tier as scene three. My solution for visually differentiating the two was to shrink the final panel, and surround it by a lot more white space (“gutter” in proper comix speech). This also serves to reinforce how minor it is as a scene. Also, because Miriam is a limited first-person narrator, the very look of each panel is influenced by her mental state. Here, she feels small. Get it?
This sounds so dumb when I have to explain it. I really love how the comix medium allows one to show instead of tell in a more literal manner than text literature.
Note that some figures in a thumbnail are extremely rudimentary, and some of them are a lot more worked through, as I try to practice the facial expressions I want, as well as tricky poses, like how your hands look when you’re opening a tub of cottage cheese. Also note that I add speech balloons but not text. This is to give me a basic idea of where and how much space I need to give for the text. Since I already have the script, it wouldn’t do me any good to actually write the words in.
Computer layouts is something I only started doing when I started hand-lettering. I don’t have enough of a sense of how to form aesthetically pleasing text-shapes or good enough printing to letter completely freehand, so instead I trace printed text. I print the layouts of the panels along with the text because it saves me some time. If I’m using direct photo reference (*cough* tracing), I’ll also paste it into this document. I format this all in Illustrator, referring to my script and thumbnails. Then I print it out the size of my Bristol boards, and trace it using graphite transfer paper.
This is my final page, after I had traced the text and layouts and roughed in the figures. I said earlier that my printing isn’t neat enough to letter freehand but you’ll see that’s not exactly true; after I’d traced this page I realized I left out some crucial text, namely, the date and the translation of a Hebrew term I used in panel 1. So I did write these in freehand, using rulers to ensure a minimum of regularity. It turns out, through sheer repetition of my tracing process, I actually have developed some handlettering skills. But I guess I still need my crutch.
I didn’t trace the panel borders straight, because this issue is mostly an extended flashback. Wavy and not-as-thick panel borders is a way I am hoping to make the flashback pages visually distinct from the “present time” pages. I don’t yet know if readers will pick up on this, cause the issue isn’t published yet.
I added a lane behind the formation of soldiers with another division marching through. I did it cause the composition seemed unbalanced, and I like having the reminder that these twelve girls are just one of dozens of divisions going through exactly the same thing at the same time on this base.
I should have probably ruled all of panel 1 out using three-point perspective. But I decided to just eyeball it instead. I think if you have practiced drawing in perspective enough, you can fake it in a pinch, especially since the only thing in this pane is people, who are lumpy and squishy and irregular anyway. At least jobnik people are. I used 1‑point perspective in the last panel, because it has more straight lines in it.
These are pretty much the “final pencils,” before I start “inking” with, in my case, softer pencils. If you care, my penciling pencils are 2H and H, and my “inking” pencils go from B (for flashbacky panel borders, and the smallest or most distant objects) to 3B, then I shade in tones with 3Bs-5Bs.
This is where I put in faces, clothes and any other details. At first I thought I could get away without drawing the endless rows of mess hall tables behind the characters, but then my husband pointed out that even though there are previous scenes in the mess hall, people cant be expected to assume that anytime characters are at a long table, they’re in the mess hall. So I got out my rulers and vanishing points and added in the tables and windows.
I didn’t add any people though, mostly out of laziness, but also because one of the biggest things I still struggle with in comix drawing is how much background to put in, so that there is atmosphere and context to a scene without muddying it up and taking focus away from the main action.
This is after the “inks” and tones, scanned in, but before more fixes in Photoshop. I use different softnesses of pencil when I “ink.” The softer the pencil, the darker and usually thicker the line it produces. So like in panels 2 – 4, the girls’ bodies are drawn with a 3B, while the distant tables are drawn with a B. most of the lettering is done with a 2B, while the emphasized words are done with a 3B.
In Photoshop, I darken up my page more so that the darkest pencil lines are black, and it’s a fuller tonal range for printing. It also wasn’t ‘til I scanned it in that I realized I left out an asterisk in the footnote of panel one, so I was able to fix that with cut’n’pasting (not shown).
Um. Any questions?
Miriam Libicki is a graphic novelist living in Vancouver Canada. Her 2008 Israeli Army memoir “jobnik!” has been used in over a dozen university courses. She teaches cartooning and illustration at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She also makes a line of hand-silkscreened shirts and met her husband while following a nerd-folk band on tour.