How I learned to stop caring what someone more talented than I can do, and love my models instead.
When last we spoke, I’d revealed the initial steps to Unshaven Comics building a book from the ground up. We covered our notes process, outlining, and then the breakdown. That leads us to the first steps that require artistic direction. Shall we venture forth then, true believer?
The Gestalt of Gestures
With our breakdowns in hand, Matt Wright (penciler, inker, craft beer drinker) and I then build each page in loose gestures; I create the final digital page and the panels, and Matt and I frame each figure within the panel. When complete, we’re better able to see if the story we’re telling is compelling. We can test the ebb and flow of action, as well as pace out the most dramatic beats. In short, our gestural comps help us literally sketch out a complete comic.
This is by no means a step to wash over quickly, albeit it’s not one that takes incredibly long to complete. Case in point, we finished an issue this past Saturday night. Most of the time we would read aloud the beat from the breakdown and then discuss how we envisioned it being laid out on a page. Matt had a trusty sketch book next to him, alongside my open page in Adobe Illustrator, where I lay out the panels, as well as digitally ink my pages. Over those final six hours we tend to bicker and banter about the best ways to capture action, and drama. We pour over graphic novels of our favorite artists (John Romita Jr., Alex Ross, and Brent Anderson come to mind and to finger, often). We sketch, erase, debate, sketch, agree, and then retranslate to loose (“terrible looking”) sketches within the pre-made pages. These comps now serve as visual shorthand for our next steps.
While we’ll obviously refine compositions and continue to craft the page as we go… this step is the most heavy lifting we do during pre-production. Shortly thereafter? It’s time to gather our resources. In simpler terms, it’s Photoshoot time!
Just Shoot Me. Well not me… Them.
The picture that came emblazoned at the beginning of this post was taken a week ago at our fifth Samurnaut photoshoot. A bit of backstory:
When Unshaven Comics sported mere stubble on our chinny-chin-chins, Matt was our only artist. While I did do all the coloring, letter, half of the writing, and all of the graphic design… I feared venturing out of my comfort zone. Because Matt is very much my brother from another mother, he had no fear looking me in the eye and calling me out – get drawing, or die trying. I did get a BFA with a concentration in drawing and printmaking. I did know how to draw. But my fear that a comic creator worth his salt had to be able to work without reference kept me clinging to those tasks I was more than qualified for. Long story short, I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact that I could make sequential panel art that I was satisfied with (as in: I’m happy with it, but I’d never be one to say it’s anything more than passable)… so long as I had reference for literally everything I’d need to draw.
So when we created the Samurnauts, we needed models. Lucky for me, I am wealthy with friends. Even luckier: many of them are naturally gifted and funny folks willing to become super heroes and zombie-cyborg space pirates for the price of some pizza and access to my cache of Nerf weaponry. With each comic we create, Unshaven Comics open-casts our way through each part, and rents out a local venue that will leave us alone long enough to literally stage each panel, and capture it on digital film. Thank Rao we have no shame acting like 13 year-olds around each other.
And, after a few short hours of contorting, twisting, punching, kicking, nerfing, and general whackado, we break so that we Unshaven Lads can return to our lair for the next portion of comic creation.
Sage Advice I Was Once Given
“Learn to highlight your strengths and hide your weaknesses from the public eye. But behind the scenes, never stop learning or challenging yourself to overcome those things you fear. If you can’t draw hands, then you need to draw them everyday until you no longer fret over them. You’ll never have to love your work – you’ll just need to be able to live with it.”
And next week…
… I’ll pull the curtain back even further in a chapter I like to call “Your Mother’s A Tracer!”