Marc Alan Fishman: Color Me Good
When we last left off, I’d taken you through the steps to get us towards completion of an independent comic book. Or really any comic book, I suppose. We plotted, outlined, scripted, gathered reference material, and now penciled then inked (or in my case, digitally rendered) each page in the book. Now, with a pile of black and white artwork, it’s time for the most unsung of duties: coloring, lettering, layout, and print pre-production. If you take nothing else from this week’s brain droppings, I hope you’ll leave with a seriously redefined respect for all the names that get penned in on the credits page.
Stay Between the Lines, Billy!
The first duty in finishing our comic pages comes with adding flat panes of color in between each line. This is akin to the coloring books of your youth, savvy? The process of flatting nowadays is sent out en masse to what I’d liken to modern day art sweatshops. Here, each piece is flooding in, chopped up, colored in quickly, and moved to the next man down the line. At Unshaven Comics, Kyle Gnepper – who is released from his cage on the sales floor – typically jumps in to contribute.
Since Kyle is admittedly not able to even draw a stick figure, he flats with indiscriminate vigor; adding hot pinks to people’s faces, or coloring in a Kung-Fu Monkey in wicked pastels. Once his well-flatted hot messes are completed, the pages are shuttled back to me where I color correct each panel to be “on model”. Shirts that need to be red are corrected to red,and so on. The whole process typically takes an evening a page for Kyle, and about an hour per page for me to correct.
Once flatted and color-corrected, my pages are then shipped to our secret weapon, Wesley Wong. A colorist for Marvel and a metric ton of other companies, Wes has been assisting Unshaven Comics now since Curse of the Dreadnuts #2. With an a price point Unshaven is willing to eat – as it’s literally the only out-of-pocket cost we’ll ever part with concerning book production – Wes adds a layer of rendering to my work. He picks out a few layers of shading, and a few layers of highlights. Because this is often a rigorous process for me, Wes’ help allows me to focus on other book production elements: designing and coloring the cover, laying out interior credit pages, and so on. After a short stint in his hands, my now-pretty-pages are back in hand ready for the final frontier.
Fans who read my comic book reviews no doubt know my idiosyncratic relationship to Photoshoppery. As a modern-day graphic designer with a masters degree in the Adobe Creative Suite, I’m always at odds with how much trickery should be allowed on a page. Suffice to say there’s no easy answer. The best I can come up with is to use as much as the style allows. In my case, it allows for almost every illusion in my closet.
Because I’m working in a photorealistic style, I try to layer effect work over the art as such that it adds to the fantasy; in simpler terms, adding glow effects helps take otherwise static art and grants it kinetic properties. As my word tends to have an almost sterile appearance, adding in textures and other more painterly additives help me traverse the uncanny valley into pure imagination. It also helps that my stories within the book are set in the far-flung future. So at the end of the day, a page full of smartly applied blurs, textures, glows, and knockouts help add to the atmosphere the Samurnauts are supposed to exist in.
Write a letter. Hell, write two.
With that, it’s time to take the fully rendered pages, and add the element that truly converts them to a comic book. Words! Comic book lettering may end up being the last job truly recognized by fans. But as a graphic designer, a well laid out page of word balloons, sound effects, and caption boxes have just as much importance as the words inside them, and the pictures they lay on top of. When it’s done poorly, it stops the reader from enjoying the book. Place a comic in a muggle’s hands. Watch them contort when they try to read it. They might ask you how to handle the task. Well, if it’s not obvious to them, then the letterer isn’t doing his or her job. We westerners are bred to read left to right, top to bottom. Each panel on a page – no matter how artsy-fartsy it is – is a single beat of a story. As such, a reader should naturally absorb the image, and then read through any words within the borders, and then move with grace to the next beat.
In our heads, we imagine sound and action coalescing on the page. We hear a soundtrack swell mid-battle. We hear cacophony when lasers fire, and environments are decimated between thunderous punches. When the Joker cackles, we might read it with Mark Hamill’s voice whispering in our ears. It is the job of the letterer to take the script as turned in by the writers (or in my case, myself, and Kyle) and correctly place each piece of text – and subsequent balloon or box – on the page. Without careful consideration, details can be missed in the art, or the page reads terribly. In a case of the Samurnauts, where balloons will even be color coded depending on the speaker, it’s even more of a burden – but one I take with swagger. Lettering for me is always paramount to the finish line. When a page has been fully inked, colored, and lettered, it leaps to life and with it, the drive to complete the next page keeps me going. Typically I’m able to letter five to six pages a night. It’s also typical that books are being finished at 2 AM the day before they are due at a printer. So, that five to six page a night rate is really only wishful thinking.
Sage Advice I’m Giving To You
To anyone out there looking to take the leap from dreamer to do-er, the best I can muster is this: Do it. Don’t spend your time perfecting everything, because nothing you do the first time will matter. John Ostrander sagely says that every writer must have thousands of pages of crap in their system they need to write through before they are delivering the goods. So too will be every penciled panel, every inking job, every swatch of color, and every misplaced letter box.
The lesson here is, nothing is perfect. Time and effort will erode away your sharpest faults. And hey, after a couple years, industry veterans will write articles about you and be nice about it. I hope you dug this lengthy diatribe on the creation of an indie comic.
And to answer your question: Yes, I’d love it if you told me about your comic book!