4 Time-Saving Tips (from a guy who spent 13 YEARS drawing a comic)

4 Time-Saving Tips (from a guy who spent 13 YEARS drawing a comic)


Hello, my name is Lars Martinson and I’m a cartoonist. Recently, I finished my three-volume graphic novel Tonoharu a decade behind schedule. That, unfortunately, isn’t an exaggeration. I started working on it in 2003, and expected to have the entire thing finished and ready to go to press by 2006. In fact, I remember thinking the 2006 estimate was, if anything, somewhat cautious. I kinda thought finishing it in 2005 was in the realm of possibility. Or worst case scenario, maybe the first half of 2007. Never ever did I imagine I’d end up devoting a total of 13 years to it. I’ll leave it to others less biased than myself to evaluate Tonoharu’s artistic merit, but logistically at least, it was a colossal failure. This was due in large part to several misguided artistic decisions I made early in production. For example, I really love the etchings found in 19th century books, and liked the idea of doing a comic that evoked that style. Tonoharu’s title page probably best illustrates the effect I was going for. Better capture the varied line widths that these etchings often have. I eschewed felt-tip pens and markers, instead working almost exclusively with a brush and a dip pen. These tools do indeed create beautiful lines, but they are messy and time-consuming, as you always need to dip them in ink every two seconds. Combined with the dense cross-hatching, this added untold countless hours to Tonoharu’s production. Compounding that problem was my approach to illustrating the setting. Tonoharu takes place in Japan, and I very much wanted to portray the totality of the landscape. I didn’t really give any thought to limiting the number of locations I used. As such, Tonoharu contains more than 200 distinct locations. And just to be clear here, I’m not counting when I re-drew the same place from a different angle, which I often did, and which still took a bunch of time. No, these are separate, visually distinctive locations. Bars, restaurants, classrooms, apartment buildings, shopping centers, train stations, post offices, hotels, airports, convenience stores, (gasp) break rooms, ports, karaoke boxes, temples, offices, video stores, dozens of exterior shots of everything from rice paddies to suburbs to densely populated cities. (gasp) If it was a part of my experience in Japan, I tried to squeeze it in there. I went out and took photographic reference for the majority of these, like a movie location scout or something. I then go home, meticulously compose the scene based on my photo reference, and spend hours cross-hatching the results. In addition to all that, there were a million other creative, innovative ways that I squandered my time. From adding visual flourishes you’d literally need a magnifying glass to see, to re-drawing recurring backgrounds for some reason, to re-drawing hundreds of faces and frankensteining them into the original artwork. I mean, this looks like something a crazy person would do, right? The list goes on and on and on. Okay, so these are intended to serve as examples of my idiotic, pig-headed workflow for Tonoharu. But as you can probably tell, I’m also sort of humble-bragging here. I’m pretty proud of the look and feel of the comic. I like that it has weird little Easter eggs that most people won’t even notice. I like that I, as a single creator, made this thing that has hundreds of extras and enough locations to put a big-budget Hollywood movie to shame. I think that’s kinda cool. And if time wasn’t a factor, I wouldn’t mind creating more books in a similar style. But as we mortals know all too painfully well, time 𝘪𝘴 a factor. No, time is 𝘵𝘩𝘦 factor. I was 25 years old when I started Tonoharu and didn’t wrap it up until the age of 38. If I were to continue at the same glacial pace for future projects, I could finish two or maybe three more things before I died or was too old to work. And that’s making the dubious assumption that I could work at the same pace in my 60’s that I did in my 20’s. You could say that’s morbid or pessimistic, but I think it’s just an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation. And I gotta say, the thought of being able to quantify my lifetime artistic output on one hand does not sound good to me at all. I wanna finish more than a couple artistic projects before I die. Like, a lot more. Ten times as many, let’s say. But in order to make that happen, I need to completely change my entire approach to creating art. So now, half as a reminder to myself and half as cautionary advice to any budding perfectionist artist out there, here are four things I hope to keep in mind from here on out. #1 is to fail faster. I’m stealing this one wholesale from a video created by the YouTube channel ExtraCredits. The focus of their channel is on video game development, but a lot of what they discuss applies to creative endeavors in general, and their ‘Fail Faster’ video in particular really hit home for me. I recommend watching the actual video, and I’ll include a link to it in the description for anyone that’s interested. But just to summarize, they put forth that no idea comes out fully formed, and only by testing out an idea can you begin to iron out its imperfections. They argue that since provisional failure is inevitable, it’s best to fail as quickly and efficiently as possible, or to fail faster, so that you can, to use their words, “spiral towards a better center, course-correcting along the way.” I’m sure that if I’d experimented with my workflow on shorter test projects, and tweaked it to be more efficient, I could have saved myself literally years worth of work. Though I have to admit, my younger self might not have been receptive to a more streamlined approach. Which brings me to my 2nd guideline, which is to embrace creative laziness. When I first started Tonoharu, I wore my inefficient workflow as a badge of pride. I equated hard work with artistic integrity and taking an easier path with artistic compromise. I saw shortcuts as basically cheating. Something only used by work-for-hire hacks on a deadline. True artists, I told myself, toughed it out. I learned the hard way what this kind of stubbornness gets you, and since I don’t want to be in my 50’s when I finish my next project; I’ve realized that I need to swallow my pride, stop fetishizing hard work for hard work’s sake, and embrace the path of least resistance. Doing this without the resulting work feeling cheap or shoddy requires a bit of ingenuity. To give you an example of what I mean by this, let me show you a brief clip from the anime movie, ‘Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive.’ What I think is interesting about this scene, and with a lot of anime actually, is how little actual animation there is. There’s a sense of movement, sure, but this is accomplished by panning or zooming the camera across still backgrounds. In fact, there’s only one instance of actual animation in this entire 30-second clip. And that’s coming up here. But even then, they only animate the guy’s arm, leaving the rest of him, and the girl sitting next to him, completely still. Moments like this are interspersed throughout anime, and what’s cool is the average viewer doesn’t even notice. These scenes are lazy, but in a subtle, creative way. And I think there’s an important lesson to be learned here. For Tonoharu, I went out of my way to avoid shortcuts. But for future projects, I intend to vigorously seek them out. To almost make a game out of it. For every artistic decision I make, I want to pose the question, “Is there any way I can make this happen for less work?” Even if that means making 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 artistic concessions, or at least redefining my artistic vision. Anime brilliantly masks its corner-cutting techniques by making them seem like stylistic choices, and I aspire to that level of sneaky laziness. Though to be fair, the advice “be lazy” could be taken to an unhelpful extreme. And sure, you shouldn’t always go with the easiest option. But I think it’s important to be extremely selective about what you choose to invest extra time in. Which brings me to my 3rd guideline, which is to pick your battles. I most certainly did not do this for Tonoharu. I fought each and every one of them. Every background is densely cross-hatched, every crowd scene has a bunch of unique, meticulously rendered extras. There was no strategic thinking involved in Tonoharu’s creation. Just me indiscriminately waging war on every front. This came at a tremendous cost in loss of time. Granted, some of these battles, even the really time-consuming ones, were worth fighting. Like take this pannel. It establishes the scene, it helps the reader get a sense of the sheer spectacle of a Japanese festival in a way a simpler composition would not, and on top of that, it could be used for promotional materials. But let me give you an example of a battle that, looking back at it now, probably wasn’t worth fighting. This four-panel sequence. So as you can see, the setting is quite complicated with a bunch of extras moving around. The artwork is fine, but not really visually striking enough to be used for marketing purposes. And as for the scene itself, all I’m trying to convey is two people saying goodbye, so there’s really no reason that couldn’t have taken place on an empty street corner or something. Having it take place in a busy train station doesn’t really add that much value, considering how long it took to draw. So this is probably a battle I wouldn’t fight if I were to do it over again. For the majority of Tonoharu’s production though, relocating a scene is probably something I wouldn’t have even considered. Which leads me into my final guideline, which is to let nothing be sacred. Tonoharu is not an adaptation of anything, and although it was inspired by various aspects of my own life, it is a work of fiction. So when it comes right down to it, I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. I wasn’t beholden to source material I had to be faithful to, nor did I have to try to accurately represent true events. Yet in spite of that, I was weirdly resistant to tinkering with the details once the script was written. Like take the previous example of the train station. The location wasn’t really critical to the story, but when I originally conceived of it in my mind’s eye, that scene took place in that train station. And once I solidified a detail, it suddenly felt non-negotiable and beyond reproach. This extended to pretty much every aspect of Tonoharu, from the character designs, to the flow of events, to trivial minutia. This sort of stubborn devotion to an artistic vision is bad logistically, in that it doesn’t give you much wiggle room to change things to be more efficient, but I’d argue it’s bad artistically as well. We tend to idolize artists that refuse to compromise, but I think there’s something to be said for having the humility to allow your vision to be malleable. To recognize that none of your ideas are precious or sacred. By giving yourself the license to experiment and mix things up, you open up the possibility of improving your work in addition to discovering more efficient ways to create it. Okay so, I separated all these into four bullet points for the purpose of organization, but I’ll admit there’s a lot of overlap here and they’re really all speaking to the same basic idea. That our time is a painfully limited resource, and it’s important to be cognizant of how we’re using it if we have a lot we want to get done. I’m a stubborn perfectionist at heart, so I’ll probably always end up spending longer on my projects than I’d like, but I’m hopeful that if I can make time-management the priority that it clearly must be, I can finish future projects in a matter of months, not a matter of years, while maintaining an acceptable level of quality. That may sound a bit overly ambitious considering my track record, but like I said, I’m willing to completely overhaul the way I produce art right down to the very medium that I’m working in. But that’s a topic for another video. For anyone that’s interested, signed copies of all three volumes of Tonoharu are available through my website, I’ll include a link to that in the description. Otherwise you can pick them up at your prefered bookseller. Thank you very much for watching!

100 thoughts on “4 Time-Saving Tips (from a guy who spent 13 YEARS drawing a comic)

  1. I'm only 24 myself, but I've been drawing for years now. Back in 2006 I had been conceptualizing a story of a smaller, 4 character cast, anti-hero story. It was really simple, but has evolved now into a story that spans 3 unique arcs, including 3 other worlds/plots I had designed independently of one another, which eventually became part of this saga, flushing out the world, and solving a lot of plot holes I had made when I was younger. Still nowhere near done with this mind, but It's getting there, I just need to get a few more of the main cast designed with my more 'modern' art standards.

  2. What an artist, this madness and perseverance needs to be much appreciated. I have ordered Tonoharu and looking forward for it.

  3. The attention span of the majority of the readers isn't there for your meticulous detail. Even this clip, I made it to 5:51…. urggggh… c'mon, seriously? have you not seen the low resolution of South Park and yet appreciated the impact as utterly massive? By the way, Where do you get the resources to undertake such a laborious and ambitious project??? That's what I want to know…. Did you inherit a fortune so you can DRAW all day? For Years ???? How do you pay all those bills ?!? Not rocket science to Find killer archetypical stories, make them contemporary and draw them with a fraction of your resolution.

  4. I would just die if I spent like 5 years on the same project. I'm more of a quality over quantity game developer, I want my game projects to be fun, bite sized games so future fans will get to play a higher variety of my games and they're super affordable too since they're smaller.

  5. Youtube Recommendation Logic –
    2016:Haha!Why would I put this in the recommended section?
    2017:I don't feel like it.
    2018:I don't want to!
    2019:Yeah sure.

  6. I dunno, using some anime as an example is not so great because there were a lot of anime around that time that actually had a lot of animation to it. It was great.

    It's almost worse nowadays. But yeah I get what you mean, cutting corners. I don't believe in cutting them too much tho..

  7. I've been planning and thinking and rewriting a comics for 6 or 7 years :p I haven't even started hahaha
    Maybe I should just slap myself and start (6_6 )'

  8. 3:36 90 years old? Allot two hours three times a week to training and I'd say you may be expected to live to 100 … who knows what science can come up within 60 years.

  9. I totally agree with your second tip. Finally, somebody agreed with me. Thank you! I so wish I had heard this from people like you more often. Hard work for it's own sake is way overestimated in society to the point I didn't know I had another way. Hard, inefficient work has become a terrible lifestyle I want to get out of my system, like the bad habit it is for me, and it doesn't apply for painting only, but for anything, especially for those projects that do take a lot of effort, like my thesis. In the end, my thesis that should have taken a semester to complete, took a year, and instead of 80 pages with 100 sources, it became 200 pages of just content with over 300 sources. While my grade was good, it could have been better. Thanks again. (Lol and it's still not out of my system, the guy or girl below me had summarized all of my comment in "work smarter, not harder." Efficiency!)

  10. Man this entire video is packed in life saving, life changing material, no exaggeration. Can be applied any other place.

  11. Great content marketing for your book. Not overly useful, but entertaining and yes, it makes us all curious about Tono-harroo. Tony Harew. Tauntaun-woohoo. Whatever it's called.

  12. Maaaan you are stubborn as F$) #.
    I really liked you art and appreciate your tips though. Hope that you found your middle ground and now works more efficient. 😊✌️

  13. I've got the same damn problem. But, it's easy to say all that, but it's harder to actually pull back and change how you actually make art. Have you actually pulled any of this change off in your work?

  14. Wow, this video really opened my eyes. I have such a love/hate relationship with art for. A few years now, but this video really helps! Failing isn't a bad thing and working more efficiently is great advice! Thanks!

  15. I still go back to this video many time after all this year, this should have more view, I currently battling perfectionism, I drew crazy amount of detail, and sadly when it zoom out, barely even seen, but still glad that there are there, I should zoom out my canvas more, and see what need more detail and what don't but still, I love doing detail, I know it's there, but for work related, deadline kinda important, and as an artist, if you have fix amount of payment, should consider time as well lol.

  16. I have a little idea for a comic I've been wanting to make, and so much of what you described sounds like a pitfall I would totally fall in. Glad I watched this video now haha

  17. Very cool! glad you took a while to complete its shows your really care about it to complete it after 13 years congrats! I think following your dreams and goals are most important!

  18. HaHaHa, I love this. Maybe you were working out a "past life" battles. And you were reincarnated as an artist to draw little lines for 13 years to achieve the goal you previously failed; perhaps a "pick up sticks" game with the king-god of a small kingdom, who you were tutoring.. Now you are free…

  19. Thank you very much, I will sure remember your tips.. they came right on time for me who is just at the beginning of an amazing artistic career..

  20. Dude tho, yeah but like… That's freaking amazing. I love it. Haha. That's for real amazing.

    I just realized if i had finished my comic i started and worked on it till now it would be the same amount of time, but instead i was doing arguably less productive things…

    Mine was about that intricate also but the art was based on illistrated manuscripts, haha I've been learning digital art the past year and I just found out about photobashing, which if i understand it can help me draw backgrounds faster, as well as not having to hand draw every thing painfully, I've been giving the idea of actually doing it some serious thought… OB it as a labor of love in my spare time. . I'm about to finish my first character sheet, and I'm brain storming the rewrite.

    I totally relate to everything that you said tho, from how i was and and am now. 🙂

    Good luck on your future projects. And I'm definitely going to check out your comic, it sounds rad.

  21. My advice once it takes more than a year scrap it you spent 1/8 of your life creating a book that barely anyone knows about or will even read

  22. You have discipline and you finished what you started. And THAT is a great personality quality. Remember THAT. It counts in more ways than one.

  23. In Germany we say "A good horse only jumps as high as it needs". Still, you did an impressive project I have to say.

  24. This video really makes me wanna buy your comic though! I love the details. Will definately buy it when number 1 is available again.

  25. Id say the time to be the absolute lover of corners is when one knowingly trains or practices something. I think it happens in sports and many other trades. The training of muscle memory and repetition makes hard way part of the spine and when one is in business or casual mode, they can easily pull up stunts cause they do not have to push their limits.

    Kinda like in power-training. The training itself is hard and tedious because muscle is expected to go to its limits. In training one is heightening their maximum potential when in life they usually need their "average potential". By heightening maximum they also increase their average.

  26. So… what if you can’t draw.
    I’m currently working on a novel but I really feel like it would be better as a graphic novel.

  27. scoffs seems he couldn't even make use of what he learned from those 13 years. 4 tips? I mean, are you serious? Do you even know how diminutively miniscule the number 4 is? Please. Sit down. Let the real masters work. Then you can talk, boy.

  28. Funny that you say that about anime. People notice most just don't talk about it. My mum always says "your just watching talking pictures"

  29. If it took you too long, then why didn't you just release different volumes of the book at different times? It looks like the end result was a set of three books. If that was the plan all along, why not release the first two volumes earlier, once you were done with each?

  30. Taking absurd amounts of time on a project isn't a waste as long as you gain from it. As long as you're learning, having fun, making it count. But if you're miserable and going through the motions, then there's no point

  31. Thank you very much for your tips! I intend to finally start a comic project I've been planing for almost 10 years and, as far as the stories goes, it may take some time. I'm willing to take some shortcuts on that matter.

  32. Hi Martinson, why don't you use computer?? Your artwork is quite amazing and I think you can work faster with computer and pen tablet for your art style

  33. I keep thinking back to some of my favorite manga, and how they would have approached the "goodbye" scene.

    One thing I've noticed, is that they tend to have a "establishing shot" every five or ten panels (or two pages give or take, depending on the size and # of panels on a page) where they will render out the scene and include those details, background characters and remind us where the characters are.

    However, in between those panels, they often have characters talking in "white" or blank space, where there is nothing else but the characters, and if not blank, it will have some kind of effect helping to establish the mood (like those little hexagon floaty sparkle things in positive or happy moments, or a gauze like design for somber or serious ones.).

    If the camera is panned out more, where there would be too much "white" space around the character, they will simply draw the closest of the background elements (like the wall with the calender behind/beside your characters) but not neccessarily draw the smaller details in such things (like the segmented boxes on the said calender) and overall keep it plain, directing our attention to the characters instead.

    Yes this sometimes leads to "floating" problems, where said elements and characters just seem to be hovering in space, but usually readers pass through the panels so fast that they don't notice until its been too long without a "reminder" establishing shot panel.

    This way, you still save lots of time (not rendering the scene in each and every panel) but still create a lingering "memory" of where this is happening at… and still lets you keep your characters in an otherwise detailed scene like the station instead of a empty street corner.

    Its a method I plan on using myself when I get around to making my comic.

  34. I'm glad you stuck to your artistic guns. I bet this is a beautiful work, and I think I might even look into it for that reason. I'm also glad you learned so much from it.

  35. The difference is that this looks more like artwork than a comic book.. Great vid and well done for completing the comic. I bet it took a while to sink in that it's finished. I think perfectionism can put a person in a rut sometimes. It's too easy to get stuck on details 99% of people won't even notice, I do it all the time with 3D modelling lol

  36. Thank you Lars, I could've ended my career before I started. I am a Linguist and Biologist (I have PhDs for both) and I could only dare shoe courage to go for my passion in life after I was past my most efficient time's and what would I have done if I were to waste what little I have had left to survive with!? Thank you genuinely!

  37. Wow! Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate when people are willing to share their fails and the important lessons they learned from them. It would be so easy to look at Tonoharu and think, "ZOMG! That's an amazing masterpiece and I can never do the same so why even try?" but your honest critique shows that everyone can learn something through the process of creation. (BTW, Tonoharu does look amazing and I'm psyched to absorb it and seek out its Easter eggs.)

  38. I really enjoy reading graphic novels.💙💖💚 And I believe that the artist's mind is a whole separate universe, so you should take your time when you unravel your own time and space of graphic novel awesomeness. Congratulations for all your hard work and fantastic artwork and thank you so very much for this really priceless pieces of hard-earned wisdom! 👍🏻🙏🏻✨🎨🖌🤩

  39. I found this video really sad… But I'm the kind of ppl that hate those still panel slide in anime and notice when backgrounds are originals or a lazy genereic one. At least your japanese school and city background don't feel generic… Wich is pretty rare nowadays. Doos arts take time and a part of your artistic integrity died… I understand why tho. And it kinda answer why so many great artist work become frustrating for their audiance as they aged. We can ask to much from artist. It's a really hard live and you can't say as dedicated on your work your whole life.

  40. I don't agree with his analysis. Their is noway removing this train staiton would have save more than a few days…
    13 years is 4745 days. The whole trilogy is less than 600 pages. That's less than a page per week… He took so much time because he wasn't fully dedicated to this project. Maybe for really good reason. I'm pretty sure he achieved other personal goal in those 13 years. I finding it pretty dishonest to say that drawing ambitious background was the issue…

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