Nicolas Teaches You How to Make L.O.V.E.

The reason I decided to write a tutorial was two-fold: first, a lot of people think that because strips look simple, they must be simple to make, and I wanted to show the backstage of a strip so perhaps you'd have a new perspective on strips in general; second, to quench your curiosity (even though nobody asked me how I made L.O.V.E., which sends you back to my first reason) and possibly inspire you to make your own strip or project.

As you know, I'm not a genius at drawing, and this should encourage you. Hard work and dedication will be more important than your natural gift for drawing. Eventually, if drawing well is your goal, it's hard work and dedication which will get you there. Anyway, this paragraph was just to emphasise on the fact that drawing is not my strong suit.

Making a L.O.V.E. strip takes 3 distinct phases: 1) pre-production, 2) production, and 3)post-production.



Pre-Production

This is the very first stage of it all. This is the idea, for the text, for the visuals. For something as small as a strip, I don't write a script, I just scribble ideas on whatever happens to be my flat surface of choice.












Usually, I think of something that might have potential, and I write the idea down. It's only when I get to second phase that I refine the idea into something concrete that I can produce. This happens mostly because there's a huge gap of time between phase 1 and 2, as I'll write down ideas whenever I get them, and start phase 2 on the more recent ideas.

To get ideas, there are many ways. Sometimes I just think of it for no obvious reason (more often than not when I'm doing something completely unrelated, such as having a bowel movement), and other times I focus.

One way to get a L.O.V.E. idea is to take anything, and try to make something of it L.O.V.E. related. For instance, Tetris. You throw Tetris and L.O.V.E. in the same bag and shake vigorously, and the result is this:



You can do that with anything, and sometimes you'll get good ideas. But that mostly works for lighter strips. For the sadder strips, I just dig into my memory and/or imagination and work it out. I can't really give you a recipe for that. Sometimes I remember words that punched me in the heart - whether those words were told to me or someone else - and I write down an idea based on that. Sometimes I remember words I myself said. I say "words", but these can be thoughts, feelings, anything, from anywhere and any situation. There's a lot of refining to do, a lot of trimming, adding, etc. As you know, L.O.V.E. isn't my diary.

I rarely sit down to find ideas because I always have a whole pack of them at the ready for new strips, and by the time I used all these, I have a whole new bunch of them. So I never need to actually sit down to find new ideas. Though I did that in the beginning when I didn't have a big stock of them. Works for me.

I can't really go into more details for this because I know not the ways of my neurons and soul, and you would probably not benefit much from knowing about this, since our minds work in different ways. Let's move on!



Production

This is the phase when I make the strip, physically. The first thing I do is draw the panels. Yes, I always draw them by hand, they're never digitally done, and I don't copy paste them, ever.

Here is the material I use: a ruler, a pencil, a black marker, and a set square.


This is going to be technical now. Also, I use centimeters and millimeters, so get ready if you're used to Imperial units (inches et al). First thing I do is measure 2 cm from the top left corner of a regular A4 sheet laid down horizontally, meaning its longest sides are at top and bottom, like a strip.


Once that is done, I use the set square from this point and mark another point at 2 cm from the top. I also mark other points farther down the line, to be used later.





Then I switch to the ruler, because my set square is tiny. I measure 10 cm from the top, and mark the spot.


Every panel from L.O.V.E.measures exactly 7 x 8 cm, with 5 mm of space in between them.

The order in which I make the pencilled panels vary, but what I usually do next is mark another spot 2 cm down the top, and use the ruler to mark another spot at exactly 22 cm (2 x 7 cm + 2 x 0,5 cm) from what will be the upper left corner of the strip.



Then I keep the ruler this way, and count to 7 cm, mark it with a vertical little line and a horizontal little line, so you get a little crosshair of sorts, which is far more precise than just a tick. You need to have an exact point. Then I count 0,5 cm, and mark another crosshair like that, then 7 cm, then 0,5 cm, then 7 cm, and that's the point I first found at 22 cm with my ruler.


Then I find the lower right corner of the strip, using the same method I found the lower left corner of it. Get a perpendicular line down from the upper right corner, which we have already, and then mark it at 10 cm from the top, or 8 cm from the corner.

Next, I do what I did with the upper part of the strip: measure 22 cm from the lower left corner to the right one, and mark crosshairs at 7 then 0,5 then 7 then 0,5 then 7.

You now have every angle of all the panels!


Now the serious business begins. I take my cheap marker and the ruler, put the A4 sheet vertically, and start drawing the vertical sides of the panels. Why that in that order? Because that way I don't have to put my ruler over wet marker ink. I draw all these in a row, from the same side, so it remains regular - the marker is much thicker than the crosshairs, so if you change sides all the time, you'll have something less regular.




Then you draw the upper and lower sides, in one go, to maintain maximum regularity.




You'll notice the angles tend to be crappy because my marker bleeds under the ruler. I correct that in post-production.


And now you have inked panels! But Nicolas... why don't you just print those panels on your A4 sheets? Well, I don't really know anymore. Originally, I thought it was good practice for me, and I was right. My first strips aren't always very exact, and you can notice on some of them that the bottom part goes up as it goes left (usually it's just one millimeter off, but that has become an obvious error to me now).

At one point I tried to make a cardboard pattern thing to mark the angles, but it never really worked and wasn't precise enough.


Before I start pencilling the strip, I make some more measurements and marking, depending on what I'll draw. But for the classic L.O.V.E. panel with Mr. Everyman and company, I measure 1,5 cm from the very bottom of the panel (that is, from the last part with ink on it, the bottom of the edge, if you want, not the upper part of it) and mark that on either side of the strip. This is done on the vertical sides. Then I mark another point at 2 cm upwards from this point. This is the usual height of the L.O.V.E. people. Do the same on the extreme right side of the strip, and draw two lines.




The rest depends a lot on what happens in the panels. But if you want to center something, do use measurements to do it! By eye is nice, but people will notice on some less than conscious level that something is not fully right.

Then comes the lettering!

First thing I do is measure 2,5 mm from the top. I used to do this by eye, with the ruler over the entire strip, and it always seemed to work fine, but I'm not taking chances anymore. Do the same on the extreme right of the strip, and draw a line.

Draw very light lines, as you'll have to erase all this stuff later on.

Then measure 0,75 cm from that point downwards, and tick it. 0,75 cm is the height of a line of text. 0,25 is the space between the lines.




When it comes to the lettering itself, that only became regular as I made strips. I won't tell you how I draw each letter, although I could. I started using an ameliorated version of my handwriting for a strip called Dingleberries because my regular handwriting is an ugly baby and nobody can read it. A strip MUST be legible, or else the CIA comes busting into your room and arrests you. And then they hurt you in places you didn't know you had.





My general rule of lettering is this: non-capital letters take half of the height, except letters that are naturally tall, like L, T, D, etc. All caps take the whole height.

I'm against the use of digital means to do the lettering (for this strip) because it loses something that is precious to me. My lettering isn't always the same, though sufficiently similar, and I think that adds to it. Exactitude in the lettering wouldn't be good for this strip. I like that it's somehwat imperfect still; that shows humanity. And that way you know and feel that I actually wrote this by hand, and didn't just type it. Accordingly, because it takes me about 4 seconds to draw a letter (pencilling included), I'm way less likely to make a "typo" or a misspelling. Or miss a word.

I always pencil the lettering first, because you never know how much room you'll have left, what mistakes you'll make, etc. I rarely have the text all ready when I start lettering, precisely because I never know how much room I'll have and what I'll be able to write.


Then I ink all these letters with my faithful fountain pen. As an aside that has nothing to do with this tutorial, this is the same fountain pen I've done pretty much everything with since around 2004, including my previous strips, handwritten stories, poems, university exams (in 2003, 2004, and 2008), and a lot of stuff I forget. It's the pen. It's a fat fountain pen with a reptilian skin, and someone defaced it by writing "France" on it. (If you are French, chillax in your beret and put a smile behind that awesome moustache, I still love you.)


I also use that pen to draw Mr. Everyman and others, although in the first strips, I used a thinner marker. Sharp observators might notice the difference. My crappy markers tend to bleed through the paper whereas my fountain pen doesn't, which is why I eventually resorted to the fountain pen for everything that required precision.

When I have to "colour" stuff in black, I use markers for the bulk of it, and for the smaller areas, I use either the fountain pen or the thin marker.

Then I sign the strip.


(Then I put the strip in the pile and wait. Once the ink is dry, I erase all the pencil lines. Be careful not to make wrinkles in your sheet, that's super frustrating.)

(A thing I started doing recently is this: I mark a point 0,5 cm below the bottom left corner, perpendicularly; and another one 0,7 cm towards the right from the bottom right corner. These two points I use to frame the strip in post-production.)



Post-Production


I use Photoshop and Photosuit to edit the strips. First thing is to scan the strip, which I do on another computer because I don't have my own scanner. I scan at a high resolution, 3600 pixels by 1000 or something, I don't remember, and then I upload that in a USB key.

I upload this on my own computer and start working on Photoshop. The very first thing I do is to increase the contrast. The blackness gets lost in the scanning process. I systematically make it "contrast +30" for consistency.




Now is the time to correct the excesses of my shitty markers. Sample the background colour, and erase the bumps and bleeding and every uninvited additions to be found after the scanning process, such as mysterious little dots, fibres, and God knows what. This is the cleaning. It must be done on both white and black areas. The black areas are never fully black after I coloured them, they always require cleaning.

Any mistake made during production is fixed during post-production. Sometimes I didn't get enough room for a word or a letter, I fix that during post-production.












Then I add the logo, the web address, and the Roman numeral. You can find the reference for the font I use in the "credits" section of my website.




Then I stare at the strip for 20 minutes, using different close-ups, being merciless to any dirty little spot of nothing and other flaws. I stare some more, and when everything seems ok, I switch to Photosuit which I prefer to crop images.


The space below the logo should be the same above it, this is what I use to do the cropping above said logo. On the left, I crop as close as possible to the web address without touching it. On the right, I use one of the marks I made during production. At the bottom, I use the other mark. Once cropped, I go back to Photoshop to erase the remains of these two marks.

Almost done!

The next thing I do is go back to Photosuit to change the size of the image. I turn it into an image that has 900 pixels of width. I save that as a separate file, and this is what I upload eventually, this is what you see. Nobody has the high resolution files of the strips except me; I use those files to make T-shirts and everything else, and that's what I'll use for the book too. This is also a guarantee against art-theft as I'm the only one who has those high resolution files. In case of plagiarism, I'll be the only one with the high resolution files (not to mention the originals).



The End

I hope you found this interesting. I'll also add that I never learned to make strips in a class or anything, and that all of this is my best guess at making strips. I'm saying this so that you know there might be better ways to do things, tips I never thought of, and etc. I'm only showing you how I make L.O.V.E.!

©Nicolas