Monday, August 31, 2009

Marvelous Mouse

Growing up in Florida with the ability to draw elicits the same response from everyone: "Are you going to work for Disney when you grow up?" With two parents who worked at Disney World (caricatures and retail), little love for the characters (pre-Pixar), and a discouraging understanding of the meticulous animation process, the answer was always a resounding "no."

Oh, the things we say when we are young. In case you haven't heard yet, check out the article in the Times.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Painting Ghost Rider

Back in 2006, Tim Leong of Comic Foundry produced a great series of videos detailing my painting process on Mythos: Ghost Rider. Unfortunately, some of the audio is missing from one. I assure you, that is where I had the most intelligent things to say.

I don't paint exactly like this any more, but most of the process is the same. I tend to use more straight gouache these days, and usually begin with a monochromatic underpainting. Also, I paint at standard comic art size now (11" x 17" paper), which makes things a little easier on my eyes.

These videos cover the entire process and go into some depth, so I hope you enjoy them. Thanks again to Tim for putting it all together!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Accurate Digital Color Reproduction (in Just 7 Years)

Blog reader Michael Dooney recently reminded me of a forgotten promise from earlier this year. Some of you may remember that I had a digital coloring epiphany while working on Young Allies. While I had originally intended to share it, I suppose life got in the way. Some of you may already be aware of the "trick," but if not, then I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

Marvel (as well as almost all publishers, to my knowledge) requires final digital files to be in CMYK format, the standard method for most color reproduction. The native format for computers, however, is RGB. Fortunately for artists and designers, there is Photoshop, a program that can convert these two systems into each other and back again with little effort. But there are drawbacks: the translation isn't always perfect and one direction, RGB to CMYK, is less accurate than the other (this may be primarily due to RGB's wider gamut, but I'm not qualified to do any more than speculate). But before I go into too much depth about the conditions of our problem, I'd like to cut to the chase.

I now work exclusively in RGB mode, but with proof colors turned on (which can be toggled on and off under the View Menu, or by pressing Command Y). I knew about this option previously, but was under the impression that working in CMYK mode would be better since that was my ultimate goal. I could not have been more wrong.

The proper ink levels — specified in this case by Marvel and their printers — can only be achieved through the RGB-CMYK conversion process. This was my primary misconception. By working directly in CMYK mode, I was actually creating files that exceeded the acceptable ink levels for Marvel's paper. So, for instance, when coloring Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #2, what looked good to me on screen would, in reality, print far too dark. Since printing is a subtractive color mixing method, the more ink on a page, the less light is reflected. My files were far too saturated and, therefore, printed much darker than I had intended. And they had been this way since I began working for Marvel in 2002!

In fact, I have a distant memory of my editor, Tom Brevoort, telling me that my first cover, Iron Man #63, was "too saturated." He was simply relating the words of a Marvel Bullpen technician, so neither he nor I had any real concept of what the problem was, let alone how to solve it. Being the least of many technical issues I faced, I didn't investigate the source of the problem.

So how did I finally figure it out? I have to thank Mark Sweeney for his exceptionally comprehensive blog, without which I couldn't have solved the problem. Sweeney is a comic book colorist with an extensive knowledge of the technical processes behind color reproduction and is not shy about sharing it. He knows so much, in fact, that I can't even find the page where I found my answer. Despite that, there are 5 posts that I recommend reading for a better understanding of color models:
Comic Book Coloring and Photoshop Ink Limits, Part I and II
Coloring in RGB vs. CMYK, Part I, II, and III

Update — July 2012: Sweeney's blog is no longer up.

There is a lot of information in those posts, so it would be wise to pace yourself. I actually tried some of his other recommendations for color conversions, which proved to be far more complex than I needed (or was willing to do). I suspect that I may have found the key piece of information on Gutter Zombie, a digital tips forum where he posts.

As with any creative process, there is more than one way to achieve a particular goal, but knowing how someone else overcomes similar obstacles can provide an insight into your own challenges, perhaps inspiring new solutions.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quick Photoshop Tip

As with many tricks in Photoshop, I discovered this one by accident: holding down option and shift while using the Lasso tool will select a portion of an already-selected area. I found this to be extremely useful while coloring digitally, since I would often select a color with the wand tool (non-contiguously), but only wanted to a edit a section of the total area selected. This is a fairly minor time-saver, but when you're coloring 20 pages that are due by tomorrow morning, every little bit helps.

This is also a good opportunity to share a peak behind the scenes. The picture above is what I get back from my assistant, Orpheus, after he "flats" my inks. The color is not important (although it usually looks interesting); rather, the goal is to separate the drawing into easily-selected, color-coded shapes. You can see the finished page in a previous post.

In addition, I've provided this as an illustration in case my explanation wasn't clear. Say I wanted to select someone's face and hands in the first panel. By selecting with the magic wand, everyone's face and hands (of the same color) are selected, but with a quick loop of the lasso tool (while holding shift and option) I can isolate just one figure.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 70

Mythos: Captain America, page 10 (2008)
gouache and acrylic on bristol board

I only had one light in this room, so I just took two pictures for the dual light source.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Extra! Page

I'm running low on new artwork that I'm allowed to show, so here are some progress shots from Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #2, page 12. I'm also very tired after a day of cooking and partying—not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fantastici Quattro

A big thank you goes out to Salvo, my Sicilian fan, who just sent me copies of my work in Italian. Pictured above is my cut-away illustration of the Baxter Building from Mythos: Fantastic Four. Now I know how to say "Fantasti-Car" in Italian. You can see the English version, as well as some process information, here.

In other news:
My internet connection is currently on "Island Time," meaning it transfers data whenever it feels like it.
I'm eagerly awaiting Fedex to deliver my new Epson R1900, a large format (13 x 19) printer.
Yesterday, I was informed that my long-awaited female anatomy figure will be here next week.
I still can't talk about my awesome new Spider-Man project.
But I did just accept a Wolverine cover gig.
And, most importantly, my girlfriend has returned safely from her 7-week European vacation! 'Bout time!

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Iron Man Armory

I found this pic on-line while searching around for Iron Man armory pics. This cover, my first for Marvel, was painted over 7 years ago (while I was still working at the legendary Olive Garden). I'm glad to see that it's still being used.

I've also heard from a reliable source that a print of this was hanging around the production offices of the Iron Man movie. When they released the first batch of photos from the set of Iron Man 2, I couldn't help but notice that Stark's suits were starting to form a circle. That, of course, doesn't mean they were using me for inspiration, but that's what I'm going to tell everyone! We'll know for sure if there's an electrical outlet behind every suit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 69

Spectacular Spider-Man #14, page 19, panel 4 (2004)
oil on masonite

Back when I was working on this project, we were still building out our loft space in Brooklyn, hence the drywall in the background. As for the jazz hands, I have no explanation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cap Study

This study is part of a larger page of sketches from the Young Allies issue I did earlier this year. I don't know when I'll actually finish it, but I'll be sure to post it when I do. The full figure is a Kirby copy (though his drawing portrayed the original Captain America). I really enjoy doing these types of studies at the beginning of a project — they serve as both motivation and template.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blunt Instrument

On my last day in Tokyo, I went into an art supply store that happened to carry the Kuru Toga pencil, an ingenious design that rotates the pencil lead as you draw, maintaining a consistent point throughout. I first learned of it through a Lines and Colors post which mentioned they might be difficult to find outside of Japan. I bought three (one for me and two for friends).

Anxious to see the mechanism in action, I filled paper with test strokes in awe of it's consistent line (often with an audience). Once I got down to work, however, the awe turned to frustration: my touch was too delicate to advance the gears.

But that wasn't the only thing that I noticed about the way I draw. I've been using a 2 mm lead holder for some time now, loaded with 2B graphite. I rarely use my lead pointer, instead opting for sandpaper to hone the lead to a wedge. This creates a broad slope that renders a thick, soft line — almost like a small piece of charcoal — which can, in turn, be rotated to utilize the sharp edge for fine lines. (I'm not the only one who does this, by any means — Sketching and Rendering in Pencil, published in 1922, shows the exact same technique.)

The reason I bring this up is because it relates to my basic conception of draftsmanship. The chances of my first stroke enduring through the drawing process to the final composition are next to none. Why not increase my odds of "hitting the mark" by increasing the area of the stroke? I can always go back and refine later, editing my previous paths down to the one I want.

This isn't anything new. Art teachers have been telling their students (including me) to think broadly, then refine, for a long time. But it really comes down to math: a razor sharp line has only one shot at getting it right (especially if heavy-handed). A light, thick stroke lays down a haze of probability that not only has a greater chance of success, but provides the open-minded draftsman with potential inspiration. Sometimes a slow build-up of murky contrast can permit one's mind to see what isn't there, projecting form into former void.

I still use the 0.5 mm Kuru Toga pencil, but it has become my writing tool of choice, providing a uniform trail for my more repetitious strokes.

(The above sketch is from a recent trip to The Met — I always seem to come back to Degas's maquettes.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spectrum Exhibition

The Society of Illustrators is once again hosting an exhibit of Spectrum "fantastic" art. If the last show is any indication, this one will be packed with great art — and the opening reception will be packed with people.

The work will be on display from September 1 through October 17. The opening reception is September 11 and tickets ($40) are limited. Check out the Society's web site for all the details.

I'm happy to say that this page from Mythos: Fantastic Four will be included in the show and I will be attending the opening reception. Now to find a date.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 68

Spectacular Spider-Man #14, page 21, panel 2
oil, power, and responsibility on masonite

Short Notice

I'll be at Jim Hanley's Universe this evening to help celebrate Marvel's 70th Anniversary. It's more of a party than a signing from what I gather, but I'll gladly sign books if requested. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Iron Men

At 24 x 36 inches, this is one of the larger pieces I've done. It's based on the famous splash page from the first appearance of Iron Man. I painted it in oil on canvas many years ago while I was still in school, but I've recently put it up for sale at Splash Page Art.

And this was a commission from the Philly convention that I neglected to photograph before giving it away. Thankfully, the customer was kind enough to take a picture and send it to me. Thanks!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Spidey Commission

Here's another commission that I did recently. I actually have huge Spider-Man news (and I mean huge) but I'm not allowed to say anything yet. Oh well.

Have a swell weekend!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New Blog Header

Some of you noticed the new header yesterday, which is something I've been meaning to do for a long time. For those of you who aren't familiar, the Absorbing Man is a Marvel Comics supervillain. The Self-Absorbing Man is something entirely different.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wacky Reference Wednesdays, No. 67

Things are getting downright intense in my kitchen. Too much flak!

Mythos: Captain America, page 11, panel 7
gouache and acrylic on bristol board
matching undergarments by Old Navy

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I've been trying to plow through as many commissions as possible before I go back to "insane" mode for my next big Marvel project. The latest one features Emma Frost, a.k.a. the White Queen. She is what I like to call "fun to look at." As such, I got a little carried away with the rendering. For instance, I didn't know I was such a fan of corsets — now I know. In addition, the client sprung for a little extra to get a more detailed background.

By the way, the fireplace set is there to help her tend the "Hellfire."