Halvor William Sanden

What I learnt in my first two years as a comic artist

For years I wrote a bunch of nonsensical short texts. At 25-30 pages, of what I consider glimpses into different characters' life and times, I decided to make a comic called Husbråk. Instead of being crippled by the fact that I hadn't done much of it before, I wanted to utilise the process to improve my skills.

Year one: Just draw #

I started drawing. First, a few demos to figure out frames, sizes and a general style. Over the next three months, I worked until I had about ten strips ready before launch. Taking that much time allowed me to figure out workflows, styles and details. Knowing that every strip would be a chance to develop the style and improve my drawing skills, I aimed for diversity and creativity rather than emulating a specific style.

I drew pencil sketches on 42 x 29.7 cm (A3), cheap paper. Split into four, three frames for the strip and one for extra sketching or when I messed up too much. I bought a lightbox and placed it on a tabletop easel for inking. Inked with pens on thin, high-quality paper; the kind that really only has one side. I finished about ten at a time before taking them to my then workplace for scanning. This workflow allowed me going back and forth between strips when I got fed up or stuck.

I scanned at 600 dpi, a finished strip measured 12048 x 3543 px – which is insane, but high resolution is everything if you ever have the slightest thought of printing something. I coloured in Photoshop, applying a lot of Jason Brubaker's techniques. Then saving as tiff with compression. I wanted smaller file sizes and wider compatibility than PSD can provide. The size was about 200 MB per strip.

Towards the end of the first year, after drawing about 120 strips (that's 19.19 GB of comics), I realised that I wanted thicker lines. I started inking using brush pens, which is so much fun. It allows for looser strokes, a more natural looking, dynamic line width. It generally fits my style better than stiff pens.

Making a comic website #

The latest comic had to be front and centre, that's what people want. I had a goal of making the strips responsive, ordering the frames vertically on smaller screens. I opted to split the frames into separate files, something which both Photoshop and Affinity Designer does wonderfully and more or less automatically. I could also have used a single image and just shown different parts of it using the right CSS, but that wouldn't be as flexible if I wanted to use one, two or four frames instead.

I use Craft CMS in a multi-site configuration – the exact same installation powering this site. It allows me to custom build everything, it can even be used as a headless CMS with its Elements API or GraphQL. Support for multiple languages also looks promising.

Year two: Going digital

I started sketching digitally using my Wacom Sapphire from the early 2000s – I take good care of my stuff. Digital sketching allows for more editing and moving things around. I also think it's faster than paper sketching. I printed the sketches on A3 sized paper and continued in the same workflow as before.

After a couple of months, I went completely digital. I really liked working with brush pens, but I wanted to get rid of the paper and scanning. I went from Photoshop to Affinity Designer. It's faster and more pleasant to use. Initially, I made it all vectorised, which allowed for adjusting line widths after making them, but no matter what brush I used the lines easily ended up looking like spaghetti. Something also felt off about having the option to edit a stroke after the fact. I made two raster brushes instead, one for sketching and one for inking. Finally, it started to feel good drawing, it just took about 170 attempts.

Colouring changed a lot as well. The flats are vector, in Affinity Designer, I can put a raster layer inside a vector shape and paint or mask on that. I don't use as much colour as before. The palettes have become brighter and more limited. I have a set of colours but I don't use them all at once anymore, maybe two or three at a time, just varying the saturation and brightness. This is both an aesthetic and a time-saving decision. The format is still the same, but filesize is now down to between 10 and 50 MB. The reason is there are no scanned or flattened images and I use fewer layers, of which the big ones are usually vector. I also think the .afdesign format has something to do with it.

Improved skills and style aside, I'm still amazed at how fast digital is, compared to paper. I can map out ten to twenty strips in half an hour, doing quick sketches that are just really simple lines to capture ideas. In the next iteration, I can either continue with what's there or come up with something else. And then it's a short way to inking where every line can be redone, which means I can improve my skills then and there instead of just having to continue with the next one.

I decided to keep all comics available, some of which look really awful. Even if I thought so at the time of publishing, I figured that I had to move on to the next one – it's all proof of the process. I have only done a couple of post-publishing fixes. Once changing a hand that looked like it was transplanted from the opposite side.

Year three and beyond #

In two years I made 200 strips, a total of 600 frames. Producing two strips every week became too time-consuming. I'm not doing this full-time, I have other priorities and things I want to make and learn to do. I could take a month or two and make 100, but being a production line is no fun.

I'm going forward at a slower pace. The majority of what I've written is still unused. I've started writing longer stories and am pondering how to do something in English.

While I won't go back to making comics on paper, I use paper to do exercises and draw other things. At one point, I'll start drawing directly on a screen in some form or other.

Never about being funny #

I tend to forget what Husbråk is about. I haven't defined many parameters, so much that any meaning becomes elusive. Then I remember, that is the whole point. Anything can happen. Doesn't matter if it's random or jokey-jokes or not. If your priority is being funny, chances are you're probably not. Satire and current issues doesn't appeal to me. I avoid politicians in diapers sitting on a branch with a saw, unless it's about a camping trip set job interview going exactly according to plan.

It's more about abrupt turns.

If you enter husbråk into Google Translate, you will probably get domestic violence as a result. That's not entirely correct.

It was a euphemism for domestic violence for many years, used by the police and the press. No doubt rooted in the fact that it was at some point viewed as a family matter. With time, I guess they started to ask themselves who they were really protecting. Readers, victims or the guilty?

The literal translation: hus which means house, and bråk which is noise. Today, the term is used for disturbances of the noisy kind. Violence is more than just disturbance. Neighbours partying hard and/or building a new bedroom in the middle of the night, that's a disturbance.