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Inky Stories - Comic Books by David Marshall

The World's Slowest Foot Chase

(R; Slice of Life) One crippled old man chases another, each screaming deadly threats like a Tourette syndrome procession. Just another day in Inman Square.

Six Year Old Horse Thief: ReduxComments about this page

By David Marshall March 8th, 2012 Categories: Post |

My latest comic “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief” was drawn with traditional tools (paper, ink, pens & brushes) in 2013. This story was first produced completely digitally (Wacom tablet, Photoshop & fonts) in 2001. The new work was produced using the older version as a really tight first draft. Pages from both versions are presented side-by-side in this comparison page.

The story itself is unchanged: at six years old, I stole a horse from the Catskill Game Farm. In the background, it’s a period story of growing up in a rough part Springfield Massachusetts in the late 1960s, retreating into a manufactured dream world.

Which begs the question: If the story’s so great, why am I redrawing it?

The First Version

Thanks to some wonderful editors, I had a brief fling as an indy comics artist. The run was fantastic, but was only sustained by staying in contact with editors, networking and honing my craft. I was also choosy about what type of work I wanted to do. While I’m eternally grateful for getting published at all, the pay was lousy. Therefore, I was pouring a lot of energy into something that couldn’t sustain me.

I stopped pursuing a career in comics in 1992. My freelance creative services focused on illustration and print design, then later to HTML 3-era web design. This path got bumpy at times, but most of the checks cleared and I was able to survive.

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Example of my working process for “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief”. Upgraded to the Titanium PowerBook sometime in 2000.

Comics wouldn’t stop calling me. In 1996, I started drawing superhero samples and showing them to editors at WonderCon. Back then, it was a small but prestigious convention, a few miles from my Dad’s home in San Francisco. While no one liked my half-hearted attempts of fanboy fiction,Trina Robbins, Susie Lee and Tom Orzechowski encouraged me to write more personal material. Working around my freelance schedule, acting on their advice took a few years. The first draft was completely thumbnailed and sort of scripted in one sitting at Bernie’s Coffee House.

Art production got delayed by my new full time web developer position, which started on Valentine’s Day 2000. After a few months, it was evident that I wasn’t hired to shake up the world after all, but to maintain the status quo. Rather than sulk, I decided to place my creative energies into “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief”.

The big question was how to produce the art. At this point, my illustrations were completely digital; traditional art supplies hadn’t been used in almost a decade. Therefore, I adapted my illustration techniques (Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Quark XPress) for making comic books. My hardware shift from desktop to mobile was another deciding factor. Working in public proved to be much more productive. I bought a new Wacom tablet and PowerBook G3, allowing me to work wherever I wanted. In weeks, my desktop computer was as neglected as my drafting table.

My entire world was withing walking distance back then. Between my apartment and job was the 1369 Coffee House. They let me work on my comic before and after work on weekdays, and as long as possiible on weekends. This was my daily routine until finishing late 2001. While unpubllished, this story was the main piece of my comics gallery show.

Redux: If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Full time work and life prevents me from breaking the Kirby Barrier, but I’ve done a few short stories since completing “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief” in 2001. Each one was a valuable learning experience. Every completed story has flaws that are hopefully not recreated in newer works. Still, some flaws if this particular story never stopped bothering me. Children are drawn too inconsistently. My vector word balloon pointers art too short, captions are too wordy. Some drawing have too much detail in small areas (caused by zooming in on monitor). Most of all, I relied too heavily on photo references!

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This is how I work these days. Photo by Samuel Todd Marshall

As the years rolled on, I felt these flaws prevent “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief” from being a strong portfolio piece. I made an attempt to clean up the fonts and script last year, but the art still wasn’t good enough to show.

Fast-forward to today. I’ve taught Art of the Comic Book, my traditional ink-on-paper studio class, for almost three years. Working with vibrant students ultiimately led me to create on paper: “Bottle of Red“, “School Fight!” and “GrubHub Delivery“. That’s a lot of ink and hand-lettering. At this stage, I feel good enough about my overall comics skills to go toe-to-toe with anyone. Recreating “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief” seems a good an outlet for this newfound confidence as any other. Drawing a story I’ve already written allows me to concentrate on form.

Note the original art dimension is the Golden Age 12″ x 18″. Since 1967, the industry-wide standard for orignal art is 10″ x 15″. Working the larger size on last year’s “Bottle of Red” was so enjoyable, I decided to repeat the process for this project:

  • 12″ x 18″ live area on Strathmore 500 bristol paper
  • Speedball Super Black India Ink
  • Short-handle round #4 sable brush
  • Ruling pen (borders)
  • Speedball nib #512 (straight lines, details)
  • Speedball B6 and B5 (lettering)
  • Ames Lettering Guide (4.5 even-spaced calibration)
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 (production, corrections)

In addition, I’ve also grown to enjoy the advanages of working on paper. Peripheral vision discourages over-rendering small areas. Using ink forces you to commit and keep moving! Finshed paper art seems more completed. Can be displayed without a computer. Compared to digital media, traditional art supplies are cheap. For the first time in years, I’m a regular at art supply stores.

What Have We Learned Today?

You know everying I do now. Does this project make sense in the long run? Comparing the new Page One to the original screams “yes”. Upon completion, my next step is to get someone else to share that opinion.

– David Marshall, drifting down Memory Lane from Somerville’s Sherman Cafe

Talk Back! Most recent of (17)

David Marshall | Posted on April 10th, 2011 at 5:55 pm   

Thanks, JL. As Tom Orzechowski (http://serifsup.com/) pointed out, my lettering’s heavily influenced by Artie Simek, Wally Wood, as well as the Golden Age look cited in your latest blog (http://ozandends.blogspot.com/2011/04/look-upward-robin.html). Mimicking their style takes me forever, so it’s good that some people like it.

If you get the chance, please check out JL’s blogs. Oz and Ends (http://ozandends.blogspot.com/) focuses on old comics, fantasy literature for young readers and the writing process. Is other blog Boston 1775 (http://boston1775.blogspot.com/) chronicles the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston.

2011/04/10 at 9:46 pm

J. L. Bell | Posted on April 10th, 2011 at 9:46 pm   

The hand-lettering looks much more appropriate and organically connected for a story that starts on such a strong nostalgic note (“Can you remember a time…?”).

Though, speaking of nostalgia, something about the faces in the older/tech-aided version reminds me of Spidey Super Stories.

Laurel Leake | Posted on April 11th, 2011 at 1:59 pm   

Wow, Dave, what an amazing idea and an incredible challenge to give yourself! I love what you’ve posted so far and I can’t wait to see how the next pages compare. Already the new first page reads more clearly and packs an exciting punch (I love the younger you’s triumphant expression). I really liked your comments on how using digital tools affected your approach to the page…it’s very hard to pick up on these things without something as clever as this!

This reminds me a little of how Brandon Graham’s been (muuuch more casually) redrawing a single comic page every couple years to see how far he’s come. Although his style and approach are very different from yours I thought people might get a kick out of it. It’s on this post (which is rather NSFW so head sup) but be prepared to scroll down a while before you get there: http://royalboiler.livejournal.com/34253.html?page=1

David Marshall | Posted on April 11th, 2011 at 2:05 pm   

For those of you not in the know, Ms. Leake is an excellent Boston-area cartoonist. In addition to being great at layout, storytelling and concept, she also knows a thing or two about brush work! Please visit her online gallery (http://meatwhichdreams.deviantart.com/gallery/) to see for yourself.

Cherry Ogata | Posted on April 12th, 2011 at 4:44 pm   

Just wanted to throw my appreciation onto the heap here as well. Quite instructive to see a side-by-side and to read your thoughts about the changes in your working process over the years!

Did you really steal a horse when you were six? How would a six-year-old be able to get into the stirrups?

David Marshall | Posted on April 12th, 2011 at 5:00 pm   

Thanks for the feedback, Cherry. And yes, under the influence of sugar and cowboy movies, I tried stealing this horse. Like most six-year-olds, my feet were too short to reach the stirrups. Most of these horse rides are slow motion affairs, so this wasn’t an anticipated problem.

Dan Mazur | Posted on April 12th, 2011 at 10:25 pm   

I agree with everyone — that makes a great comparison/improvement. I especially like your point about overusing the ability to zoom in and making some areas too detailed. I have fallen prey to that temptation in my few attempts to “ink” digitally — even worse than the too-smallness is the inconsistency from one area to the next.

David Marshall | Posted on April 13th, 2011 at 10:31 am   

Thanks for chiming in, Dan. “Six-Year-Old Horse Thief” was my first attempt at doing comics without paper. At the time, I thought that zooming-in stuff was an advantage. Getting that detailed slowed me down and wrecked my page balance. In addition, most of those details I so lovingly drafted couldn’t be made out in print anyhow. I wouldn’t rediscover the genius of the “big brush” gods (Caniff, Robbins, Toth) ’til MUCH later.

For the uninformed, Dan Mazur is an influential cartoonist and founding member of the Boston Comics Roundtable.

sam's mother | Posted on April 16th, 2011 at 10:51 am   

looks great – and i agree about the lettering – very nice

SPAMBOT MORRISCLEO | Posted on February 14th, 2012 at 11:19 am   

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David Marshall | Posted on February 14th, 2012 at 12:10 pm   

If your niece is writing about the Catskill Game Farm in 1968, she’s found the right place in this web comic. Just remind her it’s a personal/subjective memoir, not objective fact. I couldn’t possibly hear all that conversation while hanging onto the saddle for dear life. Once you add word balloons, it’s fiction.

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David Marshall | Posted on February 15th, 2012 at 5:03 pm   

Reading this makes me wish I saved the Senior Degree Project I wrote on comics history. I year’s worth of research, and only my faulty memory and messed-up slides to show for it. Ugh.

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David Marshall | Posted on February 17th, 2012 at 2:56 am   

You’re pretty observant for a dynamically-generated spam. I teach Art of the Comic Book, the college-level class about making comics with traditional ink-on-paper media. Exercises are based on real-world assignments. Fundamental comic book media techniques include storytelling, character design, working with scripts, hand lettering, inking with brushes and dip pens, figure drawing, sketchbook practice and group critiques. Technical elements include ruling pens and perspective drawing. Study the comic book industry’s current production methods, business environment and history.

Sorry, I got so busy counter-spamming that I forgot your question. My students aren’t very distinguished (yet), and don’t have a need to write dissertations or essays. Thanks for your time and consideration.

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David Marshall | Posted on February 17th, 2012 at 1:40 pm   

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