Time changes our habits. That’s what life is. One of my, and a lot of other people’s, habits is looking for things. Whatever things you happen to be interested in. Of course the biggest change in looking for things is the internet. That changed all of our habits. Search engines of all kinds have made it easier to find stuff no matter what that stuff is. No leg work involved.
The first thing I was recently looking for was new music. Like most people I don’t listen to as much music as I used to. When you’re young music finds you but as you get older you have to go find music. That’s a lot of effort so most people don’t bother. It’s easier to listen to stuff you already know you like in the time you have to listen. I only bother sometimes. When I was young I used to find new music by listening to the radio. I had two or three stations in my rotation and there was always new stuff to be heard. I don’t listen to the radio much anymore. Who does?
The other way I found new music was to browse at record stores. This really depended on hearing things on the radio and then going to look for that thing or something related to it. None of the record stores I went to had listening stations so it was all about recognizing names and styles from the info on the album. That and checking the section of the stores that housed the genres of music that I liked. It was hit or miss and it sucked to buy an album that I would end up not liking.
As you might suspect these days my looking for music is all online. Maybe once a year, as I was doing this week, I listen to samples at iTunes of lots of songs to try and find some new ones that I like. For the last two years I’ve managed to get about 25 new songs per year. That’s it. And that takes a lot of time to do. Not unpleasant time but time.
The second thing I was searching for this week was conté crayon. I have been doing a bunch of my “Monsters on Comics” drawings and that takes white conté crayon to do. (Monster Blog) I’ve never used much of the stuff but had a couple of sticks of it stuck in a drawer since who knows when. I used up those sticks and went to my local art store to look for more. I found some but when I got it home and tried to use it I found it unusable. The crayon was so hard it wouldn’t draw on the paper. It was like rubbing a stick on paper. It was supposed to be the exact same softness as my old conté crayon but it wasn’t. So I went online to search for another brand that might be softer. Half an hour later I was nothing but frustrated. Turns out that nobody else must be using conté crayon because all the art supply sites only had the same brand my local store had. At least the search didn’t take as long as the old days when I’d drive from store to store or travel down to NYC to find something.
The third thing I search for is comics. I don’t do this as much as I once did because almost all the comics I buy these days are new ones. That’s always how it’s been with me but back in my younger days I would sometimes look through the back issue boxes of comic shops for interesting comics to buy. Now it’s once or twice a year that some old comic catches my interest and I look up how much it is on eBay or on one of the online comic book stores. Usually I end up getting a bunch of cheap dollar comics that fill in some holes in my collection that I’ve never felt the urgent need to fill. This and that. Not even stuff that I’ve always coveted but stuff that I find interesting in that moment of searching. I’ve been looking at filling holes in my “Strangers in Paradise” and “Bone” collections this week but there is no rush. The issues I need are cheap and neither series is in high demand. I’ll get them some day.
One other thing I’ve been searching for lately has no antecedent in the pre-internet world for me. That’s photographic negatives. I like using photographs as the basis for some of my art and normally I take my own photos but on occasion I like to use the images that other people make as a starting point. It started in 1999 when I bought some negatives of dancers in Paris from 1964 (Paris Photo Blog). It took me 15 years to ever do anything with them but I thought they were pretty cool the moment I saw them and they gave me the idea that I could work with old negatives.
I prefer old negatives to old photos because they give you more detail and also because they’re probably orphaned images. People sell copies of photos because that’s their business but if a person is selling negatives it usually means they have no use for the image anymore. Or maybe never had one because negatives are often sold by dealers who bought them at an estate sale or some such. I bought one set from a photographer who was selling his own negatives and image rights but the other stuff I’ve bought from antique (or junk) dealers.
This week I bought a new strip of three negatives of an artists’s model. I was looking at negatives on eBay and I ran into a whole bunch of negatives of an artist’s model from the 1940s to the 1950s. They were from an illustrator named James Schuker (who I’ve never heard of). The seller had purchased the contents of Schukner’s studios back in the early 1980s before Schukner had died and was now selling the negatives of the photos taken as reference. There were a ton of them. Most of them had bid on them but I picked one out that I liked and bid $15 and won it. Much like the Paris negatives I find them a fascinating bit of history. Images lost to time that hardly anybody even knew existed. Maybe I’ll be able to do something with them.
So that’s what and how I’ve been looking for things this week. Mostly sitting in a chair. Times change.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got seven new comics.
Check them all out here:
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the things that collect in our lives. Not the things we collect, like comic books, DVDs, stamps, Beanie Babies, or whatever else you got, but the things we take along with us without giving them a lot of thought. The things that build up in closets and junk drawers that are around us. They’re not always junk. Sometimes the stuff to be found in junk drawers are sign posts that mark certain places we’ve passed through on the way from there to here. As an artist I have a lot of stuff tucked away. Art that I made a long time ago. It’s not junk. I have no interest in throwing it out but some of it doesn’t exactly fit into the art category. Some of that stuff is what I’m contemplating today.
Way back in 1990 I was lucky enough to be working in the Marvel Comics production bullpen. That’s where all the behind the scenes stuff that needs to be done to get a comic book ready to be printed gets done. It wasn’t a great job but it was a great experience. It was a fun place filled with a lot of creative people and most of us loved comics. It was also a great place to learn about making comics. Editing, writing, pencilling, inking, lettering, and coloring. It all got done there and there was always someone willing to share how something was done.
That brings us to inking. Inking a comic book began because it’s much easier to print a comic from an ink line than from a pencil line. So after a comic book is drawn in pencil it’s inked. That means it’s redrawn in ink. It’s not quite as easy as that one sentence makes it sound because there is a lot of nuance to inking. Since the pencil drawing isn’t going to be reproduced it usually isn’t a finished drawing. To save time some subtleties of the drawing are left out. The inker will put that stuff in. So the final drawing is a collaboration between the penciller and the inker.
The main problem with learning to ink is finding pencils to ink over. When you’re a young artist it’s not easy to learn how to pencil and ink at the same time with your own work. A young artist inking over his or her not quite professional pencils can lead to a lot of frustration. You still have to do it but learning over professional pencils can help a lot if you can get copies of some. Thanks to the internet a young artist can find copies of professional pencils online with a few clicks. But back in 1990 there was almost no way to get them. So it was lucky for me that I was working at Marvel.
In those pre-digital days an inker worked right over the top of a penciller’s pencils. It was all done on one piece of paper so the original pencils were gone by the time the inker was finished. But the pencils were often photocopied first so that they could be lettered on an overly at the same time as they were being inked. We in the bullpen had access to lots of photocopies of pencils. Of course photocopy paper isn’t good enough quality to ink on so that the inks had to be done on an overlay.
An overlay is when you take one piece of paper and put it on top of another piece of paper. In this case I’d take a piece of vellum, a thick tracing paper, and tape it on top of a photocopy of pencils. Working on vellum isn’t ideal. Though it works fine for the task vellum isn’t perfectly clear, much like regular tracing paper isn’t, so you really have to concentrate and make sure of what you’re looking at. That and the vellum tends to curl up a little bit as ink is applied to it and dries. As a consequence the vellum doesn’t always want to sit flat on top of the photocopy. I used to combat this by holding the paper down with the handle of a brush in my left hand as I inked with a brush in my right hand. I made it work.
It took me a while to ink a page like this back in the early 1990s. It probably took me about six or seven hours a page. That was a long time to put into practice pages. I never dated them so I have no idea what years they span but I would bet from 1990-1992. I have about forty of these pages so that’s a good month’s worth of work. As I was also working on my own drawings and inking over my own drawings I’d do a few of these practice pages every now and again until I didn’t think the practice would do me any good anymore.
So now it’s twenty five years later and I still have these inks on vellum that I did. They’ve been sitting in a drawer all these years. I’m glad that I kept them because that means that I kept the photocopies of the pencils that went with them. They’re the real prize. I wish I had kept even more of the photocopies. After we were done with our work with them in the bullpen we just threw the photocopies out. We’d keep a special one every now and again but mostly they were trashed. Otherwise weed be flooded with them and no one had the room for that. Plus there would always be new photocopies of pencils the next day. We were young and thought it would go on forever that way. That’s the way of youth.
The photocopies I understand but I can’t quite figure out what my practice inks are now. Are they art? I don’t think so. They look like art since they look like comic book pages but they’re not the pages that were printed in the comic book that the pencils are from. They’re kind of nothing. I still like them and find them a little interesting because they’re mine but what are they to anyone else? Who knows? I’m still trying to figure out what if they’re more than a curiosity to me. I do like curiosities though.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got nine new comics.
Check them all out here:
I have a friend, a fellow artist and comic book fan, who likes to commission comic books artists to make drawings for him. Sometimes he likes them to reinterpret an existing comic book cover. That’s where I help him out. Since it’s in my skill set I help him by digitally recreating the logos, trade dress, and production marks of the original cover. I scan in or search the internet for a scan of the original cover and then rebuild all the mechanical pieces of the cover. I print out all those pieces on a blank 11×17 inch piece of Bristol board for the artist to draw on. It makes a nice presentation.
The cover to Avengers #57 was the latest one I was working on. It was a fairly easy one to recreate since I had a lot of the pieces made already. I had already worked on an Avengers #4 so I had the logo made though I had to change the letter spacing a little bit. It seems Marvel changed the logo slightly between numbers four and fifty seven. I also had the corner box “Marvel Comics Group” logo done from a previous cover. The Comic Code logo was done because that is on every cover so zI made it ages ago and that just left the corner box heads and the cover copy. Luckily the cover copy was in a blank area so it was easy to cut out and clean up for printing. The heads took little longer to clean up but since there were only four of them it wasn’t too hard.
Another of the things I like to do when making these templates for cover recreations is the track down some original art from the same era to see the production markings on the paper. In the mid 1960s or so Marvel and DC Comics started handing out paper to their artists with preprinted marks on them so the artists did the work the correct size and there was room to write editorial and printer’s notes on the paper. To make the cover look more authentic to the time period it was originally drawn in I like all that stuff printed on the board. I already had the production markings recreated for this time period so I popped the logo and trade dress into that template.
After I finished all this work on the Avengers #57 cover and it was ready to deliver I decided that I wanted to take a shot at making a recreation of it myself. Sometimes I like to do that. It can be fun to work with someone else’s image but it takes a bit of doing to recreate recreate a whole cover. I find it easier to work with big images than with small ones so I was attracted to the large figure of the Vision on this cover. That and there were no buildings on the cover. One of the covers I recreated last year was a Batman cover that had a lot of buildings on it. I find recreating someone else’s buildings to be a tedious task. The smoke on this cover seemed to be more straightforward. And it was.
When redrawing a cover my first step is to try and isolate the black line of the original cover. Since the scan I make of the cover is in color this isn’t always easy. Sometimes I can find a scan of the original art to make things simple but that’s not always the case. I digitally separate the black line as best as I can from the cover so that I can turn it into blue line to print it out. I make the blue line print out on 11×17 inch Bristol board and then I draw with a dark pencil right over the blue line. That’s not always easy. First of all the finished drawing I’m working over was done ink and now I’m working in pencil so it’s going backwards in the process. It’s a little weird to draw that way. Second the whole thing is done in another person’s style. I try to capture that but I’m also reinterpreting it a bit. Balancing that out is tricky.
After I have the pencils done I scan them into the computer. I drop out any trace go the blue lines so that just my grey pencils are the only thing left to be seen and then I put those pencils into the template I made that has the logo, trade dress, and cover copy in it. I print out the logo and such in black with my pencils in blue line. Then I go to work inking the final piece. As I inked I found a few things I left out in the pencil stage. A line here and a shape there. I had to go back to the pencil version three times to put some more lines in but that was just for the future since I had already put those lines into the inked version too. Sometimes you just miss things.
The large figure of the Vision was pretty easy to work on but I underestimated the amount of work in all those small figures at the bottom. Those are really skillfully done in the original. They all have interesting gestures that are tough to duplicate since that’s not how I usually draw small figures. It really took me a bit of time and concentration to get them close to the originals. It’s the small stuff that really impresses me as I’m attempting a recreation.
One pain in the neck thing that happened to me on this one had to do with the corner box heads. I forgot to print them out. Corner box art was never drawn right on the original covers. Like the logos and trade dress that they are a part of they were photostats that were pasted down on the original cover. That’s why I always scan them in, clean them up, and print them out as part of the trade dress. This time I somehow left them out when I printed up the blue line to ink over and didn’t even notice the corner box was blank until I finished inking the whole piece. That meant I had to go back and draw and ink them on the piece I had just finished. It’s a tough feeling to finish something only to discover I’m not finished. But I soldiered on and drew and inked the heads. Of course it was all a lot more work than I though it would be. That’s how these things usually work out.