I get a lot of emails asking me about my process of creating comics and who influences me and why I do certain things. So I thought I would take the time to answer a few of the most common questions I get and open up my brain for everyone to understand why I do what I do. I love comics and I love to create, paint and draw so these are things I love to talk about.
Hal Hefner’s Art and Design Background:
I graduated with an AFA from fine art school (Munson Williams) with a passion for painting and color theory. I then transferred to RIT and applied this to illustration. At RIT I picked up Photoshop and Illustrator and saw the value of the digital future and how it could affect my craft. As Adobe’s programs evolved so did I and I continued to perfect my drawing and painting skills while learning to become a graphic designer through internships and jobs. When I graduated from school I moved to LA and began working as a Graphic Designer to pay the bills and by night I began painting digitally. As a designer I utilized my drawing and illustration background and worked on everything from ads, packaging and marketing collateral to key art, branding, signage and wayfinding. I took freelance illustration jobs when the opportunity arose but mostly focused on creating Gates and perfecting my digital painting skills by night.
From the combination of my fine art/illustration background and my working experience as a graphic designer my comic book style spawned.
Hal Hefner’s Favorite Comics & Creators:
I loved Marvel when I was a kid, particularly John Byrne and Art Adams and the Uncanny X-Men. I love Walt Simonson’s take on X-Factor and I also loved Todd McFarlane’s Spider Man. I respected Jack Kirby’s work but I often found issues looking at it and I know many people love him but I got bored with it. I did however like some of his bizarre less known comics more than his most notable creations. His Komandi comic for DC was one of my favorites. I also loved Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing and got as many issues as I could.
Then when I hit my teens, I discovered HEAVY METAL!!!! I discovered Moebius, Corbin and the art of HR Giger. I loved the way that the European comic artists and creators set, created and broke their own rules and used comics in a much different way than Americans. I loved how everything was more raw, sci-fi oriented and less Super Hero as by the time I was a teen I was VERY tired of super heroes and loved the alternate options Heavy metal offered. I also found Vertigo comics and fell in love with Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore and the Watchmen and V for Vendetta. These were the comics I wanted to make.
I just realized as I was writing this article…I’m a European comic artist trapped in the body of an American!!!!
Movies In My Head:
M. Knight Shyamalan might see “dead people” but “I see movies in my head”.
Seriously. When I am writing, drawing or even remembering something from my past. I play it back in my head. I then play it over again and I hear the voices of the characters, the sound of the machinery, wildlife. I smell the flowers. I imagine the world and I relive the memories in my head. I approach comics the same way. I tell the story like I’m directing a movie.
I imagine images in real time as well as in animated form…like the Heavy Metal movie.
My Approach to Layouts
I love comics. But I honestly have always had the desire to tell my own, original stories rather than have a burning desire to draw a Spider Man or Batman comic. I’ll leave that to other folks. I like being my own creative director with my own set of rules as I have always had trouble following any authority. I approach comics from a whole different perspective than someone trained at the Kubert School but I still utilize some of the same principals.
Back in 2010 I spent a lot of time working with indie comic and ex-Marvel Comics and Elfquest artist Mat Nastos. Nastos is brilliant. He is a very funny man with a sharp tongue but is one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. Not only is Nastos a very gifted artist but a great teacher. He is a Kubert school grad and by partnering with him at the Comic Book Art Institute I learned a lot about making comics. Nastos is a wealth of comic knowledge and really loves comics from a traditional, historical and “real” point of view. He knows so much about comics that it’s utterly amazing. Anyway, he showed me a lot about layouts, tips and tricks, rules that should never be broken and a whole lot more. I owe a lot to his Yoda like skills and he helped to get me going in terms of making Gates a reality. I highly suggest reading Mat’s website as it is filled with tons of information about marketing. His Nifty Comics site is also filled with great info on how to make comics.
I took all that I learned from Mat Nastos and applied it to my own background which is Graphic Design and Painting. So what I’ve done is not really traditional by any means. I created my own set of rules and production philosophy. Below is my production process and it is actually documented here as well.
1) I start off laying out a comic with a rough sketch
2) I then redraw the ideas in Photoshop
3) I then break each individual panel into paintings that I finish sepeartely
4) I then bring the finished art into InDesign. I then have the ability to move the panels around and align them, very much like I would use the assets in designing a marketing brochure or full page magazine ad.
5) I then letter it digitally in Illustrator and import the bubbles into InDesign.
6) The end result is a book like document of continuous pages. This was once called “desktop publishing”. From this I can created PDF’s, Jpegs and so much more in terms of resolution and output flexibility.
Here is a sample image of one of my pages. If you notice the panels, I have used a 3 point border around them and that’s it. I also use the entire page as my canvas.
I approach the comic I am creating as an illustration rather than a comic page in the traditional sense. I think the painted feel allows me to utilize more areas and have less gutters and blank space and really helps give it a movie-esque feel. To me this feels like the best way to treat the painted page and the little individual painted panels.
I really wanted to respect the painting yet keep the flow of a comic and I think I have achieved this. I actually can get very creative with the panel design as well as you will see in the upcoming pages of Gates.
Having Fun Is What It’s All About:
Seriously. I have fun. You should too.
I am a very grateful man to the universe for allowing me to think of images in my brain then have the ability to create them in real time then share them with the world.
If you want to make comics then make them. Search out the information you need to know and then apply it . Expect mistakes through trial and error and focus on the good things.
Here are a few tips to succeeding at not only creating comics, but things I live by on a daily basis. These allow me to have fun.
1) “Think for yourself, question authority” – Timothy Leary.
So true. Basically the key to life is to seek answers rather than just accept the norm. I approach comics this way too!
2) EPIC FAILS are going to happen.
Failing at something is okay. Try and stay positive, learn from your mistakes and keep going. Getting discouraged is the easiest path to quitting. Have fun with it.
3) “Why so serious?” – The Joker
Seriously, seriousness all the time is the sure path to burnout. Have fun, relax and try and keep things loose. If things get too intense and you put too much pressure on yourself, you’ll get to the point where it’s not fun and you’ll hate what you do.
4) “Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
Have you ever heard that friend of yours talk about trying to do something, then they never do it? Have you ever heard a person who is not confident use the phrase, “well at least I tried”? LAME. Just do it and commit to it. Make the commitment, swallow your fears, pride and sweep your reservations under the pillow.
5) “They call me the seeker. I’ve been searchin’ low and high.” – the Who
If you don’t know how to do something figure it out. There is so much information in terms of articles, videos and books online that will tell you how to do anything and everything that it’s not even funny. Get off your ass, stop making excuses and figure it out. Don’t be a wussy.
6) “Don’t suck” – Mat Nastos
If you love what you have done, in your mind you are never a failure. Follow your gut and it will tell you what is “good enough” or “not good enough”.
7) Hungry, Humble and Smart:
This is the way to be.
HUNGRY – Keep that fire burning inside of you always. Harness the kid in you and let that feeling shine and motivate you.
HUMBLE – Listen to criticism because no matter how much it stings there may be some truth to it. There will always be “Haters” but they actually help make you human, so embrace the negativity and grow from it by staying humble.
SMART – Use your brain, listen to your instincts and do your homework and you will know what to do when the time comes to make those decisions.
Best of luck to you and have fun with it!