For a while, I had been wanting to do a "Universe piece", an image that would present all the important characters from Silver, and set the mood. I didn't have a particular idea to approach it. My ideas tend to emerge as I doodle. So I doodled, and quickly landed on the idea to have a giant Drac, standing in front of his treasure, dominating the picture, a sort of "tree of life" from which the entire story flows, with the humans on one side, and the vampires on the other. The steps where a natural solution to stage a large number of characters AND to evoke the castle feel. I also loved that it gave the scene a Cecil B. DeMille sort of mad pageantry. The rough below, for being very rough indeed, has almost everything in it. I was originally playing with the idea of having the religious statues from the Harker crypt in the top left corner, but I found that a) Having big silhouettes in the background fought the perspective, and b) the city skyline would offer more contrast between the two worlds. This rough was done in photoshop, where I have brushes that I love because they recreate the look and feel of drawing with soft pencils. Anyway, the basic composition is here. A V-shape coming down the stairs.
Then comes what I call my working-out stage, and I like doing in in Manga Studio. Why? Because that's also where I will do the rough blacks-spotting later, and because of the great perspective tools available. MS lets you set up your points of perspective, and horizon tilt, and lets you snap your drawing to that grid. That doesn't mean it creates the perspective for you, but it allows you to execute it very fast.
The challenge in an image like this is to maintain clarity AND point of view, among all the information. The only way that I know how to do this is to start from the eyes of the character who has the scene's central point of view, and expand from there in concentric circles. So the narrative flow guides the drawing in a way, and my as patience runs out, so does my urge to burden the peripheral characters with too much detail. Also fun little ideas come as I follow that narrative approach, like having Phedre Duvalier hold her severed head.
The beauty of working digitally is of course the ability to reuse drawings. The dragon motif on the pyramid and the two little guys pulling on the chain top right are from the book.
At this point, I thought I was pretty much done with working out the rough, until I realized I had done Sledge completely wrong. See below.
On the original drawing, Sledge didn't look like herself. She looked pose-y and quite frankly objectified. To be honest, the issue of objectification is always a tricky one. It's a fine line when drawing attractive woman in adventure stories, and sometimes you have to catch yourself. And even setting aside political correctness, I'm talking about staying true to the character.Just from a draftsmanship stand-point, you are always trying to push the pose, and it's true that, regardless of context, the drawing on the left is more exciting. But it's a different character. So I did the second version (on the right). A less "exciting" drawing in the abstract, but ultimately, a real character, not a swimsuit model.
The next step is spotting the blacks. On a large piece like this, there is way too much trial and error for me not to work it out digitally first. Before getting to the nitty gritty of all the characters, I wanted to lay down the image's main contrast motif: the cascading blood/"tree of life" shape at the center, framed by the background black. It took me a few attempts to design the central pattern, but I finally ended up with something I was happy with.
Then, I added the rest of the black. I wish I could say that there is a method to the madness, but there isn't one. However, I approach differently the hero characters, which will be more "high-key" in spirit, and where the black describes specific local colors (hair, garments, etc...), and the secondary characters who are part of an ensemble (like the cop crowd top left). For those areas, I zoom out as much as possible, to treat the whole area as one shape, and design within it, sometimes merging characters. Then I zoom back in to refine.
Then, it's time to transition from the digital to the physical world. I print the blacks as light blue on bristol, ready for ink. In this case, because the image is very big, I had to print it in 2 sections. The entire image is 22"x29". Because it's a big image, it seems that it is very clean, and that all I have left to do is trace, but by zooming in, you can see that it is in fact still quite rough, and that there is a lot left to formulate while inking. I usually like my roughs to be worked out enough so that there isn't too much anxiety while inking, but open enough so that the piece really peaks in that final stage. Basically, for the last stage, I want to be drawing, not tracing. Also notice that I wanted the city seen through the window to be in "zip-a-tone", so I printed that part in black on the bristol.
Then, it's the moment of truth. Coptic markers are my weapon of choice.
And here we go...
Here too, I start from the eyes of the character whose POV this is, and expend concentrically from here, organizing lines and shapes around it. As you see on the video below, I start each character by the eyes, and out. There is of course no right or wrong way to do this. I've seen people first draw the outlines, and then add the facial details. To me, that's like trying to put he toothpaste back in the tube. I jus't cant do it. It only flows one way. On the video, you can see that I started with Mullins, not Finn. That's because this piece was making me a little jittery, and I needed a trial run. But once I got through my Mullins warm up, I started up with Finn.
It's very important to understand that for harmony and clarity, conceptually blocking out the characters, or even the shapes, is not enough. On an abstract level, the lines of the drawing all have to come together in a unified flow. The simplest way to think about it is to picture a stylized drawing of the sun.
The drawing on the left is what a young child or someone with absolutely no drawing skills will do. It'll show the inability to organize lines and make them flow together harmoniously into a coherent system. The same basic principle is true in a more complex system like an illustration or a comic page. Beyond the specifics and semantics of what is represented, the lines must all flow together in a unified way. Like vibrations in the same field, if you will. And the epicenter is the image's focus, hopefully based on the main character's point of view. Although it is easy to do in that simplistic sun doodle, it is more difficult in actual drawings, and there is no real way to teach someone how to do it. It is something that the eye must learn to see and the hand learn to do until it becomes second nature. It's a pathway in the brain that has to form with practice.