process section 2
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coloring 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 two
chapter four
making the final cover

refinements and
analog coloring

The publisher of this project, Kim Thompson, wanted a color image of my cover for use in a catalogue. I took the art to a stat house and had them make a film positive. I then painted the back of that with Cel Vinyl animation paint, a technique I picked up from cartoonists Mary Fleener and Wayno (fig 4). Cel Vinyl looks great. It has those plasticky Eurostyle colors I love, but it's tough to paint on actual film with, even though that's what it's designed for. You have to kind of pool it on. Also, if you want some shading or any color on top of another color, you have to lay the colors on in reverse order, because you're painting on the back of your image. It's an awful way to work. I'm glad Wayne and Mary like it.

First Pass Colors

fig 4

The temporary color version I submitted for the Fantagraphics catalogue. All the colors were too dark and the image lacked focus. Eichhorn looked like The Boy With No Legs. The matchbook in the upper left seemed like the focus, and rightfully so it was the only part of the drawing I liked.

I placed the logo behind the greaser's back, which relieved some of the flatness and brought dimension to the image.

Kim seemed to like the piece. I didn't like it so well. I saw lots of little problems with it. I had inked the greaser's hair in a way I liked, but the dark brown I colored it with obscured all the inking. The coloring in general was off. Also, the emptiness of the image started to bug me. It had nothing holding it together, just these two figures floating out in the middle, looking like some kind of bizarre spider. Where were Denny´s legs? The final art wasn't due for a while, so I left it alone and tried to think of ways to improve on it.

I finally decided the drawing would be more creepy (and accurate) if a bunch of kids were just standing there watching this bigger kid strangling Denny. That's how I always remember it going on the schoolyard. A ring of shoes around the top would add depth and tension. I also added legs to Denny. Now I had something much closer to what I wanted. I moved all the little matchbooks and combs on the ground to suit the new layout. And this time I was going to color it on a blueline like a civilized person.

Ring of Feet 

fig 5

I used my own shoes and pants as reference for all the feet I added to the top of the cover. There's nothing like the extra realism you get from using true reference. It's also fun to see your own stuff in a picture.

It's tough to draw feet splayed around in random directions. Another job for tracing paper.

Bluelines are obsolete now that computer coloring is everywhere. In the old system you'd have a positive and a negative made of your art, then you'd sandwich the negative between a piece of glass and a piece of chemically-treated illustration board. You'd expose this whole mess to sunlight, and a non-photo blue image of your art would burn onto the illustration board. You'd hand color the blue image, register your black film positive over it, and voilà — a painted cover. Nowadays you do this same thing, but all digitally. Process Section 3 gives detailed steps for the digital method. If you want a real handpainted look to your art, though, I still recommend the old analog procedure described here.

fig 6 The feet and Denny´s legs added with tracing paper.

Almost Finished


fig 7 Final inked art

Final inks

fig 8 Cel vinyl colors on the blueline.

Final Colors

Notice how pale the colors look without the black ink line. The ink line contributes much of the darkness and contrast to a cartoon image. To adjust for this while painting, you have to continually flip your line art film down over the painting to make sure your color values are right. This causes wet cel vinyl to splotch the back of the positive, which you then have the pleasure of removing, painstakingly, with a Q-Tip and alcohol.

fig 9 The printed cover.

Real Stuff 17 Cover

Employees of comic book publishers (especially alternative publishers) aren't always the most professional bunch. More often, they are fans, with few editorial or artistic credentials and little quality-control sense. Pat Moriarity, Fantagraphics´ art director from this period, was an exception. He made the Fantagraphics comics look great. In this case he placed the logo and matched its colors perfectly to the elements in the art, giving the cover its final polish.

next page: doing the back cover





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