Sunday, December 30, 2012

Making Manga (the Pegasi way)

While we mainly focus on visual novels nowadays, we started out as (and still are) a small Dutch doujinshi circle to make our own original manga stories. In fact, we have a short story in the pipeline for Tsunacon, an upcoming convention in February.

Basically, we have the following idea: in a Victorian or fantasy setting (I haven't decided yet), a young noble lady is about to be betrothed to the most stoic man alive. Although she likes him, the only interest he has shown in her is his occasional glancing when she's not looking, likely due to her beauty. Sadly, that won't last long either...

While I can't tell you more about it (the curse of a short story), in this month's post I can show you the Pegasi way of how we make our printed work.

Story idea
Whether you're creating visual novels or comics, it all starts with this.

For us, thinking up the main idea is usually the easy part. Once we've got one that sounds like an interesting concept and of the correct size for our visualized page count, we work it out in very basic terms: see whether there are any major plot holes, clich├ęs or other problems which you need fix early on. If it passes this phase, it's ready for the next step, in which I work out the idea and Kiki checks it.

The general story idea is also what usually ends up being the synopsis on the back of our books, so I usually write it down somewhere.

Story layout
It's a good idea to have the story laid out before you start drawing. It will help you stick to your page count and visualise how the story unfolds over these pages. This also means you can pace your story, not to mention correcting mistakes before they become a pain. There are a few ways to do this, of which I've found the following to be useful.

1. Script outline
page 1
"Hello" (man looking grumpy, 1/3)
"Hi" (woman looking grumpy, 1/3)
(man and woman sitting opposite of each other at a table, profile view, 1/3)
Above you see a very simple example of a page layout when you decide to write everything. You simply describe what should be seen and how big each panel is. The "1/3" here means the panel is 1/3 of the page or the available drawing area. It's a great way for writers who can't draw to visualise the story for the artist, or if you want to let your editor make adjustments even though he/she can't draw.

2. Thumbnails
While the above method works fine, I've come to prefer thumbnails. What you do here is drawing a thumbnail (tiny simple picture) of every page before you draw the pages themselves. It's great for visualising your ideas and laying out compositions ahead of time. If you draw the thumbnails in one image and number them, you can also see the pacing and an overview of the story with just a glance!

Since the thumbnails are so small, I just number the balloons and type the text which goes with it in a document.

In this part you work out the thumbnails or outline of the last step in more detail. The sketches show the compositions and basically what's going on in the panels, but also who is who and who is wearing what, the general expressions, etc. After you've finished, you can lower the layer's opacity so it's easier to ink over later. 

Another tip here is to use 300 dpi for your files: although it's the minimum for it to look good in print, 600 dpi might be too much for the printer, it might ruin your tones,  and you probably don't need it if your manga isn't a super detailed work of art. You can always ask what your printing office prefers though.

When the sketches are done, it's time to ink! In my experience it works better to first ink the panels and balloons. You can do this by hand or with any other computer software you may have, but I prefer using Manga Studio EX 4 (MS).

MS has the advantage of pre-made balloons which you can adjust to your liking and they have a great panel-ruler tool. I've made panels in Photoshop and SAI, but MS wins by far; it takes me a grand total of 1 minute to draw all the panels on a page perfectly straight and exactly how I want them. This program also supports .psd files just like SAI, so I find it wonderful to use alongside those two.

For line-arting the characters and such you can use whatever you like. SAI is really nice for line-art, but MS has many traditional pen options. Just mess around and choose the one you like. A tip in MS by the way: make sure your inking is done on colour layers so you can use anti-aliased pen tools! This means the lines won't be all pixely. Here are the settings you need:
It says 32 bits, but it opens fine in both Photoshop and SAI.

Editing and lettering
Aside from criticizing the story, this is an editor's job! ...Fine fine, my editor's job, because she's cool like that. Kiki/K-chan mainly cleans up the inked pages (to make sure the lines stay inside the panels for example), or adds things in the background (filling it with a pattern or colour).

In addition she writes the text in the balloons with Photoshop. The latter isn't too hard, but requires some tricks to make it look good: adjusting the wording so it fits inside the balloon, keeping the text roughly the same size (it looks neater), making sure it's centred, following the shape of the balloon and preventing the text from being too close to the edges of the balloon (a common mistake). She also adds sound effects by using various fonts.

Colouring or toning
MS has "materials" you can import to draw with the tones you like. It also gives you the option to make a row of favourite tones so you won't have to look for them all the time (this is a life saver). Tones can be drawn on or you can select areas and fill them with tones, either one works.

However, no-one's stopping you from making a full-colour manga (except for your wallet, perhaps). This can be a great addition to a comic if you do it well and could be more appealing than the black and white tones; every panel will turn into a small piece of art :)! Just make sure you save the file as a .psd, so you can open it in SAI and Photoshop (unless you colour with another program) and keep the ink and background layer separated.

Look up a nice printer or ask someone who is already doing this for help. I definitely recommend the latter, since I had to learn this the hard way with people who didn't even know how to open .pdf files or that "back-cover.png" was the book's... back-cover.

When you've found one, read everything you can find about their procedure or just ask them a lot: how much do they cut, what type of binding do they offer, how fast they can print and deliver, what their prices are, the kind of paper they offer, the type of files they can work with etc. Do not hold back questions if you're unsure, be bold and merciless!


I hope that was helpful for people and that it gave a decent idea of what we're doing. Although I'm doing this short manga (about 20 pages) in between, Kiki and Triah can just continue working on Locus Magici in the meantime (no slacking off). I'm also good at switching between both projects, so everything will go on as usual~

Also, expect an end-of-year review soon!