We read comics and often we don’t even see the backdrop. I know I was guilty of this. Then I had to draw them for the mighty Fisksoppa Adventure.
And you know what? You don’t notice a background until is badly drawn, and then your brain blinks all the lights and scream “Thiiiis issss wroooong!” And oh my it’s so easy to get things wrong when drawing.. dun Dun DUN… IN PERSPECTIVE!
For the first chapter of Fisksoppa, we have this slow introduction scene, taking several pages: zoom in on a building, then navigating through its interior, with the voice-off explaining some stuff. This bit was really important in immersing the reader into the atmosphere of the story, and also sharing some crucial info about what was going on.
So I really felt the space had to be coherent, because we spent a lot of (narrative) time in there, even coming back to a room or a place in the building.
First, I sketched the action: where the characters would be and what they would be doing.
Then, I drew some plans for a building that could accommodate said actions and characters. I needed a stage, a bar, some rooms, a garden. I based it loosely on a building I knew, and I tried to keep it simple.
And then, I went and build it in Sketch Up. Several times, because it took me a while to learn the program, and also to get the proportion of the building right. The plan was to then zoom into the building, position my camera where I needed it, take screen shots and use that as reference. I didn’t insist on details, but worked on the overall shapes and proportions instead. (This is a lie. I spent waaay too much making windows because it was fun.) I even researched what was the optimal high and the length of a functional bar and a mini-stage.
And you can see how that went. I used screenshots from inside the building. It took me several takes to get the angle right. I used dummy people for reference, and played with the field of view. Knowing a bit about perspective helped me position the horizon line right in every shot. I didn’t trace the background, but drew over it, deforming it and adding details.
When thinking about expressive backgrounds, my to go-to reference is Bill Tiller and his backgrounds for The Curse of Monkey Island. But before Fisksoppa, I made two comics albums where I got to experiment with two point perspective and playful lines, especially for buildings and objects. Some things you only learn by doing them.
But once you get the hang of it, drawing background becomes as enjoyable as drawing characters – and it’s just as important.