by Gary Scott Beatty
Gary Scott Beatty runs Aazurn Publishing, is publisher of “Indie Comics Magazine” and recently wrote the comic book retailer story “Number One.” The first alternative comic he produced (They were called “underground” then) was on his high school’s ditto machine, after hours, without permission. His Xeric Grant Winner “Jazz: Cool Birth,” a jazz club murder mystery, was inspired by ‘50s album cover design. He also colors and letters for the industry. Find out more at Gary Scott Beatty.com.
I was personally chosen by the editor of On the Shore magazine to draw, ink and color a special cover for their April 2001 issue.
This is not surprising, because I was the editor of On the Shore magazine. We don't generally have a budget for original artwork covers and I always use clip art or take digital pictures and work something out with type and graphics. This month I was free of freelance duties, had a great idea, and thought I could afford to plug some extra time into something eye-catching. Please note that this is the system I use for magazine illustrations. There are plenty of places, on the web and in print, that can tell you how to set up comic book pages for separate artists, inkers and colorists.
I started with a pencil sketch that I refined to near perfection. Although I usually make some on-the-fly improvements when I ink, I've found that the tighter the pencils, the better the final product, since I can concentrate on inking (not drawing) when I reach that stage. I draw on Strathmore drawing paper, medium weight, 14 x 17, measured to correspond to the dimensions of the final project. Don't accept projects when you don't know the final size, find some way to chase that size down, because awkward cropping can wreck the balance of your illustration. Leave room on the outside edges for "bleeds" (where the illustration flows off the page). Printers usually only need 1/8 inch for bleeds (final size), but I've found it's better to have plenty of dead space around an illustration to work with (more dead space on the left and right of this sketch would have made it easier to work with at the pasteup stage). Draw, ink and color the dead space just as carefully as you would the middle of the illustration, because you never know what will end up showing.
I ink on Strathmore Bristol, smooth, 14 x 17 with crowquill pens (generally a 513) and a Rapidograph for the straight lines. Real inkers (like Scott Rosema) use a brush for that great thick-thin line look. I've been experimenting with a Tin-Tin style outline style, as opposed to a Jeff Smith (Bone) brush style or a Robert Crumb (Zap Comics) crosshatch style. I did the crosshatch style for many years and finally figured I was using crosshatches to hide areas that really should be worked on more to improve them. I really admire artists who can define a form with a minimal line and not a lot of shading or crosshatching. Simple really is more difficult. When drawing for others to ink you would go right on the Bristol with a very light pencil (you wouldn't believe how light!) and the inker inks on the board over the pencils. I've found it easier when inking my own projects to tape a pencil drawing to the back of the board and ink over a light box.
I then scan the inked drawing into Photoshop (greyscale), adjust the exposure settings for the clearest reproduction of the lines, adjust to final size, paste into the K (black) channel of a CMYK photoshop tif, and add the black line to an extra channel in case I end up messing up the black channel while coloring quickly. Don't trust the colors you see on the screen, unless you have one of those incredibly expensive screens no artist can afford, and you calibrate it regularly. I have a printed chart I trust to tell me what the colors are going to do. Don't color too subtly. Everything from your Photoshop dot gain settings to your home printer's settings to whether the printer running the press at the magazine had his lunch yet can effect your color. The color should compliment the drawing, not overpower it. Job one is to separate foreground, middleground and background. Note the Photoshop filters in the trees and bushes to simulate leaves. I planned these from the beginning. The trick to Photoshop filters it to plan them to look natural, not tacked on the the illustration.
Special effects are added after everything looks right. It's much harder to go in after you've already removed the black line to change colors, gradients, etc. - you might as well start over. Most of the time you are coloring without disturbing the black line, building grey from CM and Y. Here I removed the black line from the house and farthest foliage and replaced it with a grey/green. This really punched the bird forward (remember, foreground, middleground, background).
Here is the final cover, cropped down with the cover logo and type added. I obviously didn't need to be as careful with the top of the house, but I'm glad I did. You never know what is going to be cropped. The check cleared -- on to the next project!
Comments on our can be referred to Gary at gary -at- comicartistsdirect -dot- com. All artwork copyright © by its respective artists and publishers.
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How do They Do It? is a feature on Comic Artists Direct that explores the nuts and bolts of the creative process. Check out the below articles!
James Lyle demonstrates his working methods from start to finish on an illustrated logo project.
Gary draws, inks, colors and lays out a cover illustration for On the Shore magazine here.
James Lyle talks about brainstorming for ideas here.
Check out Gary's article here for ways to keep your writing ideas fresh and different.
Gary's step by step article on lettering for comics is here.
Submitting Art to Comic Book Companies by Scott Rosema. What do the pros look for when judging the acceptability of your artwork? Tips from Scott.
Small Press Stories. Comic Artists Direct asked accomplished small press creators to tell us about producing, printing, publishing and distributing small press comics in today's changing market. The results are contributions from Peter Kuper, Jaime, Steve Lafler and Steve "Noppie" Noppenberger and more, here!
Promotion for Your Book by Gary Scott Beatty. It doesn't matter how killer your comic, fans have to know you exist. This primer by Gary offers some ideas.
Questions and Answers. Chances are your question is answered here.
Navigating Comic Book Conventions by Gary Scott Beatty. It's easy to wander around in a daze at big conventions. A little preplanning can make your visit even better.
Breaking Into Comics by Gary Scott Beatty. There's more than one way to be a success in the comic book industry. These stories from pros are inspirational.
Coloring Comic Books Before Computers by Gary Scott Beatty. The processes printers went through to color comics before computers will amaze and impress you.
Comic Book Lettering -- How do They Do It? by Gary Scott Beatty. Putting those comic book letters in those little word balloons may be more complicated than you think.
Been There, Done That -- Avoiding Cliches in Comic Book Writing by Gary Scott Beatty. How does a writer break away from the everyday?
Setting Up a High School Comic Book Class by Gary Scott Beatty. Wouldn't it be cool to take a high school comic book production class? A Minnesotta teacher is setting one up and asked for Gary's advice. So, as long as he asked -- Gary's article is here.
The Word "Got" and literacy in comics.
Halloween: Comics, Not Candy. Turn kids on to comics!