Building one of my comics (A secret Photoshop lesson)

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I’ve had a couple people ask me about how I do these little comics on Fridays, and to be honest – there’s a few different ways I go about them. Mostly I use Photoshop, the Internet and/or some sort of clip library. Sometimes I’ll finish one off in Comic Life from PlasQ. More on that later – let’s do a quick Photoshop lesson.  Click the screen shots for larger images!

I’m going to use my last caption fun comic for this little walk through, Aliens in Seattle.

I start with a photo. In this case, of the Space Needle in Seattle. I open this up in Photoshop. This screen shot shows that the image is on it’s own layer:

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Layers are important. More on them in a second cuz I need an alien. Hrm. If only there were some way I could search through photos or images in an online way and then download such an image to my computer and manipulate it somehow… IF ONLY…

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I take the alien photo/image and duplicate the layer. This is so I always have the original to go back to if I screw it up (again, the power of Layers!). I then click the Eye to hide that layer away. Next, I grab the Wand Tool and click the yellow background on my duplicate layer. Depending on the sensitivity settings on the tool (I’ve got it set to 25), I’ll either grab the whole background or only a part of it. Too high and I’ll grab bits of the alien, which I don’t want to do. Luckily, 25 is perfect and I grab just that yellow background. Then I use the Eraser to clean up the bits around the edges and the feet and now I’ve got the alien ‘knocked out’ of the background it was originally on.

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With both documents open in Photoshop (the photo of Seattle and our Alien), I can drag the Alien over to Seattle.  If I hold down SHIFT, he’ll be in the same relative position in the Seattle photo as he was in his own:

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The Alien shows up on its own layer in the Seattle photo. It’s a little big, so I hit CNTRL T and shrink him down to match the Space Needle. I hold SHIFT while I do this so the proportions stay the same as he shrinks down (versus not holding SHIFT and then you could distort him-squishing him down or stretching him up). Next, I use Brightness/Contrast (Image menu, then Adjustments-Brightness/Contrast) to blend him a little better into the Seattle Photo, then Hue/Saturation (Image menu, then Adjustments-Hue/Saturation) to change his color up to a purpleish tone. If I wanted to, I could use the Blur tool to blend him better around the edges, but I don’t want to mess with it this time, so I don’t.

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Next, I take that same Wand Tool from earlier and I select the sky of the Seattle photo. I hit Select/Inverse from the Select menu, then Layer/New Layer via Copy from the Layer menu. I drag that new layer above the Alien layer (again, the power of layers!).

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…have I lost you yet? No? Good!

Now I essentially have the city sitting on top of the Alien, but also behind him – all on separate layers.  What I want is for it to look like the Alien is not only in the city, but wrapping itself AROUND the Space Needle – which is why I put the city (and only the city) on top of his layer.  I change the Opacity of the City Layer so I can ‘see’ the Alien -though- the City.

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Now I can take the eraser tool and carefully ‘erase’ the Needle and Buildings wherever I want the Alien’s bits and parts to show.  For the comic, I want it to appear as if his head is behind the needle, but his tentacle thingie is wrapping around it, so I only erase those bits of the Needle that make that illusion happen.  I also erase the edges of certain other buildings (because there’s still blue around them) so it appears as if his feet are ‘behind’ then, presumably on the city streets and wherever I need for his legs to show up.

When I’m done, I return the City Layer’s Opacity to 100%.  Now it looks like the Alien is standing -in- the city and wrapping something around the Needle.

…still needs something, though.  How about an ominous mist or fog?  That could work, right?

I create 2 new layers (Clicking the ‘New Layer’ button in the sidebar) and grab the Brush Tool.  For the color, I choose a yellow and for the Brush, just something with a blurred edge.  I then paint some yellow swaths on one layer, then switch to the second layer and paint some more.  Honestly, it just looks like a yellow mess.  Needs something – so I change the Opacity on both layers to 38%:

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Next, I grab the Blur Tool and go to town on the first layer, just swiping back and forth randomly and repeatedly.  Rinse and repeat on the second layer and you end up with a fog/mist that looks multi-layered; thick in some spots, thin in others:

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For added effect, you could take the Eraser Tool and use a textured brush, set the Brush Opacity LOW (like 15-20%) and do a few random passes as well.  Experiment and you’ll be surprised what you can come up with.

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For me, I’m done.  I like the way it looks so I hit ‘save’, give it a name and then do a ‘Save for Web’ and save it out as a JPG.

For the finishing touches, I jump into Comic Life.  If you’re unfamiliar with Comic Life – get familiar with it.  It’s a fantastic little application – works on both Mac and PC, and gives you access to preformed comic layouts from 3 panels all the way up to complex comic and graphic novel layouts (even Anime!).  You can drop any photos in and then add text bubbles and the whole lot – anything you’ve ever seen in a comic, all at your finger tips with tons of preset colors/themes/designs.  Pretty sweet.

I open Comic Life and I change the page size to just slightly larger than my image (552 x 768). I drag a panel onto the page, then drag and drop my photo from the library (you can navigate it to your photos folder) into the panel.

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I grab a Caption Box onto the comic and start typing:

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Then, I select one of the presets for these boxes from the drop down menu (there are TONS!):

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I hit ‘save’ and give it a name, then hit ‘Export to Image’.  You have all sorts of options here – I pick a JPG, 72 DPI and click ‘OK’.

THAT’S IT!  All done – a new Caption Fun Comic is born!  All that’s left is to upload it.

Alien mates with the Seattle Space Needle

Hope you found this mildly entertaining, interesting and even a little informative.

~P