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Cupid's Got a Death Ray!

(PG; Superhero) Agent K tries to relax after rebooting the universe and stopping a General Zaq attack. Why do these vacations never work out? Collaboration with special guest artist Line Olsson!

Six-Year-Old Horse Thief: Dux vs. 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. Details of that creative proccess are here. This is a rare side-by-side comparison, digital art on the left. Which one’s better? Some industry heavyweights and fans have already chimed in, but it’s really your call:

Page One

comparison between digital and traditional page 1

Style: My 2001 digital inking looks timid now, especially when compared to the pre-1960s work I’ve been reading lately. My personal Top Ten artists of that era are, at this moment (criteria of drafting, storytelling & composition): Alex Toth, Bill Draut, Bernie Krigstein, Dale Messick, Dan DeCarlo, Joe Simon/Jack Kirby, June Mills, Milton Caniff, Ramona Fradon and Valerie Barclay. Next to this 60- to 70-year-old work, my digital inking’s a little weak. This reflects my inexperience, but also of the inherent problem of working on a computer: zooming in too much. With no peripheral vision, I literally didn’t know how wide I could make my lines. I’m much happier with the traditional versions of the first three pages. Whatever I lose in multiple “undos”, I gain in overall visual page design. Ink on paper sure forces you to commit.

I’m also working on making the character likenesses more consistent throughout the story.

The new pages (6″ x 9″ printed live area) are shorter than the digital ones. This is the standard since the beginning of comics, but doesn’t have a consistent margin witin the printed page. Publishers floated extra space above and below the art for branding and advertising. Being unaware of this standard in 2001, I used a random stack of comics as a guide. Most of the newer comics art is approximately 9.5″ tall, creating a consistent margin within the printed page.

Panel 1: The digital version’s triple-stack title looks nice, but the awkward space on its right looks odd. I dreaded the tought of matching the font by hand. Luckily a better solution came along. Tom Orzechowski posted examples of Hopalong Cassidy comics, with the perfect title/logo treatment I didn’t know I was looking for.

Panel 2: I tend to make objects larger on paper than I do on screen. This, combined with the shorter page height, forced me to alter the design a bit. For instance, combining both captions into a single one area allowed me to add more drama to the art.

Page Two

comparison between digital and traditional page 2

Hopefully the contrast between the pretend world in my head and the ugly reality of my neighborhood is more apparent in this version.

Panel 1: I’m happier with the character’s posture in the newer version.

Panel 2: As part of the fantasy/reality contrast, I thought we needed a “Living Just Enough for the City” depiction of drug use.

Panel 3: In 2001 I took reference photos of the story’s setting, Springfield Massachusetts. They tore down 110 Cedar Street years before. Luckily there was no shortage of similar, almost-condemned ghetto tenement buildings. I used the building on the corner of Bay and Marion streets as a guide, taking refernce photos of all four sides. When shooting the final side, a dark alley, I accidentally stumbled a drug deal. I was able to convince them that my camera had nothing to do with them, rushed the building shots and got out as quick as possible.

Panel 4: The biggest challenge was emulating the Bil Keane “Family Circus” style … he didn’t draw black people. I merged known elements of his style (solid black hair + bumpy hair = afro). The bum is based on Fred Sandford, plus a Keane drawing of “a beatnik”.

Page Three

comparison between digital and traditional page 3

Panel 1: The original shows a B.S. collage treatment that doesn’t accurately reflect the caption. Coming up with a better solution took about 2 weeks, halting my page-per-week progress. Decided to show the kid playing in a pretend battle, probably at the crack of dawn while Mom’s trying to sleep. The living room is modeled after a few old photos, my personal memories and Google Image for objects (television, stereo, cowboy outfit, various background elements).

Panel 2: The previous mimeograph didn’t match my memories, but was the best available photo reference I could find in 2001.

Panel 4: I changed the kid’s reaction shot to face us, emulating my son’s “Happy Dance”.

Panel 5: The circle panel is a nod to the Simon/Kirby comics of the 1950s.

Panel 6: The school bus is much more historically accurate to 1968 than the previous version. Revisiting my old photo references shows that I accidentally drew a bus build in the 1980s!

Page Four

comparison between digital and traditional page 4

Panel 1: Same composition with stronger inking. The digital verison’s trees aren’t drawn all the way through, hoping to get covered up with lettering. Revising the script revealed this error.

Panel 2: Made the terrain more accurate. I drew the first version from memory — 35 years after the fact. This year’s reference photos shows a much flatter area. Decided to have myself as the star of this panel, purely for storytelling enhancement.

Panel 3: This was a struggle. The old west background came from recently-dicovered photos, not my memory. The composition is stronger in the new version. I used the Joe Maneely think pen for distant background technique.

Panel 4: The old man is based on Clark Gable in The Misfits. Can’t remember why I didn’t draw his moustache back then, but it’s here now.

Panel 5+6: Hecking kids are about the same, but with better inking.

Page Five

comparison between digital and traditional page 5

Panel 1: Basically unchanged, though I did add a Misfits-era Marilyn Monroe. Reversed the horse to show her grazing.

Panel 2: Changed the camera angle to draw less horse-butt. The old man’s body posture’s all wronge in the old version’s off anyway; to lift Dave from this angle, he’d have to arch is back for his legs to be parallel with the established vertical plane.

Panel 3: Merged Panels 3 & 4 from the previous version. In addition to giving me less to draw, this also speeds up the story and gives greater emphasis on the next panel. Right?

Panel 4: Angle unchanged; added Walt Simonson-inspired speed lines. BTW, The Walt Simonson Artist Edition of Thor is worth every penny.

Panel 5: Angle unchanged, but tighter and with better drafting. From a drawing perspective, this panel is possibly the most embarrassing from the old version.

Panel 6: While the figures and camera angle are unchanged, the inking and integration with the words are much better. This is where the limitations of using a font really hit home.

Page Six

comparison between digital and traditional page 6

Panel 1: Changed the camera angle to emphasize the old man’s rage and the child bystander’s amusement

Panel 2: Changed this angle to work better with the new Panel 1. Much happier with the period wardrobe.

Panel 3: Camera angle’s the same, but the saddle’s drawn much closer to scale. The kid’s position and grip are much more precarious in this version.

Panel 4: Angle’s exactly the same, but added the Panel 2 Kids in a much more frightened state.

Panel 5: Same angle, better drafting and scale.

Page Seven

comparison between digital and traditional page 7

Panels 1–4: Basically unchanged, except for inking and script formatting.

Panels 1 & 2: Combined action-line styles of Manga and Walt Simonson

Panel 3: Fence was needed to enhance the story of the embeding crash.

Panel 4: Improved with reference of baseball players sliding head-first.

Panel 5: Already had an angry close-up on Page Six/Panel 1. Decided to expand the dialog of our two guards.

Page Eight

comparison between digital and traditional page 8

Panel 1: Changed the angle to put more emphasis on the narrator, as opposed to the old cowboy.

Panel 2: Moved symbolic montage to Panel 3. Needed an equally subective, exaggerated approach here.

Panel 3: Combined the old Panel 2 talking heads with this panel’s Beaming Dave. Tried keeping the glowing effect, but couldn’t coordinate it with the talking heads.

Old Panel 4: Decided the school bus wasn’t needed. Wanted to show kids leaving, but came up with a better solution.

New Panel 4: This was the toughest one. Spent days deliberating what angle and setting would tell the story. The old version’s highway is way too generic. Also decided the wanted poster only confused things.

Talk Back! Most recent of (14)

Horse Thief Redux - Nice Hand Lettering, Nice Process

MdQ | Posted on May 30th, 2011 at 12:14 pm   

The hand lettering is so much more dynamic… such a huge difference. I love the insight to the process. So talented.

Thanks, MDQ. I labor over that hand-lettering like a brick layer, so I’m glad to know some people like it.

Horse Thief Redux - New Version Livlier, Good Role Models

Trina Robbins | Posted on May 30th, 2011 at 10:49 pm   

David, your earlier story looks much more timid compared to the new one. The new version’s also so much livelier. Interesting list of role models!

Anything you think you know about female cartoonists most likely came from Trina Robbins. She’s also a dynamite cartoonist; current works include Chicagoland Detective Agency and The Brinkley Girls. Find out about all this and more the Trina Robbins official website today.

Horse Thief Redux - Transition, Old Archie Comics

David Heslop | Posted on May 30th, 2011 at 11:04 pm   

What’s especially interesting to me is to see the transition. I really like the looser style of the earlier panels (2001) and was surprised that these were the digitally rendered version. As for the white space on the right of the stacked title, I never minded a little white space and I think it draws more to the image. But, as noted above, there is something to be said for the hand lettering. The latter panels are much tighter, slicker, more polished. The difference in the results, I think ,is more emotional. I gotta say, the early stuff takes me back to the old Archie stuff (etc.) I used to read back in the early 60s.

re: Horse Thief Redux - Transition, Old Archie Comics

David Marshall | Posted on May 30th, 2011 at 11:15 pm   

Thanks, David. For those who don’t know, David Helsop an award-winning copywriter and Associate Creative Director. He recently finished his first novel “Red Cloud Pistachios” (available on Kindle and paper from Amazon). Visit his website as early and often as you can.

Horse Thief Redux - Improvements Noticable

Line O | Posted on May 30th, 2011 at 11:20 pm   

Wow! It’s when you compare the comics side by side that you really see the improvements!

re: Horse Thief Redux - Improvements Noticable

David Marshall | Posted on May 30th, 2011 at 11:25 pm   

The fact that Line O would take the time to even Tweat about this is a major compliment. She’s been writing and drawing her own comics for quite some time, more recently published in consecutive Boston Comics Roundtable anthologies. She’s currently working on her first pirate story. Stop by her site and say hello.

Family Circle of Life

Carl Tsui | Posted on June 1st, 2011 at 9:32 am   

Love the family circus reference. Success on character consistency I’d say. I still think that this all has less to do with medium and more to the fact that you’ve been practicing for 10 years. If it wasn’t better now we’d have to have a man-to-man about your life goals. Good work!

re: Family Circle of Life

David Marshall | Posted on June 1st, 2011 at 11:26 am   

Thanks, Carl.

Horse Thief Redux - Overall Cleaner, Stronger Drawing

Dan Mazur | Posted on June 1st, 2011 at 7:07 pm   

Definitely an improvement over what I would have said was pretty good to begin with. Better line, better use of strong blacks to push the eye where you want it to go. And the lettering is much more commanding. Overall just cleaner and stronger as far as selecting what’s really important and presenting it. The Family Circus hommage… I’m with Carl, love it!

Hmmm… gotta have a critique, though. Okay Pg 2 — the bum is better (panel 3) , but I wonder why the kid’s face looks conniving rather than dreamy as it did in the first version (panel 1)?

Thanks, Dan. The dreamy look of the previous version just seemed wrong. I was going for “contemplative” in Page 2/Panel 3. Drawing perfect expressions have always eluded me. Great … something else to practice!

The New Pages Art Better!

B. Doug De Rocher | Posted on February 9th, 2012 at 11:50 am   

Wow, Dave your new pages are worlds better then the older ones. The inking is impressive but the composition is much improved all around. Thanks for sharing the side by sides.

re: The New Pages Art Better!

David Marshall | Posted on February 9th, 2012 at 12:40 pm   

Thanks, Brad! For those who don’t know, Brad De Roucher’s a Boston-based comic book artist. His work is in cut paper collage and is published in Inbound 4 and Hide and Seek anthologies. Visit his website for history, current events and commissions.

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