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Comic books characters and the Wacom tablet

Wacom Cintiq 21UX

Discover how comic book characters come to life with the Cintiq 21UX

DAVE GIBBONS NEEDS no introduction. Working on such comic institutions including Superman, Batman, Rogue Trooper, Dan Dare and Martha Washington, he has become an icon of the comics industry. He is, however, best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on Watchmen, the graphic novel that made Time Magazine’s top 100 best novels. The recent Hollywood adaptation of the seminal work has propelled Gibbons into the mainstream.

Gibbons’ passion for comics began from an early age. Comics were, however, not something that Gibbons initially pursued. Studying science rather than art he qualified as a building surveyor. Eventually, Gibbons decided to try his hand as a professional comic artist. Beginning with lettering and filling in on occasion for other artists, Gibbons slowly built his reputation. Having gained some precious experience, he then made the decision to give up his stable career and take the plunge into the world of graphic novels. With no formal art training, Gibbons started drawing the cult figure Judge Dredd on 2000 AD. When he had ten years experience under his belt, DC Comics – the home of all his favourite childhood characters – came knocking. In 1985, he began working exclusively for DC Comics on titles including Superman and Batman. It was around this time that he got to know Alan Moore, the graphic novelist, and together they went on to create Swamp Thing – the first of several comic books that they collaborated on.

Traditionally, comic books have been created with pencils and ink and then manually coloured and lettered. The process can be extremely labourintensive and time-consuming, taking anything up to a week to complete only four pages. Gibbons uses an interactive pen display from Wacom called the Cintiq 21UX. This state-of-the-art technology enables users to draw directly onto the screen with a digital pen. Gibbons explains why he chose the product: “The Cintiq technology isn’t a barrier to artists. Although I’m fairly techie myself, artists never used to be able to use technology and techies weren’t generally artistic. Drawing directly onto the screen with the digital pen is closer than anything I’ve come across to drawing on paper, providing a really natural feel. The large surface area of the tablet provides plenty of room for sketching, enabling you to literally sweep your arm across when drawing larger strokes.


“Also, the Cintiq’s display can be rotated on its stand and adjusted for the optimum working position, which again provides the feeling of working with a traditional art pad. It sits in front of you exactly as a piece of illustration board would and is really comfortable and ergonomic to use.”

All of Gibbons’ initial sketches are now completed on the Cintiq, which speeds up the entire process. He starts his sketches in blue ink as is traditional with comic artists. The pressure-sensitive pen enables him to easily change the thickness of a line, for example when he’s shading. Bold lines appear by pressing harder with the pen. Gibbons says: “The pen works in a similar way to its real world counterpart, which makes it very intuitive to use. However, working digitally means that it is simple to change, erase and adapt pictures – unlike when drawing with traditional tools. The beauty is that you never run out of ink or judder on the page if there is a fault in the surface you’re drawing on. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake as it can be easily rectified.”

The Cintiq’s ExpressKeys provide customisable short cut keys and a zoom function. Zooming in and out of an image is useful for drawing detail, increasing accuracy. Gibbons adds: “The Cintiq is incredible because you can really size things, rotate them and change their opacity. It enables you to be experimental and make adjustments as you can easily change your mind when working digitally.”

Manga Studio is Gibbons’ software package of choice. Drawing attempts can be made in separate layers. “This gives me a huge amount of freedom to experiment – if I mess something up, I just delete the layer” he enthuses. The software is also ideal for colouring, which can be done on screen instead of having to use a photocopy. Once the area to be coloured is completely enclosed, it only takes a tap with the pen and that section is filled, vastly speeding up the process.

For now, Gibbons mixes traditional and digital ways of working. “I’m not sure how comic books will be delivered in the future, but I am certain that people’s thirst for stories and pictures will never diminish. My computer and the Wacom Cintiq offer a wonderful box of tools for providing that.”