Here I am, once again standing precariously on the precipice of a huge project that will surely take up a great deal of my spare time and an exorbitant amount of my effort over the next year or two. Yet I’m still very excited.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to, it’s that Alex and I have started working on the second Black Snow graphic novel, Black Snow: Another Round. Wondering how many of these books we can do with stupid bar related subtitles? I came up with 5 in a chronological order several years ago, and somehow remembered them. So I have at least three more waiting in the wings! Which works out well since the plan is to do four or five of them in total.
I’m very excited because yesterday I got to read the opening scene, and it is incredible! It does several things we’ve never done in our comics before, and introduces some a new concept that adds a nice layer of depth to the overall story. Anytime I get to try something new I look forward to it.
It was also fun because it has continued the trend of Alex taking the lead with the writing. I still contribute my ideas to the plot and stuff, but it is nice to read a fully formed scene that came more or less straight from Alex. He has the writing chops. While I consider myself a pretty good writer I don’t want to do the writing, and think Alex is better at it anyway. I like him in that role allowing me to focus solely on the drawing. I have full trust that whatever he writes will be amazing, and judging by this opening scene my faith is well placed. Seriously, this opening is quite inspiring and cinematic.
So inspiring that last weekend when I just got a few texts to set the tone it got me started on some new art.
So I busted those sketches out in pretty short order. This time around I plan to do more sketching before a character hits the page, especially a new character. One of the biggest complaints/criticisms I received on TDM was about the inconsistency of the art. Mick Gray from DC comics warned me about it making the book unpublishable. Jef Bambas from SLG alluded to it being the main concern for why they didn’t immediately pick the book up. A number of internet reviews made reference to it being distracting.
So I’ve taken all that to heart, and the name of the game with this book is consistency. And as much as I’d like to go back and redraw TDM in a more consistent way to placate all these people and help the book find more success, that would just be absurd (unless a publisher was paying me to do it!). At some point you just have to move forward. TDM was already basically a redrawing/telling/overhaul of the original comic books. Realistically I’ll never be happy enough with anything I do that I wouldn’t think I could go back and do it better.
Plus this book will finally put us in new territory story-wise, and give readers a chance to see more of this larger plot that has only existed in our heads for so many years.
Why was my art so inconsistent before? A number of reasons. One being that I like inconsistency, so a fair amount of it was on purpose. The comics I loved as a kid could be simple and cartoonish in one panel, then hyper realistic and detailed the next. And I thought that was great. I particularly remember the Mario comics in Nintendo Power magazine having a strong influence on me. Here is an example of some panels that stuck with me over the years.
That Mario in the last panel was inspiring. Not to mention my favorite comic of all time, Calvin and Hobbes, with its brilliant juxtaposition of art styles when showing the real world versus the imagined.
I saw similar things in the cartoons I watched like Ren and Stimpy. All the gross out humor of that cartoon seemed to distract people from the fact that it was artistically a very interesting, and in my opinion very well done, show. They would routinely go from normal cartoony medium and wide shots to detailed gross close ups like this.
So some of that inconsistency people seemed to dislike was me replicating the art that I liked growing up. Maybe I didn’t pull it off as intended. I don’t know. But another big reason for the inconsistency was that I regularly changed up my technique. I was never fully comfortable with my style, and sometimes I got bored with how I was doing things. I was always trying something new, with varying results. I experimented and learned as I went along, right there on the page for all to see. Digital art is a pretty wide open genre and I wanted to explore it. I played with different drawing styles, uses of photography, and processes to create the art.
The general consensus seems to be that I nailed things towards the end of the book with a more realistic style. But that style was highly dependent on me using reference photography and felt very limiting from an artistic perspective. While it looked good, it took me a long time to do and I didn’t have a lot of fun doing it.
Another reason, I’m just not that great an artist. I have limited formal training and still struggle when I draw. Things don’t always come out the way I want them to, and I feel like I’m regularly pushing my limits. So sometimes I just plain didn’t draw something all that well.
So this time around my goal is to pick a style before I start the book and stick with it the entire time. It will have to be a style I’m comfortable with, that allows for enough versatility so I don’t get bored out of my mind, and doesn’t push my abilities so far that I’m regularly exposing my weaknesses.
And I think you can see the beginning of the new style I’ll be going for on those above sketches. It will be a little rougher and more sketch-like overall. Somewhere in between cartoon and realistic. I want to limit my use of gray scale a little more this time, and really play up that these are drawings instead of trying to basically make a black and white movie style comic like TDM.
I plan to play around with it a bit more and lock it in before I get started on that aforementioned killer opening scene. So stick around as I’ll have plenty more to share with you in the near future!