Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dreams Part 2

ONE REASON I POSTPONED writing The Subterranean was I wasn't sure it would work in scratchboard. Michel de Montaigne suggested the path to success was to create within a genre but in a new way. It occurred to me that I'd never seen a superhero comic done in scratchboard and it might be something new I could bring to the medium. I soon found there are good reasons artists have avoided scratchboard–it lends a fantastic mood but it's a lot of work!

In the second page of Cypher featuring The Subterranean he ruminates on his anger management issues. His personality hasn't changed much in the new version. He might be even angrier. Click twice on the image below to get a super close-up view (to read the text in the balloons):

Book of Dreams

THE SUBTERRANEAN APPEARED in Cypher in the last story entitled SubWayward. It is the most personal in a collection of highly personal, surreal stories. The protagonist is given a book (entitledDreams) and as he thumbs through the book he finds it's a comic book about a superhero called The Subterranean. The theme of the story is about how subconscious thoughts percolate up through our consciousness. A friend told me it was a cool idea and that I should illustrate an entire comic of The Subterranean.

At the time I was concerned about finishing the sequel to Cypher and I dismissed the Subterranean project. Cypher is a more cartoon version of reality and I wasn't thinking of The Subterranean as a realistic super hero. When I started doing the sequel to Cypher eight months ago The Subterranean completely took over and soon evolved into a realistic comic book in a scratchboard style.

Poe Story

IF YOU ARE AN EDGAR ALLAN POE FAN you may be interested in the new anthology from Graphic Classics. I did a 14 page story entitled Man of the Crowd. Perhaps not the best known story but it is an example of Poe's manic style. As always it was a real pleasure working with Graphic Classics on a comics project of this stature. Perhaps most important for me is that it was another color assignment. Another step forward in creating The Subterranean.

Using Maquettes

MAQUETTES ARE MODELS artists use in order to more fully realize a character. Maquettes are especially useful when the character reappears in an on-going series. I had known about maquettes for years. But it wasn't until I read the book Imaginative Realism that I fully understood their purpose. The comic illustrated below was the first project where I used maquettes.

In the story The Bureau d'Echange de Maux (see link below) there are basically two characters. I needed to keep these characters on-model, that is, looking like themselves no matter what the lighting or angle. The story would not work if any ambiguity was introduced. Plus I wanted to maintain a higher level of reality than in my previous comics. To keep things simple I used plasticine clay and modeled the two main characters in busts about the size of my fist.

The story was quite short but the two characters appeared in nearly every scene and to keep the narrative from getting visually boring I needed to show them in a variety of poses. The maquettes allowed me show that variety and keep my characters on-model. The technique was so effective I adopted it in The Subterranean making maquettes of all the characters in white sculpey. Since The Subterranean takes place in an even more realistic world, using maquettes has been an invaluable aid in maintaining the realism desired and keeping a complex cast of characters on-model.

Oz Story

THE FIRST BOOK I remember being read to me was Tik Tik of Oz. I loved looking at the strange creatures metaphorically brought to life by illustrator John R. Neill. More than any other artist he is responsible for my career as an illustrator. Not all the influence was useful. It was years before I abandoned trying to imitate his elegant style and embraced the rough-hewn look of scratchboard, a style truer to my own personality.

In the Cypher story SubWayward many allusions to The Wizard of Ozare apparent. There are even clock-work creatures similar to Tik Tok. For many reasons SubWayward was the most personally meaningful of all the psychologically charged Cypher stories. It was also the story in which The Subterranean appears for the first time.

With such a background, when the editor of Graphic Classics asked if I would do an L. Frank Baum story, I couldn't say no. The resulting comic, a somewhat obscure story called The Glass Dog, appeared in Graphic Classics Volume 15. Page one is posted below.

H.G. Wells story

I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE INTERESTING to post a few of the pages from stories I've done for Graphic Classics over the years. Without these assignments I doubt I would have evolved the style needed for The Subterranean. This particular story, a five-page story called The Star by H.G. Wells, is done in a style similar to the scratchboard used in Cypher.

The editor of Graphics Classics, Tom Pomplun, suggested doing the entire story using pantomime scenes. I was initially unsure if this method would adequately tell the story. As I worked with the concept I discovered that using few words would actually work quite well. A few panels have words in the illustration like the newsman who is selling the paper with the headline explaining the main concept of the panel.

I decided to add a few words spoken by the aliens in the last panel to give a bit of texture and slow the ending down a bit, like a slow fade to black. Overall I thought the story worked fairly well and was pleased to illustrate such a venerable author.


GETTING THE COVER RIGHT IS CRITICAL FOR A BOOK. One common error for comic books is to have a cover that doesn't harmonize with the emotional quality of the inside pages. The original cover for Cypher was done in a 3D program and reflected my enthusiasm for the new medium rather than what the book really needed. I did a new cover for the Kindle version (currently unavailable) which has more graphic flair and is more in keeping with the content of the book. It also was designed so it would read well as a thumbnail, an increasingly important function.

I have seen novels with covers that look like comics which is an equally grave error. The primary function of a book cover is to telegraph quickly what the reader can expect inside. Throw the reader a curve and you probably lost a reader. I won't include a large version of the original cover but you can click on the small Amazon link to see the original: