There are really two parts to the process: the thinking and the doing. I never know which half is going to torture me more from episode to episode, but one of them surely will, every time. Creative processes are just like that (for me anyway, but I'm guessing most of you know what I'm talking about). Sometimes I have a good deal of it planned out before I begin and sometimes I dive in with one or two ideas and hope it leads me.
So the time it takes varies — widely. I've whipped up a comical in a few hours before and others I've struggled with off and on for days. But whether it's totally fun and goes quickly or drags out and starts to feel like a chore never seems to be a factor in how good it ends up. That, I think, just depends on the way an episode hits me, how much I've got going on and probably what kind of mood I'm in when I work on it.
After I've beat my head against the wall for a while and made some notes, I set up the "studio" (2 clip-on lights on a work table, some poster board and a Canon PowerShot on a tripod). It actually takes quite a while to photograph scenes (way longer than you'd think). The action figures are often uncooperative and I have to Fun Tack them into submission. If the setup doesn't look right, I have to un-Fun Tack them, rearrange and re-Fun Tack them. It can be tedious. There's also this to contend with:
Depending on how many ideas I have when I start, I may go scene-by-scene or I may shoot a bunch of different scenes in succession. Then I take them into PhotoShop for the finishing work. That's where the raw photos become comic panels and also where I end up changing my mind about stuff a lot. That sometimes leads to reshoots, but I also change things around on the fly. I've erased an action figure from a scene before because I couldn't bear to set up the shot a second time and I've pieced-in figures that weren't originally there. I add in backgrounds, objects, I make graphics to use (like the Jesse calendar). And some stuff I create in Illustrator because PhotoShop's vector tools leave much to be desired.
The comical for episode 11 wasn't one of the more amusing ones, but I think I ended up putting more work into it graphically than any previous edition. Partly that may have been me making up for what I felt was kind of a dud, but it's also just that the longer I do these, the more desire I have to make them actually look good. What started as a quick and dirty hack job has turned into a full fledged hobby. And despite whatever frustrations it brings me during the process, I simply love doing it.
For those that have been curious about all this, I've assembled a step-by-step peek at the making of two of the more complex panels from the Self Made Man comical.