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:
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.