Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lowlife: Creation Part One: Borrowed Plumage

Cover to 2000AD Prog by me.
Dirty Frank © 2009 Rebellion Developments/2000AD
Dirty Frank created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint,
this version of the character based on designs by Simon Coleby.

The new 2000AD is out, featuring the first episode of Lowlife: Creation, by Rob Williams and myself, plus a cover by me (slightly to my surprise, as the "milky beard" thing happens in a later episode of the story). Much to my relief and delight, both cover and interior have printed exactly as I envisaged (note that "relief" comes before "delight" there; with two weeks' hard slog ahead of me to finish the last episode of Lowlife: Creation, finding that I'd messed up the repro on the seven previous episodes would have been a serious blow to morale).

I've talked before about how working in comics sometimes gives you a chance to play with favourite concepts and/or characters (or reasonable facsimiles thereof). Being an art droid for 2000AD means I'm sometimes let loose upon the stuff of my childhood dreams; Judge Dredd is the only character I've worked on that I also read regularly as a child.

Old Stoney Face can be a bit of a challenge, though; he's one of the few flagship licensed characters where you're positively encluraged to come up with your own version. Finding my feet with him has taken a while (and, ironically, since I felt I got a handle on the character, I've been so busy doing other stuff that I've only managed one Dredd story, and he wasn't in that one overmuch.) To date, I think that I've done better with Mega-City One than Dredd himself.

Pencils for Page 5 of Part 1 of Lowlife:Creation,
showing how my version of Dirty Frank is closely based on Simon Coleby's.
Lowlife © 2009 Rebellion Developments/2000AD

Lowlife created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint.

Lowlife has been a treat in that regard; I get to play around with the city without having to grapple with Dredd (and all issues of interpretation aside, not having to draw all those bloody eagles is nice;-). There's the question of Dirty Frank of course; in some ways he's a more complex character to interpret (he has more than one facial expression for a start), but after some playing around I decided to stick pretty closely to Simon Coleby's version. There were two good reasons for this; first, Simon's really made the character his own, and I wanted the readership to be drawn straight into Lowlife: Creation without spending the first couple of episodes adjusting to a new version of the character. Second, all my attempts to change the look of Frank ended up looking like degenerate versions of Ian Culbard.

Whenever I draw Mega-City One, thoughts of Carlos Ezquerra are never far behind. Carlos is of course the founding father of Mega-City One (more on this in a later post), and he was an major early influence on me. When I was eleven or so, I wanted to be Carlos Ezquerra in the way that other boys wanted to be rock stars or football players. Although I learned to counterfeit his rounded, organic style of design, it's so distinctive that I never felt able to pastiche it in my own projects, but working on Mega-City stories gives me the perfect excuse the borrow the Ezquerra "plumage" - so my Mega-City One always follows that tradition of bubbly shapes and gritty surfaces.

Carlos Ezquerra's classic stripey H-Wagons from mega-epic The Apocalypse War.
Judge Dredd © 2009 Rebellion Developments/

Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.

This time ~~I went one step further: inspired by Dave Taylor's recycling of the good old-fashioned stripey Ezquerra H-Wagons from The Apocalypse War for his Judge Anderson story Big Robots (Judge Dredd Megazine #257-261, 2007) I decided I'd also use them in the flashback sequence in the first episode of Lowlife: Creation.

My 3D model of the classic Carlos Ezquerra H-Wagon, made in Carrara 3D 6.
I faffed away ages building the rear booster, but in the final strip you don't even see the ship from behind.

Being me, I couldn't resist seeing if I could make a 3D model of the thing, even though it only appears in one panel. I was quite pleased with the result - by sheer fluke I got the little upward tilt of the nose section right on the first try; I'm sure I couldn't have done it deliberately. I've added a few tweaks to my version (external cannons, another eagle on the nose, and extra pods on the "wings"), but it's fundamentally Carlos' design.

The rendering of the 3D model (top) versus the finished art (bottom)

Since I needed reference for the H-Wagon, I ended up re-reading The Apocalypse War. It's a remarkable achievement - in 1982, after an absence of five years, Carlos Ezquerra returned to the character he'd created by drawing 25 episodes straight in real time (ie one per week; these days we art droids get at least a fortnight per episode). There's the odd dodgy bit here and there of course, but 25 episodes straight - I mean, I once drew four episodes of Dredd on fortnightly deadlines and I nearly died of it.

A flashback scene by Carlos Ezquerra from The Apocalypse War.
Judge Dredd © 2009 Rebellion Developments/2000AD
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.

Anyway, re-reading The Apocalypse War, I was reminded of a neat technique Carlos used for flashback sequences. Where other artists tended to muck with panel borders to show flashbacks, Carlos "faded down" flashback panels by replacing black areas with chunks of mid-grey hatching. A useful effect, thunk I, and one well worth nicking for my own flashback sequence.

Left: the "blacks" are defined in mid grey.
Middle: less than a dozen strokes of my "Carlos hatching brush" generates all this hatching (the red outlines show the area that needs to be covered).
Right: the "blacks" are used to mask out the hatching.

I built an Illustrator brush that produces a cluster of short "Carlos hatching" lines, so I could lay down dense hatching really quickly. I then masked out these blocks of hatching to give hard-edged areas of shading, similar to the effect seen in The Apocalypse War. Since my flashback sequence takes place in a blizzard, I lined the shading up with the direction of the wind and blown snow to add dynamism. A modified version of the hatching brush let me quickly add myriad flecks of blown snow to the backgrounds.

The funny thing is, I've joked for years about drawing a strip that was just one man in a blizzard - as a relaxing antidote to all that detailed architectural stuff I usually do - but when I finally got the chance, I spent so long making 3D models and custom brushes that in the end the pages were no quicker or easier than usual.

Still, the getting there was fun.


Pete Wells said...

Wonderfully entertaining as ever sir! I have to say your work on both the cover and the strip itself is wonderful and it's great to see how you do the ol' Dizzy magic!

Thanks for a very entertaining blog!

Graeme Neil Reid said...

Just brilliant mate, great post and great art as always.

Did you sing along to the 'Apocalypso' song? :)

Unknown said...

Peter - thanks for reading!

Graeme - why, I sing it all the time anyway! :-)

james corcoran said...

Was great to see your stuff back in the prog which for me anyway has been lacking something.Love you take on the big meg and as ever your behind the scenes master classes are an inspiration.Thanks again for the tips you sent me I've been putting them to good use,even though I haven't posted anything yet

Best wishes James

Anonymous said...

The cover reminds me of Mike McMahon's early Slaine ... and I don't give much higher compliments than that... I like it a lot.

Your auto- Ezquerra brush fills me with admiration too - hell of a good idea.

I. N. J. Culbard said...

Awesome work.

Nick! said...

Though I'm not an artist, and I tend to pick up your 2000AD/Megazine stuff in trade much later, I do love to read your technique posts, Mr 'Israeli.

Oddly, my most favouritest of your recent books is the one I've seen the least technique stuff on - I surely did love XTNCT - though I get the impression that next to the artistic powerhouses of Stickleback and Leviathan, that book might have had the work front-loaded into the character designs.

Course, I don't know if or when Lowlife gets a GN release, so I may not see Lowlife for a while. I love a comic set in a blizzard, though, so may have to go looking for this one. That's a really striking cover!

Anonymous said...

Dolphin rape waiver? what's that all about! A replacement for fishpaste perhaps?


Anonymous said...

Great post and great insights .

Dredd is the dream character to work on allright .I have always liked the way everyone did their own take on him . The very idea of a model sheet was only ever there it seems as a basic guide .

Great artwork as usual .

Cheers .

Michael Grant Clark said...

Fun to see your process in action. And great to see the H wagon again. Classic design.

Did you ever get round to building a lawmaster?