Sunday, September 30, 2012

Painting the Fantastic Four

Mythos: Fantastic Four Cover. 2007.
Acryla Gouache on masonite, 16 × 24″.

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors — An Illustration Collective.

After 10 years of drawing no dragons, I actually had to draw several last week, including Lockheed from the X-Men and the "fell beasts" from The Lord of the Rings. Go figure. But now that dragon week(s) is over, I thought I'd get back to the mini-retrospective of my Marvel career.

By 2007, I was pretty set in my ways. Fantastic Four was the penultimate issue of Mythos and I was pretty anxious to finish the gargantuan project. I also started dating my now-fiancee at the time, so I finally had a reason to get out of the house. I still don't get out much, but at that time I was basically the Mole Man.

Mythos: Fantastic Four Title Page. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 5″.

Starting with Mythos: Hulk, I made cutesy title pages featuring all the major characters in the issue. These weren't in the budget (i.e. Marvel didn't ask for it and I didn't get paid for them) but I felt like they were a nice intro and I could usually sell the original art. When my Mom saw these for the first time, she said it looked like Mitt and Ann Romney. I only listened to NPR, so I had no idea what they looked like back then. I know better now. (You can see my reference for Mr. Fantastic here.)

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 17. 2007.
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Despite the super-heroic subject matter, much of the imagery in this issue was relatively mundane. As a result, I lavished detail into the few pages that featured fantastic imagery. I always have a grand ol' time painting fire, so the Human Torch was a delight. (He's totally naked in this pic, by the way. I've always wanted to repaint it for a Marvel Max special edition.) This scene depicts the first time Johnny Storm "flames on" and the nurse behind him is just about to extinguish him. In the foreground, I painted a shocked Reed Richards, whose jaw has literally dropped to the ground. I talk more about making things "glow" here.

Digital Color Study

The secret to painting fire is making everything else darker, so color studies are especially helpful for planning your palette. I had an intern that summer, Orpheus Collar, who still flats my colored pages to this day. He would take my layouts, add a layer of color in Photoshop, and I'd take it from there. It also helps to have great flame reference, which I posted here.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 1. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

The narrative was structured around a senate hearing where the Fantastic Four recounted the extraordinary events that gave them their powers. This meant finding a lot of reference for the Dirksen building where they hold inquiries of all sorts. (I only know things like that because I'm a comic book artist.)

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 18. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

At the time, part of me dreaded the congressional scenes because it was page after page of people sitting in a court room. I think I could have a lot more fun with it now. One thing worked out: it went with the blue and orange color scheme that I mapped out for the book. I also had to design a rocket that could transform into a rotating space station once in orbit. That was hard.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 12, Panels 1-2. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

The rocket had to have an escape pod that looked a lot like the Space Shuttle. After getting bombarded by cosmic rays, it lands safely on autopilot, and I got to draw lots of people in colored suits. That's one reason it's so fun for me to paint superheroes — it's one big excuse to use the brightest of pigments.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 19. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Every good comics deserves a montage, and this one encompassed all the FF history I could fit (and was familiar with). It's sort of a confusing image, but the writer, Paul Jenkins, asked a lot of me: the team looking through glass doors at the horde of reporters outside, while their epic future is reflected about them. My favorite part is the 2-parallel-lines-mean-glass turning into the speed lines for the Silver Surfer.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, The Baxter Building. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

My one request from Jenkins was that he leave me an extra page in the script where I could paint my version of the Baxter Building, the FF headquarters. It took a hell of a lot of time, but I loved every painstaking minute of it. I also got some pro-bono typographic help from my wife-to-be. You can see the step-by-step process here.

And finally, I'll leave you with the Super Sculpey Firm maquettes that I sculpted for reference (more pics here). These were a great help in lighting and likeness. The Thing was the most fun, but when I imported the pics into iPhoto, his was the only mug that wasn't recognized by the software as being a face. Poor, poor Benjamin Grimm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wolverine Max Cover

Wolverine Max #1 Variant Cover. 2012. 
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

I've been doing tons of covers lately (which has been a blast) but it's come at the cost of my personal project, which has languished in the background. That being said, it's been pretty tough to turn down such cool gigs. This is a variant cover for Wolverine Max, the first issue of which hits shelves next month.

You can expect more Daredevil, Spidey, Cap, Avengers, and X-Men covers from me in the near future, as well as my first cover for Dark Horse, which I just turned in last week. I'm definitely behind on New York Comic Con commissions, but I hope to pick up the pace soon.

Until then, have a great weekend!



Digital Composite

Digital Layouts

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 194

Daredevil. 2012. Watercolor, gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

This is my contribution to the New York Comic Con charity auction for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. If you'd like to bid on it, full details can be found here. This was a rather simple pose, but I needed to do it quickly (when do I not?) so I used photo reference to speed up the process. Sometimes I wonder if anyone across the street can see me doing really bizarre things with paper sticks.

The Wacky Reference Wednesday contest deadline is just a month away! It's your chance to win a custom piece of original art, painted by yours truly. Full details here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Daredevil #21 Cover

Daredevil #21 Cover. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

This is the latest Daredevil cover to be revealed, the last in the 4-part Coyote arc. Skulls are always fun to draw, and a Coyote skull is no exception. Couple that with the recurring theme of blood and you've got yourself one creepy cover. I am a huge fan of José Guadalupe Posada, but his influence rarely shows up in my work. This series of covers was a chance to reference his style and Day of the Dead imagery in general.

In other news, we've been doing tons of covers (including my first for a non-Marvel publisher since 2004). That's all been great, but I'm running a little behind on commissions (and email). Still, we're managing to make progress on the book of commissions, so I'm crossing my fingers we'll have it ready for New York Comic Con.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 193

Daredevil # 18 Cover. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera)
with digital color on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Daredevil #18 arrives in stores today, the first of 4 issues that center around a new foe, Coyote, that I helped to create and design. You can see a quick preview at CBR.

This reference was taken with my iMac's Photo Booth app. There's a feature that allows users to swap out backgrounds by taking a pic without the subject, then using that information to only reveal what has changed (i.e. the arrival of a guy with a rolled-up piece of paper). It doesn't work perfectly, but it was good enough for these 2 photos — one for each hand. I have since "splurged" and made 2 rolled-up pieces of paper. Insane, I know.


Blue-line print of pencils


Blue-line print of digital sketch

The digital composite stage incorporates my Sculptris Daredevil head, as well as a simple template that I was using to quickly lay in billy clubs. The divisions are meant to roughly line up with a single hand-width. This helped to keep the proportions consistent.

Digital layout

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Air Soldier. 2009. Pencil on paper (with digital coloration), 11 × 14″.

This is a cross-post with Muddy ColorsIt's currently Dragon Week.

Live every week like it's Dragon Week!

I am far from an expert on drawing dragons. I don't even qualify as a novice. In fact, the closest I've come to drawing a dragon professionally is Dragon Man (a somewhat lovable Fantastic Four character). And yet I have a pretty good idea of what I'd do if I were required to do so: I would steal from nature.

Admittedly, my artwork is kind of a stretch for the Muddy Colors dragon theme, but I hope to make the case that it's all built upon the same foundation. In this case, I was tasked with creating super-human soldiers for land, sea, and air. But had I been required to illustrate the dragons of the Nazgûl (something that might happen sooner than later) the process would be exactly the same.

Aside from their rich history in myth and fantasy, I tend to associate dragons with an even larger group of mythical beasts: chimeras — any creature  grafted from the parts of another (including us). Since the beginning of art (and mayhaps before) humans have invented the new by splicing the old. This is at the heart of all entertainment. But even novelty becomes tradition — just watch the internet for a day.

Land Soldier. 2009. Pencil on paper (with digital coloration), 11 × 14″.

The trick is to come up with combinations that are fresh by broadening your sphere of influences. The internet has increased the rate at which ideas can propagate — it's more difficult than ever to create something original — but it has also opened the floodgates of inspiration. There is no known animal that you can't find a picture of. That's insane! Start with a Komodo dragon eating, bring in a little python mouth, maybe some hydrothermal worm, but end with a hairless chimpanzee. And don't forget the bat wings!

But why restrain yourself to nature?

Well, because the work's already been done for you. These things actually exist in this crazy world we all share, and they will lend credence to creatures that only exist in your private world. You're more than welcome to attach a limb or organ that no one's ever seen before, but if there truly is no precedent, you risk believability. There are ways around this, of course, but that has as much to do with your creature's environment as its physiology.

Sea Soldier. 2009. Pencil on paper (with digital coloration), 11 × 14″.

All that being said, these design are rather conservative — the most basic of mash-up mutants — but that is what was required. They were proto-superheroes, back-up material for The Marvels Project, a story by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting that explored the early history of the Marvel universe. The drawings were intended to mimic sketch book pages from a scientist hellbent on creating human-animal hybrids. (I provided the notation myself, with the knowledge that most of it would not be legible in publication.)

Final printed art

And here is the final art that graced the back covers of variant issues. I'm not sure who put the "case file" graphics together, but I certainly recognize some Marvel editors in those profile pics. I wonder if those are their fingerprints as well.

Before I let you go, I wanted to share the closest I ever came to painting a "dragon" for Marvel. The mini-series Old Man Logan (about an elderly Wolverine) featured a T-Rex covered in an alien symbiote (of Venom fame). I got as far as this color study before they reminded me what they had asked for: Logan on his horse. It may not technically be a dragon, but as I said, it falls into the same category for me.

To paraphrase Orson Scott Card (from the Audible version of Ender's Game): Fantasy has trees and Science-Fiction has rivets — that's the only real difference between the genres.

Old Man Logan. Digital Color Study

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New York Comic Con Commissions

Captain America. 2012. Watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.

Update: I'm afraid I'm all filled up, folks. Thanks for the support!

Hoo boy, I've got a lot on my plate right now. And yet I'm about to go up for seconds. Taking commissions ahead of time for Baltimore worked so well that I'm going to do it again for the New York Comic Con next month. (I can't seem to get anything done at shows, anyway.) If you're interested in getting on the list, please email me at I probably won't be able to get to everyone, but I'll do all the commissions I can in the order they arrive. Same prices as usual.

Furthermore, everyone's been asking for a sketchbook for quite some time, so I'm going to try and get one done for the con. (No promises, though!) If we manage to get it finished, I'll be sure to announce it here.

On Monday, a post about dragons. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 192

Daredevil. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Just a quick post today, folks. Tons to do. Wacky Reference Wednesday No. 200 is quickly approaching, so be sure to get in your contest entries. Full details here.


Digital Composite with Perspective Guidelines

Digital Layout (and an abandoned composition)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New York Comic Con Charity Auction

April O'Neil. 2011. Watercolor, gouache, and acrylic on paper, 9 × 12″.

Would you like to own an original watercolor portrait? Are you going to the New York Comic Con? Are you willing to bid on it at the show? If you answered yes to all 3 questions, then let me know what character is your favorite in the comments section below. I'll paint the one with the most votes and post it on Monday.

This auction benefits St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and the live auction will be held during the convention. You can see my contribution to last year's auction above. Thanks!

Monday, September 10, 2012


Daredevil. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on a Daredevil #1 blank cover.

Wow. What a weekend. You all knew my Dad was awesome, but now he's bona fide. He won the Harvey for Best Inker on Saturday night and I couldn't be more proud. In what became the meme of the night, he quoted Mark Waid during his acceptance speech: "Never before has someone won so many awards with so little work." Perhaps I'm paraphrasing. But you can see photographic evidence of how amazing the ceremony was at MTV Geek — Stan Lee introduced John Romita Sr. to give a lifetime achievement award to John Romita Jr.

'Nuff said.

Daredevil was honored in other categories as well, receiving awards for Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, and of course, Best Writer for Mark Waid, the man with his own radar sense. A special thanks goes out to Steve Wacker, Elie Pyle, Marcos Martin, Javier Rodriguez, and Joe Caramagna for being an absolute joy to work with. And yet more thanks to Chris Samnee, Kano, Khoi Pham, Emma Ríos, and Marco Checchetto for their amazing art — this would not have been a "continuing series" without their contributions.

Thanks to them, I came home with a Harvey. To quote Mark Waid again: "That this is beautifully balanced... It's like touching a Stradivarius."

I had to tie his tie once again.

The weekend was great for many other reasons, including such highlights as a 3-way drink-and-draw with Erik Larsen, Paul Pope, and myself. I also got to meet Joe Rubenstein, who ended up presenting the award to my Dad. I met Phil Lamarr (again)! And I was introduced to Frank Quitely, one of my all-time favorite artists. Oh, and José Luis García-López. Like I said, what a weekend.

And thanks, of course, to all the readers who came by the table to give their support to me and my "Old Man." We had an amazing time and will definitely have to return. Thanks, Baltimore!

Fun fact: my Dad flicks me off every time he inks.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Baltimore Comic Con

Poison Ivy. 2012. Watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.

Today I'm headed to Baltimore for the appropriately named Baltimore Comic Con, where I'll be in Artist Alley Saturday through Sunday. No word on my table number yet, but it ought to be easy enough to find me. I'll tweet the number as soon as I find out.

As I've mentioned, this will be my first con taking commissions ahead of time, most of which I've already finished (like the femme fatale above). That's the good news. The downside is that I probably won't be able to take on any more at the show (but we'll see). If this works well, I'll try the same system for New York Comic Con.

My Dad will be in attendance as well, but to save him from being tied to the table, I'd like to establish some signing times: 12, 2, 4, and 6 pm.

And if you'd still like to hear me say more things about stuff, I've got a new interview up at Comic Book Therapy.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 191

Young Allies 70th Anniversary Special #1. 2009.
Ink (with digital color) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.
Written by Roger Stern

This page from Young Allies benefitted from the Google Earth app of 2009. The same feature is now available through my Chrome web browser with little fanfare. Even my phone boasts 3D maps now. I'm still waiting for my brain to upgrade. In a previous post, I showed how Street View aided me in drawing the streets of Paris. In the same post, I trumpeted my own appearance on 33rd St. in New York. Sadly, Google has since removed me from Street View (in front of Jim Hanley's Universe). They won't even let you "go down" that street anymore. I think it's a conspiracy.

Comic Book Trivia for today: What Eisner Award-winning inker has a birthday today? And is nominated for several Harveys? And gave me a Y chromosome?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Painting Spider-Man

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 22. 2007. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Just a quick post today (but with lots of artwork).  By this point in my career (2007) I had settled into what would become my standard painting technique: a monochromatic underpainting in gouache, followed by a thin layer of Acryla Gouache for color, all on top of 11 × 17″ bristol board (standard size for comic book art).  I use mostly gouache these days, but it's still the same basic process.

I've also included some "Wacky Reference" from the weekly feature on my own blog. I'm nearing the 200th installment and celebrating with a contest. Full details here. It's your chance to win an original painting from me, and be featured on my blog. Happy Labor Day!

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 1. 2007. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 9. 2007. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 13. 2007. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 17. 2007. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 11. Acryla Gouache on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Mythos: Spider-Man, Page 7. 2007. Acrylic and gouache on bristol board, 11 × 17″.


Digital Color Study

Layout. Pencil on paper, 4 x 6".