Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LOGO DESIGN 01 _ Feeding Ground Part 1

The full package of a comic book is a big marriage between art, story, and design. As much as it is said that making a comic is akin to making a movie, it is also a regular design journal utilizing the trades of poster art composition, font treatment, and logo design. The letterer is typically the invisible hand among already unsung heroes and I don't have enough experience to weigh in on their craft. But, as a freelance designer, I've done my share of logo designs and I've had to bring those skills to branding my own book. Among the professionals plying this trade for comics, it was letterer Todd Klein and his blog Todd's Blog (natch) that proved to be an invaluable resource as I researched the field.

A prodigious talent in his own right, Todd is able to field his work in concert with an encyclopedic survey of its comic ancestors, particularly though his Logo Studies link. His site is not only a catalog of the changing styles and tastes of decades of type design but also of the influence of technology in their creation from the hand drawn through the digital age. Todd is often able to tease the genesis of a design from the working files and feedback from their creators as well as glean their fine art and design influences. It's exciting stuff for anyone who appreciates the craft and energy that define much of comic art.

The logos I've designed in the past usually consisted of a primary image with no text, limited text, or an even integration of the two. Here are some designs I executed for the online shop The Angry Robot, our own Blacklight Comics logo, and the logo for Nickelodeon's "Random! Cartoons."

But, for the title design of a comic book, the "story" needs to be told through the text itself and in a way that compliments the cover art. The logo also normally needs to perform this function from its allocated perch on the top third of the cover because of the way that most comics are displayed in stores; racked so that overlapping books only allow the tops of the rear books to remain visible. Ideally the title would be an integrated part of the composition but the masthead approach dominates for ease of use.

Our upcoming mini-series, Feeding Ground, is a present-day horror story situated in the desert. It's visceral and desperate and infuses some nasty creatures into a politically charged environment. The challenge in creating this design has been the need to communicate real world horror without resorting to spooky or gory font treatments. On top of that, there are a whole lot of letters in the title. Over the next few thumbnails, you'll be able to see some of the relationships I've tried to reinforce among the different letterforms.

In my first attempt, I went for communicating a regional identity with the use of a western font. And, well, it seems to Western-y.

Pulling a 180, I abandoned the use of a decorative font for the more industrial forms you would see on a road sign, communicating travel. Here, I enjoy the interplay between the rounded and edged corners, clean silhouette, and cold uniform spacing. I also roughed it up a bit digitally to distress the outline and give it a pixelated tooth. Here it is in three size variations.

Building off of the existing flows of curve and point, I printed this design and then extended some of the ends by hand. This one is starting to feel more self-contained to me, more like a logo than a series of letters. The exaggerated points also add a more sinister intent. The slightest additions changed the overall feel and I found that it helped to look at the reduced thumbnail in my browser rather than get caught up in a 400% magnification of one serif.

Check out the subtle change in the anatomy of the F in these two versions, one in which the top arm ends to allow the mind to fill the gap and the second in which I added a point to close off the form and mirror the G. Which do you prefer?

For the last series in this installment, I wanted to craft a title by hand in order to suggest the self-sustaining, hardscrabble, world our characters inhabit. In general, I prefer it whenever I can craft something outside of the computer as a starting point for any digital manipulation. (I drew the letters on actual ping pong balls for the Random! logo) The subtle fluctuations tend to give any design more life.

As an artmaking packrat, I still have stencils from a little set I received as a kid in the 80s. With a liberal application of fingerpaint, both red paint on a white surface and also white paint on a dark surface, I globbed it up to varying degrees. Here you have a few final thumbnails from clean to jacked to a combination of the two.

In this case, I discovered that there is an inherent mirroring of the Gs and Ds that I can choose to exploit as well as the prominence of the O and double EEs. Unfortunately, the font itself has a rounded Bauhaus feel that makes the overall design seem "retro" to me.

Some of these are still viable candidates but I've already moved on to a few more approaches to make sure that I've done due diligence to our book. Let me know what's working for you and I'll be updating the process in future installments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Apple Comic Con 02 _ WRAP UP

Thanks to those of you who stopped by and visited our little piece of Real Estate at the Big Apple Comic Con (adorned by placards produced by the lovely Chris Mangun). It was my first time behind the table at a con and it was extremely rewarding to witness the enthusiasm of fans and the talent and generosity of creators from that vantage point. The community around comics is definitely part of what makes me appreciate the medium.

I want to take the time to reach out and thank a number of creators who I had the great fortune to meet at this con. I don't feel comfortable posting their art on this blog but I'll include some of their self-promotion work. Please follow the links to their respective home bases.

First off, much respect to artist Juan Doe for inviting us to share his Artist's Alley table. I met Juan at NYC Comic Con back in February and we hit it off across a Marvel signing. His work is next generation cool. Juan's love and understanding of both classic Marvel and European comics are processed through a style that is distinctly his. When I first saw his work, I was struck by how fully envisioned and executed it was. His covers and interiors are complete pieces, not colored drawings, and have a graphic energy that is exciting amidst Marvel's current "realistic" house style. He finishes his work digitially as if it were any manual tool and, man, the guy can draw! He's the full package and, along with his Fine Art and children's stories, someone who is not content to sit still. Plus, I had to admire how laid back he is for the amount of work he takes on.

We were seated next to Tim Bradstreet whose work has set the tone for noir-fueled cover art of the last two decades. As is often the case, it was incredible to see his work in person. His pieces are extremely time-intensive, utilizing photo-reference with a command of mark-making that should be studied under a loop. His heavy blacks are bottomless and bleed out into fine detailing. Check out an interview about his work here. He couldn't have been nicer with fans and I was excited to hear that he's been extending his talents to film along with Punisher conspirator Thomas Jane.

Spider-Man artist Alex Saviuk shared essential advice on the business of being a professional artist (among other things, save those receipts!). He's a pro and I absolutely need to track down his team-up with Will Wisner on The Escapist, Eisner's last work.

Art school friends Paolo Rivera and Joe Quinones made for a pair of today's top artists. They both posesss and exhibit a fundemental understanding of the artform without leaning too heavily on style or cutting corners. In particular, Paolo poses for and sculpts (!) his own reference and posts often about his process. They are young guns with a master's work ethic. Plus, there's this really funny Jam Cover they did for the show (available as a print).

David Mack
is someone whose image-making has always stood out for it's use of collage and mixed media alongside traditionally produced books. But, now that I'm working on my own books, my brain is firing over the way he uses these techniques at the service of story. He's got a much-deserved fan base and a necessary voice in the field.

I also had the chance to catch up with two guys that I've had the chance to work with in the NYC animation industry, Emilio Lopez and Robert Crump. It was crazy to see how much their work has evolved and continues to evolve. Their stuff is fresh and explodes off the page. Catch up with them now because they're about to break out.

Finally, it was critical that I had the opportunity to meet up with the publisher and development team of Archaia. They are producing books, like Mouse Guard, The Killer, and Awakening, that meet and exceed the expanding tastes of the comic market and general public. Publisher Mark Smylie is a self-made man with a ballroom in Kearny NJ as his studio (true). His Artesia is classically illustrated Byzantine beauty. Along with Mel Caylo and Stephen Christy, I was impressed with how much these guys know comics. Stephen had constructive criticism of my work that was the panel to panel analysis I needed. He's enthusiastic about the medium with the big picture in mind - they're the first publisher to issue a Kindle-only release with the crime drama Tumor. Cheers to more great comics in 2010.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Apple Comic Con 01 _ FROZEN DARK

On October 16 and 17 I will be sharing a table with Juan Doe at this year's Big Apple Comic Con in NYC. For the occasion, I will be handing out limited copies of Frozen Dark a horror short that I produced with Swifty Lang and Chris Mangun of Blacklight Comics. We created it as part of an anthology but Chris is printing an edition right now as a mini-comic for the show.

The story originated from an anecdote Chris told about his trip to China. He spun it like a campfire tale with an effective, familiar, hook: when you're a kid, it's really scary to have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. In this case, the bathroom is an outhouse, and the kid is an orphan residing in a Buddhist monastery.

From there, the three of us brought our abilities forward to make every line and panel matter. Swift added an underlying poetry and worldview to reflect the teachings and myths our hero was immersed in as he traveled his arc. At the same time, Chris pressed for the cruel social dynamics of boys of that age.

My goal was to make sure that, as a short story, there was a rhythm to the way the information unfolded and an interplay between word an image that was more evocative than literal.

All said, we hoped to elicit the chill of a good ghost story while delivering on a subtext worthy of The Twilight Zone.

Swing by my table for a copy if you are at the con. Otherwise, we'll look to post it as a PDF in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

COMIC BOOK LAYOUT 01 _ Consider the Grid

The art of making comics essentially exists in act of laying out your panels. There are much better resources out there that will help you understand this skill but I thought I'd share a few examples where I tried tackling the grid head on.

It was Scott McCloud in his seminal text book "Understanding Comics" that first identified comics to me as "sequential art." Comics as a medium is defined by the use of a series of static images that when read together represent a relationship according to time, space, or concept. I started reading comics at the age of 6 but the mechanism for reading them, the synthesis of word and image following a flow of panels from left to right, was unconscious and innate.

Hard to believe, but there are plenty of people who still do not "know" how to read comics and get confused by what to read first. That said, the 6-panel grid is the most effective and elegant way to break down the page for easy reading. As pointed out in Gary Spencer Millidge's "Comic Book Design" it also follows the Golden Ratio in the way it sub-divides information according to Classical composition.

For an example of an excellent use of the 6-panel grid, check out Chapter 1 in Tim Hamilton's "Floating Elephant" strip at Act-i-vate. He's created a surreal suburban world and the grid is an unobtrusive window into it. It feel ordinary while the content is anything but.

For my own work, here's an example of how a 9-panel grid can set up a sense of time that is like a metronome. Ticking down and alternating between scenes, and finally ending with a bang. The 9-panel format was utilized with an world's worth of information and skill by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in "Watchmen."

What happens when you break the grid? First, you can run the risk of confusing the reader and drawing too much attention to the frame instead of the content. But, here is an example of me trying to use the layout to create a mood that feels claustrophobic and draws all attention to the goal of the scene, the door to the outside world.

As a final example, this page was a way for me to release the grid by using the full length of the page to hopefully create that sense of falling for the reader. Ideally, the slight rotation I gave to the image in the first panel helped to undercut any sense of the border as safety net.

So, there's a ton to consider in constructing a comic all in the hopes that it will be invisible to the reader. I'm only scratching the surface here and there are new tools and tricks to pick up with every new page.