Batman Comic Page

I haven't drawn a comic book page in a long time, but recently I've wanted to develop that skill again. My normal illustration style is pretty cartoony, so one of my goals was to work in a somewhat more realistic style. Another goal was to try a new digital coloring technique I'd just discovered. So this was an experiment more than anything else.

I read a few tutorials just to refresh my brain on drawing a comic book page. This tutorial on drawing Copper by Kazu Kibuishi was the most helpful by far. I discovered it a few years ago and have read it a few times since, but this last time it really got me jazzed up to try doing a comic page. I went out and bought an 11x17" smooth Bristol pad, pre-lined for comic books (something that didn't exist the last time I drew a comic page, fifteen or so years ago), a non-repro blue pencil (never really used those, but I thought it would be nice not to have to erase my pencil work), a new eraser (for erasing pencil errors), process white paint and a brush for errors in the inking (which I never used), a Hunt number 102 Crow Quill nib pen (as mentioned in the Copper tutorial), and Higgins Black Magic India Ink (also mentioned in the tutorial). I also had a few of my handy Tombow brush tip markers handy - I've been using those or similar models since the early 90's.

I decided to do a page featuring Batman, my favorite superhero - just to make things simpler. Using an existing character let focus more on my style and the page, rather than creating an original character (and likely, a costume) for this project. I can draw Batman almost without thinking. Because the character is so iconic, and I was just winging it and not working from a script with pre-defined panel descriptions, I started penciling with the non-repro blue right on the page, laying out some panel divisions, then adding the character and some backgrounds. Unfortunately, I didn't scan those pencils, but you can get a sense of them from this raw scan of the linework (yes, I'm jumping ahead) - and you can also see that I made the rookie error of inking to the full page size instead of the live area - I'll definitely have to avoid making that mistake next time.

Next, I tried inking using the nib pen, but - unfortunately again - it just didn't feel right. Lest it seem like I didn't give it much of a shot, I actually diverted myself to a few separate pages in the midst of this experiment. Call it laziness, or habit, or comfort, but I reverted to my Tombow brush tip pens, and it just felt right. I like my linework to be bold and that wasn't happening with the nib pen. Though I have to say, working at only 150% of the final size made fine feathering and detail very difficult - especially in the panels where the character was smaller (hey, it's not like your pen tip reduces proportionately to fit). I made many blobby errors that I later cleaned up in Photoshop. I also did thinks like filling the sky in the first panel solid black (see the image above) which I later undid in Photoshop. Here's the eventual result of the inking process, after removing the non-repro blue pencils and darkening the inks until they were almost pure black and white:

And a closeup of one inked panel:

I think I hit the style I was going for - my figure wasn't very cartoony in his composition, but my linework was chunky and varied in the way I like it. I'm not a crosshatchy kind of illustrator, and I don't feel comfortable working with a totally clean line - I think it makes me feel too exposed. I also wound up with many more solid black shapes than I was hoping for, which was somewhat disappointing because I wanted to focus on digital coloring, and that's harder when solid blacks handle much of the shading. Kinda hard to draw Batman without using a lot of black, though. These things are just part of the constant artistic struggle of trying something new vs. knowing your innate style. I've grown comfortable with that struggle.

I did have a problem with the non-repro blue pencil - in some places it didn't let my brush tip (and water-based) ink sit correctly, so I had to clean the linework up later (again, see the first image above). The light blue template lines in the page did the same thing in places, so I think I'll be avoiding both in the future, which is a darn shame - both are convenient. 

For the coloring, I watched a few tutorials on YouTube, this one by Tony AviƱa being the most helpful. Even though the style he was demonstrating was something he used more in the past (he said it was the house coloring style for WildStorm Comics), I stuck with this method - starting with dark, flat colors, then adding cuts and gradients - rather than trying a more brush-based coloring technique. I typically work light-to-dark, and I wanted to try a different, more efficient coloring method. Check out the tutorial for details. I can say that by forcing myself to work this way - and not creating dozens of "safe" layers for highlights and shadows - I was eventually making better coloring decisions and getting the page done without constantly making slight tweaks and trying to make everything look consistent. And of course, I used my Wacom Intuos tablet for this coloring work, so things moved along fairly quickly.

I also used Kazu Kibuishi's method of filling each panel with a base color (mine was orangey) to bring all the colors together and avoid them looking too separate and kaleidoscopic (his term). This made it easy to easily experiment with and adjust that global hue afterward. I tried some greener colors, but this orange layer, with the mode set to Hue and at 30% opacity, worked best. It took some time, but the whole coloring process flowed much more than it has in the past for me.

The final colored page:

The only real "special effects" I did beyond the typical coloring method was adding stars in the sky with a slight outer glow, and the shadow on panel two. 

Now, I've been reading some new comics - more than I have in the past decade. In both Sweets by Kody Chamberlain and The Cape published by IDW, there's a strong halftone effect used to add to the tone. I liked how both artists used this effect - the last time I used halftone for illustration work, it was called Zip-a-Tone and you had to cut it with an X-acto knife and place it right on your illustration. And the funny thing was, back then I wished it could be a smaller, finer pattern - and now the style I was going for was the same big, obvious dot pattern effect I'd used in the past. Crazy how things change, huh?

I created a halftone in Photoshop, filled then panels, then (mostly) erased away the parts I didn't want. I tried to keep the halftones to the edge of the black areas, though I did use it for the entire skyline in the first panel. I was very loose with that pattern, and I really like the grungy effect it gave me. In the end I made it dark blue instead of black, and set the layer to Multiply instead of Normal. Try doing that with Zip-a-Tone (don't really try - you can't).

Oh - and I created a subtle texture that I laid over the color. I filled a layer with 50% gray, added a lot of noise, then set it to overlay. It gives the color a little more of a natural media effect, especially when viewed at a large/close-up size.

I composed the text afterward, which really isn't fair - if something didn't fit, I just edited it down. I know - cheating. For the lettering itself, I used Comic Book Commando (regular) on top of some dingy yellow boxes. The boxes were on their own layer, and I gave that layer a Stroke effect (so I didn't have to keep re-outlining them every time I resized a box), and a little inner glow (really a shadow) and a noisy, subtle drop shadow. Pretty ostentatious stuff.

Here's the full, finished page, with the bottom two panels I haven't shown yet:

And a couple closeups of finished panels. You can really see that overlaid noise layer in these.

I was reasonably happy with the final piece. Of course, I found many reasons to work on my sketching, anatomy, backgrounds, coloring... but it was a nice workout, flexing muscles I haven't flexed in a while. More comics to come!

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