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cover illustration process


process contents

section 1: pages
• chapter one: planning a page of The Spirit
chapter two: drawing a page of The Spirit

section 2: covers
chapter three: planning a comicbook cover
chapter four: making the final cover
chapter five: making a comicbook back cover

section 3: computer coloring NEW!
chapter six: the line art scan
• chapter seven: the color art
chapter eight: color and design

section one
chapter one
planning a page of
The Spirit: The New Adventures 7

breaking down the pages

My longtime collaborator Dennis P. Eichhorn and I did a Spirit story for Kitchen Sink. Denny worked up a synopsis after quickly reading several issues of Will Eisner's Spirit reprints. This was his first encounter with the Spirit, so it's a testament to his writing skills that Denny captured the subtle aspects of Eisner's story style, humor, and characterizations.

Spirit Script 

fig 1

I start by breaking Eichhorn's script into panel sections to time the story, decide on optimal page breaks, and figure out the final page count.

"3A1" refers to page 3, tier A, panel 1. Page 3 is used in the example Figures 4-8 below.

I set out breaking the story down my usual way. Eichhorn provided a full script with a panel by panel description. I usually change this breakdown so each character depicted in a panel speaks only once. Unless it's unavoidable, I don't like for the character on the left to speak first, then to speak again after the character to the right answers. If they each speak only once per panel, the reader's eye doesn't have to travel backward to the first character, which stagnates the story. As a result, my breakdown usually generates more panels than Denny plans for. I also throw in silent panels to establish "beats" in the story pace, plus I like to plan for a splash page.

Eichhorn planned for a story seven or eight pages long. After going through the text (fig 1), I came up with 11 pages of what was to be densely framed art.

fig 2

My Spirit is loosely based on golfer Sam Snead (left) and my Dolan is loosely based on golfer Bobby Jones (right).

Spirit References 

Next I gather references. For this page I needed costume designs for the Spirit and Dolan (fig 2), circa-1950 golf clubs, Wildwood Cemetery, and the Spirit's home there. For the rest of the story I needed an air gun, an old American windmill, golf course landscapes, a hot air balloon — on and on.

My friends on the Kirby and Eisner mailing lists (don't laugh) helped me with Spirit minutiae. My daughter Lucie (six years) designed Ellen Dolan's outfit (fig 3).

Next comes the business of designing pages.

Lucie's Spirit

Fig 3

My daughter Lucie (six yrs) often draws at my side. Here she shows Ellen Dolan and the Spirit playing golf. Notice the Octopus' balloon hovering ominously in the upper left!

Lucie designed Ellen Dolan's wardrobe for my story.


Fig 4

Page 3 of the Spirit story is roughed out with markers to indicate everything from panel breakdown to black spotting. Full text balloons are included to make sure that they fit and that it "reads" properly.

The basic layout made it to the final art intact, except for the lower left panel, which was changed to show the Spirit climbing out of the ground in his cemetery home, instead of walking through a door

Using markers on typing bond I hack out rough layouts complete with balloons (fig 4). After laying out the entire page with a fine-point Sharpie, I slash in the black spotting with a fatter marker.

For this project, I stuck closely to these guides. As bad as they look, it's hard to underestimate the importance of even the crudest "roughs." If you try to approach the pages without them you're setting yourself up for too many arduous decisions that complicate the technical challenge of drawing. Guys like Steve Rude or Mark Badger actually project their roughs up to final art size and re-pencil them, while I just use them to gauge where I'm headed with a page design. The true use of thumbnails is that you draw them at the closest possible speed to the speed at which the comic will be read by your audience. They are your best shot at drawing something almost "as you read it"— so they are the
spontaneous spine of your storytelling.

Denny's Eyeball

Eichhorn, Dennis P.
Golf Eyeball Figurine
2.25", 1998

Whenever I work on a story with Denny he sends keepsake gifts that tie into our story's subject or locale. Sometimes he makes them himself, like this transformed golf ball rattle, in honor of The Spirit.

I have a shelf in my studio full of
Denny΄s souvenirs

next page: doing the final art




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