OR: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
A week-and-a-half ago, March 22nd through March 24th, 2013, there was a Comic Book Convention, FablesCon, in Rochester, MN -- Practically in my backyard (a mere 45 minutes away) -- based around the Fables comic book series. I do like the Fables series, and there were a number of creators who's work I admire that were going to be there. However, the main draw (no pun intended) for me was that DC Editor Shelly Bond was going to be there doing portfolio reviews and one lucky person was going to have the opportunity to do a back-up story for "Fables". [SPOILERS: It wasn't me. Sigh...]
While I've been to the Chicago ComiCon about a half-dozen times, I've never had an opportunity for a portfolio review and figured some of you out there on the Internets would be vaguely interested in the process and what to expect. Although, as this was my first critique, and the FablesCon was relatively small, I'm not sure how "normal" my review was...
Also, I am a little embarrassed by some parts of my portfolio. I had found out about FablesCon about 2-1/2 weeks before it started and had to move fast to think of something to submit, so some things just aren't as... refined as I would have liked. There are also some wonky things that slipped through the cracks or I just rushed out to get something on the page, figuring it was better to have something that looked a little weird, rather than having a half-finished panel. But, I figured I should show everything, warts-and-all.
And, without further ado (or adon't), here are the pages I did, along with Ms. Bond's critique of each page, my critique of each page, and my reactions to her reactions.
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So, I thought about doing something that would be tangently related to Fables. After a day-or-two of thinking about it, I had my hook: My story involved Internet Memes starting to bleed over into the Fables realm--a new breed of stories getting ready to go on the march and subsume the fables of old.
It all started with a single image: a Neil Gaiman-esque writer sitting in a booth at a diner, saying "It's all about the stories, isn't it?" From there, it just sort of built on itself. The story ballooned up to 8 pages at one time, but I had to trim it back as time began to run out for me as the hard deadline approached. Also, they only wanted 3 to 5 pages to go through.
THE ART: I had several false starts and debates with myself on what I wanted to do for the art. As I felt this was my only shot at doing something with the Big Two for the time being, I unfortunately began to over-analyze every aspect of it in a hyper-neurotic fashion... Should I just do comic book style pencils? If so, what paper stock should I use? I have some Strathmore Comic Art Pages which are ruled out, but I also have some better paper stock which I can rule out on my own? Standard HB lead, or 2B lead, or should I use Blue leads? Oh, wait, I could paint the comic pages--that would make the portfolio stand out. Watercolor or acrylic, I wonder? Wait, I could even do charcoal! No, that would smear too much... Well, you get the idea. Decisions, decisions...
I decided on just doing comic book style pencils using blue leads. I used to do work with printing pre-production and ad-layout back in the day, so I feel familiar with blue linework and generally like the aesthetic of blue linework. Also, the blue leads do not smear nearly as much as standard pencil leads. For paper, I had some 11" x 17" coated cardstock which has a smooth, matte finish which takes blue pencil really nicely and ruled out my own borders/panels. Although, to be honest, I could probably draw on ANY paper stock, since it will be photocopied for them to look at/leave with them, anyways. [Back in my younger days, I was far too concerned with finding "Kid Finished Bristol Board" for practicing my comic penciling like all the articles I read said professionals used, when I should have been working harder on the drawing side of the ledger.]
I scanned the pencils in sections as I don't have a tabloid-size scanner as of yet and stitched it together in PhotoShop. I adjusted the levels as a grayscale so the linework was dark enough to see and did the lettering in PhotoShop, too. Then, I output copies through a tabloid-size laser printer I had access to.
THE REVIEW: Ms. Bond was kind enough to spend about 10 minutes for the review, very gracious in pointing to the positives of the portfolio, and gentle with her criticisms--none of which I could disagree with--and was insightful of the way things could have been improved. I've heard of other editors and artists who have done reviews that weren't so sparing of people's feelings, to put it kindly. ;-)
[CLICK ON THE PICS TO EMBIGGEN]
Ms. Bond's Critique - She liked the way the camera was "locked down", reminding her of Steve Dillion's work. Ms. Bond also liked that the face and hands were expressive and moved around carrying on the conversation. She also felt the silent panel worked very well, but said you should limit it to only once an issue (I tend to use it quite often, myself, so I'll keep that in mind). She didn't have anything negative to say about it.
My Critique - It's funny she mentioned Steve Dillon, as I sort of thought about his work while doing this page (while I like Dillion's work, I'm much more partial to Frank Quitely, Brian Hitch, and others). Now that I look at it, while I am generally happy with this page, the arms seem a little on the short side in a couple of panels and some of the foreshortening is off a bit. I also over did the expressions on panel three, with his left hand gesturing and the right hand at his head... It seems a little overly manic.
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Ms. Bond's Critique - Ms. Bond wasn't too familiar with Nyan Cat, so I had to explain that meme a little bit to her. She did like how it seemed people in the diner were doing something in the background, and was able to project backstories for each person. She did criticize the fact the water glass was missing from panels 1 and 3. True. I tried to draw it in, but it looked weird where the glass was cut off/covered by most of his arm, so I cheated and just left it off (I copped to it when she pointed it out, and she felt it was better to fess up when doing an artistic cheat than make up some BS answer). She also felt the jump between panel 4 and panel 5 was a bit extreme, being more of a jump cut/scene change, rather than a transition. She would have liked to have seen one more panel between them more focused on them leaving and the door opening. I agreed with that, too.
Another major criticism was that the writer character in panels three, four, and five were in nearly the same position and on the same side of the panel in each case... well, close enough as to be visually similar and should have been broken up a bit more. Agreed.
My Critique - The drawing of the Nyan Cat in the first panel and third panel could be much improved and, while passable in the 4th and 5th panels, I think they could be better. Meh. In fact, I'm not all that good at drawing animals, so I had to ask myself what I was thinking when I put Nyan Cat as a major character in this story, other than it is something which struck me as amusing. Oh, well.
Ms. Bond also mentioned the poor balloon placement in Panel 4, which was cutting off most of the guy in the booth behind it. Very true. But, to paraphrase "Bones" McCoy from "Star Trek": "Dammit, Jim, I'm a penciler, not a letterer!" She gave me a pass on that, but I shall keep that in mind for the future.
Now, as for the jump cut between panels 4 and 5, I had another page planned after this, so there actually was going to be a panel with them walking toward the door, then on the next page exiting the diner and walking around the city before arriving at the park in PAGE THREE. However, time caught up with me and I just had to cut it. But, since I had boxed myself in, having already penciled PAGE FOUR and PAGE FIVE as taking place in a park, I did a jump cut to reference both them leaving the diner and seeing the park in the background, hoping to kill two birds with one stone, if you will. She caught that change in timing within the pages and the flow of the story and called me on it. Guilty as charged!
* * *
Ms. Bond's Critique - She felt the figures in the first panel were a little unclear. On an intellectual level, she knew where the lead character and cat were, but just looking at the drawing without the word balloons, it wasn't as obvious as it should have been. I can see her point on that. She also pointed out that the buildings in the background were out of perspective, suggesting I should have used more of a three-point perspective when drawing them. I can't disagree with that criticism, either.
My Critique - This was one of the weaker pages. Once again, the face of the cat on Panel 4 bothers me. Blah! He looks like the Pink Panther to me. As for the buildings being out of perspective, I was rushed toward the end--I was down to the final few hours and still had a lot of little things to finish up, yet--and just eyeballed the buildings, drawing them in with a ruler hoping it was close enough at the last minute. Alas, that was a big knock against the portfolio. I should have just taken the time and demonstrated I understood the concept of three-point perspective, rather than trying to half-ass it in the name of expedience. Sadly, I probably didn't even save myself much time by not doing it right the first time. Lesson learned!
The dialogue was just thrown together at the last minute to try and get me from Point A to Point B. I had reached the point where I just said to myself "Hey, Dummy, they're looking for pencillers, NOT writers! Get something on the page and get this printed out--you have to leave for the convention in two hours!" Something like that...
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Ms. Bond's Critique - As she was getting pressed for time (I was the last critique of that session), she didn't say much about this page or the next one. She just gave them a cursory glance while still talking about the previous pages.
My Critique - Lady Twilight was a generic female villain; I didn't have a specific meme in mind for her. Narrow Man is just a blatant rip-off of the Slender Man meme. I was also thinking about using some weird version of Zalgo, as well, which I find bizarrely fascinating and probably a perfect example of how the internet can take an idea and run with it--building up a shared mythology out of whole cloth. It was mostly Zalgo what I was thinking of when I built up the storyline of internet memes taking over Fabletown.
I debated how much I wanted to keep the figures mysterious until the final page reveal (which, I ran out of time anyways, so that question became moot). Originally, I had a close-up of her mouth as she spoke, and Narrow Man in the shadows a bit more and then keeping them just out of sight or far enough away that the reader didn't have a good sense of them at first. But, in the end I decided to show 'em in action.
The last panel looks a little funky--the expression on the writer's face needs to be fixed a little bit, methinks. I also have Narrow Man in a somewhat contorted posture because I was trying to give the sense that he was very, very tall. I thought if I just had him in a Medium-Shot holding up the writer by his neck ala Darth Vader in "A New Hope" without any context, he would look like a dwarf trying to choke the writer out with his bare hands.
* * *
Ms. Bond's Critique - Again, she really only gave a cursory glance at the last page and didn't have anything to say about it in particular.
My Critique - Panel 1 is a bit off. I tried to make it look like Narrow Man casually snapped his neck. Instead, I think it just looks boring. And, if you compare the last panel on PAGE FOUR to the first panel of PAGE FIVE, the action just doesn't flow as well as it should. So, I will give myself a knock for that transition.
I had also sort of painted myself into a corner, as I wanted to use the sunglasses as a prop used by Lady Twilight at the end of the story. It seemed particularly villainous to me for her to take the dead writer's sunglasses and wear them as her own. When I was mostly finished with the pencils, I began to worry it was looking like I was trying to use the sunglasses so I didn't have to draw eyes, in the same way Rob Liefeld uses smoke and rubble so he doesn't have to draw feet. Thank goodness Ms. Bond didn't see it that way. :-)
There was going to be one more page with two panels, but I was just out of time and couldn't add it in. The first panel was nearly a splash page with Lady Twilight wearing the sunglasses and saying "Look out world, here we come!" with her arms in the air as if in celebration, with Narrow Man standing behind her in dour assent. Then the last panel just being the Nyan Cat watching them from the shadows behind some bushes. Alas, I had to cut it, so I just added that line to the last panel on PAGE FIVE, instead.
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Well, there you have it. It ended that I didn't get selected to do the art for the "Fables" backup story. I probably should have used a more direct connection to the Fables world for my story, using some of the characters from Fables, rather than being too clever by half by running parallel to it? Maybe I should have done the pages fully-painted with acrylic, instead? Who knows... Oh, well. I will continue to plug away at it until the next opportunity presents itself. Hopefully, it won't be too long. :-)
Back to the drawing board. (LITERALLY!)
BTW: The next day, I went to a Chinese Buffet and my fortune cookie said the following:
"You will be successful in your career."
Hrm. Yes, but WHICH career?
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Blue-Lead Pencils on 11" x 17" Frostbrite (#110) Cardstock, scanned in as a grayscale and lettered in PhotoShop.