When Clear Blue Water first began appearing in newspapers it was thrilling even though I didn’t live anywhere near a paper that carried my strip.  Just knowing it was out there was enough.  A good friend of mine lived in a city that carried CBW and she saved a whole months worth of comics pages for me to look at.  This was incredibly helpful, and it had a positive impact on my strip.

First thing I did after opening the package was to lay out all the pages and study them to see if CBW stood out in any way.  I looked to see if my gags were as good as the other strips in the paper.  Usually I thought they were.  This part of the process was nice.  Then I looked to see if CBW  looked like it didn’t belong there due to being too ameteurish.  Sadly, some days it did.  Then I tried to figure out why.  Well, first off, it was wordy.  WAY too wordy.  It had twice as many words crammed into the panels as most other strips nearby.  And when I say the words were crammed in, they definitely were.  I would put so many words in that sometimes I had no real room to draw.  This was not the look I was going for.

Second, the words were written smaller than most other strips.  And they were not straight across.  I didn’t use lines for reference, instead I would just eyeball it, and so my words sometimes drifted a little up or a little down the page.    My syndicate suggested that I get a font and use the computer to do the words, but I didn’t want to do that if I could help it.  I am a fan of hand drawn words.

I made a few changes that vastly improved the look of my strip.  As I’ve mentioned before, I cut my words to 70 maximum on dailies (I went as high as 73 if I had to, but at 74 I would continue to cut).  Most days I was either right at 70 or just below.  Immediately, my strip looked better!  Not only did it look better, but it read better as well.  Forcing a word count made me learn to cut mercilessly.  Sometimes I’d write a gag with over 170 words and I’d have to cut 100 of them while still retaining the gag.  It taught me to make every word count and it taught me how to say things as econmically as possible.  Eventually, I stopped writing 150-170 words to begin with and actually began to think in smaller chunks of information.  I began to think less wordy and my writing vastly improved.

Second, I invested in an Ames lettering guide (about 50 cents) and made up a template of lines.  Instead of drawing lines on every toon to ink the words on (which is tedious, time-consuming and must then be erased!) I inked the guide lines on a piece of Bristol board.  To ink words, I tape the board to my light table and tape my cartoon (already divided into panels) on top of the guide lines.  Then I simply ink the words onto the cartoon using the lines as a guide  and Viola!  No erasing necessary, and the words are lined and even and as neat as I am capable of making them.

These two simple fixes took my cartoon from amateurish to professional and they were painless.  So thank you Imelda for sending me the months worth of my cartoon.  If you want to see what I’m talking about in action, go to karenmontaguereyes.com  and click on the CBW page.  Then scroll down and click on Karen’s favorite strips.  Look at the 2004 year.  All of those strips were done with my old lettering style and they were all wordy (remember these are my favorites, so the wordiest ones aren’t here, probably…)  Then look at the 2005 year.  The 1/28 comic is the first week with the new lettering and I think you can really tell the difference.  The 2/6 Sunday is still cramped because it had already been turned in when I began making changes to my strip.

I will post a new strip first thing tomorrow morning.  I am too tired now and must go to sleep.  Sorry for the delay…

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