Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud

Cartoonist, author

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a cartoonist and author, best known for my nonfiction books about comics including 1993's Understanding Comics and its follow-ups, and various other nonfiction comics like my 2008 Chrome Comic for Google. I've also done some fiction work including the early series Zot! and my upcoming graphic novel The Sculptor. I do a lot of lectures and workshops on comics and visual communication for universities, festivals, and companies, and you can find my online comics and other stuff at scottmccloud.com.

What hardware do you use?

For years, I've happily used a succession of mid-range Mac Pros stuffed with extra memory and storage. I have the big cheese grater style version on my desk right now, though I've got my eye on the recently introduced wastebasket-sized version. We plan to more traveling than usual in the coming year - much of it by car - and it would be nice if my full workstation was small enough to come with me.

I draw on a Cintiq 21UX from a few years back. I started using the Cintiq series 10 years ago. If I could go back in time and convince myself to buy one even earlier I would. Drawing directly on the screen is fundamentally different than a traditional tablet for me, and far more intuitive. It's also easier on the hands (I suffered a couple of extended episodes of tendinitis before making the switch).

Also on my desk or nearby are a wireless mouse, keyboard, a modest-sized second monitor (tiling left to right with the Cintiq), a 3TB Time Machine disk, a rotating gaggle of orange LaCie ruggeds, and the usual cluster of messy peripherals.

My laptop is a 15" MacBook Pro from a few years ago. I'm dictating this on a Plantronics headset to reduce typing (my remaining source of hand strain). For lectures, I use an old Keyspan remote.

And what software?

For making comics, I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator almost exclusively.

I do my rough layouts 40 pages at the time in one big Photoshop document. This allows me to plan sequences over the course of several pages and allows individual panels to flow more naturally between pages. The layouts include both rough versions of the word balloons (I write the book in comics form; there's no separate written script) and comprehensive rough art.

Once the layouts are complete, I bring each page into Illustrator and do the lettering and borders there. I found some neat tricks that make lettering a breeze. I explain them on YouTube starting here.

The results are then brought back into Photoshop where borders and lettering act as top layer "windows" behind which I can draw the finished art. I draw at 1200 dpi with lots of layers.

I created a number of custom brushes, then recorded actions that select the brushes, their colors, and the layers they belong to. Then I created a function key shortcut for each action which can be triggered by the Cintiq's side buttons. That way I can switch brushes, layers, and colors all at once with a single button press and work fluidly without ever having to take my eyes off the image.

On the road with my laptop, I use Apple's Keynote for my lectures and workshops. My presentations include hundreds of slides that go by very fast and the transitions are carefully timed. I switched from PowerPoint to Keynote about eight years ago because I liked the greater control I had over transitions.

Other frequently used programs include Dreamweaver and Fetch for my site; Chrome, iPhoto and Preview for reference hunting; iTunes, Spotify, and Downcast to keep me company.

What would be your dream setup?

I'll never be 100% satisfied, and there's always some part of my setup that needs updating, but what I have right now comes close. I suppose the ultimate set up would occupy the dimensions of my Cintiq, but include the capabilities of all my other equipment in it so everything could fit in a single suitcase. With the introduction of the new Mac Pro, were getting a little closer to that world, but clearly we have a long way to go.

On a bus trip to Syracuse in the late 70s with my friend Kurt Busiek, I described the perfect drawing machine for him: a digital device allowing me to draw directly on the screen, endlessly editable and utterly intuitive. The world hadn't even seen its first Macintosh yet and I was only in my late teens, but I'd seen enough MIT open houses to be certain that somebody would invent it, and I knew that's what I would someday use to make my comics.

Clearly I wasn't the only one with that particular dream.