So the book we’ve been building for the past two weeks (starting here) has now been plotted and all visual resources gathered. What else is left to do? Oh yeah. Draw the damned thing! You know, that big step that takes a bunch of words on a page and interestingly shapes them into visual communication of plot, character, nuance, and depth. It’s the thing that makes our medium truly special. Like a movie, but slaved over a single moment in time, at a time.
OK kiddos. Time to wear my heart on my sleeve. For all my piss and vinegar, pomp and circumstance, beard and bite, I have long hidden my entire creative process from prying eyes. Why? Because I’m man enough to admit for a very long time, I was ashamed of it. As noted last week, when Matt informed me I should either poop or get off the toilet (when it came to contributing to Unshaven Comics). I accepted his challenge. But I did so on my terms. I would use every trick in the book of my professional life as a graphic designer. I’d be fine to draw… so long as I could cheat. Let me peel back now exactly how I cheat – and in doing so end up with a finished product I am proud to attach my name to.
Picture Perfect Illustration
As we covered before, at the point I’m ready to illustrate I already have the entire comic page and panel layout. Simply enough, I open up my first page in Adobe Illustrator and get familiar with what I’ll be drawing. I then open the cache of photo references taken prior, and drop in the appropriate references in for the panel I’m building. I then drop the opacity down, and then I… I…
There. I said it. It’s out there. And it can’t be taken back. With it being said though, I sternly suggest that what I end up doing is far more than tracing. When I make my mark in Illustrator, it’s tied to my pressure sensitive Wacom tablet. And the brush tools I use to make my lines have been custom built and tweaked by me to give me the line I envision in my head when I make my mark via the computer. Furthermore, anyone who traces learns quickly that every line – especially in comics – is crucial to personal style as well as building the right form. And when one works in a photorealistic style, line choice is the difference between making someone look their age or 40 years older. Line weight, and composition come into play. A thicker line can be used to separate forms, as well as add depth to flat objects. To the point: I trace, but I trace with a degree in fine art, and knowledge that I could replicate the results without tracing – just in twice the amount of time. Time I could be spending making more comics.
Building A World That Doesn’t Exist
Aside from using my photo references for the actual characters in The Samurnauts, no doubt you’ll note that they don’t fight zombie-cyborg pirates from space in a vacuum. Well, OK, sometimes they do. But you get my drift. Furthermore, as hard as we’ve tried Unshaven Comics has yet to procure a humanoid-monkey hybrid capable of performing kung-fu that we could afford. Nor have we any advanced degrees in cybernetic technology. And beyond all that, we don’t live in a futuristic city, have giant robots, or even own laser swords or shoulder mounted cannons. Lucky for me, I own an imagination and can afford to commission 3-D models of the props needed to flesh out each panel in our comic that I’m responsible for.
Much like staging for TV or movies, I am firm believer in building only what you have to show. When there’s need to show more, we show more. Matt, as the antithesis to my mantra, lives for building out sketches in every angle. And that of course leads me to the other half of this story:
Matt Wright. Penciler, Inker, Craft Beer Drinker.
Here I was spending all my precious time standing on my soapbox, defending my process to the masses… and I forgot that I only constitute 50% of the content of each issue of The Samunauts! Whilst I toil at my computer with photos, 3-D models, and a second screen of Google images, Matt Wright is doing things the traditional way. With a blank page, a dark basement, and a pile of actual art tools, Matt’s half of The Samurnauts is made the way you’d think all comics should be made. While Matt will keep reference materials at arms length, he typically draws from the figures and fantasies that lie betwixt his ears. It’s a skill I sadly lost literally within moments of meeting Matt, back in sixth grade.
So, Matt’s process is thus: light blue pencil gestures within pre-planned panels, followed by heavier pencils to clarify form and details, followed by finished pencil artwork. After every page has been penciled to his liking, Matt will then take to his ink and brush to lay out blacks and grey tones. As his sequences in our books typically encapsulate the past, Matt has explored a variety of media – gouache, water color, copic marker, and ink washes – to create the weathered, nostalgic look. As most people see upon viewing of the completed comic note, the juxtaposition of Matt’s well-rendered fine art mixes with the sterile, cel-animation-esque digital art I contribute. At the end of the day, it’s an aesthetic we’re proud is wholly ours, serves a purpose in our story telling, and is truly unique within the artist alleys we frequent.
Sage Advice I was Once Given
“Celebrate your successes, but cherish your failures. It’s only when we lose do we learn to win.”
And a personal favorite: “You think your fans care that it took you two-hundred hours to make that book in their hand? Hardly. All they care about is if it’s actually worth the time you invested in it.”
After this, it’s on to the finishes – flatting, coloring, lettering, and the cover. We’ll cover that (natch) next week… in our epic conclusion!