Process: Mann Vs.

So I just finished a really rad 2-page spread for Mann. It was a pretty challenging page but I think I nailed it. Here’s the final piece:

So Damian doesn’t write Mann as a traditional script. He often does, but he is also incredibly good at visualizing interesting page layouts, so his sketches wind up being a little more efficient for him to convey his vision. They are often not very intelligible, but after working together for many years, I’ve learned to decipher his scrawls. This page was initially intended to be a a single page instead of a 2 page spread, which is why it appears stretched horizontally.

Damian has Mann walking in an arc as the page progresses from day to night and back to day. Along the way, he catches a critter with his knife at sundown and cooks it over a campfire that night. He sleeps on a tree and then walks off into the sunrise.

I follow up with my own rough sketches, keeping in mind that there will be a crease in the middle when it is printed.

Different than my usual work process, I do a color study. Pulling off the time transition requires controlling the lighting pretty carefully. I need to see this visually to see if I need to make adjustments to the layout before moving on. This layer will also serve as the base color for the sky.

Now comes the real drawing. I do the line art for the characters and backgrounds on separate layers.

Then I lay in color flats:

Followed by the shadows and details:

I create the value and texture in two different layers of red and blue:

Next I add in the lighting following the general flow of the color study:

Then I add the stars and a few other little tweaks:

And that’s it. Done! Off to Duff to be lettered.

Our Fair City

So I thought I’d take a little time to talk about my involvement with Our Fair City. Our Fair City is an audio drama set in a frozen, post-climate change landscape, currently in its sixth season.

The OFC logo, by the inestimable Dan Streeting

In May 2011, Jeffrey Gardner contacted me to see if I’d be interested in doing some illustration for the audio drama he created with Clayton Faits. I was thrilled at the opportunity and the ensuing piece was a lot of fun to work on. They must have liked it too, because I came back for a few more pieces the next season. I was even able to help them out a time or two with my expertise with digital art.

My first piece for OFC!

I found that the world they created was so enthralling and well-realized that I wanted to do more work. So in March 2012, I approached them to start an in-world comic anthology. They were excited about the opportunity, though I think I had a bit to prove. That August we got the first issue back and it was a success!

Ultimately, as the organization grew, they needed help in the visual art side. In August 2012, I was asked by the board of directors to become the Visual Art Director. I guess they appreciated my expertise with handling digital files as well as wrangling a stable of artists. Or maybe they just thought I was really, really, really good-looking.

It’s been a few years and Our Fair City is still going strong. We are officially a 501(c)(3) organization – Hartlife NFP. We have won many awards have expanded as a company. I even have an assistant now – the amazing Robin Simmons (she will be a subject of a future post). I like to think that my involvement on the art side has led to a higher level of quality for the art produced. This includes the episode art, the comics and any other imagery (promo posters, ads, etc.). I’ve also learned a lot in this time – from the artists, the other staff members, the board, and most importantly Jeff and Clayton.

Process: Coloring Mann

Hey folks. This week I managed to get back to work on Mann Vs. and I decided to video capture some of my work. This video is from about an 45 minutes of work that has been compressed to about 3 minutes.

A little bit about what you are seeing happen in this video:
My tendency is to go over my color flats with two multiply layers. I use one cool and one warm color. Depending on the scene, one serves as the deep shadows and the other is more of an ambient texture. In this case, I started with a green to flesh out the shadows and I came back in with red to add texture and volume. What you will notice is that I tend to overpaint with the color of choice, and then go back in with the eraser to refine things. This reductive style just works well for me and also takes advantage of a technique that is uniquely digital. You could not do this with real paint. Well, you sorta can, but not with this level of control.

After I’ve put these two multiply layers on, I paint another layer with highlights. This page takes place at dawn, so there is a very strong yellow cast to things. For those of you so inclined, these highlights are put on a normal layer below my multiply layers.

Things are looking almost done at this point, but the scene needs to be more cohesive and all those multiply layers tend to make the scene pretty dark. I rectify this with yet another layer, this time a soft light layer (though situations could merit a different type of light layer. The same yellow I use for highlights is bucketed onto this layer and the opacity is adjusted so that it is not overpowering.

And just like that, the page is done! I can check it off on my HabitRPG and score some nice damage against the monster we’re fighting!

Poll Challenge: Cerberus

Last week, I tried something new. I put it to my facebook folk to help me decide what to draw. There was a tremendous response and the resulting poll was very close. There was, in fact, a threeway tie at the top between Cerberus, Heisenberg, and Darkwing Duck. I cast the tie-breaker because I had an idea I liked for Cerberus. In about a month, I’m gonna do a new poll with Heisenberg, Darkwing Duck, and three new entries.

So…Cerberus. I didn’t want a straight-up “look at this awesome scary dog thing” kinda approach. So I figured having him pee with 3 streams on a sign post was the way to go. I realize that the “Abandon All Hope” sign is from Dante and not Greek mythology, but I did it anyways. Besides, Cerberus is technically in the Inferno, albeit in a different capacity.

Here’s the screen capture, 3 hours or so compressed into just under 15 minutes:

A few things. My day is divided into increments I call Desmond Nap Units (about 2 hours). My intent was to do this drawing in a single DNU. Towards the end, I realized I wan’t going to finish the background in time. That’s why I tried to do a sorta hackish, non-background thing. I couldn’t get that to work and Desmond woke up. Which was for the best; I came at it the next day and did the background. Which was good.

Also, my timeline for the drawing meant that I spent less time on this than I might have otherwise. This means there are a few things I an a little unhappy with. This includes the shadow under Cerberus and the serpent tail, which I think is mostly lost in the shuffle.

I don’t really have much more to say. This was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again!

Old Work: SpiderFaceMelt

Here’s a silly little animation I did while at SAIC. This was actually 2 different projects that I combined into one.

First, I rotoscoped a few seconds of a spider walking and then multiplied it by a bunch. I also added some creepy eye blinks. The next part was just some frame-by-frame animation of my face melting. That’s pretty much it.

Process: Dr. West and Loamy

Another Process Post!

This was an illustration for an episode of the radio drama, Our Fair City. Believe it or not, this is hte only time I have drawn Dr. West. This piece is indicative of a method of working that I used to use a lot before I went all digital. It’s an analog/digital hybrid where I draw in pencil and then finish digitally.

So, this started out as a scanned pencil drawing. This is it after I played with the levels a bit to boost the darks:

Usually, my first go-to step is to lay in the color flats:

I lay in some shadows:

The shadows are deepened with red:

The first round of highlights:

A second, more detailed round of highlights:

The main work done, I vignette the border and fill in the background:

Finally, I do some color adjusting and add in a red light layer. It’s done now!

Artist Showcase: John Jennings

Last week, I talked about Damian Duffy.  It seems natural to devote this post to the other Eye Trauma co-founder, John Jennings.

John has a style that is immediately recognizable. It’s raw and energetic.  His line work is scratchy and frenetic. His color stuff is lush and textural. He brings his hip-hop sensibility to everything he touches.  There’s a small gallery of some of his stuff that I have on my computer at the bottom of this post.

John is a very busy man, at least in part because he has a new idea every second.  That means that in the time I take to write this blog, he has had roughly 1800 new ideas. There are also unsubstantiated rumors that he is a Golden God.

Here’s a bio I copied and pasted.

Currently, John Jennings is an Associate Professor of Visual Studies at The State University of New York at Buffalo. Jennings is an award-winning graphic novelist and author. His research and teaching focus on the analysis, explication, and disruption of African American stereotypes in popular visual media. His research is concerned with the topics of representation and authenticity, visual culture, visual literacy, social justice, and design pedagogy. He is an accomplished designer, illustrator, cartoonist, and visual artist. His work overlaps into various disciplines including American Studies, African American Studies, Design History, Media Studies, Sociology, Women and Gender Studies, and Literature.

An here’s some more links:

The Soul of Black Comix

Black Kirby NOW

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Process: Molees

So today, I’m gonna go into my process a bit.  I figured that would be interesting for some folks.

Here’s a page from the comic The Molees. This was written by Damian Duffy and produced for the Our Fair City comic anthology. This was the last page of this story and it left on a bit of a cliffhanger. Basically, the Molees discover a long buried train station that they believe is their way out of the city and possibly the road to a mole shangri la. Here’s the finished page:

I start with some rough sketching in Photoshop. I know that I want to depict a large space that is overrun with decay. I also know the rough positions of all The Molees from previous pages.  

The line art is the first thing to tackle. I tend to work on foreground and backgrounds separately so here’s the characters inked in:

I fill in the character flats. These are just the flat colors that denote what is called “local color.” Local color is the natural color of a thing when it is unaffected by light, atmosphere, or shadow.

Now I can get to work on that background. Since the characters are on a layer above the background, I can work without having to worry about ruining the character artwork. This will be the same process where I start with line art…

…and then fill in the flats.

This next step was to create extra outlines around all the line art with a multiply layer. It seems like a strange decision, but it was part of the Molees look and I found it helped make the line art a little bolder. I think it also helped bring the whole scene together in the sense that all the elements now look like they belong in the scene, instead of a bunch of disparate objects that are drawn together. It look a little weird when this outline is by itself, but once the other layers come into play, it will make more sense.

Now for the shadow layer. This one is the most fun because the results are very visible as I work – instant gratification. The look I wanted for The Molees was a cell-shaded animation aesthetic. so shadows are laid in accordingly.

One final, subtle step. Another layer is added to the top of the whole scene. The blending mode of this layer is “soft light” and the opacity is set real low. This is done for two reasons. First, to soften the shadows. Second, to further unify the scene with  common color overlay.

There you have it! A relatively simple layer composition, but part of my goal with Molees was to have a more streamlined approach. Much of my other work is more “painterly” looking so there are more layers involved. This is a much cleaner look and I think it turned out quite successful. Here is the final page again with Duff’s lettering.

I hope you liked this insight. I plan on doing a few more of these as time goes on.

Artist Showcase: Damian Duffy

So I’m going to take every Saturday to talk about an artist that I have worked with or am obsessed with. I’ve been very lucky over the years to be involved with so many creative minds through my work with Eye Trauma Comics and Our Fair City.

The most obvious choice to kick this off is Damian Duffy.

Bootleg run with the Duff

Whisp recap page

I’ve known Damian since 1998 or 1999. Something like that. Our first big collaboration was a comic called Whisp (“The best psycho-junky comic out there!”) which we started in 2000 or 2001.  A little vague on the dates, I know.  We did Whisp for many years and hit the convention circuits and all that.  At the time, I was working at Kinko’s so I was printing our issues at work.  We also started experimenting with print-on-demand, which was just starting to become a thing.

But we never gained traction.  We were carried by Diamond for  the first three issues and hustled a bunch.  People did indeed buy the comics (around 200!), but not enough to justify how much effort we put into this thing or to remain in Diamond past 3 issues.  Maybe we sucked at marketing (true!) or maybe the story wasn’t as good as we thought (possibly true!) or maybe we just got burnt out (very true!).  Sadly, after 3 1/2 issues the story was never finished and it still languishes, haunting and taunting me.  Maybe we’ll finish it one day.  You can still read Whisp at the Eye Trauma link above.

Whisp. Chapter 2, Page 26.

Whisp. Chapter 2, Page 26.

Working on Whisp was really where I broke my teeth as a comic artist and I owe a lot of that to the Duff.  Damian really challenged me to push my abilities further with every page.  A good example is the page in Chapter 3 where I had to cram around 40 panel son one page, as seen on the left.  That’s right, that’s one page.  The crude art in the first issue is painful for me to look at but some of my favorite comic pages to date are from Whisp.

I am sure I’ll be spending some time on this blog talking more about the monster that is Whisp.  But I should get back to the purpose here – glorifying Damian Duffy.

Duff and I have collaborated on many projects, comics and otherwise, over the years and he has always been my go to for all things with words.  Words are hard and I just make with the pretty pictures.  But, he has also been quietly honing his skills as a visual artist and is now quite formidable in that regard too.

He has another frequent collaborator, John Jennings, with whom he has worked on such projects as Kid Code, The Hole: Consumer Culture, Black Comix, and the ground-breaking art show Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics.

On top of all that, he is also an active comics scholar and curator.  He is one of the most intelligent people I know and happens to be a pretty good dad, too.  I could go on, but I won’t.  I don’t want to blow up his ego too much.

You will learn to love him as I do.



Mann Stuff

So one of my current ongoing projects is a comic called Mann Vs., writen by my hetero-life-partner Damian Duffy. This comic was started many years ago and has gone through a few iterations.

Mann Vs. - page1, version1

Mann Vs. – page1, version1

The first version, I drew for a comic class with Christa Donner at SAIC in 2008. The script and most of the concept art existed well before I drew it, but I hadn’t had a chance to draw it yet. At the time, I was still working on paper for my initial drawings and then scanning them in for finished. I drew this one in pencil and then put it all together in Photoshop. It was a pretty crude job, but I had a due date that had me rushing it a bit, especially for 14 pages. My hand lettering is terrible, in case you hadn’t noticed.





Mann Vs. - page1, version2

Mann Vs. – page1, version2

The second version of Mann aimed to clean up the art and add color. It didn’t look terrible, but I felt a lot was getting lost because of the way I initially assembled the pages. I like the atmosphere of the room that the color created, though I might have been a little heavy handed at the expense of the details of the scene.

Harcourt’s ghost is really blue here and Damian was thinking that it might be too Dr. Manhattan.





Mann Vs. - page1, version3

Mann Vs. – page1, version3

For this third (and hopefully final), I decided to ditch the pencil look and doing some nice digital inking. These pages look a lot cleaner, and the various elements look more like they’re in the panel together than the previous cut and paste hackery. My recoloring loses some of the intense atmosphere, but I think it brings the details out way better.






Mann Vs. has come a long way since its’ first inception and I’m really excited about the way this is shaping up.  Next time around I’ll share some of the concept work  about the world of Mann.