Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weapon Tex-Mex vs El Muerto: Coloring the pages

Maybe 'gray-toning the pages' might be more accurate...

This is the 4th part in my series of posts chronicling my process in creating my latest comic book, WEAPON TEX-MEX Vs. EL MUERTO: THE BATTLE OF SANTA MUERTE!! This one is about the gray-tone coloring on the book. The previous posts cover:

1) The Inspiration
2) Creating the Story
3) Inking the Pages

The page above, which I showed the uncolored version of in the previous post about inking, provides a good representation of my overall coloring in this book.

I colored the book in Photoshop, after scanning in the inked pages at 400 dpi. I colored in gray tones, which is basically shades of black. I tried to limit myself to about 6 or 7 shades, which means in my color palette I would have 100% Black, 85% Black, 65% Black, 50% Black, 35% Black and 20% Black (as an example). 

I'd have to make notes to myself (and in the Layers palette in Photoshop) to keep the colors consistent on the characters. So the 65% Black would be, let's just say,  for Tex-Mex's pants and the Cadillac body. 35% would be for the shading on Muerto's skin and the beard stubble on Tex-Mex. 

The reason for the limited amount of gray tones? It's my preference for coloring my own work. When I use actual colors, I try to keep the amount of colors I use limited as well. Aesthetically, since I draw my figures and environments with limited detail, or at least what we all call 'cartoony',  I also like to keep the coloring on a somewhat consistent approach. My gray tones are meant to first of all fill in the line art, giving it volume and variety from other parts of the art. Some of the grays, like the beard stubble, are meant to provide an indication of texture.

Here's a sample of panels from the book. They're not presented in the chronological order they actually appear in:
In the bottom, right hand panel, the dark gray compliments the lines on the door to illustrate the appearance of wood. While the black is used to show a stark shadow from the light outdoors. It also adds to the mood of the panel (it's the interior of an abandoned church), heightening a sense of foreboding....

Basically I want my coloring to 'get to the point' of what I'm trying to convey in the art. Colored pants, ominous shadows, medium colored door, tanned skin tones, etc. Part of that comes from trusting the reader's judgement to see it how I hope they will, and part of it comes from wanting to keep the process somewhat quick for me to work through. The third reason, and my first concern as an artist, is just the way I want my work to look. My approach to all the art I create (drawing, comics, painting) comes from an internal, emotional gut feeling. There's universal precepts and fundamentals of art that inform my creative process, but at the same time, telling a story comes from such an intuitive mindset, at least the way I see my role as the maker of these stories.

The background on this page was colored to provide an interesting alternate to a plain white background. Also, the textured pattern somewhat reminded me of blood splattering, underscoring the brutality of the fight without resorting to showing the blood spraying patterns all over the page. (Although I've done that in the origin issue of El Muerto....).

Here's an image I colored in gray tones before I started coloring the actual story. This appears in the interior front cover of the book.

Mr. Smith, the instigator of the tale...

I spent more time on this that I would have if it was an interior page of the story. I knew this was going to be a promotional piece of art used outside the actual confines of the story, so I didn't mind making this a much more detailed piece. It was also more meticulously inked, again, because I knew this wasn't going to part of the story.
If I spent this much time and detail on every panel of the book, it would have taken me a lot longer to get it done, and as I've mentioned in previous posts, I had a deadline by when I wanted to ship this book off to the printer. 

Even as I get quicker in using Photoshop to color, I still think I'd
maintain my more simplified approach to coloring. Perhaps in a few years, that would change...

A favorite creator of mine is Go Nagai, a Japanese cartoonist whose prolific output includes Mazinger Z, Devilman and Cutey Honey, to name some of his most famous properties. His work, which like most manga is printed in B&W, really provides me with a lot of inspiration on how to approach coloring in gray scales. Here are 3 examples:

Above, a page from MAZINGER Z. Followed by pages from MAO DANTE:

In the DANTE page above, I love variety and balance of white, black and gray shapes throughout the page. When you add in the variety of textures that are inked in, the whole page just crackles with a lively panorama of imagery and tones.

I don't show these to say that my own coloring choices are meant to match the work done by Nagai, but rather to illustrate that by looking at other work we admire, we artists can often feel emboldened to go beyond the work we're normally satisfied in producing. What they call 'outside your comfort zone'.

As for working in actual color, here's the back cover of my book:

The 'Wanted poster' piece was relatively simple, as El Muerto is basically three colors (four if you count his Superman-inspired blue hair highlights!). I put in a Photoshop texture on the wall, complimenting the cracks I drew in the illustration. Overall a relatively quick color job, but very effective in showing exactly what it needs to. 

The bottom strip was more of a graphic design piece, picking some limited colors to tie the various elements together. Again, no fancy tricks, just creating something that looks good, and delivers a simple message.

In the next post in this series I'll share with you my writing process.

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