Friday, June 27, 2014

CCN: Superhero Cover 1

I thought this week we'd take a break from the space race and head back down to earth. Of course, I'm not going to stray too far astray from the fields of the fantastic.  I've been asked to do a cover for a fanzine that I was strongly associated with way back in the 1980s & 1990s: THE COLLECTORS CLUB NEWSLETTER.

I was actually the group's president and published 15 issues from #36 - #50 over the space of several years. I'm far too lazy too look up the dates right now, but I think it was from around 1983 - 1987 or so (I'll look it up later when I've got time). Anyway, the group was cool and featured several people who would go on to professional careers in comics and elsewhere, including movie producer, a screenwriter, an award-winning game designer (that last one's me).

Anyway, I left the group ages ago, but it continued on until 1999, publishing a total of 103 issues. Through the social media phenomenon that is Facebook, many of us old CC members reconnected and created an online group where we have caught up on what's happened in our live: marriages, divorces, current success... and our love for the comics of that time period. Former member Alan Sissom even decided to revive publication and created an honest-to-goodness revival of the title that is printed the same way it was back then: a small digest-sized magazine of 5.5 x 8.5 inches with a b&w interior (that's a sheet of typing paper folded in half and stapled on the spine). The fanzine includes letters, artwork, fiction, poetry and other stuff, including some highlighted conversations from the FB group (which is accepting new members, by the way, and it's free to join and free to receive a PDF version of the newsletter).

Anyway... all that preamble is just to set you up for this week's illustration. Alan asked me to do the cover for the next issue of the CCN. Being the swell guy that I am, I agreed.

I thought about doing something space based (like my Galaxy Prime work), or even adapting one of the new illustrations I've created for the GUTSHOT: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEADWOOD project that I'm working on at Hawgleg Publishing. Both of those were viable ideas, but I decided to do something new and original for them, and something that tied in more closely with the group's focus on comic books. So, I'm going to create an original superhero cover in the style of a classic comic book. 

For the cover, I'm going to use the club's "mascot," who appears in its logo.

I did not create this logo -- I'm pretty sure it was drawn by Nick Alenikov (who used to draw under the name "Nasty"), but I did clean it up and color it a few years back for the group to use in this modern, color age (back when I was leading the group, color was too expensive, so covers were photocopied in b&w on color paper). The logo is also used over at the Website I'm setting up for the group:  The plan is to host scanned covers and scanned issues to create an online archive of the material we created way back when.

Meanwhile, back at my cover project...
But I digress. Using a 3D program called Daz Studio (it's similar to Poser), I created a 3D version of the character and started to work on getting the classic comic book look I want for the cover. I tried a few of my digital inking techniques, but I wasn't happy with the way they turned out. So, I cracked open an old software program I have called Manga Studio (I have version 4). This is a VERY cool program for creating comic book art. It actually has the ability to set up panels, word balloons, force lines, and so forth. But it's best known for having a very cool set of automatic brushes that simulate real-world brushes and pens without the need for a pressure-sensitive pen and tablet.

Like any software, there's a big learning curve. I've played with this program, but have not invested the hours it will take to master its power and flexibility. And it really has a lot to offer.

I spent a few hours manually inking this sample figure illustration. Much of the time was spent figuring out how to get good results from the brushes and pens. I tried different weights, techniques, and approaches until -- by the end of the evening -- I was getting some decent results. 

The example you're seeing here is my sample inking overlaid on the original, color render (enhanced a little in Photoshop to pump up the colors a bit and make them look more like classic comic book coloring). This is JUST A SAMPLE -- this will not be used in the cover I'm creating. No... that will be something a little more interesting than a simple character pose image.

Time Spent so far:
2 hours downloading superhero props & costume bits
4 hours creating the character
4 hours inking with Manga Studio

Friday, June 20, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 8: Space Station

This picture reminded me of one of the things I learned while creating artwork for a game set in outer space: even though space is really black, you cannot have that much blackness in your artwork. The fact is, it overpowers the reader and taxes the printer.

Galaxy Prime, pg. 129. This is one of the few illustrations I created that
does not have a caption in the book. I don't remember why, either.

Most of my backgrounds are public domain images from NASA or other space agencies. They come into Photoshop as beautiful color spectacles, and through filters and adjustments, are transformed into interesting backdrops for interstellar adventure in the world of Galaxy Prime!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 7: Battleship

Available at
It just dawned on me the other night, that I've been sharing the art of Galaxy Prime with you for almost two months now, and I've never bothered to show you the cover of the book that all my work appears in. Now, first of all,

This was painted by the very talented AMY FANNING.

I did, however, do a lot of work on this. It was painted on a large canvas board and I had to scan it with a standard flatbed scanner. I believe there were at least 8-10 scans to get it all. I then had to stitch them together and do some color correction. It was quite a bit of investment in time and technique to get it all to look right.

I did design the logo, though (two of them, actually -- this is the second... the first was more Star Wars inspired and creator James Shade wanted something a little more modern). I also chose to use the purple band at the bottom. This was a necessity because the vivid colors at the bottom made it too difficult to read James' name. This purple bar solved the problem by making it easy to read, and it helped provide a nice anchor to the page.

If you're interested in getting a copy of Galaxy Prime for your own, you can buy one at (among other places).

Don't Sink My Battleship
This week's image was a simple one, but one of the first where I used the rough lines to give it the retro feel that I was developing for this project.

GP pg. 103, "Long-range starships are used by explorers, merchants,
and anyone who wants to travel the stars in style and safety."
Although this one came out okay, I do think it looks better in the book because it was in the equipment section on starships, so the static shot (rather than an "action shot" of it in space) fit in well with the section's design.

Also, for those of you who are interested, here's another look at the original color render from Strata Design 3D.

Original color render.

In this one, you can see the highlights and shading that formed the basis of the image above. It is worth mentioning (again, for those of you who are interested in this sort of thing), that this is an exaggerated color render. By this, I mean I specifically used odd colors so that the various parts would stand out from each other. If everything were just a simple shade of white or chrome, it would be very difficult to recolor it into the b&w image that made it into the book.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 6: Routine Maintenance

I think this one was also an earlier illustration. I recall that I originally intended to put this into space, but I had some better ships, so I used them, instead.

GP, pg. 108, "Routine maintenance isn't just a good idea...
it's a matter of life and death!"

And now for a revelation that is hysterical... at least to me. As you can see, I did this four years ago. It's been in print in the Galaxy Prime Role Playing Game book since early 2011. This is the first time I ever noticed that the front landing gear is not connected to anything! Yup. I deleted a line on the ship, or something like that. Anyway, it's just floating there. Unbelievable!

Honestly, someone should contact the editor of the book and give him a piece of their mind... oh, wait. I WAS THE EDITOR. Ummmm... never mind.

Behind the Scenes
I don't know if any of you are really interested in the process behind how I create this artwork, but as I've said, I basically use two programs, one of which is Strata Design 3D. As with all 3D applications, you place a model into the program and then you can move it in three dimensions, putting it as close or far away from the "camera" as you want. You can also move the camera around (up, down, turn left or right), and in this program, you can even define what type of lens and shutter speed you want to use. In other words, it tries to duplicate the real world as closely as possible.

While working in the program, everything is very rough. You see shapes, basic colors, and even some detail. But it's still a far cry from the final image that is "rendered." The images I render (that is, process into the final image with reflections, shadows, etc.) are actually in color. Another thing about rendering -- you can render at different levels of complexity. The image above was based on a level of complexity that included detailed shadows on the fuselage of the ship and you can see the details on the fuel depots in the background (yeah... that's what those are supposed to be). One of the other base renders I created included simplified shadows -- sort of a "toon" render, if you will. This helps provide basic color blocking and outlines... at lease usually. As you can see, the outline on the landing gear flap didn't come in and I missed adding it by hand (and yes, there's a lot of touch-ups that are required in this process).

A simplified color render that was used as part of my process that
ended with the image above. In other words, this is a "Before" picture.

Now, you may ask why I bother with color, only take it out in the end? That's easy -- 3D apps are set up to work with real-world colors, so taking it out there wouldn't be easy. And as for my Photoshop trickery that converts it into black & white line art? That's easy. I take out the color because the book was printed in black & white!

PS: Looking at the color image above, I can see how, in my haste, I removed the metal flap that covered the landing gear.