My wife passed along an interesting article about the use of “optical aides” by Renaissance painters and various artists through history in their works. I’ve heard, and read, arguments that Vermeer used a “camera obscura” to trace out his images, and that the pinpoints of white he used as highlights, are actually visual proof of it because that’s not how naturally reflected light appears to the eye.

The article she passed on from the New Scientist website discusses how painters who used similar methods to trace out their images, but they left behind clues of their method in the mistakes made when shifting the equipment to bring various points of the subject into focus. It’s interesting that the article also provides a diagram of the mistakes in perspective to justify the claims. A nice visual aide for those who may not be familiar with the theories involved.

I’ve recently been considering doing a few posts on tricks of the studio, one of which is what Brian Stelfreeze taught me about doing perspective to make it easier. It’s something all artists fight with, from basic levels to insane works like those by M.C. Escher.  Until then, take a look at this article from New Scientist, very interesting.

Lastly, I’d like to pass on my condolences to the family of Dick Giordano, who I mentioned recently in my posts as someone who gave me an informative review of my work. Dick was a legend in comics, having worked as an artist, writer, and editor for decades. He was influential in the careers of countless professionals, and was always willing to give advice and support. I only met him briefly a few times, but he was always kind, but his words had the weight of gold about them. He will be missed by the comic industry as a whole.

Here’s an article on Newsarama about his passing for those who are interested.

Another trip to the NGA

March 26, 2010

So being in-between books I decided to take a day off and run down to the National Gallery again to do more sketches.

First – “Portrait of Young Woman in White”– 1798. This isn’t credited to David but you can see his signature smooth approach to the painted surface in the original. When I went to the NGA with my comic friends the other day (as I posted) one of the group really liked it. As he said “I like that one, you know… the “tittie” one.” – classic.

"Young Woman in a White Dress"- Circle of David

This is one of my faves from the small french impressionists area in the east gallery, by James Joseph Tissot- Hide and Seek-1877

one subject from Tissot's "Hide and Seek"

I loved this Van Dyck image for the elegant dress, and although I don’t do it justice, it has beautiful gold detailing. Marchesa Balbi – 1623

"Marchesa Balbi" by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

This one was new to me, “Miss Beatrice  Townsend” -1882. I love Singer Sargent for his simplicity- he makes things look so effortless. The entire image looks like a sketch because of the large blocked out areas of color, but once you get to the girl’s face, he defines just enough of the image to show the character of the girl. Now to me, I saw a playful kid, but a passer by commented “I bet she was a stuck up, handful”. Only Sargent knew for sure. I had to meet someone, so I didn’t get to add the dog that was in the portrait. Maybe next time.

"Miss Beatrice Townsend" by John Singer Sargent


March 21, 2010

So today I hit the National Gallery with a few of the guys from “Word Balloon”, a comic group in DC made up of a variety of comic fans, editorial cartoonists, and painters. We went down to see the exhibit “The Sacred Made Real” a collection of spanish paintings and sculptures from the 17th century, with a few by one of my favorite artists Diego Valzquez. On the lower level of the west building was “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection”. Although the first exhibit was a joy, there was one painting in the Chester Dale exhibit that pulled most of the group in, Portrait of Sonia by Henri Fantin-Latour from 1890. It’s a beautiful image and despite the low-key expression, the elegance of the subject is captured with a tenderness that implies a more personal association with the artist. Of course, I could just be reading more into it than there is, but that’s what I do with images from that era.

Anyway, once the group headed home, I decided to go back and get in at least one sketch. Somehow, if I make a trip to the gallery and don’t draw something, I feel like it was a missed opportunity. So an hour later here’s what I had. I never get the eyes right, but then part of that could be trying to get the subtle details with a charcoal pencil that has the tip of a drum stick. Oh well…

Those eyes! UGH!

Karate chop action!

March 21, 2010

My “super fantastic, awesome wife” (her words) found these great articles online about how the brain interprets motion in a drawn image. It’s an issue that ALL artists, but especially those in comics, deal with. How to make Superman appear to flying quickly through the air? Or how to make Spidey’s web-slinging trip between buildings feel like that of a trapeze artist?

Here are the links to both articles…

How to move the brain with a Japanese line drawing


How drawings move the brain

It may seem to some that these approaches must be out of date because they’re images from the 1800s, and so often writers will ask for multiple panels to simulate the quick cut nature of modern fight scenes in movies, but in reality the print makers were getting it right. When one adds panels to a comic page, just like with the addition of word balloons, it slows the reader down. The outcome is reversed from the intention, instead of giving a feeling of fast moving action, it actually gives the audience the impression things are happening in slow motion. For every panel there is a pause to absorb information, then a move forward to the next panel, and then another pause. Just as it takes longer to read nine word balloons as compared to four, on a four panel page compared to a nine panel page, it’s obvious which has more pauses and therefore takes longer to read. Just a little something to think about, but the next time any of you are laying out a page of action, either as a writer or an artist.

Bear in mind though, we know the ideal is to condense the action into fewer panels, but keep it plausible. Writers can say “Panel One : Hero guy stops the villain with a punch to the face, striking the bad guy’s gun away from his hand, and catching the bag of cash as it falls” Yeah- you can WRITE it, but does Hero guy have three arms? He’s gonna need them to do all the action written into that single panel, not to mention doing it clearly enough for reader to understand what’s going on.

It’s a skill to write out, or draw, an action scene, but as with any illustration or script, taking the time to think it out ing the beginning will save everyone a lot of frustration in the end.

Main Course- choke on it

March 15, 2010

After moving to a new city and job, I had a lot more time on my hands to sketch and focus on my work. I started visiting museums, painting, and even hitting figure drawing classes held at local art centers. As I spoke before, I was running through samples scripts and I decided to start drawing what I wanted to, and not worrying about it so much. Around this time the Authority comic series caught my attention. For once, I didn’t feel guilty for my love of detail. Adam Hughes was always a huge influence, but I could never minimize the line work in my own to the level of simplicity and elegance that he has in his.

I decided to “go with it”, and allow myself to fill the page as much as I wanted. The recent Birds of Prey TV series had pulled my attention back to the books and I tried my hand at a series that I loved when Jackson Guice was on it.

Showing the ladies a little love

I really enjoyed doing that set of samples, and I took it even further with my Aquaman samples. I loved the old Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon as a kid, and at the time they had recently been released on DVD, so those inspired this sample set. I wanted to take the excitement I had for the old series, but amp up the cinematic nature of it. This was something that everyone was talking about when discussing Bryan Hitch’s work on the Ultimates. I loved the whole concept of it, and although not wanting to mimic his style, I enjoyed the approach of not holding back on details.

No more playing nice.

At this point I had decided, no, this is too much. I wanted to pull back a bit. Everyone looking at those pages said they couldn’t focus on anything, that there was too much going on, so I wanted to bring it down a notch. Again I was out of scripts, but I didn’t want to bother coming up with anything. I turned to a set of books that I had finally gotten into, Harry Potter. There were rumors that Rowan Atkinson was being considered for the role of Voldemort in the movie, which I thought would be fantastic considering the sadistic nature he showed in Black Adder. That didn’t happen, but my Potter samples did.


My friend Micah had said that he thought my work would fit in well on JSA, so it was then I did some pages with Black Adam and Solomon Grundy. I had always loved Shazam on TV as a kid, and those characters appealed to me. The idea of carrying on with the Challenge of the Super Friends theme still interested me, and I thought why not have the super villains get back to the basics by just stealing stuff? With a recent trip to the National Gallery fresh in my head, that’s what I decided to have them do. For fun, I snuck in one of my favorite  paintings from the gallery.

If we can't have it, no one can!

This set of pages must have done something right, for it was from these that Mark Paniccia at Marvel called. He had been my editor on my Malibu work, and from that I ended up doing a fill in issue of Death’s Head 3.0 on the Amazing Fantasy relaunch. After that he asked me to do some samples for a kids line version of the Fantastic Four he was editing.

Clobberin TIme!

These didn’t seem to work for him, so I did another set of sample pages with the Avengers. These must have been more appealing as I got a four issue stint on Marvel Adventures: The Avengers.

Yes, I'm Iron Man.

I only had the chance of doing those four issues, for there were some stressful points on that series. Not only did I have some disagreements with the inker, but my wife and I were in the process of buying a house, and I had recently switched day jobs. It was obvious before the end of it that I wouldn’t be working on any more Marvel books with Mark, so I started looking around a bit. I saw an ad on Newsarama for Titan books in the UK who was planning on doing a Shrek comic, so did a couple of samples pages for them. Lucky for me as this was right when my Marvel work dried up. This was really the first cartoon styled work I had done in comic pages for a while, so it was a challenge at first. What I did was go back to the approach I had with the Wallace & Gromit pages and not treat it as a flat comic strip, as adaptations often do. The cartoon themselves have tons of detail in the backgrounds, and the lighting style has even approached classic film noir at times. I wanted to capture that in my Shrek samples by treating the characters as they are in the movies, by giving them the same mass and amount of details.

Not my gum drops!

It was during this that the Marvel work really evaporated, so to replace it I started checking out other companies. Since the Shrek opportunity had worked out so well, I looked into who else was adapting CGI animated films to comics. IDW had recently announced that they were putting together a comic of the film Igor, so I sent them my Shrek pages. They replied with a stronger interest in my Marvel work and after sending them  samples from my run on those books they offered me the Executioner starring the character Mack Bolan. This was great challenger, but a good experience for me. The mix of heroics with normal people really capitalized on my ability to draw realistic figures and situations.

Luckily for me, I’m starting to get to a point where all editors want are sketches to see how I would interpret the characters. This is how I got work on the Titan Books version of BBC’s Torchwood based on the Doctor Who spin-off, and from IDW on their GI Joe title.

How I managed to get into comics still eludes me. I can’t say one thing helped above all others, but it really seems to come down to just showing pages when you can and always having something new in your hands to display. Ultimately it comes down to a lot of things, your work, being in the right place at the right time, people recommending you, persistence, and a bit of luck. For those still trying, I wish you the best of luck, but there’s never an end point. There are guys who worked for years and suddenly aren’t getting any, why? I don’t honestly know. For some it might be that they didn’t turn in work on time. Others, it’s simply because their style goes out of fashion, but you have to keep pushing and sending stuff off. I’m lucky right now, I know that, and I hope it keeps up. For now, I just want to enjoy waking up, and doing what I love.