I just recently completed an 8 issue run on a DC Comics’ comic book series called Amethyst (the comic was actually called “Sword of Sorcery featuring Amethyst). In many ways this was the most challenging series I have ever worked on. One big reason was I had to design (or in this case, re-design) everything that appeared in the comic. Characters, costumes, cities, palaces, ruins, weapons and strange creatures and animals were all elements that had to be created seemingly on every page! The writer, Christy Marx, did a fine job of spelling out what she was looking for (many times with visual aides) so it made it a little easier on me when conceptualizing the characters and environments.
The biggest challenge for me, however, was the actual drawing itself. Not only was almost every panel crammed with detail but the book was not inked. In old school terms, the book was “shot from my pencils”. In a more modern vernacular, it was digitally inked. I think this is a bit of a misnomer because all I really did was scan my pencils, try my best to clean them up and then darken them. Hardly rocket science and hardly inking. But the real challenge was penciling tight enough and clean enough for reproduction.
This is how I did it. First, I would draw a small thumbnail that was just basic layouts for the page. This stage is basically thinking on paper and almost every artist will do this to establish the storytelling on the page before getting into the actual finished drawing. I then took a sheet of 11X17 20lb copy paper and drew my page. This stage is no more than a glorified rough. Here are some examples.
As you can see from these pages that all of the figure work is there although not always completely detailed. The perspective lines and backgrounds, however, are all there and in most cases very detailed. This stage allows me to establish the figures and backgrounds without having to erase anything. As you can see at times I use a blue pencil for the under drawing and others just plain pencil or sometimes a combination of both. After this stage is complete to my satisfaction, I take the page put it on the light table and then trace it onto the actual DC art board.
The backgrounds will get traced with exact detail so I don’t have to do any work on them on the finished board. The form of the figures get traced onto the art board without much detail. That I will add once the tracing is complete. Here are the same pages in final finished pencil.
The reason I use this rather convoluted approach is to keep the finished art as clean as possible. When a page is inked all of the extra smudges and guidelines and under drawing is erased so all you have left is the clean ink line. When scanning from pencils, all of that needs to be eliminated as well but it obviously can’t be done by erasing! So keeping the finished pencils as clean and tight as possible is extremely important.
So as you can see, I was basically drawing every page twice to get to the finished art. Not the most efficient was to do things. It was very labor intensive and time consuming, which led me to promise myself I would never do this again! I guess we’ll see how long my memory is…..