Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lowlife: The Deal Part Three: After Hokusai

Cover to 2000AD Prog 1752, based on a print by Hokusai
© 2011 Rebellion Developments/2000AD
Dirty Frank Created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint 

I didn't have that much so say about this week's episode of Lowlife: The Deal, but, luckily, Prog 1752 is the one that gets my Hokusai-derived Dirty Frank cover, which has been getting a lot of nice feedback, so I'll blat on about that instead.

Tharg-in-Residience Matt Smith sent me a very loose brief - a shot of Dirty Frank "done in a Japanese, Hokusai-style." Luckily, as a fan of the graphic works of Japanese print-master Katsushika Hokusai, I already had plenty of reference for his work to hand, so I set about searching for compositions with figures who were bowing, bending or otherwise inclining - ones that could easily be adapted to make a slump-postured Dirty Frank.
"Musahshi Goro Sadayo Dies in Battle at the Age of Fifteen" (right)
was the source for the figure of Dirty Frank.
From the
Illustrated Book of Heroes of China and Japan in the Style of Katsushika.
To give you an idea of what I was looking for, here's the source material for the final cover, from the Illustrated Book of Heroes of China and Japan in the Style of Katsushika. I realized that the dying Samurai on the right-hand page could be easily turned into Dirty Frank striding along holding a staff.

I came up with three main possibilities, which I worked up as roughs on a 2000AD cover grid:

Three cover roughs - in the end, I only submitted the centre one.

The first is Dirty Frank and a stylized Aimee Nixon (the symbol of Frank's quest in Japan). The second is Frank on his travels, striding towards Hondo-Cit . The third is a Warrior Frank looking out over the city.

After thinking on it a while, I decided the second image was so much stronger than the others that I'd just submit that one, keeping the others in reserve. Luckily Tharg-in-Residence Matt Smith liked it, so away we went.

I wanted the backgrounds to have the correct flavour, so I borrowed the countryside portion of the background from this print, Aoigaoka Waterfall at Edo from A Tour of Japanese Waterfalls. I flipped the image left-for right to fit the composition, omitting the figures to focus attention on Dirty Frank.

There being no Hokusai prints of Hondo-Cit skyscrapers, I just made that bit up, using a sort of rough orthographic projection to match the not-quite-but-nearly perspective that Hokusai employed in his drawings.

A close-up of the lines in Dirty Frank's
coat, showing the lines created by
Manga Studio's brush tool.
The Samurai I was using for reference was wearing armour, and I wanted a "Hokusai-i-fied" version of Frank's normal outfit, so I copied the folds in the cloth from other Hokusai prints. I also noticed that Hokusai was using a brush for his cloth folds - the lines are more irregular that the ones on, say faces and hands, which I'm guessing are drawn with a bamboo pen - luckily I was drawing this in Manga Studio, a Japanese program which has analogues for the sort of Sumi-E brushes you'd need to get this effect. I can't say I controlled the lines all that well (see left), but it helped to give verisimilitude* to the drawing.
*I've always wanted to say that, "give verisimilitude."

The final stage was to export the drawing to Photoshop for colouring. Since I was imitating the effect of woodblock printing, I used flat colour with no modelling or shading, just a couple of gradients (an effect Hokusai produced by mixing inks on the printing blocks). I opened the file in Corel Painter and "mussed up" the gradients a little using a blender brush to stop them looking too mechanical.
Hokusai printed his work in lovely bright colours, which have subtly faded over time. To get the character of the colouring right, I sampled most of the key colours from scans of Hokusai's prints, filling in with a few colours of my own as needed. The final stage was to add a subtle texture over the whole image - appropriately enough, one I made myself from a photo of the weathered paint on the back door of our local Chinese grocers. This gave the impression of paper texture and helped to break up the too-perfect flat Photoshop colouring a little.

So, after all that effort, do you have anything more than a big cold swipe? Well, I made sure to sign the cover "After Hokusai," the standard artist's way of crediting the person who's work is being quoted (thanks to the guys at 2000AD for including this in the cover credit). For those who already know Hokusai's work, it'll hopefully be an amusing pastiche, a fun way of summing up the themes of this series of Lowlife. For those who haven't heard of Hokusai before, hopefully it'll be a way of spreading the word; and if you'd like to know more, his Wikipedia page and this Google search aren't a bad place to start.


Monty said...

Must admit Low Life is one of my fave strips, although it took a while to get into...it is now the first story I read - good stuff!

Matt said...

Fascinating stuff, Matt.

Matt Badham

Jed A said...

Lovely stuff mate.

Got to say, I don't buy the individual progs any more but I'll be picking up the eventual collection. ;)

Rapuncela said...

cool screens :)

Rob said...

Really enjoyed seeing this cover!

The Hondo cit splash page had me open-mouthed too...
i always look forward to seeing your art.