Friday Fixup

So for the past few weeks I’ve been doing this Friday Fixup thing. I needed a hashtag, #fridayfixup sounded good but it’s now painfully obvious to me that I really needed to call it something like #PJ-bodges-around-with-your-page-and-/maybe/-makes-it-stronger-but-maybe-not-your-call. But that didn’t scan. So here we are.

So if you’d like to take part simply reply to my tweet stream with the hashtag #fridayfixup with a single b&w unlettered page (why? cus it’s easier for me to fiddle with it if it contains no lettering and no colours, but I can work around it…) and I’ll pass my somewhat experienced eye over it and see if I can’t pump up the jam on the story telling. With the caveat that it’s entirely in the eye of the beholder this, I’m very much an action comic artist so if your page is calling for something poetic or emotive I may be well out of my depth.

Now … speaking of which… here’s a page by Nick Shingler...

And here’s my edits with annotations:

nickshingler.PNG

Ok, I have a few thoughts, this is going for mood/theme/etc, one of my many-many weak areas, so caveat emptor.

First things first: the original file looks to be a colour scan – there’s all sorts of colours going on in this image that aren’t meant to be there. I can understand greyscans, but colour is madness! You’ll want to scan it in greyscale, and if you’re me, you’d probably be happier scanning it in pure b&w. I converted the colour image to pure b&w for this edit, you can see how clean the blacks are and how pure the whites. Ok, now on to business…

Panel one, I thought long and hard about this, my instinct is to add caption borders – but it was clear Nick was going for something else, so I started thinking about ways to avoid caption borders. So panel on I ended up truncating the panel, now it felt truncated anyway the lack of border on the panel meant it was just eating up a big chunk of space and it felt empty, this way though it feels deliberate.

I also added a shadow of the tree. Without it there’s nothing linking the geography of the girl and the man until panel three and that doesn’t have the tree in it so it could be anywhere or anyone. I’m always trying to figure out ways to link one panel to the next – visual chain links, things I can point to and say “see panel 2 has this, so panel 1 has this little clue about it” confusing a reader about geography is only good when it’s the intent, if that’s NOT the intent then you’ve got to really nail down where people are in relation to each other and in relation to any large ‘hero’ object (hero object here means any prop or set element that is a fixture).

Panel 2

I removed all of the panel border and pushed the guys into silhoutte and cleaned it up less scratchy lines and then pushed the tree over to the right.

I think in compositions of paintings or photographs it’s OK to put a big important element dead centre of the frame, in comics, where lettering tends to be on the left it always feels weirdly unbalanced having them dead centre. Plus the reader has to travel from the caption text across the people to end with her in white-silhouette in front of the tree (a marvellous idea that felt a little wasted without that considered distance). I was a little tempted to add dappled shade over her in this panel :

 

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There’s something very Klimt about it, but in ultimetly, the text ends with “a vision all in white” and I felt like I had to hold true to that (though by having the dapples peter out from heavy shadow to pure white, it has a lovely mirror to the contents of the text… YMMV)

Panel 3:

So much dead space beside her face! I moved the text, to right beside her, I also cleaned up her face a little – the rule for drawing beautiful is: remove a line – does it still look good? remove another and keep going until it stops looking good.

Oh I erased his word balloon and forget to put text in to it, the balloon was butting up against the frame in an ugly way – don’t do that! Good lettering is incredibly important and can really really increase the perceived quality and value of the work. There’s loads of free resources online too for it.

People talk about writing being more important in comics, others that it’s the art. Here’s something that’ll blow your mind: it’s neither. It’s lettering.

Lettering on its own can make or break a comic.

And finally, I removed the scritchy scratchy greys in favour of a bolder solid black / white mix on the guys suit because that felt right.

Panel 4:

I split that caption up – it felt like it was two captions that were just bunched together. The gap now makes the experience of reading it a little better. I wasn’t terribly happy leaving her dead centre again but that mysterious (and I’m hoping, metaphysical) bull adds weight to the right side of the page, keeping the composition from feeling overbalanced by the lettering.

I also cleaned up the edges of the lettering box – I realise it’s borderless, but I still think a neat tidy invisible border is better than a messy one. Ugh. Just realised I should’ve deleted the panel border on the bottom of the panel, I think that’d really make it feel very open.

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And there we go, I’ve done what I’ve done, it is JUST my opinion, if you feel it’s improved stuff then awesome, I’m very happy. If you feel it’s made stuff worse, well, that’s even better because it means I’m just some eejit with an opinion and like all opinions you can happily ignore mine!

 

Research

UPDATED! Added a bit on Osprey books at the bottom of the post!

Here’s how I research a WWII book:

Read the script. Make a note of period (this is very important 1940? 1944?) and location (ditto).

Sometimes a writer will send you book references, ignore this. KIDDING! KIDDING! Buy all the reference you can afford. Though it’s worth noting, often writers will recommend books that they’ve used for reference so they tend to be less visual than you need. You will need more books.

I create a blank multi page document in Clip Studio Рthis will contain all my relevant reference.

I start with character sketches from the script, then start digging out uniforms those characters are wearing, making a note of any visual descriptions the writer has given me, and their rank/nationality (this is important for later when I’m drawing something and I forget they’re a Russian Sergeant or something).

Actually those notes are important for the next stage which is drawing their uniforms/insignia/rank badges etc. Dig into google, but make sure you’re noting WHEN any reference you find is from, sometimes in the early days of the war uniforms changed to make them cheaper to mass produce.

Here’s my character references from World of Tanks: Citadel…

citadel-sketches_001.png

Right at the early stages you’re trying to burn through and hold tight to as much reference as you can find, it’s easy to get confused and turned around by finding contradictory images/descriptions keep date and location in mind, if you find reference that has neither of those just hold it suspiciously. Then observation is key. Look at as many photos as you can, find a uniform reference book and let that guide you. War is heck. Drawing war is even hecker.

Next I start filling the book out with reference on locations/maps (if neccessary – google helps a lot) and if I have to blueprints, the website the-blueprints.com is great for this, and I frequently used it to help me figure out things, as this next page shows.

citadel-sketches_006_007.png

You can see here where I used a blueprint and colour coded where the crew should be, this helped me keep the entire thing from skewing all over the place in my head.

You might also note The Russian “Matilda” is wrong here (this is entirely on me) I transcribed it wrong, and like a fool kept referring back to it.

If I have any, I’ll also add 3d models to the Clip Studio Paint document, these are great for making sure I’m on point on drawing the tech, though I make sure I rough the vehicles up and add bumps and notches and damage to them so they don’t look like they’re factory fresh.

When you’re doing stuff like this, you’ll often come across contradictory information, and the question is, if the new information appears to be more accurate which one do you go with?

Well, the answer is: if you’ve committed to the earlier version already stick with it. You may well be wrong but at least you’ll be consistent. Plus the fog of war meant much of the equipment/gear was a mishmash of a variety of things, if anything you’re more likely to be in danger of getting things wrong if it’s TOO book accurate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m getting back to the war. Not tanks this time, something far far bigger.

UPDATE OSPREY BOOKS

One of the books I use a lot is the Osprey books, I tend to buy them for the pictures. Sometimes I’ll start reading them, but really it’s the images I’m interested in, what this has led to is me vastly under utilising a great resource. The Elite series Osprey Royal Navy 1939-45 book, for example, is littered with illustrations and each illustrated page (or PLATE)¬†has a letter beside it (A,B, etc) each image on the page is numbered (1,2,3) and beside the numbers there’s a little description, for example, Page A – figure 1 is described as “Captain, No 5 Dress”.

Because I frequently DON’T read the Osprey books (I might start, decide its text heavy and I need visual information, so I skip it for the illos) I’ve missed the fact these illustrations are HEAVILY and BRILLIANTLY annotated starting at the back of the book, in the section “THE PLATES” (there’s also a very useful BIBLIOGRAPHY that describes other books the author has used along with a brief description of how useful they were) Looking at the Plates section, the same illustration A1 – has three dense paragraphs of information that’s incredibly useful beginning with “Officers had 12 different orders of dress in 1939…” etc.

So, turns out, you miss stuff.