Derby Dudes: making comics on the road

The finished comic in print form.
The Derby Dudes comic in its print form.

This year I’ve learnt a lot of valuable lessons: don’t leave your house in Vermont without snowboots in March; put at least one set of feet in one panel on every page of comics; telecommunications in the United States is expensive – just live with it; and don’t work on comics when you’re on a jam-packed mini-tour of Australia’s capital cities.


Because it is hard to get drawing materials and it is hard to find time and it is hard to find friends with decent scanners and Photoshop and all of the things you need for making comics.

A lesson I learned while making a comic called Derby Dudes: Vermont’s men of the flat track for the Seven Days Cartoon edition.

A long-time derby dame, I was on top of the written component of this project, I knew my subject, potential interviewees and felt pretty great about the story going into it.

The interviews for the comic were conducted at a bout in Woodstock weeks in advance of my trip, the script was completed at home before I left – BUT the thumbnails, the penciling, inking, lettering and colour all had to be done on the road.

In retrospect, not the best idea I’ve ever had.

I started penciling one afternoon at my brother and sister’s house in Melbourne, on a watercolour sketchpad I purchased from my favourite local artshop. Spending the afternoon sitting on a blue sofa beside my brother, Jake Houston Harris, mapping out panels and speech bubbles while he edited film footage for Underground Cinema,  was actually quite a nice bonding experience. Hoorah for creative Harris kids! (I should note my also very talented sister Catrin Harris was taking a nap and clearly sending off creative vibes in her sleep).

The work in progress: Hobart
The work in progress: Hobart

The inking, lettering and colouring began at the kitchen table of a family friend’s house in Hobart, Tasmania, using Derwent watercolour pencils retrieved from a childhood box of art supplies. (Eternal thanks to Nick Coleman and his friend Skye who kept the tea flowing and the hilarious story-telling running throughout.)

But I was busy in Hobart, seeing my friends, being best lady at Fifi‘s wedding (note: I may have alternated getting my makeup done with inking tiny people on roller skates), eating all the delicious seafood ever and I didn’t even finish pencilling the final pages until I reached Canberra the following week.

Enter panic mode.

In Canberra I frantically took time out of social engagements to finish the art – thankfully able to find ANOTHER set of Derwent watercolours to match the completed page (gracious to my right-hand lady Bec Thornberry for digging deep into her childhood art supplies). I drew on my knees in a tiny Braddon apartment with Rosanna Stevens, on outdoor coffee tables with my beloved Capital derby ladies Kath Alexander and Edwina Wright and inside pubs with fellow former journo Jen Bennett.

I spent my last night in town scanning and using the wonders of Photoshop to touch up the comic instead of doing what I really wanted to be doing – hanging out with the kids from ACT Comic Meet. Thanks to David Paris and Chris Nickel who provided the technology.

Unfortunately the scanner we used could only clock up 300 DPI, but the folks at Seven Days received the completed work on time and I was able to trade up a higher resolution version when I finally got back to Vermont.

You can read the finished comic online at Seven Days.

The work in progress: Canberra
The work in progress: Canberra

What I learned here:

  • My friends are awesome, outrageously helpful and forgiving people
  • I need to create more realistic timeframes for work AND make sure to set aside time without social engagements in which to complete said work
  • It wouldn’t hurt to hunt down adequate scanners more than a day in advance of a self-imposed deadline
  • Drawing comics while travelling would be way easier if I had my own laptop and a set of watercolours
  • And, most importantly, watercolour pencils look nice but add 100% extra work than straight up watercolour pans

Lessons I plan to apply to comics ASAP on my seemingly endless travel schedule.

Like later this month, when I will be snorkelling/kayaking for turtles as part of a research project in Florida and South Carolina with Beth Reinke and taking this comic making business on the road once more.


Keep up with what I’m doing on twitter @elermai

UPDATE: I forgot to mention eating an eggy brekky with Frankentess while simultaneously trying to paint watercolours with a wildly inappropriate (and mangled) brush. BRING A BRUSH!!

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