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.
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!
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