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 three
planning a comicbook cover

ideas and approaches

A few years ago I told Dennis Eichhorn I wanted to do a cover for his autobiographical comic, Real Stuff (Fantagraphics Books). He put me off. All the past cover artists had been a Who´s Who of the best-known alternative cartoonists, including Peter Bagge, Jaime Hernandez, and Charles Burns. I just wasn't famous enough. Yet I knew I could do a cover that held up to the others, maybe because I wasn't famous. Real Stuff was a regular venue for me whereas a more famous cartoonist might have felt like he was slumming by doing a cover and not have put as much into it.

Real Stuff Panels

Art by (left to right) Paul Bryan, J.R. Williams, and Toani Rytohonka.

fig 1

A few panels from various stories in Real Stuff #17, sent to me by Dennis Eichhorn.

Although it was pretty much a throwaway story in the magazine,
Strange Dreams, in which a greaser repeatedly chokes Boy Denny into oblivion, seemed perfect fodder for a punchy cover.


Eichhorn eventually asked me to do a cover. It would be issue number 17, and a few of the stories were already drawn. Denny sent me copies (fig 1).
The stories were late in Real Stuff's run, and Eichhorn was a supporting character in most of them. Yet, the essence of Real Stuff for me was Eichhorn´s life and the things that had happened to him. I wanted to feature him. In the pile of copies there was a little story about how Denny lifts weights as a form of revenge because he got softened-up by a bunch of greasers on the playlot when he was a kid. I had drawn Denny at nearly every age, but never as kid. None of the other issues had a cover depicting Eichhorn in childhood, so I knew this would make my cover different.

Real Stuff Cover Rough

fig 2

I gave away all my color roughs for this cover, so I can only show the final sketch I settled on.
In my
Real Stuff work I always drew Eichhorn without eyes, using the big bubbly reflections in his glasses to denote expressions and almost to depict him as a cartoon icon like Little Orphan Annie. I would count on those reflections in his glasses to make it clear that the kid getting strangled was Denny.

I started sketching color roughs. An interview I read with Jim Woodring gave me inspiration. Jim is a dedicated artist who values discipline. He also appreciates craftsmanship and the idea of stretching to make an ambitious drawing, as opposed to the usual "alternative cartoonist" notion that art should be whatever comes easily or hits you in the moment. He articulated these values in the interview, as he does by example again and again in his own work. I did three color roughs and settled on the one I knew would really push me but where the extra ambition would pay off in extra impact (fig 2). Tricky drawing that doesn't serve the story is just self-indulgent. Norman Rockwell was one of the great cover artists of all time. Not only was his stuff cartoonish, but he managed to tell entire stories in a single image, and with maximum impact. Everything in his painting served the storytelling. A good comic cover does the same thing. If you think back to Carl Barks or all those great old Superman covers they have a lot in common with Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers — goofy but clever stories told with a single punchy image.

I wanted a Rockwell-like design for this cover, but with anti-Rockwellian subject matter. I chose a birdseye angle because it emphasized Eichhorn´s helplessness and created a voyeuristic effect. It's a tough angle. I´d have to use tracing paper to get it right.

initial drawing

fig 3

The first version of the cover penciled out onto tracing paper.

I resisted the strong temptation to photograph this situation and project it with a lucigraph. That would be a crass use of technology.

Some adjustments were yet to come to keep the figures from looking as squashed as they do here. I knew from the start that this drawing would be difficult, but I also knew that if it turned out well it would be something I really liked.


Tracing Paper Pencils
I've heard stories from people who'd seen Jack Kirby draw. He was incredibly fast, and by all accounts the image seemed to pour from the tip of his pencil. He told people that he saw the drawing fully formed in his mind's eye before setting pencil to paper, so in effect he was replaying, or "tracing," a mentally-complete image.

I have to use tracing paper. In the case of an important image, like a big magazine illustration or a comic cover, I´ll work the drawing out piece by piece on tracing paper. I'm just not good enough to draw straight on the board. In this case I drew the greaser first. Then I overlaid another piece of tracing paper and drew Eichhorn. I had made his torso too short, so I shoved that piece of tracing paper down, taped the two pieces together, and traced them both onto a third large piece. As I trace, I move the image I'm tracing to adjust proportions and to position everything exactly where I want it. In the end, I wind up with a final penciled piece of art on tracing paper (fig 3). Next, I transfer that image onto my illustration board.

Suggested Drill: Don't Just Sit There

When I find myself spacing out in front of the TV, I grab my sketchbook. By quickly sketching thumbnails of the shot compositions on the screen, I solve future layout problems and develop my design skills.

Cartoonists have the huge burden of drawing from imagination all the time. These TV sketches add a lot of depth to future panels by adding elements
shadows, fixtures, framing that you could never just `make up.´ It's especially difficult to show two people talking for panel after panel. Movies deal with this problem all the time.

The Ford and Welles type pictures with moody, lingering shots (so you have time to draw them) are best. So put down that beer and pick up that pencil!

Screen Shot Sketches

I flip the tracing paper over and trace the image on the reverse side using a soft pencil. During this process I have the luxury of working on a mirror image of my art. If you ever want a cold look at all the flaws in your drawing, hold it up to a mirror. The mirror image reveals wonkiness and asymmetry that you don't see when you view the picture the "right" way. This is because (in my unscientific view) there are biases in how we render things that we accept too readily because we're used to seeing them and don't question how true they are. While I trace on the reverse side of the tracing paper, I see these flaws and fix them as I trace.

I then center the page on a piece of illustration board, tape it down, and retrace the front once again. This transfers a light impression of the graphite from the reverse of the tracing paper onto the board. I clean this up and repencil it one more time for my final pencil art, which I then ink with my Winsor Newton Series 7 #3 brush and ancient bottle of Higgins Black Magic which I've left open for a while to evaporate the fluid out and make it thicker and darker.

next page: finishing the cover





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