Posts tagged: Pencils

Title Pages: The Batman Strikes #9 and #11

Two new Title Pages this time, both from my run on The Batman Strikes! which was a tie-in comic for The Batman animated TV series.

Strikes #9 - Title Page Pencils

Strikes #9 – Title Page Pencils

Strikes #9 Title Page color

Strikes #9 – Title Page color


This issue of The Batman Strikes! dealt with a court hearing on the issue of whether or not The Joker was criminally sane, and would thereby be sent to Gotham State Prison rather than Arkham Asylum. I didn’t have a splash page to work with but rather a 5-panel sequence of a news chat show providing exposition to set up the story. Neither Batman, the Joker or other visually iconic characters appear on this page, so I wanted to find a way to present the logo dynamically and to brand the story visually as a Batman story. I was able to compress the 5-panels over to the left-hand side which gave me room to place the logo and a space for the credits against a Batman logo that runs across the background of the entire page. I tried to use a visually interesting type style for the logo and reversed the N in “Sanity” and alternated between capital and lowercase letters to give the title an uneven, strange quality to hopefully evoke the tone of a story about the madness of the Joker.

I had the luxury of delivering pages for The Batman Strikes! into the hands of inker Terry Beatty personally, and was able to clarify my intention that the outline of the bat shape should have a fuzzy, rough texture. Terry pulled it off expertly and I was happy with the overall results.

I made the five story panels identical in shape and made them proportional to a modern television screen, and even placed a logo for the “Extreme Celebrity Trials” TV show being shown in the lower left-hand corner of each panel screen. Somehow going from my pencils to the finished page the “Trials” got left off and left the remaining art somewhat confusing. I’m guessing there had been an intent to typeset the word “Trials” at the lettering stage and it got missed.

Strikes #11 - Title Page pencils

Strikes #11 – Title Page pencils

Strikes #11 - Title Page color

Strikes #11 – Title Page color


This issue was based on a story idea I suggested, and the concept got a little watered down in execution from what I’d wanted. The basic idea was “A Day in the Life of Alfred.” I really wanted to have everything in the story be from Alfred’s point of view – only seeing Bruce Wayne or Batman when they were physically in Alfred’s presence or during several phone conversations between Alfred and Bruce/Batman. Alfred would call Bruce to get his input on an event at Wayne Manor Alfred was preparing, and as Batman answers by saying “This isn’t the best time, Alfred,” we’d see him in a frantic action scene fighting the Pengin or whichever villain we hadn’t seen in the series for a while. The fight would continue while Batman conducts his business with Alfred by phone,  and then we’d leave the scene just as abruptly as we’d entered it when the call ends. Later in the story Batman would need Alfred’s support from the Batcave and we’d get the middle of another action scene while Batman and Alfred talked again. The story’s climax, of course, would have had Batman battle with the villain take them to Wayne Manor, where Alfred’s would have participated directly in the story’s conclusion. Unfortunately I wasn’t involved in the back-and-forth of the story getting developed and approved by our editor, and I don’t think the writer was positioned to defend the concept the way I would have had I been writing the book. The story as it was published still strongly featured Alfred, but the “high concept” aspect of the story was completely lost. I still think it’s a fun idea and I’d love to take another crack at it one day.

As for the title page itself, note the sound effects for the alarm clock in panel one. I liked the way the monotonous series of BEEPs lead down to where the beeping is terminated by Alfred’s hand reaching out to the clock. The sound effects I penciled were slightly reworked on the finshed page, but the effect is slargely the same.

This page is a great example of how I was trying to compensate for the simple, stylized animation designs I had to use with extreme lighting. I was trying to give the images weight and depth and keep it from looking more like a Batman story than a kiddie book.

Finally the story title itself appears in the large final panel on the page. I used simple, bold letters and tried to set the title in perspective to suggest that it was flush with the wall of Alfred’s bedroom. The credits followed the lead of the logo and I think the final result was simple but effective.

More soon…!

Commentary: Young Justice #10 “Hot Case”

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. I was super-busy for a few days and then had an internet outage. But I’m back, and raring to go!

Here’s my commentary on Young Justice issue 10, part two of our murder mystery featuring Captain Atom! I’m including samples of a few pages of artwork here, but I’m commenting on close to every page, so grab your copy of the comic from your local Comic Shop or your digital copy and read along!

YJ 10-01 pencils

Page 1 pencils

YJ 10-01 inks

Page 1 inks

YJ 10-01 color

Page 1 color

YJ 10-01 letters

Page 1 letters

Page 1: It’s funny how the successive stages of completing a comic book page make a page look simpler and simpler. The background for these opening pages seemed really busy with detail when I was penciling them. Of course, you have the texture of the pencil lines, and black areas are either filled with X’s or shaded in, as opposed to the smooth solid blacks you get when the artwork is inked. Then when the artwork is colored and the background is colored in muted tones so the figures stand out, what once looked seemed like a lot of time-consuming detail just fades into the background and is easy to not even notice. Greg Weisman has started listing me as “Christopher A. Jones” in the credits section of his scripts. Now it’s actually shown up in the credits on the comic. Now my middle initial IS “A,” but I try to keep my credit consistent. It’s been mentioned to my editor, but won’t be fixed until after issue #11. So if you are blogging about comics or moderating any kind of index or gallery or forum – I’ve been listed as Chris Jones, Christopher Jones, Christopher A. Jones, and Christopher R. Jones in various places and on various books. “Christopher Jones” is the preferred credit, and the “R” is flat out wrong. You’d think with a name like mine it would be simple, wouldn’t you? I wonder what kinds of problems Bill Sienkiewicz has?

Page 2: In combat with Rako, the Artist formerly known as the Cambodian. I think I’ve been drawing the characters in their stealth costume variants more than the standard versions.

Page 3: This page featured a lot of action that was kind of challenging to depict. First we have Miss Martian freezing some thrown shurikens in mid-air, and then having them clatter on the floor. Both of those action beats are hard to effectively convey in a static image. Then a tapestry falls across four charging heroes, engulfing them suddenly in darkness. It’s a bit of a jarring transition (which it’s meant to be), but I’m pressed to envision how the tapestry got from the wall to covering a flying girl, Superboy and Kid Flash without them seeing what hit them. But hopefully you weren’t thinking that when you read it. Of course, I now had to go and bring it up…

Page 4: I like the moody last panel with the silhouetted heroes looking on the scene of Robin crouching over Trang’s body. And the body count for this story continues to climb!

YJ 10-05 pencils

Page 5 pencils

YJ 10-05 letters

Page 5 final

Page 5: Bibbo! This supporting character from Superman comics runs a Metropolis diner in the continuity of the Young Justice animated series. And yes, that’s Perry White at the counter.

What’s that? Why is Miss Martian green when they’re sitting in their civilian clothes in public? Um, because Metropolis is one of only three cities in the DC Universe that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in August. Uh…, because there’s a big Star Trek convention taking place next door and she’s passing herself off as an Orion girl. Would you believe Red Kryptonite? Move along, move along…

Page 6: Cell phones, headshots, and fingers. One of the most pulse-poundingly dynamic pages I’ve ever drawn!

Page 7: How many ways can we show characters looking at pictures on their smart phones? From panel-to-panel it was a question of whether the reader had to see what was on the phone, and how large I could make the picture on the phone while showing who was holding the phone and allowing enough room for dialog.

Page 8: BOOOOM! The body count continues to climb.

Page 9: It was nice to draw Kid Flash doing his stuff. I’ve drawn remarkably little of KF moving at high-speed six issues into my run on this title.

YJ 10-10 pencils

Page 10 pencils

YJ 10-10 letters

Page 10 final

Page 10: Halfway through part two of the story, the mystery-solving is largely out of the way. Let’s get ready to rumble!

I’m going to share a trick with all of  you. Whenever possible, it’s nice to keep backgrounds simple. For one thing it actually serves the story by keeping the reader’s eye focused on the action of the page, and for another more self-serving thing for the artist, it makes the pages faster to draw. But backgrounds ground the story in a specific reality, give the story texture and can provide story information in their detail. What to do? My preference is to open a scene with a detailed establishing master shot, hopefully providing bits of distinctive detail that can be repeated throughout the rest of the scene to continue to establish the location, but without having the repeat the complex opening master shot.

Case in point, panel one of page 10 has a detailed exterior establishing shot of an abandoned airport hanger. Panel two moves us inside, and the rest of the page shows the silhouetted windows, the grubby floor, and the catwalk where our villain is standing in front of some overhead lights. Notice how those elements repeated over the next few pages are enough to maintain our sense of this place, but rarely do we see more than a reference to the detail established on this page.

Page 11: Mostly close-ups on this page as we set the stage for the final confrontation. Note how much background detail we see…

Page 12: It’s not related to the artwork, but I just wanted to mention how much I love the way Robin laughs when he disappears into the shadows on Young Justice. To me it’s a callback to the earliest kid daredevil incarnation of the character. Greg Weisman told me that he figured Batman would have taught Robin his disappearing trick, but that as a 13-year-old kid Robin would think it was so cool he’d just laugh as people freaked out over his disappearance rather than just keeping his trap shut like the old man!

Page 13: It’s interesting the kinds of things you learn how to convey in a line drawing. The script called for Artemis to fire an arrow at Rois who is holding a dead-man switch. The arrow is tipped with a canister of foam that expands up Rois’ arm and hardens so that by the time Kid Flash plows into him in the final panel on the page, it’s a hard shell covering Rois’s entire arm and part of his torso. It’s largely about texture – trying to make the foam initially gloppy with curvy smooth lines, then more angular and chunky-looking as it hardens.

Page 14: I’m really happy with the first three panels on this page as Aqualad takes out Rako with his water-bearers, but even while I was penciling it I realized that Rako’s sword and Aqualad’s water weapons are all colored cyan blue and were going to all run together a bit in this action sequence. Hopefully it plays even though the action is a bit monochromatic.

YJ 10-15 pencils

Page 15 pencils

YJ 10-15 letters

Page 15 final

Page 15: Superboy gets to play the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet game. I had to show one of the bullets bouncing off Superboy’s chest and hitting the shooter. I was really happy with the layout I came up with that draws a direct line from the point of impact on Superboy’s chest in panel 3 through a silhouette of the shooter in panel four. I had hoped the silhouette would make the action clear without having to show any kind of wound that I knew would cause problems with the folks that worry about the all-ages nature of the Johnny DC titles. I was especially happy with how this worked with the red background provided in the color version.

Page 16: Back to Mount Justice to explain the solution to the murder mystery and wrap things up. I just drew headshots for these holo-displays and unfortunately they didn’t get typeset captions at the lettering stage. The dialog makes it clear who everyone is so it’s not a huge problem, but it makes me think that next time I need to typeset that stuff myself like I did the previous issue.

Page 17: Almost all of the imagery from what Kid Flash is describing hear had appeared previously in flashbacks in the previous issue, but this time I have the convenience of placing them within panel borders.

Page 18: The last of the holo-displays from this 2-parter. Whew!

Page 19: What??? Captain Atom IS Captain Nathaniel Adams? I’m shocked, SHOCKED I tell you!

Page 20: I’m amazed that after all the concern over a knife hilt sticking out of a corpse’s chest and whether we could show blood on Superboy’s chest wound that we got away with a character lighting and smoking a cigar in an all-ages book. I guess it’s OK because he’s the bad guy…

Well, that wraps up another one. Check back in about a month’s time for a Commentary on Young Justice #11, featuring Batman, Ra’s al Ghul and Talia! I’d love to hear from you if you find this kind of detailed commentary interesting. Drop me a note in the comment section below!

Creating a Cover: Young Justice #10

Time to break down the creation of another cover! This time it’s Young Justice #10, the second half of our Captain Atom murder mystery story! Last issue featured Captain Atom on the cover and no action, so there was a desire to see conflict with our costumed villain, who appeared at the end of the previous issue.

The villain in question is Rako (aka The Cambodian), and you can read more about the redesign of this character in a previous blog post. Once again I was designing a cover before the script for the story, so I didn’t have anything to draw from other than being told there was a fight with The Cambodian at an Asian-styled mansion, and that Superboy being cut by the Cambodian’s sword was a major story point.

Captain Atom #7 cover

Captain Atom #7 cover

YJ #10 cover sketch a

YJ #10 cover sketch a

YJ #10 cover sketch b
YJ #10 cover sketch b

Again I started with a template that used a logo masthead from a previous issue to help block out how the cover art I was designing would fit together with those elements on the finished cover. My first thought was to reference the Cambodian character’s first appearance in Captain Atom #7 by echoing the poses of The Cambodian and Captain Atom. There would be no torrent of energy glowing from Superboy’s wound and he was being sliced across the chest rather than the abdomen, but it seemed like the pose still worked. The original Captain Atom cover had no background, but I suspected my editor would want to see more of the Young Justice team than just Superboy, so I provided variations with and without the rest of the team rushing to Superboy’s aid, with the intent of including some additional background detail of sketch b were chosen.

YJ #10 cover sketch c

YJ #10 cover sketch c

YJ #10 cover sketch d

YJ #10 cover sketch d

I thought I’d offer a different angle on the action, and came up with a composition that would only show The Cambodian from behind, leaving him more mysterious, but framing the Young Justice team dramatically with the dark shape of his armor. Again, I offered versions with only Superboy and the whole team. You might notice that some of the figures are identical between the sketches. When quickly creating different compositions like this, I sometimes draw figures and use them as “building blocks,” assembling them in different arrangements in Adobe Photoshop to get the composition I want.

YJ #10 cover pencils

YJ #10 cover pencils

YJ #10 cover inks

YJ #10 cover inks

YJ #10 cover color guide

YJ #10 cover color guide

Sketch b was chosen, but Greg Weisman said that Aqualad and Artemis weren’t going to be present during the fight sequence being depicted, which was just as well as it uncluttered the image a bit. You can see where I found room to suggest a bit of background in the pencil art – I set the battle on the roof as that seemed to offer more space for Robin and Miss Martian to approach from above. As it turns out this battle is located entirely inside in the actual story, but I don’t think anyone will complain. After completed the inks, I threw some color onto the image in Photoshop to act as a color guide for the Cambodian’s armor and to show how the glowing sword was to be treated.

YJ #10 cover colors

YJ #10 cover colors

Young Justice #10 Cover

Young Justice #10 Cover

Here you can see the artwork in full color. I normally love interactive light sources in artwork, and the lineart suggested that the sword’s energy was behaving as a light source, but I think the electric blue is a bit overpowering here. You lose the blackness of the Cambodian’s armor, and with the light pastel colors used for the background it seems a bit jumbled. But I think it’s still a pretty solid cover, and on the right you can see it with the “trade dress” of the logos and other masthead elements.

You can read a 4-page preview here, and then pick up the comic in digital form or at your local comic shop.

I’ll be doing a Commentary blog entry on this issue in a couple of weeks, and will be doing another “Creating a Cover” entry for Young Justice #11 in a month’s time!

Title Pages: The Batman Strikes #8

This installment of the Title Pages series features the first Batman Strikes appearance of Firefly.

Batman Strikes #8 - Title Page

Batman Strikes #8 - Title Page

The title page of the issue was a 1-page scene establishing an arsonist-fir-hire who is shown to be Firefly by a reveal of his helmet in the final panel. Rather than find a way of inserting a logo and space for credits into this talky scene, I decided to have the title act as a masthead for the page, featuring the title of the story in flaming letters against a Batman logo based on the 1960s logo of the Batman comic book, but using the likeness of the Batman design from this animated TV series.

Batman Strikes #8 - Title Logo

Batman Strikes #8 - Title Logo

Here’s the final color version with lettering. Note the Film Noir tone I was trying to evoke in the story with the lighting through the blinds. To me, Batman is all about mood and atmosphere, and I think you can be true to that even in an all ages title. More soon…!

Batman Strikes #8 Title Page

Batman Strikes #8 Title Page

Title Pages: The Batman Strikes #7

Batman Strikes #7 Title Logo

Batman Strikes #7 Title Logo

Here’s another title logo from The Batman Strikes, this time featuring the frightfully frigid Mr. Freeze. It’s always nice when you have characters as thematically strong as Freeze, as they give you a visual element you can apply to all aspects of design. Thankfully the story title was a single word or moderate length, which meant I could create nice big letters to show dripping with ice. Freeze has just broken free of his prison cell, and I placed the logo against the wall to incorporate it into the scene with the ominous, partially-silhouetted figure of Freeze towering over it.

Batman Strikes #7 - Title Page

Batman Strikes #7 - Title Page

Here you can see the context of the whole page. I should mention that I thought that Mr. Freeze was one of the more successful character designs I got to work with from the animated TV series. Most designs for Mr. Freeze’s cold suit I’d seen previously in animation or comics were topped with some kind of helmet, from a bubble dome to something resembling an astronaut’s helmet. This version had Mr. Freeze’s head covered with a spiky ice formation, and his head was a shadowy shape concealed within, with glowing red eyes visible. It was a great, striking visual and upon seeing it I thought it was surprising it hadn’t been tried earlier!

Batman Strikes #7 - Title Page inks

Batman Strikes #7 - Title Page inks

Here’s the inked page art, with inks by regular Batman Strikes inker Terry Beatty. It’s interesting to compare this to the pencil art, especially where I tried to create some translucence effects in the icy mist swirling around Freeze and the just-destroyed door. One advantage of being paired with an inker on a regular basis is learning what kinds of things the do especially well and then playing to those strengths. On The Batman Strikes! I tried to create stark compositions of light and dark shapes, with only the occastional bits of cross-hatching or other effects to create areas of gray mid-tone. I thought this approach preserved the simple, clean lines of the animation design while creating a shadowy, noir-ish mood that suited the Batman material.

Batman Strikes #7 - Title Page

Batman Strikes #7 - Title Page

And finally, here’s the page as it appeared with colors and lettering. Note the sound effect that was added in panel 3. That’s normally the kind of thing I liked to draw myself on this series. I’m guessing that the sound effect wasn’t scripted and I hadn’t chosen to add one when I drew the page, but the editor had one added at the lettering stage. I often wasn’t thrilled with the coloring on The Batman Strikes!, but this page looks good to me. The somewhat monochrome color scheme works well for the prison setting, and the color nicely enhances the ice and mist effects in the final panel.

More to come!