Friday, November 17, 2006

How NOT to draw Comics the Marvel Way

I remember wanting a copy of "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way," as a kid. It was actually first published when I was five years old, and I must have been around nine or ten when I decided that it would be the end all be all of art instuction books. Owning a copy was kind of a rite of passage. It meant that I was ready to take my work to the next level, or so I thought. But in reality, so many of the principles illustrated in the book were well outside of my skill set. I understood what was going on, but I never had the discipline to copy and master things like anatomy and drawing in general. That would have taken a lot of work and I just wanted to get things done as fast as I could an move on to the next thing.

I do remember discovering inking with a brush, and how that added an invaluable layer of understanding when it came to the language of line. Learning to use a brush also taught me that you get what you pay for when it comes to art supplies. I'd watch my synthetic brushes go from a pefect, springy point, to something analogous to the tip of a cotton swab in a couple of months. Sometimes I'd splurge on a sable liner that would develop a part in the hairs that eventually made inking with anything other than a double line impossible.

But I truly wanted to draw and ink the Marvel way. There was an undeniable level of craft in the way the translated the penciller's marks into something solid and reproducable. To this day I remain a huge fan of the work of John Byrne and Steve Epting. Even Larry Stroman, with his sense of design and layout in Alien Legion was an inspiration. It wasn't long before I couldn't imagine inking comic book art without a brush, or even a dipping pen. Markers just don't have the soul of a good brush loaded up with just enough ink to keep from leaving a blob or a fugitive mark. Granted, any permanent pen can be used to simulate the push and pull of bristles in motion, but to me that's faking it.

Before Marvel's tome in paperback I owned Peston Blair's Animation, an oversized book loaded with examples of how to draw a good range of cartoony character. It was huge, and only cost $2.50. But it was full of things I found almost impossible to draw without tracing, which was a no-no. For some reason, copying and tracing were also a kind of cheating, so I avoided both at all costs.

From the eight grade through high school I worked on my own series called The Convoy Battles which was an amalgamation of ideas I'd "borrowed" from countless movies and television shows, and even things I saw in toy stores that looked cool. It was a bit of Battlestar Galactica, some X-men, Battle of the Planets, and Robotech. When I look at the artwork, every phase reminds me of what I was into at the time. My exposure to Japanese mecha marked an important turning point in my own weapon and vehicle designs. Transformabiltiy and variation were two important aspects of Japanese creations that I had to work into my Convoy story.

One vehicle inparticular I developed into a transformable, multi-mode single pilot fighter with around five types. It was the result of me trying to draw a P-38 Lightning from memory. That plane was one of my favorites from the giant A book from our World Book Encyclopedia. The section on airplanes was really nicely illustrated and I loved that plane. I got the design wrong, and ended up with something that I later named the Double Dodger. It had two engines that looked like miniature versions of the shuttle's booster rockets that were joined by a single plane with the cockpit located in the center. I fit two stabilizing fins at the back of the engines and one more behind the cockpit with a laser for use by a tailgunner. I was also into building plastic models and the WWII kits I tried to build gave me a lot of ideas. The engines had cones at the front that were tipped with lasers as well. I also put one more laser in front of the cockpit. You can never have too many lasers.

The Double Dodger had another feature that would make it legendary, in my mind at least. When it fired it's forward laser array, a defensive energy field emerged perpendicular to the blast, making the ship invincible when it was attacking. I was still around 8 and not too adept at drawing things in three dimensions, so I could only visualize this from a top or side view. The Dodger was for adventurers and heroes. For some reason I chose a brown crayon to color the first ones. Brown became the only color for future versions. One was the Backstabber that had a pair of collars behind the nose cones that housed the Convoy's technar missles, and an even more powerful pair of reciprocating laser cannons. There was also The Rebounder, that featured a reversable propulsion/armament system. It was designed for pursuit and attack in tight corridors and canyons.

The Convoy Battles was about a long war between humans and an alliance of aliens: D.A.R.T (The Dominion's Armada of Racial Termination) was the flagship adversary, led by Cyzonians, a humanoid race with honey-brown skin and vertical irises. They were a bit like the Dominion that would appear years later on Star Trek Deep Space 9. B.I.R.D.S, Lithians, Sylfans, Comet Nebulans, and several other races were part of DART, and forced the humans to step up their game in terms of weapon design if they wanted to survive.

Seeing my ideas appear in films was never upsetting. On some level they made me a bit proud of the fact that if I did have a job in Hollywood or Marin, I'd be right up there with the big guys. The Double Dodger was a dead ringer for the droid fighter that appeared in Episode 1. An episode of Babylon 5 featured a vehicle with four prongs that was almost identical to the Spectacular Stinger, right down to the weapon system. I remembe trying to use my rudimentary understanding of electricity and magnitism to figure out a lightning-like engergy weapon that the Stinger would use. It was like a flying, symmetrical claw of four wings with a cockpit in the center. Four beams of engergy would emerge from the tips of the wings ahead of the ship, and then propelled forward by a fifth blast from in front of the cockpit. I'll never forget turning on the television on night and seeing the exact same design used for an alien vessel in Babylon 5. I searched my mind, trying to remember who I'd shown the Stinger to in school, and who might have gotten a dream job at big studio. Who could have stolen my idea???

to be continued...

1 comment:

Rick Lucey said...

Life is like that. So many people out there creating scifi imagery and there are only so many ways some designs can really look. Sure you can adjust something and add elements to try to make it different. Sort of like the main ships of STAR TREK take a flying saucer and add elements to it. Like you I have seen things in films that sort of looked like things I may of drawn a few years earlier. It is just one of those things that will always happen to some of us. Of course who we show are work to or even give them copies of it and then years later they use it well that is another thing in life we have to deal with. You may have that situation.