From correct composition to Superman’s pants, we get expert advice on digital comics from Freddie E. Williams II, author of DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics

Freddie Williams cover to DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing ComicsIn the brave new world of digital comics, it is still as important to learn the right way to draw as it was in the days of Kirby and co. One man who has taken on the role of digital comics’ Obi Wan Kenobi is Freddie E. Williams II, who not only dispenses his wisdom on his own website and his own YouTube channel but is also the author of  The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics. With such an expert in all things digital out there and willing to share his knowledge with the world, we wanted to find out the secret to drawing great digital comics and who better to ask?!How did you got involved in The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics project and had you already started sharing your knowledge with fans before you started on the book?
FEW: There were a few friends of mine that were prompting me to write the book. Telling me I was working in a fairly unique way, so I started developing notes, and a table of contents of how I would structure the book, if I every decided to follow through with it, but was not perusing it vigorously.

Then in 2006, after working for DC Comics for about a year, DC approached me with an exclusive contract. While I was discussing my exclusive with the legal department at DC Comics I brought up the how to book, just to double check with them, in case I found a publisher, I didn’t want it to create a conflict. The DC legal rep replied, “Well, why don’t you pitch it to us?” What a great idea!

So in November of 2006, after my excusive had kicked in, I went to New York for the first time, toured the DC offices, and brought along my laptop, to demo my digital work processes to John Morgan, the cool guy that ended up being my Editor for the book, as well as a good friend.

The following January, DC Comics approved the pitch, and with the help of Mr. Morgan, we got to work! It took me over two years to write The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics working on it in-between all the overlapping deadlines of my regular monthly gigs. It was exhausting, but I’m glad I did it!

And what inspired you to start sharing your knowledge with fans online via YouTube?
The YouTube stuff came about because I love to share, and converse about these subjects, I wish I could devote more time to making videos, I have a long list of topics and questions that viewers have sent to me, that I’d like to address, but time is really short for me, and my comic book deadlines take priority.

When developing the book did you find you got better as an artist as a result of having to focus in your craft? And did you learn new tricks in the process of working on it ?
Hmmm, Not sure if I got better as an artist because of that. I feel (and hope) that I grew as an artist from natural growth, and having more experience in the craft of illustrating comic book over the two years it took me to write the book.

Something that did change was – I learned some stuff about using 3D models during that time, which has greatly altered my digital workflow.

While I was putting together the foundations of what would become The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics, I had read an interview with Joe Quesada, where he mentioned using Google Sketchup, I also saw an article written by Leinil Francis Yu, about his use of Those were flags to me, to look into using 3D models. I had no time to learn that program, so I asked Kiki, my wife and personal assistant- I asked her to research the program, then after a few weeks of her learning it, she taught to me, only the things I needed to know as I needed it. And by the time I was wrapping up the how to book, I was using Google Sketchup in every issue I was drawing. I was still not well versed in Sketchup at that point, which is why I didn’t integrate into The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics.

Do you think artists lose some of the key fundamentals when drawing digitally compared to working in pen and pencil?
FEW:Working digitally is an ADDITIONAL skill set, not a replacement one, so if a digital artist is not disciplined enough to learn the fundamentals before or in addition to going digital, they can serious stunt their artistic ability by using the digital tools as a crutch. Having stated that, I think the goods of working digitally (namely fast editing and versatility in composition) far out weigh the potential negatives.

In short the artist needs to learn anatomy, storytelling, composition, depth with value – all of that in addition to the skillset to work digitally.

You name check How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way as a key influence, do you think one day your book  will be viewed in the same way and what has been the most positive comment you have had about the book from readers or other artists?
How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way is a book every comic artist should own, the lessons taught in the book (most of them anyway) are timeless, and invaluable. They give the reader / new artist the foundation to build the rest of their figure work and lighting and storytelling on.

The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics has received a lot of positive reviews both online and to me, in person, but it’s hard to imagine my book being able to compete with Stan Lee and John Buscema. It’s useful and makes the subject matter approachable, that’s the best I can say about it.

Which digital artists inspire you to improve and get better? And which ones make you green with jealousy about what they are doing with the medium?
Many comic artists tend to cover their digital tracks. Most of them do not publicly discuss how much digital ground-work goes into their pages, which is a shame, and makes this question difficult to answer. Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons come to mind as great artists that work digitally. Though the end result: what you see in the comic, is what get me the most excited, and by those standards, it’s Jim Lee and Arthur Adams that make me the most excited- hands down!

Do you work exclusively digitally or do you still dust off a pen and pencil every now and again?
Currently, I still start every page digitally, but about 50% of the pages, I will work on the the “Hybrid Workflow” as described in The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics; where I print the structure of the page directly onto my bristol board, in light blue or grey or black (depending on what I’m working on) then traditionally ink the art from there.

What is your current set-up digitally – are you still using Wacom tablets and do you favour Photoshop over any of the other digital drawing apps? If so, why?
FEW: When I am working digitally, I have a 3 Monitor setup; the center monitor is an Asus rotating monitor, that I have in the vertical position, so it’s measurements and proportions almost exactly match the original art size of a comic book page, which is 11×17. Two 21” widescreen monitors flank the Asus for palletts, reference and email. I traded in the ol’ intuos Wacom, for a simple, small Bamboo tablet – the smallest, simplest one I could find. If they had a smaller one, I would have gotten it! I only use about a 4 inch square area.

Lastly, I favor Photoshop still, because it is the most powerful and versatile program I know of. Don’t get me wrong, there are things Painter, Illustrator and Manga Studio can do better than Photoshop, but Photoshop still covers much wider ground. And Photoshop is what I’ve trained in and used the most, so I am the most comfortable with. And after seeing some of the cool stuff those other programs do (looks of certain brushes for example) I’ve created some custom tool presets in Photoshop to closely approximate and duplicate some of those features.

Do you have a current favourite tip or shortcut for drawing or painting in Photoshop that you could share with my readers?
Throughout the process of drawing a piece digitally (especially in the early rough stages), be sure to flip your composition to check your proportions, and symmetry. In Photoshop you can do this by flipping the layer of the canvas horizontally.

You can do the same thing in real life, but holding up the art to a mirror, or looking at the piece from behind, seeing the art in reverse. It’s a great tool to make your drawings more solid!

Pencils and digital inks from Freddie Williams' cover to DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics

Do you have an iPad and what do you think of it as a way to consume comics? Also, what, if any, drawing apps have you used and would you recommend? (Procreate is my current drawing app of choice!)
FEW: I do have an iPad, that I use primarily for reference and digital comics. It’s really handy and the presentation is impressive especially to family and friend unfamiliar with what comics are “now-a-days”. The iPad is great for reading comics- nothing beats reading real, actual comics, where you can hold it, and turn the pages, and smell the ink on the printed page (especially in those old comics, love that smell), but the speed and versatility and color range and ease of use to read digital comics, is outstanding! And the iPad is almost the perfect size and proportion of a comic- even better!

What’re your thoughts on more interactive comics on the iPad such as Marvel’s Infinite Comics? Do you think adding sound and animation adds to the medium or distracts and how much is too much?
FEW: I’ve not seen Marvel’s Infinite Comics, so I’m speaking in generalities here: I like the idea of exploring motion comics, But there is a fine line between cool motion comic and a bad attempt at a cartoon. Should there be sound? If so, should there be voices? Or just a general atmospheric soundtrack in the background? All good questions that we in the industry are waiting to figure out?

Do you think we are at a stage where a tablet like an iPad is a viable option for creating as well as consuming digital comics?
FEW:  Creating professional art on the iPad is still elusive. Even with the innovations of the new styluses I’ve seen previewed. It’s the lack of a reliable precise stylus, compounded by the lack of a fully versatile art program (we need a million layers, and easy to access tools) that is holding it back. It may very well get there, but currently it feels like it’s got a long way to go.

When I am on the go I use an Asus tablet PC, which runs a full version of Windows 7, allowing it to run a full version of Adobe Photoshop, with a precise pressure sensitive stylus. Another tablet PC to keep an eye on is the Modbook Pro, which could be the ultimate in on the go digital art, only time will tell!

With your YouTube videos and website, do you see yourself as becoming a full-time teacher of comic art in the future and do you have an plans to develop the online lessons? For example any plans to become the digital equivalent of the late great Joe Kubert and open a school?
FEW: Joe Kubert is a giant, and I can never hope to fulfill or compete with his contributions…. Though doing the fulltime teaching thing is certainly something that interests me, I don’t have that built into any sort of applicable timeline / timeframe. But I love the give and take of the learning process – I’ve given a lot of demos and presentations at Hallmark Cards, The Art Institutes of Kansas, Washington DC and Pittsburg, along with countless high schools and panels at conventions…I enjoy them all! But all of that can be disruptive to my deadlines (all the prepping and traveling) but I enjoy the communication about these topics that I’m so passionate about – Comic Book art and technology!

I have a BIG How to idea in my head right now, but it’s still in those nebulous planning stages right now, if I bring it to fruition, I’ll let you know!

If you were starting out today do you think you would embrace the self-publishing ideals that digital comics seem to being able to afford some people (for example Mark Waid’s Thrillbent website) or would you hope things worked out in the same vein as they did for you already?
 I was trying every way I could to break into the industry, so I’m sure I’d be trying to self publish or publish digitally. My goal has always been to draw super heroes comics for a living, and I want to do that in any format I can!

Finally, what has been the strangest question you have been asked on your YouTube Q and A?
The strangest question I’ve ever been asked was: “How come Superman wears his underwear on the outside of his pants “ my reply was “at that point, isn’t it called outerwear?” 🙂

The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics can be purchased on Amazon. You can find out more about Freddie and his artwork at his website or Facebook or follow him on Twitter @freddieart