Pulp Stories: Process

Originally posted on Julie Nick’s website. Reposted with permission.


Like all projects, Pulp Stories was born out of research. I hadn’t set out to create it, but somehow in between reading about the pulp genre (which was for another project) and about women’s roles in World War 2, it just came to life.

I toyed with creating a pulp hero for a while, like Francesco Francavilla‘s Black Beetle, but short stories about different protagonists appealed to me more.

Character Designs

While not being based on, the two characters that appear in Pulp Stories were inspired by real people.

Edith in Fighting Time was inspired by two rad ladies: Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license and amazing aerial daredevil, and Nancy Leftenant-Colon: first black woman in the US Army Nurse Corps and former (and, so far as I can tell, the only female) president of the Tuskegee Airmen. Click those link to read a bit about them!

I put Edith in a uniform from the UK Glider Pilot Regiment, simply because it seemed practical for her story.

Nancy in Running Start was (more noticeably) inspired by the badass that was Nancy Wake. Seriously, click the link and read the whole obituary, she was amazing and did a lot of work for the Allies throughout WW2.

I wanted the bad guys to be pretty generic so they all look the same, dressed in a Nazi Elite Honor Guard uniform (simply because I liked the design of it!). The masks are extrapolated from gas masks designs, minus the tubing. Pinterest is great for researching historically accurate stuff, you can view the board I set up for the project here.

Script and layouts

Fighting Time started with the idea of a runaway train. I wanted to ramp up the action with each page up until the final page which releases the tension and concludes the short story.

Layouts-wise, I was directly inspired by the work of Bernie Krigstein, whom I had just discovered at the time. I loved that he opened some stories with this 3/4 of a page splash, but still had other panels at the bottom. It felt to me like you still get the impact of the splash page, but can squeeze in more information as well, like I tried to do in both stories.

If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend getting Messages in a Bottle, which collects some of his comics, from early on up until his more famous works, like The Master Race. There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from studying his work and I’ve just barely scratched the surface myself! Excerpt from that New Yorker article by Art Spiegelman I liked to above:

“Look at all that dramatic action that one never gets a chance to see. It’s between these panels that the fascinating stuff takes place. And unless the artist would be permitted to delve into that, the form must remain infantile.”

An artist after my own heart! I also looked at the modern master that is David Aja and how he does action and fight scenes, since I’d never drawn them! His work on Hawkeye with Matt Fraction and Matt Hollingsworth is a constant inspiration and you all know how freaking good he is, yes?

I tend to keep my scripts very loose and work out most of the stuff in the layouts. Sometimes I just write what’s happening and what I want to achieve on the page, like “play with negative space”. I’m a visual person, so I’d rather work with pictures!

For Running Start, I definitely wanted a sneaky story culminating in a gunfight . If you have a keen eye, you’ll notice that the two page spread changed significantly. Initially, I wanted to do a sort of birds eye view of the castle layouts, almost like a map. It turned out to be problematic when roughing it out, not to mention extremely flat, so I went with a more video game approach, like from my favorite series, Trails in the Sky:

Any time, Estelle! Page 5 also changed when I went to pencil it. The L shaped panel was going to be another map view, but it really uninspired me so I changed it on the page. It happens! The bottom of page 5 was probably the most challenging to draw. It’s one thing to draw someone taking a piece of clothing off, but doing it for 4 consecutive panels is…something else! (You’ll notice that I also removed one of the panels from the layouts, like enough already!)

Page 6 is my favorite and probably the only one I wouldn’t sell. Basically, I didn’t want to draw a huge splash page of an explosion (the one in Fighting Time was like pulling teeth for me, I hate drawing debris!) so I had the brilliant idea of this huge BOOM and then we see the aftermath. I think it works!

Method in the madness

From then on it’s pretty straightforward. Draw the pencils, ink them, scan and edit. And then you have a comic book!

I usually take lots of reference photos of myself and then rough out the pencils, often times combining two of the best ones. I try to keep it really loose at this stage. If it’s a particularly tough angle, I use action figures to see what the body looks like.

If you ever need to draw a train, a really helpful thing I found is to look at train simulators gameplay on youtube and at walkthroughs, as they often have helpful screenshots! And they usually put a lot of research into them so they’re really accurate!

For military reference, a great site is Military Factory, lots of photos of historically accurate military stuff from different angles.


To pencil, I just use a regular HB pencil which I like because it’s light enough to not leave a trace when erased.

I usually ink over the pencils using a Japanese Deleter brush. I use the large one, which took a bit of getting used to but it allows for a wide range of marks, from thin to very thick. As for ink, I’ve been using W&N India Ink for years, but have now switched to Deleter brand. They’re pricey but the blacks are super black! Fine details are inked with technical pens. I do washes with the same brush, or even a larger one, if necessary!

I always scan at 600 dpi in grayscale and then use Photoshop to adjust the levels since the scan tends to take some of the black away. I add the gutters in Photoshop and make sure everything is properly spaced on the page. Export as PDF and then merge everything for the print file.

And that’s it! Hope it was interesting! Anything else you wanna know about my process, give me a shout on Twitter!

You can read Pulp Stories for free here. It is nominated in this year’s ICN Awards. You can vote here.