Page six. Click to enlarge. More rambling below the image.
As you're drawing the eight thousandth leaf in a drawing like this, you start to ask yourself what exactly it is that all this detail really gets you. The costs are obvious - the drawing goes more slowly, your wrist hurts, the legibility of the image can even suffer. So why do it?
For one, meaningful detail helps to model form. If you've decided on a "clean" look (and I'm not sure why I decided that, but whatever), you can't fall back on crosshatching or shading to indicate surface contours. Adding detail is a way of showing the lie of a surface. For example, I drew all the seams on the girl's costume. It's not because I have a fondness for seams. It's that, drawn correctly, the seams turn your figure into a wire frame model. The same goes for belts, straps, buckles, shoelaces, and buttons. There are pitfalls -- if you go too dense, you can lose the silhouette. If you draw even the tiniest button at the wrong angle, it will blow everything and make your image look flatter.
It doesn't just work for figures. Panel lines, rivets, and insignia perform the same function on a drawing of a spaceship. All those rocks in the background help to indicate the shape and orientation of the hillside. The place where I suck the most is in the trees. It is very easy to go into automatic mode when you're drawing a giant mass of leaves, and that can lead to disaster -- the orientation of every leaf is important. My plants always go flat. I suspect the solution is to find a shorthand that doesn't require me to draw every leaf. When I finally learn this shorthand, I will punch my past self in the nutsack.
Digital tools can also lure you into absurd situations. Until about twenty years ago, the only way an artist could increase the density of detail was to work larger. Of course, even if you're drawing on a sheet the size of a tablecloth, you always have an intuitive sense of the relationship between the panel and the whole. Not so with zooming. In the bottom-left panel of the page above, I forgot how zoomed-in I was. I actually sweated the orientations of the arrows in the quivers of the army men (those are the little specks marching behind the big hairy speck with a house on its back). When I finally zoomed back out, the panel was just a grey mass, completely unreadable. I had to erase two hours' worth of leaves and redraw them at a larger size. It was heartbreaking. The zoom tool now allows you to draw more detail than is perceptible by anyone who isn't a raptorial bird. This is silliness, and I will try not to make that painful mistake again.
It's not all bad, though. Detail can also have a legitimizing effect on things. You're kind of dressing your drawing up in a tuxedo. Weirdly, I've noticed that as I add detail, the dialogue tends to change. I'm forcing myself to look at the scene as a real place, with real people in it. I gradually fool myself into taking the scene seriously, and hopefully it has the same effect on the reader. Detailing also makes you spend more time with the drawing, which gives you more opportunities to discover and correct flaws.
Geof Darrow once said something about detail being a crutch -- that he used it to mask weaknesses in his drawing. This is typical self-effacing Darrow, and it's not true. That man draws really, really well. But I feel his point. Adding stupid-dense detail might be the easiest way to get applause. People like to see an obvious accumulation of man-hours. This arrangement sometimes makes me feel like some kind of con-man. All I can say is that the drawing doesn't tell me it's done until I've drawn what I've drawn. Maybe I have a bad case of horror vacui.
That said, after spending more than a week on a page, nothing feels nicer than sitting down with a John Porcellino book and taking some deep breaths. A nice, open, white space can be the best thing ever. As I gain confidence, I hope to learn how to do this, as well.
Changing topics. I'm starting to think about how to get this printed. I've talked to a couple of publishers, and they poop their pants (you can hear a little "blert" noise over the phone) when I tell them how slow I'm going. So I guess I have two questions: First, is it at all conceivable that a publisher could be okay with a three- or four-month turnaround between issues? Would readers even wait that long? Second, does anybody have experience with self-publishing? Can I expect a decent level of quality? Is it insane to try to market your own work? Would I spend all my time addressing envelopes? And how much do you think someone might pay for a full-color, 24-page issue?
To sum up, is there some business model that turns all this labor into food on my table?
And please don't say "go faster." That's my wife's job.