Jeremy Rock is a crazy-talented young artist I worked with at BOOM! Studios when I was EIC. His style is expressive but not unrealistic, he has storytelling chops, and he has that clean linestyle that I’m personally very fond of, like Steve Dillon and Dave Gibbons. When I decided to do “Luther” as a proof-of-concept, I reached out to him, and he’s graciously volunteered to guest-blog here and take us through the steps of creation. Ladies and gentlemen, Jeremy Rock:
Hey everyone, Jeremy Rock here. I’m the illustrator that worked with Mark to develop “Luther.” I’m going to take some time to explain how this digital comic was created. Scattered throughout this post will be links that lead to visual examples of the process.
A couple of years ago, I discovered Balak’s digital comics on DeviantArt and his work completely changed my perspective on what a digital comic could be. I was inspired to create a digital comic of my own, but I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to begin. Then something odd happened; in early 2011 Mark Waid asked if I was interested in working with him on…a digital comic. Mark wasn’t aware that I was looking for an opportunity like this and I was surprised we had very similar opinions when it came to digital, a nice bit of luck for both of us.
So where do we even start? There are tons of different storytelling techniques to explore in digital and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the options. After a few brief discussions with Mark, I decided that I needed to create some guidelines. I had to narrow things down and focus on the techniques we liked most. The first thing I created was a “Digital Comics Format Sheet”. With this, I laid out some of the ideas I thought we should explore first. My goal was to keep everything very simple. The concepts I laid out on the DCFS are loose guidelines that I made for myself. They are not rules that I think every artist has to follow.
• The DIGITAL COMICS FORMAT SHEET
The first subject on the sheet is Landscape View. Mark and I both feel Landscape offers a more comfortable reading experience for digital comics on computer and tablet screens. At the time, we wanted to go full wide screen with our first experiment but there were some limitations with certain devices. Plus, I wanted to explore a way to convert the story to print and have it fit the traditional comic book format. It seemed that 4:3 was the best aspect ratio for the ideas we wanted to test out. Next, I began playing around with panels. I wanted to make sure everyone could follow the panels and not feel confused about which one to read next. Also, I tried to limit the number of panels on the screen so that each panel would be large enough for the reader to see clearly.
I started thinking about Print. Mark and I are not interested in replacing print comics with digital comics. We believe they can coexist and decided to explore a technique that involved stacking Screens. The basic idea, as shown on the DCFS, is to take two 4:3 Screens and stack them on top of each other to form a traditional comic book page. I took a piece of 11×17 comic art board, which I normally use for printed work, and measured out two 4:3 Screens on it. The two Screens fit on the board with each Screen measuring 9 inches wide and 6.75 inches high. Drawing within these windows makes it possible to work in both digital and print at the same time. Split the page in half and you have two digital comic Screens. Shrink the full page down and you have a traditional comic book page. Using the Screen stacking approach makes it possible to create a digital story in landscape view and later print out a collection for a trade paperback.
I sent this format guideline sheet to Mark, he liked what he saw and sent back a script.
• THE LUTHER SCRIPT (click to download)
The original script for LUTHER was six pages long and created for the BOOM! Studios comic ZOMBIE TALES. Mark sent me this script along with the message “Fuss with it. Obviously, don’t feel beholden to page breaks, panel counts, etc–take it your own direction”. I decided to not look at the artwork of the original LUTHER story that was printed in ZOMBIE TALES. I needed my mind to find its own way so I sat down at my drawing desk and started sketching out ideas.
My rough sketches are always a mess and seem to make sense to no one else but me. After I finish a rough sketch phase, I clean up the scribbled ideas and draw them clearer so that others can understand them too. I normally like to draw a lot of concept art before creating the final line art for a story but this time I only drew some head shots for Murphy and Luther. Everything else was designed while I was drawing the final art.
I worked scene by scene and thought about what I wanted to show on each Screen. I changed a lot of shots around and even added in a few extra ones. Because of these adjustments LUTHER became a bit longer. I always focused on digital first and later looked at ways to make it fit comfortably to print. Some concepts would work great in digital but not convert well to print. That’s fine for an exclusively digital comic, but I was trying to explore both formats. There was some tug of war between the two. When I felt that I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted to show on the Screens and the Pages, I cleaned up the ideas and created a Click Sheet.
I don’t own Flash or other programs that some people use to create digital comics. All I have is pencil, paper, ink, a scanner, and an outdated version of Photoshop. I created the Click Sheet to show how every screen would look each time someone clicked through the digital comic. I used this tool to help keep track of the stories pacing. The design of the Click Sheet was inspired by film reels. The first LUTHER Click Sheet that I sent to Mark was very rough and filled with sketchy art. I mapped everything out because I needed to know if what I was doing was even making sense. I threw in the title Screen and toyed around with an idea for the credits. I even added in lettering because it was playing such a big role with figuring out the pacing of the Clicks.
This rough Click Sheet looks a bit different than the final version of LUTHER. Mark and I talked it over a few times and made some small adjustments to smooth things out. One of the biggest differences with this Click Sheet is on Screens 17 and 18. Mark emailed me, “the one extra beat I think we could use is a more shocking transition between screens 18 and 19, for instance, like (maybe) zombie eyes closed and then zombie eyes OPEN”. I really liked the idea but I had no clue how to add it in. Throwing in a new panel midway would completely rearrange all of the following panels and throw off both the digital and printed versions of the story. I toyed around with a few ideas but nothing seemed to work. Then I considered overlapping panels. I cropped down panel 2 on Screen 18 and used the leftover space to create an extra panel. Now I had one smaller panel with the zombies’ eyes closed and one larger panel with the zombies’ eyes opened. Overlapped, they created the illusion of movement when clicking through the story and didn’t offset the panels of the printed pages.
Once we were happy with the pacing I started creating the final line art and a final Click Sheet. There was one small pacing change on Screens 26 and 27 after this last Click Sheet was created.
All of the sketchy layouts for the Screens were drawn on 11×17 copy paper and stacked two at a time on each piece of paper. I used a light box to transfer the layouts over to 11×17 comic art boards.
I cleaned up the sketchy line work on the final boards with 2h lead and inked all of the pages with Pigma Micron pens.
The inked art was sent off to the talented Robt Snyder to color. After that, Troy Peteri added some fantastic lettering. Last, but certainly not least, Phil Smith came in and did a great job assembling LUTHER into a PDF. I can’t thank these guys enough for what they did with this little story. I’d also like to thank Mark for giving me the opportunity to work with him on such a fun project.
So that’s pretty much it, LUTHER is a very small step on a very long path. There will be much bigger steps made in the future by many talented creators at Thrillbent.com. I hope that all of you will check out the site when it launches May 1st. Thanks for reading!