by Chad Lewis
My name is Chad Lewis, and I’m a graduate student in the Visual Communication Department at Kent State University. In April, I received the opportunity of a lifetime when chosen alongside three other student artists to assist in retelling the “Avengers Origins” stories, through Adobe’s online portfolio site, Behance. I was assigned Thor, written by the very talented Karl Kessel. As part of the project, Adobe Students asked us to use their mobile applications and track our workflow through Creative Cloud, allowing us to tackle each stage of the building process on our own.
Because I was tasked with handling all points of the creative process, I will outline my decisions from layout, pencil, ink and finally, color. Wearing many hats in this creative process was an exciting and daunting undertaking. Thankfully, I wasn’t on my own, as Marvel’s editors offered feedback and tips to improve continuity throughout Thor’s story.
The first stage of comic creation is layout. Here, it’s important to think about readability and eye movement when designing. How is the reader directed from panel to panel? Are the chosen viewpoints in panels allowing the script to shine?
Panel one in page two of my layout (pictured above) is a great example of variation in storytelling. Before constructing this particular panel, I received parameters stating that Thor had decided to protect Earth from a cadre of villains. To tell this story, I chose an aerial bird’s-eye viewpoint to showcase Thor as an underdog dwarfed by a mass of circling antagonists. Imagine this scene flipped; picture a low angled shot where Thor is in the foreground, occupying most of the panel’s live area, while the villains are in the middle ground, appearing much smaller. With this new viewpoint, our hero is towering over the villains and is suddenly no longer the underdog. Both my drawn layout and this scenario fit the schematics of the script, but offer very different interpretations of the story. Whether the reader feels the protagonist is the victim or victor can be greatly affected by layout.
For this particular stage, I used pencils to roughly sketch in my characters and the viewpoints. I then scanned my sketches into Photoshop CC and was able to receive edits from Marvel through Creative Cloud Libraries. I then proceeded with making changes using the Adobe Photoshop Sketch mobile app on my iPad. This was perfect because I was able to incorporate feedback from Marvel without starting over.
When I’m stuck with layout questions and unsure how to proceed, I often refer to Scott McCloud’s seminal work, Making Comics. This informational graphic novel on making comics is packed with great content and does a wonderful job clearly describing a layout’s limitless potential.
Once the layout is finalized, the second stage in comic art production is the pencils, which fleshes out decisions made in earlier layout construction. Generally, as creators work through the pencils section, the intent is to tighten anatomical forms and clarify foreground, middle ground and background with line width and details. The inclusion or omission of detail plays an important role in readability. As the reader reads a page, their information acquisition speed of each panel varies depending on how much detail is presented to them. For example, if there is an establishing scene in our story and we want our viewer to take in the environment, see the time of day and note the weather, include it! All of these bits of information are important for creating setting. In other panels however, scenes where we want to convey emotion or showcase action, detail might become a clutter. There’s a balance needed to offer an aesthetic experience while maximizing how efficiently the story is read.
Seen dotted throughout the penciled pages above are X’s. These marks are placed in areas of the panels where black will be placed in the next stage, which is inking. With multiple people working on one project, pencil pages have to be clear and easily read; these marks serve as effective shorthand to inform the next artist while cutting down on lead-heavy pages. I worked through this pencil stage with traditional pencils, then used Photoshop Sketch’s pencil brush to make additional edits.
For inspiration I like to look at illustration pioneers such as Arthur Rackham and Al Dorne. These storytelling masters loved line detail and knew how to guide the viewer’s eye through their works.
Inking and Color
The third and fourth steps when creating comics are the inking and coloring processes. Inking serves the important role of cementing details drawn in lightly by pencil as well as to further establish depth in each panel. Since foreground is closest to the viewer, the line width here is usually at its thickest, followed in descending order by middle ground and background. Inking also serves the important purpose of describing action set pieces. The lines in panel three of page two, pictured below, where the Avengers are routing Loki, were placed to reinforce emotion. Color is then placed behind the ink and dropped in digitally.
For the inking process I used digital brushes in Photoshop Sketch. I then dropped these inks into Photoshop CC to add the final color. For the last panel on page two, I inked and colored the entire scene digitally using Photoshop Sketch.
Chad Lewis is a VCD Grad Student at Kent State and freelance illustrator who’s based in Cleveland.