Elements of Style

comics

Lately I’ve been very conscious of how my own illustration style has evolved during my time working on The Continuum. I’ve made fifty pages over the past year and each one of them has been an excuse for me to try different techniques, see what works, what doesn’t and with each one I get closer to figuring out what I’m most comfortable with.

Here’s an overview of the techniques I’ve played with since the first Continuum comic:

Americana, the Dutiful (Sept. 2011)

Pencils and inks on Bristol board, colored in Photoshop.

When this whole thing started I was pretty sure I would stick to drawing and inking traditionally and doing the colors digitally. And since I wasn’t very confident in my inking, I was shying away from spotting blacks and varying my line weight too much. I think I had a kind of Frank Quitely look in mind, but I wasn’t totally comfortable with it.

The Savage Beast (Oct. 2011)

Pencils and inks (Pilot Precise v5 RT, and a Pentel Brush Pen) on Bristol board, colored in Photoshop.

With Lemuel’s prologue, I started experimenting with a brush pen, to varying degrees of success. This brought me some more variance in line weight, but it wasn’t consistent enough. And in fact I completely abandoned the brush pen for pages four and five.

I also simplified my digital coloring technique and instead of using brushes of different transparencies like I did with Americana’s prologue, I went for flats and gradients. I wasn’t too satisfied with the end product, but James says it’s still his favorite, so I can’t be too unhappy with it.

Soul Survivor (Oct. 2011)

Pencils on Bristol board, inked (by Kevin Johnson) and colored in Photoshop.

For Sospira’s prologue, I brought in the help of my good friend, Kevin Johnson, to take some of the workload so I could finish the comics at the breakneck pace of two pages a week that we ran for the first four comics. Having Kevin do the inkwork forced me to step my game up in the pencil stage, since I knew whatever I put down would have to be clear enough to be interpreted by him. Unlike me, Kevin was not averse to spotting blacks. In fact, he loved it. The overall feel of this comic was darker to begin with, so I made sure there were some stark black areas implied with my pencils, but seeing Kevin go wild with the black spaces made me want to get in on the action. A door had been opened…

This comic also marked the first time I started to more overtly base the entire color palette of the comic on the character’s respective Geek Zodiac sign. Since Sospira is The Undead half of the Undead/Slayer sign, the dominant color in her comic is purple.

Bend Sinister (Nov. 2011)

Pencils on Bristol board, inked (by Kevin Johnson) and colored in Photoshop.

Unfortunately for Deadeye, our Pirate character, November was a pretty wild month for me in a lot of ways, so his comic was a little rushed at some points. My pencils weren’t nearly as refined as they were for the previous story and the colors were rough as well. Kevin did a bang up job inking what I gave him, though.

All that said, we did unveil our first two-page spread with this comic and pages four and five marked the first time I did the pencil stage digitally. Here’s an example of what that looked like:

Monster in the Closet (Mar. 2012)

Very loosely penciled on Bristol board, inked and grayscale painted in Photoshop.

After a longer hiatus than planned, I was able to get the comics back up and running again with Miranda’s prologue. James and I had talked about making hers in black and white only, with some splashes of green at the appropriate points. This time, spotting blacks came naturally, since we were aiming for a sort of 1950s B-movie look and the high contrast worked wonders.

World Enough, and Time (Apr. 2012)

Loosely penciled on Bristol board, inked and colored digitally.

Something I had discovered during the long winter hiatus was just how amazing a tool Photoshop’s layer masks could be. I used them to make fills and coloring easier in Miranda’s comic, but with Silas’s comic, I used them to color the inkwork as well. It’s a time consuming process, but the effect can be gorgeous. Aside from the first and last page, Silas’s prologue, which takes place mostly through flashback, contains no solid, weighty black, and instead is vibrant and colorful, fitting for the way Silas remembers his final days with his wife, Freya.

Free Agent (May 2012)

Penciled, inked and colored purely in Photoshop.

With Eliot the Spy’s prologue, I wanted to pay homage to the visual style of one of my favorite comic artists, Sean Phillips. Sean illustrated Sleeper, by Ed Brubaker, an incredibly well-plotted and characterized superhero/spy tale, and an all-time favorite of James’s and mine. As always, some aspects of the style I attempted work better than others. The panel layouts, for instance, are my favorite part of this comic. Especially page 2. This type of paneling is an example of the benefit of copying another style for experimentation. It expands your boundaries a bit and shows you things you can be capable of that you may not have tried otherwise. That said, one thing that I have to critique about this comic is the texture. I went a little wild with the scratchy blotchy inks. Sean Phillips’ inkwork can be pretty blotchy at times, but I focused on that aspect of his work a bit too much and neglected to see just how solid and assured his outlines can be.

Deep Space is My Dwelling Place (May 2012)

Penciled, inked and colored in Photoshop.

With Gabe’s comic I had artists Frank Quitely and Eduardo Risso in mind. The Quitely influence is most prominent on this page, and Risso influence might be most obvious on this one, mainly in the panel layout and use of black to frame and fill the page. I really started to feel things gel with this comic, in terms of technique. I was feeling more comfortable than ever using stark black to accentuate the graphic impact of a page, and I was getting a little more comfortable with my line work.

Kindred Swords (June 2012)

Penciled, inked and painted in Photoshop.

For Hotaru and Hiroki’s story, I looked at Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu and some classic Japanese Sumi-e paintings for inspiration. I definitely didn’t ape these styles directly, but looking at McLeod’s stuff got me to start using chisel tip brushes for my line work and the Sumi-e gave me the idea to make a watercolor imitation brush in Photoshop. I loved the instant line weight variation afforded by using the chisel tip and the watercolor-esque brush gave an interesting texture to the pages.

A Stone Unturned (July -Aug. 2012)

 

Very very loosely penciled, inked, then colored digitally in Photoshop.

With Agatha’s comic, I ran purely on instinct. The training wheels came off, so to speak. After tinkering with so many other artists’ styles, I’ve finally felt confident enough to go my own way and do whatever feels right with these pages. I’m feeling pretty attached to inking with the chisel tip brush I started using in Kindred Swords and I’m coloring purely in grayscale like I did for Monster in the Closet. I put an orange layer over the ink work (orange being the Treasure Hunter’s color on the Geek Zodiac) and set the blend mode to Soft Light to give it the dusty brown look.

Let’s see where things go from here…

 

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2 thoughts on “Elements of Style

    1. Absolutely love this, Josh. Despite being your collaborator on this project, a lot of this is new to me. Getting to see you work on the Silas pages back in April was a real eye-opener too. I’m sharing the bejeezus out of this and hopefully in a few days I’ll have one from the writerly perspective on my page as well.

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