Sunday, 14 August 2016

Carson Grubaugh: Working On SDOAR

I talked to Dave on the phone this week about Strange Death Of Alex Raymond. 

The plan is to work together Marvel-Style. He has provided me a with very open framework to create the bridging pages within. When I am done with them he will add "dialogue" as he sees fit. I have some fun ideas about how everything is going to flow and per Dave will be sharing the progress of the pages I work on here at AMOC.

That in said, here is a pretty thorough look at the process for what will be page 1.

Dave had Sandeep send me this mock-up of what he saw the page looking like, as well as a number of photo reference images of Kitchener to work with.

I took those images into Photoshop and rotated the photos so that the verticals were parallel with the the paper. This led to some tangent edges I did not like in the area where Dave has the gutter cutting through the car. After some playing around I decided to move it over to the right. Otherwise, I tried to match what I saw as closely as possible.

Then I traced the major forms in Photoshop using my mouse and the line tool for straight lines and my Wacom tablet (a crappy little Bamboo) for everything else. The idea at this stage is to get placement and proportion set since that is, for me, the part of drawing that is most likely to go awry. This also  saves having to set up vanishing points and all of the tedious, time-consuming work that goes into drawing linear perspective.

I chop the image up into bits that I print out on regular printer paper. Using clumsy inking tools, Microns and some Japanese brush-pens that have refillable ink cartridges, I "pencil" the image. (I have only had these brush pens for a year now and they changed everything! Anyone interested can go to and take a look around. They have all kinds of refillable nib and brush pens from Japan). There are a number of reasons I do my "pencils" in ink:
  1. It lets me get a better sense of how the value relationships actually look. It isn't perfect, as anyone who followed the three "tryout" pages I did could see. The microns don't get anywhere near as thin as a nib or a brush, and I am not taking the time to do careful weaves of hatching. It is a lot better than pencils, though.
  2. The brush pen lets me create shapes and areas of black closer to the way they will look with a real brush. It keeps the drawing loose and more lively. Doing this with a pencil would let me error on the side of way-too-tight.
  3. Having all my lines in black allows me to scan and print the image back out for the next step with better results.
Here are the three sections of "pencils" combined into a page layout:

Click the image to enlarge!

I scan these in, drop them into place over top of my original tracing, plunk a layer of 80% opaque white on it in Photoshop, flatten the image, adjust the color balance to -100, -100, +100 (Pure Cyan, Pure Magenta, and Pure Blue), and then lighten everything by about 60-70 % depending on how much detail it looks like that is causing me to lose. I know that sounds like a lot of work but it takes about twenty seconds. If I were smart I could just automate this process as an action in Photoshop and do the whole thing in one click. Why am I not doing that?! Anyway, I get an image that looks like this:
I get this printed onto a piece of Canson brand Bristol-board. A cheap desktop ink-jet printer works as long as it can handle the 11 x 17 size. Ink-jet prints do not affect how the paper takes India-ink during the inking phase. Laser prints put a coat of toner over the whole sheet, which gives you really crisp nib lines but is awful for brush stokes as the paper does not absorb the ink properly. The ink also dries slower on the laser prints, and if anything is the devil it is slow-drying ink.

The idea with this whole process is that the light-valued print works like a non-reproducible blue pencil, without the terribly waxiness of those pencils so it is easier to ink over. When I scan the inks the print-out is light enough that it goes away during the curve adjustments that turn everything into pure blacks and whites.

From here I ink, using mostly Hunt 102 nibs and the Windsor Newton Series 7 # 2 brush. Classics. I am starting to get the hang of the Gillott 290/291 and 303 nibs, and may start using those as well. Dave is not joking when he talks about how impossible the 290 can be. The 291 seems like pretty much the same thing but less of a pain to use. Or maybe it is the other way around. I have a hard time reading the tiny little engraving. Ha-ha. One of the two sucks to use, the other is fine.

This page hasn't been printed or inked yet. Cliffhanger!


Sean R said...

Carson- make sure you have a classic 290 and not a recent one! The recent ones I've tried (blue color) are garbage. But the bronze colored ones I have (bought a gross a whole back) are fsntsdtic! Best no naive ever used.

Sean R said...

I can send you some of the old onesif you want. Email me st seanmichaelrobinson at gmail.

Sean R said...

Ugh "best no naive"= "best nib I have"

Jason Winter said...

This is great news! You're a perfect fit Carson. Yay! SDOAR is going to be finished!

Dave Sim said...

Hi Jason - SDOAR is being worked on. "Finished" is a whole 'nother ball of wax. :)

Jason Winter said...

Thanks for the correction Dave. Still Yay though!

Ray Cornwall said...

I thought you were aiming for readable, if not publishable, Dave? Or did IDW offer you any encouragement in that direction?

David Branstetter said...

man the rough marker version looks fantastic. Can't wait to see the finished work.

Carson Grubaugh said...

Thanks, guys. It is an honor to get to help out on the book.

What I am doing is creating a bridging story to tie together what would have been the first four issues of SDOAR if it had been a monthly book.

I can't speak to Dave's plans, but from what I saw the first four issues, plus what I plan for the bridging sequence, would make a really good Volume 1. My pages also create an out for me since I am not in VA any more. Getting the photos of Jack and Local Heroes that I need is now more of a pain for everyone involved.

Dave Sim said...

Sean and Carson - re: pen nibs. When I was (unknown to me) coming to the end of my drawing days, I finally decided that the Hunt 102 is the better choice over the Gillott 290 unless it was a day when I was metaphysically amenable to the 290 which is a condition that occurs as a result of -- literally -- sub-conscious awareness of the nib. It's so sharp that both flanges touching the page is a matter of perceiving accurately how the nib is touching the page. The slightest tilt and only one flange is touching so the ink won't transfer. If you have that UNFAILING aptitude -- which Stan Drake had and Neal Adams had -- then there is no pen nib like the 290. But, reading between the lines, Neal stopped using the 290 sometime after he stopped working on BEN CASEY because he had to be more productive (what he was getting at DC wasn't what he had been getting on BEN CASEY) from which I infer that he still had trouble with it. You're never going to master the 290. Leonard Starr tried it...once...and swore off it forever.

Dave Sim said...

Russ Heath, when he lived in Westport, went over to Stan Drake's place to watch him ink. Figuring (as we all would have) if I can just WATCH HIM closely enough I'll figure out how to do hair like he does. Because there is just no hair like Eve Jones' hair in the history of comics. Well, he watched him, but it didn't do any good. "It was all hand and wrist motion: his arm wasn't even resting on the page." If you've used a 290 you know how amazing that is. For us non-Stan Drake people, braced and focussed is the only way we can get ink out of the thing. You mean, you just hover over the page and swoosh swoosh here's Eve Jones' hair right here?

Dave Sim said...

Anyway, Eve Jones hair aside, I finally decided, okay, what is it that I want from the 290? Microscopic Neal Adams and Stan Drake pen strokes. So, analyzing the problem I recognized that the Hunt 102 is like any other drawing instrument. There are good ones and bad ones. That's why I bought them by the gross. To get over the "preservative/conservative" urge to save money by using a pen point past its peak. So what I started watching for was particularly SHARP 102s. That is, when I was testing a new nib, I'd start with the tiniest finest lines I could make. Really gentle touch. MOST of the time, it would be just a garden variety Hunt 102 line: thin, but not 290 thin. But sometimes it was 290 thin. No reason I could make out but, "Ours is not to reason why..." ours is but to recognize the pen nib reality in front of us. If it WAS an unnaturally thin 102 line, I'd stop right away, clean the nib and put it in a separate pen stock, mark the pen stock with a piece of masking tape and make that my "TINIEST LINES" pen nib: not to be used until I was finished all of the other pen lines on a given page or panel.

Dave Sim said...

It really worked. At the end there I was even separating my pen nibs by category. It not only helped me to get 100% guaranteed fine pen lines where I wanted them, it also lifted the unconscious inhibition that kept me from getting a full brush-style line out of the 102 (because unconsciously I would think, but then the line won't be thin enough when I need it to be 290 thin). No worries. That's a separate pen nib entirely. If you test it and it doesn't give you 290 thinness and sharpness, it's just a garden-variety 102. Whale away with it and when it loses tension throw it away and grab another.

Dave Sim said...

Ray Cornwall - IDW doesn't really offer me anything apart from interest in publishing the finished book(s). Emphasis on FINISHED, I think. The fact that we're coming up on the fourth anniversary of my signing for the COVERS TREASURY book with no sign of the book I take as -- at least potentially -- a bad sign.

I think there will probably have to be an Aardvark-Vanaheim version of SDOAR first: modelled on THE CEREBUS ARCHIVE PORTFOLIOS with the proceeds used to finance the research and writing phase: a major part of which is trying to make it as readable as possible and then to finance the Mock-Up Pages for Karl and Carson phase and then finance the Karl and Carson pages phase.