I stumbled across Jessica Abel because of Idea Debt, a concept for creative sunk costs, and found she is also an accomplished comics artist and author with multiple published titles. As someone who tried to create graphic novels twice, I knew intimately how challenging that was, so I was curious how she was able to pull off the workload while working as a faculty at a university.
I tried out her tried-and-true Creative Engine Masterclass to create more comics, and the process worked! The most powerful part of her one-hour class is when she mentioned how artists gain confidence by iterating: the more iterations through the 4 phases, the more reflection, and the better the Engine works.
It makes sense: the best defense against doubt is reminding it you’ve created art recently, and you can do it again.
Abel stresses there are four phases in the Creative Engine, and to not skip any phase. By taking these tips and focusing on iterating, I went from drawing 4 comics in 1 day and burning out, to drawing 8 comics 1 day, 4 the next day, and 8 comics again on the third day. In three days I’ve iterated through the phases five times and created half as many comics as last year!
By following her framework I can sustainably average 2 comics/day, including breaks. This means almost 720 comics a year, a HUGE confidence boost. I’ll have enough comics to fill a few books!
Abel’s 4 phases applied to my comic-creation process:
- Journal comic ideas
- Type up the promising ones
- Edit the typed list: Add notes about layout ie. 3 rows or 3 columns, 4 panels, …
- Review the list of bolded items, edit any layouts/visual cues
- Find pictures to base drawings off of. Usually use Google to find reference drawings
- Draw/reuse a drawing in a sketchbook with a pencil and pen. I tried drawing digitally; so far it’s faster to draw on paper and make minor edits with a mouse
- Scan the drawings and edit text and layout in Photoshop
- Backup to the cloud
- Journal what went well and what could be improved
- Post on my website and social media (ie. Reddit). This is done weekly.
- I learned the ideal batch size is 4: I can produce 4 comics at a time without burning out, and finish the iteration (from Decide to Reflect) within 2 hours
- Since the focus is on faster iterations, I simplified my drawing style and decreased the time to find reference photos. Yay!
- Drawing twice a day satisfies my urge to draw. Each drawing session lasts around 45 minutes to 1 hour
What slows me down
- Running out of ideas during the Decide phase, then going back to the collect phase to generate more comic ideas. Some ideas are tossed out because of an unclear punchline, or unclear visual representation
- Adding more drawings after the initial scan. It adds another draw-scan-edit cycle
- Taking long breaks: When a break is 20+ minutes long it’s challenging to get back into the flow
- Checking email/social media during an iteration
The #1 determinant of how many comics I produce is a quality idea list. Ideally, it has 2+ batches of ready-to-go ideas before I go into the Decision phase. If the list is shorter I fear running out of ideas and feel less confident.
I prefer to work on fresh ideas ie. ideas that are at most one week old. Perhaps I second-guess older ideas.
For posting to get feedback, r/writing is very responsive to comics about questions. The subreddit is also underserved by comics since most posts are text. r/programmerhumor has a larger and opinionated audience.
Posting on Mondays gets the most traffic, but posting multiple times a week is better than not posting for months because of feedback.
I’m a more confident comics artist, after adapting Jessica Abel’s 4 phase Creative Engine to my comic creation process. It feels good to have a list of new comics to post on social media and blog. My comics are here.
My next steps are to create more comic ideas and to go through another 5 iterations. I’ll write up the findings in another post.