Step 1 is always, ALWAYS the script. If the foundation of the thing I'm about to draw is brilliant, then my job is *so* much easier. It'll be a cake walk. If it's a piece of turd...well, I can only put so much candy sprinkles on it, but in the end it's just turd. In this case, since it's Joe Casey helming the story, it goes without mentioning that the story was going to be whole lot of walking of the cake.
So, Step 1. Here's a sample page of Joe's script. And it's obvious I'm an idiot because rather than making this an easier demo to understand (and thusly making it easy on myself) by choosing a script page that had ALL of the panel descriptions on it (like, Page 3 for example), where you can read what Joe wrote versus how I translated that into pictures, I instead went and chose Page 4 - which cuts off at Panel 2 and continues onto the next page. But I swear, I stayed really faithful to what Joe wrote and tried my best to draw the shot that will achieve maximum effect. You're going have to trust me on this one. I am, after all, an artist.
I've circled in red the super-rough thumbnails that I did for Page 4 and if you notice, I did two versions of Panel 5 because I decided the original rough would be better suited for the first panel on Page 5: IM dive-bombing out of the sky towards ol' Mandarin.
Onto Step 2. I should have scanned and uploaded an even rougher stage of this page layout...you know, when the pencils were a lot rougher so you can actually see the construction lines and the early stages of my thought process. But in all honesty, I didn't think about doing this little tutorial until I was halfway inking the second panel. We're all just going to have to get over that. Oh, and there goes them pesky thick panel borders again. "Why so thick?" you ask. Because to me, it's my way of 'containing' the shot. I know it's probably just as effective in the traditional sense with the standard border line width. But in my mind, it feels like a shot from a movie. It makes it feel more solid; the shot starts here and it ends here. That may not make any sense to anyone else, but that's my reasoning behind that.
My job is to try to immerse the reader into the story that Joe has crafted and that I'm trying to illustrate and I think on a subliminal level, I'm trying to guide the audience by defining the parameters of the scene that they're looking at. So in my head it goes something like this:
Here's a shot of IM blowing out the roof of Mandarin's palace. [STOP] Here's Mandarin in his throne room as he looks up at IM flying off screen, debris falling and smoke all around him. [STOP] Now Mandarin fires his rings upward at IM. [STOP]
And so on. The easier I make it for an audience to understand and read what I'm trying to say, the more immersive, the more convincing the experience. If they stop and think, "What the hell is happening from here to here? I don't know what that character is doing from this panel to this panel?" then I've lost them, I did a terrible job of telling the writer's story and I should go back slinging BBQ ribs.
I try to maintain a simple and clear approach to my panel to panel work - something I've carried over from my storyboarding for animation experience, where simple and clear storytelling is paramount (big thanks to all the directors I've ever had the chance to work for, who beat me up over this point) - and it's also one of the main reasons why I don't break panels. Well, at least not for this IM story. I think they're distracting and it can sometimes get in the way of clarity. But that's just me and I believe there are greater storytellers out there who can pull it off just fine. I ain't one of 'em. Now that I mention it, a recent, overly-hyped comic book just came out that was the penultimate example of muddy, Wilco Tango Foxtrot storytelling - and it reminded me once again that fancy layouts and breaking panels doesn't help if you don't know what you're doing and you're not helping advance the story. But I digress.
Anyhoo, Step 3. Once I've thought all of that out, tightened up the pencils to the point where I'm satisfied and I feel like there's little second guessing involved, I start to ink: the best part of my job. And the part where I think the whole thing comes together. I ink the most difficult part first (at least in my mind, anyway) and that usually means anything that has a technical line to it. Buildings, structures, interiors and exteriors, cars, boats, planes, effects, smoke, and so on. I leave the 'juicy' stuff for later because...well...it's the juicy stuff. Duh. I try to stay as systematic with the order in which I ink the panels because from time to time, when I do them *out* of order, I find out later that I've included a detail in the 4th panel (which I inked first) that I didn't put in the 1st panel (which I inked last). I think I'd catch those little slip-ups if I go about it in chronological order. That's all theory, of course - things always manage to slip through the cracks. In this issue for example, IM doesn't have seams in his helmet as I've drawn them only one issue previous. I'll have to remedy that in subsequent pages, but if Marvel were still giving out No-Prizes you'd be anxiously waiting for yours. Kudos.
Step 4: Inkers don't trace. You've heard that whole rigmarole, yeah? So I'm not going to get into that right now, but honestly - they don't. I, however, *DO* trace, so I'm no inker. I trace my pencils as faithfully as I can (because why did I bother to put them there in the first place if I didn't believe in them) and I do my best to not make a complete ass of myself to the guys who actually know what they're looking at. It's all a sham because real, professional inkers also don't use water soluble brush pens. But as I've already confessed, I'm no inker.
The point I'm trying to make is that I don't do my pencils very tight. I know enough of my own shorthand that going into too much precise detail is just going to slow me down. I put just enough information in pencil to cue myself up for whatever I'm supposed to do in ink later. That may be different from project to project, but I've been blessed to have the opportunity to ink my own junk. Most of the time to the image's detriment, but c'est la vie.
I do try to pay attention to light sources and how they will affect my rendering. That's important to me because I believe it gives my images weight and grounds them in the scene that I'm drawing. So for example, if the explosion happens behind IM and I light him like the light source is in front of him, I've completely defeated the point/effect of that explosion and that doesn't help by way of convincing the audience that his surroundings are affecting him. It doesn't 'ground' him in that shot. Make sense? No? Tough.
I also don't fill in all my black areas with a solid black because I believe that it kills the energy of my work. I steal a lot from Benoit Springer (who?) and Claire Wendling's (duh!) work and I've found that is one aspect of their styles/work that I gravitate to most - their ability to translate into pen what they had put down with pencil - and I try to emulate that with what little skill I have at my disposal.
The rest of this stuff is just more of the same - me inking the panels as I go. In this case, I'm sure I didn't have to do them in order, but I've gotten into the habit of doing so and much like Pavlov's dogs, I do it again and again when I hear a bell ring. Heh.
Seriously folks, that's just *my* process and by no means am I preaching it as the way to go. But for me, when I draw, everything comes down to discipline and proficiency. I need to have a life that doesn't jockey a drafting table for 24 hours and if this is the way to do it where I'm spending an hour less a day doing so, then I stick to it. Which is ultimately misleading because I don't have much of a life outside the drafting table. When I'm not drawing IM, I'm drawing for the new Ben10 and when I'm not doing that, I'm drawing those 90 minute bastards. It's sad. I know. I'm going to meetings.
This last step is me taking out all the color from the image (I don't typically scan the image in color when I send it to Marvel, but for the purposes of this demo, I thought it would be necessary to do so). BTW, have I mentioned how much I despise my rough pencil work and to exhibit them in this fashion makes my skin crawl like the first time a saw garbage can full of squirming maggots? Yeah - like that.
So when I scan the page to upload to the FTP, I do so in grayscale (or for the UK audience, 'greyscale' - har!) into Photoshop, adjusted using the 'Brightness/Contrast' feature in order to get all the sketch lines out, and cleaned up here and there, ready for Dave Stewart's color magic.
Obviously (or maybe not so) there are so many more things that go into the process - shot selection, storytelling beats that I consider, when and when *NOT* to break the 180 degree line of action, environment and prop design and other things like that.
All of that leads me to the point that I wanted to get to earlier before this tutorial/primer. And here is that point:
On February 21-23, in an Illustration and Art Forum that will be held at the SAVANNAH COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN (Atlanta), I will be in a panel and doing workshops with the likes of ANDREW ROBINSON, JAMES JEAN, and YUKO SHIMIZU (god, I hope I spelled that name right). First of all, I'm excited as hell to be invited and a great many thanks goes out to SHAWN CRYSTAL (cartoonist and art professor at said college) for extending such an invitation to me. I am honored. Second, I'm completely baffled as to why I'm there associating myself with the prestigious artists that I've mentioned. I mean, if you want to talk about illustrators in the truest sense of the word, those are they - and I don't know exactly what I'm doing there. I mean, I'm like Christian Leattner in the '92 Men's Olympic Basketball Dream Team. "Hey, there's Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and Larry Bird! Awesome! And...um...there's a guy who got a gold medal by association! Cool!"
I'm not sure if the SCAD people put it up on their calendar yet, but I'm hoping they will soon and as soon as Shawn gives me the heads-up I'll be sure to announce it in further detail on this here blog.
If you can, please drop by... I'd really appreciate it. I don't know exactly what the technicalities are in order to attend the event (this is my first time doing this - Christian Laettner, remember?), but I'm praying there's enough of you who actually know me from that school and area that are interested in what I have to say so that I won't make a complete goober of myself when I start to talk shop with guys and gals who obviously know more about visual storytelling than I ever will (you want proof?...look at the blog I just wrote). And hopefully I won't choke up when it's my turn to talk next to the ROCKSTARS that I mentioned above.
Oh wait! Hey...see?! I'm doing stuff! I'm getting away from the office and drafting table and doing stuff! Haha! I'm not such a sack of sad after all! Suck on that, fate!