Analysis of a Mistake.

I call this meaningless string of disconnected text-vomit "Progress Report" for a reason. Instead of documenting the lifeless minutia of laundry, groceries, cats, and the other terribly human aspects of my life (fascinating as those subjects are), I would ideally prefer to have this section of the internet hate machine dedicated to documenting the progress of the various projects I tend to consume my life with.

Like most people, I tend to enjoy the finished product - be it a book, comic, print, whatever; I like the things that creative people make. But I also enjoy the "making of" process that some artists and writers are kind enough to volunteer. I enjoy reading about the brainstorming sessions, the sketches and concept art and the rough drafts. I find this supplemental material tends to be more of a window into the creator's mind than the final product. And more importantly, as someone who's still trying to figure out this visual art thing, seeing step-by-step how an artist puts together an image and reading about the whys and the hows is usually some of the most educational material I've ever received. I can't express how much I learn every time Ben Templesmith drops a "How I made this image"section at the end of one of his comics.

With that love of the process in mind, combined with the overall intention behind this online journal, I've decided to do a breakdown of a page from Wayward. I still have trouble thinking of myself with words like "good" or "an artist", so I'm not comfortable thinking of this as any kind of educational or informative. The methods I use for illustrating Wayward were birthed from primitive experimentation by a no-experience, no-talent punk who had no idea what he was doing, so take from that what you will. I don't know what I'm doing, but this is how I'm doing it. 

Err on the side of caution when trying to tap information from this entry. Hopefully however, some sense of entertainment can be derived from it.

[How I make dis shit.]

    
The page I'm going to use for this post is a rather gruesome "everyone getting some murder" page in the middle of Wayward #3. To be honest, I'm kind of embarrassed by the gore pages. I don't know why, but I am. Wayward is obviously a horror book, but I never wanted it to be about the violence or the blood. I guess my intentions are a more cerebral horror, or some shit like that. But the events in the story require lots of people to be dispatched by ghastly bump-in-the-nighters, so while the violence and the blood isn't the desired focus, it's still a necessary element.

Anyway, back to the process.

When I did the first draft of Wayward #1 a million years ago, I didn't script it. I was a fucking idiot in my younger days. Instead of mapping a course of execution, I just started on page one, laying out the panels, illustrations, and text completely freehand.  This was a horrible, horrible idea and I ended up having to re-do the majority of the book from scratch.

Nowadays, I use scripts and page layouts. I've always known how the entire 5-issue storyline was going to play out and what parts of that overarching story would be depicted in each issue. So with each issue, I script it out the panel layouts and dialogue, refining it to make it work within the 20-something page limit.

Now, as for scripting a comic, I am comfortable with the fact that I have the worst comic scripts ever made. This is the script for this particular page:


This is dogshit, and I'll admit that. This is why I could never collaborate. This works for me, but judging by the vomiting sounds you're all making, I'm assuming none of this makes sense to you. Those aren't even stick figures, I don't even know what the fuck that was supposed to be. The most notable aspect of this is in the middle of the "page". When you compare it to the corresponding area on the finished product, you see it's a image of several students being attacked. In the script you can see that, instead of even bothering to do some shitty stick figures, I just wrote "Bad Stuff Happening". I'm shitty like that.

In defense of this terrible thing, it really does work for me. I already know how I want this page to look in my head, so instead of doing some elaborate thumbnailing, I can just look at this half-assed doodle and instantly know what this is supposed to be like. So it's more in the vein of tying a string around your finger to remember something, not that anyone actually does that. Obviously, if I was working with another artist, I would put more effort into my scripting.

It's also worth noting that the panel layouts on the script and the final are different. While I've learned that scripting is vital in mapping out the entire issue, there still needs to be some room for modification. I initially started this page with the 7 panel scripted layout, but quickly realized that a leaner, more refined 4 panel layout conveyed the same visual and text information, but with less clutter.

So the (horrible) script is done, and it's time to start drawing the damn thing.

   
Okay, here's the page after a bit of work. As you can see, I've got the panels laid out, I've got some of the lineart done, some of the shadow creatures are created, and some of the blood effects are done. A good start I guess.

I should state at this point that I'm doing this entire book digitally. Everything is drawn and assembled in Adobe Photoshop CS2. All the lineart is hand-drawn with my Wacom Intuos3 9x12 tablet. For the record, if I had the chance to start this all over from scratch, I would do all the lineart and inking on paper and scan it into Photoshop for the finalizing. But when I started Wayward all those years ago, I was 1: ignorant, and 2: living in a firehouse with no room for a drawing table, so I decided to go all digital for space reasons. Now that I'm living in Chicago with a larger apartment with a dedicated studio room, I could update this method, but I feel compelled to stick with digital in fear of an extreme deviation in appearance. I can't wait for Wayward to be done so I can work on the next big project with more tangible mediums.

Back to the piece. For the lineart, I use a black, 1-point airbrush soft round brush; it best emulates the thin ink-on-paper look and the softness keeps if from looking pixelated like it's harder counterparts. The coloring, shading, and manipulating will come later.

The shadow creatures came about with some experimentation. The initial idea for Wayward came from a nightmare I had after watching a documentary about Eastern State Penitentiary (google it). In the dream, me and several other people were wandering around an old abandoned building in the dark. Suddenly, humanoid shadows started attacking everyone around me. I frantically looked around, trying to see what was going on, but it was too dark. The attackers were seemingly composed of darkness and since the entire room was dark, you couldn't see them until they were on you.

It worked visibly in my dream, but remaking them required some tweaking, as I couldn't just have the students being terrorized by shapeless black blobs. So, to create them for the comic, I first draw out a very abstract, but still humanoid shape. When doing their lineart, I use erratic, scribbly/jagged lines do distort any sense of form and to hopefully instill some subliminal effect on the reader, don't know if it actually works, but it's worth a shot. The idea is for them to appear like classical ghosts, intangible and tangible at the same time. Instead of black, I fill the lineart with a dark, semi-transparent red, and then fill the red with a very organic rust texture from my DEVICES library. I try to keep the edges nice and dark to suggest that these things don't have a physical form and for an "emerging from the darkness" effect.

Their heads require some photoshopping. Superimposed with varying degrees of visibility against the lineart and the red and the rust are images of skulls, broken doll heads, and the "before" shots from dental procedures. I try to keep these elements as subtle as possible, so you're not necessarily seeing them, but they're still having an effect on you. It's simple, but the overall effect I'm going for with these guys is "fucking creepy". Judging by the feedback I've received, it seems to be working.

Because of the elements necessary for these creatures, if anyone was to browse through my DEVICES library, they'd logically assume I was a serial killer.

The blood effect is just some photoshop brushes I made by sucking up ink in a straw, spitting it out onto paper, and scanning it. This process was not pleasant.

NEXT PIC!


Okay, all the characters have been finished, and they panel layout has been altered.

The middle row panel/s are the "attack montage" bit of the page. In the initial script, I planned on making it three different panels. The idea behind it was they were going to be like quick snapshots. I worked with this layout and I really like the idea, but it just didn't look good. So I opened up the row and just made it one large collage shot.

After the humans are lineart'ed (yay! words r fun!) I create a new layer behind the lineart and start coloring. I start the coloring with simple flat fills - the shading will come in later. Since the majority of this story takes place in very dark, unlit environments, I tend to keep the color pallet for the humans very muted. Not completely monotone, but very close. 

After the base coloring is done, I use the burn/dodge tools turned way down. I initially tried to shade with colors and gradients, but it just didn't seem to create the desired look. After the shading, I superimpose model shots for the textures. I didn't want everything to look photographed, but I wanted a realistic look, and photographs with the opacity turned way down achieve that effect. It adds a hint of realistic texture to the skin, clothes and hair, and it emphasizes the shading in appropriate areas like the noses and the jawlines. The only drawback to this method is that all the characters slightly resemble me. It's silly, but I'm too embarrassed to ask my friends to let me photograph them and superimpose certain features into my little horror comic, so I just take pictures of myself making silly faces. They've offered, but it's just weird for me. I'll get over it eventually. Until then, I've learned methods to manipulate the illustrations, so the effect isn't as prominent after the first issue.

After everything is done, each character is composed of four or five layers, if there isn't any blood or lighting effects going on.

NEXT!

  
Things are almost done. Thank god.

The problem with the whole "this story takes place in an unlit, abandoned prison school" is the whole darkness thing. Filling every page with black would just be lame, so instead I've used a randomly rotating series of rust textures that I've darkened significantly. It gives the impression of darkness, while still adding some visual interest. Also, the use of rust suggests an interior structure while hopefully instilling the subliminal negative feelings of decay, death, and abandonment people commonly associate with rust.

There's an overall theme here. This is a horror comic that's exploring some bleak ideas, so anytime I have to import any external elements into the illustrations, I try to use pieces that will bring with them some negative/upsetting/creepy connotations.

You may notice a bit of a halo/glowing effect with some of the panels, it's especially prominent in the last two panels. Three books into this sordid affair, I've learned that when you send something out to print, it's going to come out darker than it appears on the monitor. This is the number one reason for the proof copy - revision - proof copy - revision process that has came with getting these comics printed. I've found that highlighting certain elements with a soft white brush, blurring the hell out of it (gaussian blur), and changing the layer to overlay helps correct the darkening when it's printed.  The printed version won't have the glowing effect, and the characters will pop a little more.

PIC!

      
Text! Sorry the actual text is so small here, but the images I'm working with are very large, and when I shrink them down for stuff like this, the text always suffers. 

I found really fast that your classic comic book word balloons and narration blocks just looked horrible with the semi-photographic style I'm trying to achieve, so I had to find a way to use text that would mesh well with the illustrations. I found an amazing lettering style in a graphic novel I've had since high school, Image's Sam and Twitch: Udaku. In that book, no word bubbles were used, the lettering floated  border-less, connected to the speaking character only by thin, hand-drawn lines. It conveyed the dialogue without filling the book with obstructive white word balloons. 

I feel I should note that I'm not anti-classic word balloon; it's a tried-and-true method and it's worked in comics for decades. But I do appreciate it when some artistic experimentation is applied.

So yeah, I owe the majority of the word balloon style to that book; credit where it's due and all that. I altered the style of the speaker-to-text lines a bit, and I drew the hint of side borders to floating narration blocks, but I'm not about to sit here and act like I did anything ground-breaking.

For the actual lettering, I use two different typefaces and some handwriting. For any text written or spoken by an actual character, I use a more handwritten-style font (whose name I can't recall at the moment) because I wanted spoken dialogue to have a more organic appearance. For the times I use narration by the omnipotent narrator, I use...Arial, I believe. It's clean, uniform, and has something of a lifeless/mechanical appearance to it that I felt would properly separate it from the character's dialogue.

Since black is such a prominent color, all the word lines and lettering is white with a subtle black fade behind it for legibility. Except for any dialogue spoken by the shadow creatures. For them, I use the same typeface as the human characters to imply "life", but the lettering and word lines are colored red to separate their dialogue from their human counterparts.

Whenever a character is screaming, grunting, or any type of vocalization that isn't composed of actual words, I use the same style word lines, but replace the typeface with my own scratchy handwriting for a more "primal" feel.

Shit. Looking at the page I've used  to illustrate all this, I just realized I need to add some AAAAGH!s. I always forget something.

So...yeah. That's how I make Wayward. After writing this, I'm kind of surprised by how much thought I'm putting into it. After a while, most of this stuff just seemed instinctive. Anyway, I don't necessarily recommend employing any of my methods into your own projects as I've no real clue what I'm doing, but hopefully you were able to gain something from it.

Jesus Christ, it's three-thirty in the morning. Jamie out.