There is a wondrous glow at the magic hour of sunrise. Something about the cold blue sheen warps understanding of color much like the eerie yellow radiance of a sodium lamp. It was in these forsaken twilight sessions that I mused on contrasting relationships between shade and hue. An ill-calibrated monitor forces one to consider what the eye is really able to see. My limits of perception and patience reached a threshold and I wonder if there was a breakthrough during this trial.
It has been more than 4 years since I attempted a dive into sequential art (comics), more than 6 years since I employed image manipulation software techniques. To provide context, the place where I first tested my artistic mettle, ENTERVOID, brought back a sequential art tournament after nearly a decade of absence. The virtual battleground was set, and it felt exciting to come out of "retirement" for glorious conflict.
A Homecoming Foray into the Digital Art Medium
For me, it was less about announcing my return as it was getting nudged into the arena. My colleague, whom I founded a collective with, blithely suggested we join forces (in the first tourney we were opponents) to compete in the 2013 Tag Team Tournament. A part of me itched for the chance to make graphic, visceral stories, and Steve Osorto (Knome) is the ideal soldier to enact such narratives. Another part knew that I am rusty and more than pudgy when it comes to producing a strong comic book. Despite my general apprehension, our team was selected, and the challenge was set: two weeks to complete a sequential art entry.
|Initial thumbnail construction (art: Steve Osorto + Rodney Corpuz)|
The process ramped up at first. We decided a forum to interact in and a workload to collaborate on. Inside the Celtx workspace, I whipped up a script that lent itself to our ideas and proficiencies. We settled on 15 pages to start, and he quickly fabricated thumbnails to develop the plot. We chose alternating portions of the count, with Steve taking the first four and the penultimate action sequence. I quickly volunteered to color and round out the chapter with a proposed introductory splash page and a slice-of-life coda. And then the production got nasty.
With my comrade working on his pages, I began to construct mine with parts of the thumbnails/panel map we agreed upon. I directed myself to follow his pages as they were completed and sent to me in order to manage the narrative's pace. As my delicate plan unfolded, it was obvious that a bevy of hindrances will arise with each passing inch.
|Laying flats (line art: Steve Osorto)|
The preliminary struggle in coloring comics is systematically filling fields between lines (flats). The true challenge is laying flats as quick as possible. One method is to make a selection (via lasso or pen tool) of each area's boundary then individually fill. Another method is coloring each pain-staking field. An important note during the entire task is managing layers. Each page was roughly a 5 hour tear to lay flats using a combination of hard coloring and selections, supplemented by the quick masking function.
A considerable challenge was determining a color scheme that resolved the plot, environment, and characters. I chose a minor redesign of the four principal fighters with feedback from my cohort, reflective of their style and function. The cumulative palette a dominant sanguine and electric. Color theory is, and never has been, my forte. Normally, I choose wild complements with a goal to assault the viewers' eyes. The scenario involved a casino exploding at night. Hazy lighting and metropolitan auras being another weakness, I was already in for a conceptual fracas.
What happened in the stroke of night was a super-storm of harrowing technique (or lack thereof) and a mad dash of compromise. Colors in play, I warmed up to the fact that deciding on a particular style of colorization will toxify my satisfaction. In one camp, there is the clean (and fast) cel-shaded look of animation. Which I adore, yet always consider to be simplistic. In the other camp is a multi-faceted style that blossomed from the Western comics of the 1990's. The latter shows fulfilling color range, but grueling in application. And then there is my idealistic folly in reconciling/hybridizing technique: using Photoshop as a painting program.
|Workspace and page 6|
My weapon of choice in formula was the brush tool, a remarkable step up from GIMP's version. Honestly, I kept stupefying myself with the effects of the many nibs. Compounded with Photoshop's native ability to recognize my antique Wacom tablet's pressure sensitivity, the possible ways to stumble ratcheted. This is what happens when memory is jogged through an optical playground. Add some inconsistent hue choices and waxy layer effects, and I found myself (each fraggin' session!) running circles of misinformation.
Throughout my history as a visual artist, I undervalued and dismissed the chroma of light sources and their subtle effect on surfaces. High contrast shapes and obscenely-keyed objects always felt right as a way to transport my gross interpretation of reality and imagination. Using "white" light to reveal a form was the most ham-handed technique I could afford, and often the tactic I skirted. Even applying overlay to the final product seemed a cheap strategy. Rooted in my hesitance was the prophetic existence of murkiness, or a lack of contrast gumming up the image I made.
At the miserable end, our time constraint choked any idealism out of post-production. I was expecting Steve's last two pages, and my own panels required what he established. I skipped tightening up details like color for teeth, tongues, eyes. Cast shadows and reflected light were shelved in favor of placing text. Any subtle effect I wanted (a textured table, painterly reservoirs of depth, cool fire light dancing with stark city light, bulky detritus, obscuring smoke, all deserted. At the dreary cusp, I resorted to a mash-up of illustrated line to shore up dead panels.
|Thirteenth hour line art on page 13|
Hindsight is a mercilessly objective vehicle for wisdom. It unlocks denied epiphanies and blunt facts. I was fortunate enough to switch from (and abandon) Gimp 2.8 to an unsupported copy of Photoshop CS2 before putting a serious effort into digitally producing art. What I previously learned between the two programs was a harsh primer on workflow.
It has become more clear that the paths I have avoided are the routes I must take to progress. Adventuring into the hinterlands of iconoclast tint serves less purpose than apophagizing reliable methods of convention. The foreseeable future warns me that I must make art that is not so radical, but assuredly palatable. Efficacy over intricacy. Boring comics, poly-monochromatic designs, imagery lifted from popular channels, that is what I will consign myself to. But there will be no shortage of all-nighters.
And the results were in: a loss at a deficit of 462 points (2228 to 1766). It was likely the largest gap between opponents in the entire first round of the tournament, although the early numbers fluctuated and I believed the percentages to reflect a wholly OTHER voting measure. I recall seeing us climb up to 45% of the vote at the highest, but the score portrays a fact I could not have predict. No matter. The critiques and observations are statements that I now see as truly auspicious.