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Behind the Scenes of Backwards Slapshot

A look behind the curtain of an occasionally funny comic series...

Chris Bradford

Now that we're over half way through the season, and deep into the Rink's new series, Backwards Slapshot, I figured I'd take a break from drawing and spend a moment providing a glimpse into exactly what goes into creating the series. Consider it the sweat behind an otherwise sedentary act of drawing comics.

First, the most difficult task is coming up with ideas... or at least good ones anyway. To find and create material, it's really just a matter of watching games, scouring Twitter, reading online media regarding the team, and tapping into you, the Rink's audience. Between that and bouncing ideas off of other contributors, my attempt is to capture a lighter side of Caps fandom.

When doing a comic involving a player or coach, my ultimate goal is for the player or coach whom is the target of the comic to also catch a laugh from it. One of our favorites caught the eye of Mitch Korn, who showed affinity for the comic aimed his way (Training Day). For the fan comics, I rely heavily on Twitter morale and commenter status, and sometimes even stories from real life that I've heard from friends or encountered myself (e.g., The Road Continues).

As for how long each one takes to complete, every comic is significantly different depending on who is in it, what the background contains, and how accurate I want the cartoon to look like a specific person. Some players and coaches are easier for me to draw than others. For instance, I've had an especially fun time drawing Barry Trotz this year. And while he's evolved a bit even over the short series - and likely always will - he has definitely been the most fun to turn into a 'toon (ReunitedPuck Reaper, Repeating Reporters, What the Devil?, 2C or Not 2C?).

To display the process, I've decided to use the Winter Classic comic, Pinch Hitter. I began this one as soon as the Winter Classic game started with hope that I could post a finished product later in the game. As for equipment, I use a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet and Photoshop in order to complete the entire comic. Once in a while I will have to import a sketched idea from a napkin, but in my father's words "late night ideas aren't always the best ones come morning" anyway. I had a general idea of the picture I wanted to draw, but wasn't sure of the dialogue. I was hoping something would strike later in the game.

Each step is a Photoshop "layer" which allows me to make changes more easily throughout the process. I often bounce between these layers, and almost never complete them this linearly. I'm always finding little things that I've missed or want to change.

Layer 1 - Sketch

The first drawing step entails general shapes, perspective, and sizes of the characters. This includes a quick, basic sketch of the characters and background.  For this comic, I knew I was going to draw the gang on the bench, with Ovechkin holding a baseball bat. I wasn't yet sure who the other players would end up being.

BS process1

Layer 2. The Outline

This step involves lots of noodling, and is also a product of years of drawing practice and exercises. In order to make the players look like they do in real life, sometimes I have a picture of them up to help me determine their most distinct features. I decided to go with Ward and Wilson for the two other players on this one, mostly because I was under a time crunch, I had drawn them both before, and felt Wilson would probably be the one who would most enjoy Ovi using a baseball bat out there...
BS Process3

Layer 3. Background Color

This step involves much less work if there's not much in the background and I just need a general tone. In this case, the glass behind the bench would blur most everything else, so it was nice to be able to just splatter some color and blur it out. In others (Winter Classic Fans), I spend more time drawing people or specific features of a real-life structure (Nats ParkOverthinking It).

BS Process 4

Layer 4. Character Color

Depending on the teams involved (i.e., LeafsReunited) and other details, I already have an idea of the color scheme. Caps red is always available in my palette, but for this one I wanted to match Barry's outfit for the day, and also match the new, darker Winter Classic red. As for physically coloring it, I color it in much like the kids... only digitally. It's pretty mindless and can even be therapeutic, unless of course I'm in a hurry...

BS Process5

Layer 5. Logos

This part was particularly fun given that it was a different jersey and logo than usual. For the Winter Classic logo, I used a standard W and added the Backwards Slapshot series' featured font for the lettering. Other times I'll just use the real logo (Leafs, Reaper) and fit it into the comic. Most often for the fan ones I don't bother, and save time by using #Caps. This helps streamline the process - but it is always fun to draw something new...

BS Process 6
Layer 6. Visors, Beards, and Highlights

If I'm including any glass, this step involves using a white or black layer - and making it partially transparent. For the plexiglass, I looked at a Winter Classic photo during the game and noticed this particular pattern showing on the glass behind the bench. I used an eraser on a white transparent layer to try and recreate it. For the player beards, I used a scattered brush and tried to make it as up-to-date as possible. I consider Ovi's scruff day-to-day, so I made sure to catch a glimpse of him early and make note of what was happening there...
BS Process7

Layer 7. Background Shadow

This layer involves me giving the comic initial depth with the characters and their background. I simply choose spots where the light might come from and go from there...

BS Process9

Layer 8. Player Shadow

Same as layer 7, but this time specifically on the character's faces and bodies. It's been fun experimenting with this layer and figuring out what makes it pop. Between layers 7 and 8, these give the comic it's depth and often bring the whole thing to life... or death - depending on how the comic fares.

BS Process10

Layer 9. Bubbles & Dialogue

These layers are pretty simple artistically, but the dialogue is often the one thing I pine over the most. In this case, the cartoon kind of spoke for itself, and I was watching the Winter Classic, so I filled in the dialogue pretty quickly before we posted it (Pinch Hitter)... Other times I'll change it multiple times to try and get the right cadence to match what I've drawn. Often the original copy doesn't last through the drawing process - and if it does the drawing becomes more difficult.
BS Process12

Layer 10. Social Media & Branding

This is the last step before the comic goes out. I include #BackwardsSlapshot for people to be able to interact with on Twitter, and my logo for attribution. Sometimes, I provide insight or more information about certain comics and characters at my personal comic website.
BS Process13

Backwards Slapshot has truly been an enjoyable project, and I can't wait to see what the future holds. If you have stories from your own experiences involving your Caps fandom adventures, send them my way and you might see your idea come to life as a future comic. And on that note, thanks for reading, sharing, and hopefully enjoying the series!