22 May 2009

Step 3: The Drawing

I think it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t write a ty
pical comic or graphic novel script. My script was written in the format of a film screenplay, from which I then did thumbnail page breakdowns.

The reason I think this was a better way to do it was because a film screenplay is more versatile and streamlined for general reading than the more technical and dense comics script, and I wanted to get feedback from people on a script level where changes could easily be made before embarking on the more permanent illustrating phase, and to me it seemed that a screenplay would be far easier for people to read than a normal comics script.

Also, having it in the looser film screenplay format instead of the rigid, panel-for-panel comic script format made the process of page breakdowns more fluid, allowing me to play the scene out like a movie in my mind and then pick snapshots that will then become panels. I think it makes for a better flow of action to make all layout decisions at the thumbnailing stage than at the scripting stage. For me the script is more suited to plot structuring, scene setting and dialogue, which should be the main areas of focus.

Illustration was draining as hell, the longest and most exhausting phase of the entire creative process. But my sheer passion for this project and dogged determination to hold it in my hands as a completed product shepherded me through this laborious task.

This is where I was grateful for the drawing (particularly life drawing) instruction I picked up during my graphic design course. But because this project was so important to me, I felt I needed to deepen my understanding of all aspects of my craft, and that included a more intensive study of both perspective and anatomy, of which I immersed myself in via several books on the subjects.

Once I had a competent grasp of anatomy and perspective, I was ready for battle, so all that was left was weapons acquisition and training. Since I knew I’d be going old school on this project, my arsenal included, amongst others, a dip pen (for lettering), sable brushes (general inking) and technical pens (hatching).

I always read of rookies being intimidated to ink with a brush and therefore tended to avoid it, but I knew that mastering this much-favoured tool amongst old school professionals would result in a better quality of line and therefore a richer final product, so I relished getting to grips with this often unpredictable apparatus.

But above all my most treasured tool, and perhaps somewhat controversial amongst certain artists, was the digital camera. I used it at every opportunity and I believe it was invaluable in completing the book without me going certifiably nuts! To me, the most important thing that I wanted to capture in Project H was absolute authenticity, whether it was capturing the locations in accurate detail or depicting an authentic manner of movement in the characters.

Instead of fussing over getting a pose to look right, I just shot the pose with the digital camera and instead concentrated all my energy on the most important aspect: good visual storytelling. So for me, the camera was a means to an end, i.e. to visually communicate the story, which was vital above all else.

Plan B, of course, would have been to take a few years to develop the skill and confidence of an accomplished draughtsman, spending my time drawing projects I didn’t want to do so that I can eventually gain the experience to draw my own book without the need to supposedly ‘cheat’. Nothing wrong with that really, and pre-digital cameras I probably would have had no choice. But I think it’s a bit unfortunate that there are certain artists out there who think that a tool that would radically improve their storytelling ability would also be considered cheating.

For me, the art is a means to an end and not the end itself, which I think is probably part of the reason why comics cannot lose the ‘stink’ for most people. Because when all people see are muscle-bound, spandex-wearing superheroes in confusing and pseudo-creative layouts, they will always consider comics not worthy of serious consideration.

Those who criticise the use of digital cameras in comics art may argue that it results in stiff and overly fussy illustrations, and they may have a point, which is why I don’t think it’s a good idea for artists to rely too much on the camera. You still need a good foundation and grasp of fundamental drawing principles such as anatomy, perspective and composition and the camera should only be used once these fundamentals are properly in place. A digital camera cannot, and never will, turn a bad artist into a good one.

Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun but also quite a challenging experience running around Cape Town photographing locations, especially since I had to sometimes squeeze myself into awkward angles and positions to get the shots exactly the way I wanted them, not to mention taking my camera into one or two dodgy locations and also having to click-and-run to get certain shots I didn’t quite have the permission to get. Hey, whatever it takes!

So, after all the reference photos had been collected and the entire book had been storyboarded, I set about spending the next two years plus with the not-so-simple task of illustrating Project H.

Next time: Post-production and preparing for the printers (a.k.a MacGuyver phase)

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