Friday, September 30, 2011

The Island of Doctor Joe

 JOE: One of the best things about being able to work on a comic that features so many imaginary creatures, is that you get to stitch together whatever animals you want from nature. For Stan's ogre, I combined an elephant with an orangutang.

STAN:  And a very convincing ogre it is, too.  It looks plausible, and I love the portrayal of inherent strength and savagery.  An impressive piece of figure-work.  This is a creature you can believe in.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Challenge of the Equine

JOE: I have yet to find a more difficult thing to draw that a figure on horseback.  There is just something about it, no matter how much you research and look at the way horses run, it never gets easy. People have been trying to capture the beauty and grace of a horse in mid stride for, I don't know, since cave men learned how to draw on caves. This will be a challenge I'm sure I'll have to face again and again throughout the rest of my artistic career, yet I will alway face it with great optimism and joy. (Ps. I've never ridden on a horse, I fell into horse manure when I was 5 at the circus, and that was that.)

STAN:  I've no doubt that drawing horses convincingly is a real challenge, but Joe's managed it magnificently.  It must be one of those yardsticks by which an artist's talent is judged.  (Some say it's the ability to draw feet convincingly.  Which reminds me that that was a [very unjust] criticism levelled at the late, great Jack Kirby, who invariably hid his characters' feet.  But all things considered I think we can easily forgive him for that.)  The sketches of orcs using bows while on horseback particularly intrigue me.  As someone who's ridden a horse, badly, and who also has a passion for archery, I can think of few things more difficult to attempt.   I make no claims for my archery, by the way - when you get into it you realise it takes a lifetime of dedication and practice to achieve something approaching competence.  I've probably improved a bit compared to my first fumbling attempts though, when even standing behind me wasn't safe.  

JOE: Some proof that Kirby clearly knew how to draw feet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Final Confrontation

JOE: My book designer asked if she could see a version of one of my previous cover designs with the orc looking back over his shoulder at the viewer, and my response was, "Can I make it a wrap-around?" She said sure and the rest was a piece of cake. Just add some dragons and a little computer magic and I had a finished cover.

STAN:  Making it a wraparound was inspired.  It flows really well.  I have to chuckle at Joe saying that he "just" had to add a couple of dragons and a under take a bit of computer tinkering.  Yeah, right.  The same way I "just" write a book.  Don't believe him - it's hard work.  I've finally become "Nicholls".  Hurrah!

JOE:  To chime in on Stan's previous comment, I agree, it is hard work. I guess what I'm saying is different aspects of creating a piece of art like this, the stages have relative difficulty.  The hardest part could be seen in the previous three entries, where I'm struggling to find the perfect image for the cover.  None of the early incarnations were good enough, and the grueling part is going back and forth to find what works and what doesn't.  Once you find the right image, the rest comes naturally and all of the surface elements, like the ones added in Photoshop (challenging as they may be) are easier because all of the difficult decisions have already been made.  I'm also glad I finally learned how to spell Stan's last name. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Saw Red

JOE: This version of the cover was my attempt at a more contemplative pose. My editor dug this one too, and suggested it as an inside cover. That's where it ended up, I don't have a copy of the final version that was used, but the book designer went with red on red and it looks awesome.
   STAN:  Awesome indeed.  There's a lot of power in this picture, and the contemplative element somehow adds rather than distracts from it.  I like it a lot.  If I had to pick a single image that sums up the nature of my orcs, this would probably be it.  I see that I'm now "Nicols".  We're getting closer.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Second Try

JOE: While I was working on my first attempt, I was working on my back up. The idea evolved in my head of an orc walking away from the viewer, right after an exhausting battle, a massive pile of dead bodies in his wake. My editor thought this might make a great back cover illustration, so I continued with the concept.

JOE: My finished version was the book designers favorite, but wanted to see a version with the orc looking back over his shoulder at the viewer. To be continued…

STAN:  See?  I've become "Nicholas" in this version.  Had to happen.  I rather liked the idea of having the figure with his back to us.  It kind of breaks a rule and is all the more arresting for it.  But I can see the wisdom in having him casting a glance back at us.  The cover's really starting to come together at this point.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First Attempt

JOE: Here are the stages of my first attempt at a finished cover. My favorite stage is the third image, the pencil drawing that eventually becomes the finished ink drawing. I've shared this sentiment with many comic artist, we all agree that our pencils always look better that the finished inks. So frustrating.

STAN:  I'm not sure that I agree about sketches being better than the finished artwork.  They can be as good, but different.  In the same way that a black and white and a colour photograph of the same subject can be equally compelling.  I'm amused to see that I'm "Stan Nicholis" at this stage.  That's no criticism of Joe; for some reason my name often gets mangled, and you'd be amazed at some of the variations.  "Nicholas" is a common one.  Which is OK except for the way some people pronounce it - ie "Nickelarse".  But we all have our crosses to bear.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cover Concepts

JOE: Here are the earliest concept sketches for the cover. Stan's novels have amazing covers featuring beautiful and detailed sculptures, wonderfully photographed in close up. I felt my art would never be able to compete with that, so I went with my strength, movement. Oh and red, lots of red.

STAN:  It's hard to overestimate the importance of covers.  After all, it's usually a reader's first connection with a book, and they aren't going to go further and investigate if the cover's off-putting.  I like the impression of dynamic movement in these sketches.  And red is a wise choice - witness its importance in so-called "retail psychology".  It has a power to draw the eye unrivaled by most other colors.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Samurai Awry

JOE:  I really wanted to emulate samurai films in the Orcs graphic novel, the sketch below is an example of a moment of a near impossible feat of swordsmanship. As the project came along, the word "impossible" started to bug me.

JOE:  For Jup to have the reach with a blade that would facilitate a lot of the moves I wanted him to pull off, they would have to be long swords, not the short ones from earlier sketches. But with longer swords, something as simple as a light jog would be difficult.

STAN:  Here we have Joe confronting the same sort of problem writers have to resolve.  It's the old function versus decorative conundrum: what looks cool isn't necessarily practical.  In one of my other fantasy series, the Quicksilver trilogy (known as the Dreamtime trilogy in the US), my central character carried his sword strapped to his back - something else that was probably influenced by samurai movies.  But while it's a convenient way to transport a weapon, it's hopeless if you need to draw it in a hurry.  In the end you tend to go for some kind of compromise between elegance of appearance and reality.   

JOE: I did a series of sketches, of Jup just drawing his swords, to see if this was something he could do easily and quickly. It was at this point I began contemplating giving him an axe instead.

JOE: I was 100 pages into penciling when I came to this particular page. I was torn, the swords look cool, but how on earth would Jup be able to draw them both while on a horse.
JOE:  I came up with a harness for his alternate weapon, a pair of axes. The axe heads hang on his belt, he simply need to unhook the harness and slid the axe handles forward. In the end the axes won out, and now I know why it is the weapon of choice for dwarves everywhere.