Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Illustration Experimentation-Book Illustration and Copic Markers

So, ever since Fall Con I've been wanting to give the Copic markers a more serious shot. But I also thought it would be a good opportunity to try out some book illustration. So I worked up some spots for a favorite story of mine, Neil Gaiman's 'October in the Chair,' and here are a couple of the results.

The story involves the months of the year gathering to tell each other stories. Since it is October's month, he is presiding, but Gaiman gives the remaining months intriguing and unique characteristics. Above is an illustration of May, who bears a slight resemblance to Desire from Gaiman's 'Sandman' comics. The description of the character in 'October' matched Desire fairly well, so I wasn't afraid of the influence.

From here I took a sheet of layout bond paper, and working over the inks, I created layers of tones using the Copic markers. I was using a combination of cool gray, neutral gray, and warm gray.
In Photoshop, I lay the inks over the tone layer. Just one problem: I'm not satisfied with the color. It feels lifeless to me.So, I pulled the tone layer into another layer, grayscaled it, then switched it to a duotone setting, and after some messing around, brought it back to the original document. Much better! I chose some autumnal colors in the duotone setting since this is October's story, and it created a much better atmosphere for the image, and a palette to use for the other images.

Now let's see this with another spot illustration, this time for June (who I loosely based on one of my former grad school colleagues). June is described as a little shy, and fearful of the woods, hence the overpowering nature of the environment.

Here's the tone layer, prior to duotone shading.

And here's the final June image. I narrowed the image to give more emphasis on the trees, and to draw the eye to June a little more.

Hope you enjoyed the process breakdown! There will be more of these down the road.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reading Comics-Batman: Dark Victory

Believe it or not, Robin is a hard character to deal with in a serious, noir way. He's a kid with a colorful costume, with quips that reflect this. The only way he fits in with the Batman mythos in any significant way is his origin, his two circus gymnast parents being killed during a performance. The who and why of this, however, changes in each writer's hands.

To their credit, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale do a good job bringing Robin into their vision of Gotham City in Dark Victory, their follow-up to The Long Halloween. Set a year after the end of that series, which found the crime boss Carmine Falcone dead by the hands of former DA Harvey Dent, and the serial killer Holiday behind bars, Batman now has to contend with a new serial killer in Gotham, the organized crime families fighting for their survival against the costumed 'freaks,' and a new DA with questionable allegiances.

Victory continues the various 'Godfather' references included in TLH, although they aren't as heavy handed this time around. A new Falcone son appears, named Mario, thus completing the triumvirate of Corleone references, (Mario=Michael, Sofia=Sonny, Alberto=Fredo). Mario, however, is attempting to make the family legitimate, with little help from his siblings or the other crime families. The new serial killer continues in the vein of Holiday by striking once a month, but this time targets cops and former cops, and pins a version of the hang man game on them. Frank Miller's and David Mazzuchelli's Year One proves ripe for this 'game,' with the former commissioner and corrupt cops becoming victims to the killer. In some ways, this serial killer is more imaginative than Holiday, but Loeb and Sale don't provide the suspense and pacing that they did in TLH. The mystery feels like a sub-plot to the main plot, which revolves around the battle between the mafia and the freaks.

In this, Dent, now Two-Face, becomes the de facto leader of characters like the Joker, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy, but his aim is still the same as his former self, to take down the Falcones. His personality becomes a hinge for the plot, split between his devotion to his now-absent wife and the new DA Janice Porter, to the law and his now rengade status. He continually tries to prove that he is not the Hang Man Killer, but is continually reminding his former allies Batman and Jim Gordon that things cannot go back to the way they once were. The other 'freaks' don't get the same thorough treatment as he does, although Loeb and Sale still bring interesting facets to them. Mr. Freeze and Penguin finally enter the picture, Poison Ivy makes a pass at Two-Face (only to be surprisingly rebuffed), and the Joker proves to be a volatile force, particularly at the end.

As for Batman, a continual phrase he uses is 'I am alone.' Due to his self-inflicted guilt for Harvey Dent's fate, he becomes isolated from those who he grew to trust. He no longer feels connected to Gordon and the police, especially since DA Porter does not trust him. His lack of commitment loses both Catwoman in his costumed persona, and Selina Kyle in his Bruce Wayne persona. The one person to snap him out of this is Alfred, the one father figure he has in his life. And the one true bond he can make is with Dick Grayson.

I've long wondered why this is, and fortunately Loeb provides the best rationale I've encountered. Bruce Wayne is essentially in a state of arrested development, he is still a young boy chasing down the man who killed his parents. This is a tragedy that he hasn't been able to overcome, but it has become the only focus in his life. Grayson shares the same situation, a zeal to go after the two bit gangsters that were responsible for his parents deaths. Batman helps him overcome this in a way that was absent to him, becoming a mentor to the young boy and channeling his aggression. And Loeb and Sale also give the Robin costume meaning, a memorial to the Grayson parents. They avoid the questionable associations that have so long plagued the duo, and instead they resemble Ogami Itto and his son in the Japanese manga Lone Wolf and Cub.

While Dark Victory may not be superior to The Long Halloween, it is an equal. Sale's artwork continues to amaze and surpasses his previous work, becoming more fluid and gestural (although his Joker is borderline weird). And Loeb provides not only a great plot, but moving moments as well, such as when a young Bruce Wayne's experience of entering his parents bedroom after their deaths is contrasted with a similar experience shared by Dick Grayson. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have officially made their mark on the Batman mythos, an influence that won't fade for quite some time.

Candidates, one more time...and a sort of endorsement...

I wasn't terribly pleased with my first illustration of Barack Obama, so I attempted a second one, something that would complement the John McCain one I did better. Above is the new one, below is the old one, and the McCain one.

My aim with these isn't to tear either candidate apart. They're more caricature exercises , as well as pen and ink exercises. I've never been very good at dealing with politics in my work, or maybe it is because I don't want to appear partisan.

(And now, to contradict myself...)

But I will say right now that I've supported Obama since his primary campaign, and will continue to do so beyond Election Day, whether or not he wins. I simply think that he is the best candidate for this time, someone who can bring an intelligence and wisdom to the office of President. I think his energy policy has a long term strategy to it, instead of the short term 'drill now and forever' thinking that has taken over the Republican party. And I think his level-headedness will do well for domestic and foreign policy, a steady hand to bring us through the problems at hand. More than anything, I think he will bring a new perspective, a new set of eyes that haven't been jaded by the political and cultural battles that have burdened us for the past 30 years.

Unfortunately, this appears to be turning into another identity election, one where people are voting based on their insecurities and fears, and not upon the issues that face us today and tomorrow. Lies and misperceptions are being spread, and the spectre of the '60's is rearing its ugly head. How long will this ugly and despicable decade continue to haunt our politics? One which started with so much promise, and ended with death and carnage? Why can't older generations just let it go, and move on to what faces us down the road?

That's my two cents, for what it's worth.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Fall Con Sketches 2008

As with any convention, there are always sketches, and this Fall Con 2008 was no exception. This year was kind of a mixture of my own characters, and better known heroes and villains. Below are some of the highlights:

Doctor Octopus

Spidey and MJ
(note to self: don't try to draw Spider-Man with a nose. It looks awkward.)

Sara Reynolds from 'The Ballad of Toby & Sara'

Toby Jazynski from 'The Ballad of Toby & Sara'
Poison Ivy and Batman
My favorite sketch of the convention. Gene Ha, an amazing artist I was sitting next to, was kind enough to let me try out his Copic markers for shading, and it amazed me how much it added to the depth and detail of the sketch.