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?

Miri­am has been writ­ing and draw­ing the self-pub­lished com­ic book, job­nik!, since 2003. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

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.

As it hap­pens, I felt like I need­ed more help with Adi M.’s pose in scene two, so I posed in front of my computer’s cam­era, once for each pan­el. My char­ac­ters’ anato­my is, uh, styl­ized enough that it wouldn’t have done me any good to trace these pho­tos, but hav­ing them to look at next to my page was very help­ful.

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 has been writ­ing and draw­ing the self-pub­lished com­ic book, job­nik!, since 2003. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

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.