Thursday, July 11, 2013

Supermatters Arising.

A quick follow up on the Big Blue project. First I just wanted to share one of the stupid scribbles from my other job working in a library. Every day we send boxloads of books back to the uni campuses they belong to. So the couriers will know which place to take them we leave a note on top of the box -usually they'e headed to Carlton, Bundoora East (pleasingly known as Beast) and in the past, to the (now-closed) Business campus. If I have 5 minutes to spare, or a teabreak when really keen, adding a cartoon to the note seems like the polite thing to do. The dumber the better. Working on Superman meant I'd become acquainted with this picture:

The cheeky chappies of Carlton are quality genre buffs, so it seemed like they really needed this:

Stay classy Metropolis.

I like this idiotic thing so much I'm tempted to turn it into a full colour print.

Lastly, this - discovered in the uni library collection while making my comic cover was a book charting the strange twists & turns of Joe Shuster's career. Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster were the high school friends who together went on to create Superman. Disagreements with the publisher led to a contract-ending falling out, and the removal of their creator credit from the comics. The company held the rights, so with no royalties and little success creating another major character, Shuster had to pick up work wherever he could. His years illustrating spanky bondage comics with a yen for torture (knives & hot pokers seem to have been popular) were probably not his favourites. Then his eyesight started to fail. Later in life they did both end up with a settlement and restored credit for Superman, so at least the awfulness isn't completely unleavened. The whole tale of Shuster's "lost" years is told in this book by Craig Yoe:

It's great. The full story and the sometimes-funny, sometimes-nasty plates are a terrific piece of investigative art history/journalism. Tame but quaintly salacious sample:

The work itself reminds me of the parallel career of Archie artist Dan DeCarlo, in that it's obviously the same hand & almost exactly the same characters, now retasked to carry out all the closed-door fantasies often implied by their mainstream comics. The squeaky-cleaning imposed on most big publishing houses of the time certainly wasn't indicative of actual public taste or demand, so as you'd expect the things suppressed just hid away & intensified. This is a fantastic peek in the closet of pop culture. Highly recommended.

It's A Bird, It's A Plane... It's An Illustration Job!

About a year ago an old friend from high school approached me with an idea for an illustration - he had a major Superman fan in his life, and for a special birthday present he wanted to have her appear on a comic cover with the big boy in blue. It sounded like fun, but I was a little hesitant.. Despite being a comic book fan - and having obsessively traced and copied the covers & characters when I was very young - I'd never done anything in that style as a grown-up picture-maker. He asked me to think over some image concepts & get back to him. I then looked at A LOT of comic book covers, from every period of the character I could find, including some of the great Neal Adams work I grew up with. As a kid I was never big on Superman - he was usually the backup if Spiderman or Batman were unavailable. The Christopher Reeve movies gave him a boost when I was 5 or 6 years old, but by the time the horrifyingly mulleted "Nuclear Man" showed up looking like a rock-opera escapee in the awful fourth, my enthusiasm was fading. He always seemed a bit too clean cut & indestructible. Years later I was vaguely aware of him having been revamped with long new-age hair & amazingly it didn't inspire me to pick up an issue.


Absolutely not.

But the minute I was drawing the icon himself, none of that mattered. Sitting down at a drawing board featuring the Daily Planet, Lois Lane and that costume gave a definite thrill. Particularly at the colouring stage, adding those hyperbolic hues.. This surprises me still. Maybe some images are so connected to childhood excitement they're impervious to adult reason. As well as bullets.

Here's a quick run through the process. After looking at all the old covers, the original idea of um.. lets call the girl I was inserting into the picture Lana, for the sake of vestigial privacy.. Ok, so the original idea of Lana being substituted for Lois in Supes substantial arms, safely rescued and in flight, developed into the jokier idea of Lana rescuing him & speeding him away from a choice selection of super-baddies while Metropolis receded below. As Lana was to be dressed in her distinctive daily clothes (red hoodie, shorts & green sneakers), no extra costume design was needed. I was keen also to reference as much of the history of the comic as I could, this being for a fan and all, and a picture of a mid-rescue super-Lois became a central influence. 

All this & a Pulitzer too.

It was in the search for reference pics of women carrying men that I stumbled on the "Lift & Carry" fetish - muscular women hauling slim men about the place, sometimes clothed, sometimes not. Hey, to each their own - and one of those snaps became my major reference for the hands, legs & feet! 

Up and away..

For other elements, like clothes & light, friends kindly did a bit of posing, sans fetishy buzz. I think.


Metropolis was a straight steal of New York, as in the post-Shuster comic itself. In my Superman world, the Daily Planet has been so successful they've moved right into the Empire State Building and done a little remodelling on the roof. Drawing the Planet's famous rooftop globe was one of those jobs that you expect to be simple and quick, but which was actually kind of torture. Instead of making it up off the top of my head, I measured everything, designing it 3 dimensionally & endlessly drafting & redrafting. Pretty stupid, given the simple requirements of the finished work. Another live & learn experience. And a lesson in how sometimes a good guess can come out about the same as a painstaking calculation..

The job spilled over into time I was booked to be away from my studio set up, 2000 miles north in Queensland. This changed a few things - the choice of art supplies became the available acrylic, coloured pencil & Uniball pens, and the workspace was an improvised one.

My temporary folding-table studio, mid tropical summer..

This was the location in which everything finally came together. At drafting stage I tend to work on 60gsm tracing paper, to make easier the process of combining the various more usable bits of different drawings.. Here's a few of the early doodles & experiments. 

Lois ala Lift & Carry. Just figuring shapes at this stage.

Tricky hand types. Should look surprised, but not horrified..

Rough heads, hoodie body & that globe!

After a lot of this, there was finally a usable combination of faces, buildings, clothes and muscles. Lana's legs were a difficult one to sell - she was a combination of four completely different people - but at last it stopped looking like bride of Frankenstein & fitted nicely.

Starting to look like something..

This was also when the design was simplified to strike out the supervillians. Not only did that mean a lot less design & figure work, but a stronger idea emerging - Lana was now saving Superman from the daily grind of rescuing the ever-plummeting Lois. Leaving Lois to make her own way to the ground floor seemed to give the joke more bite - and it turned out Lana had never been much of a fan of Miss Lane.. Perfect. (Insert scheming laugh here.) I moved on to the inks. For some reason I was working at A4 size. Not sure why.. But to get a decent likeness I switched to A3. I decided this having already started to ink A4 size, so the plan was to leave out the faces, xerox the incomplete inked image onto 220gsm art paper, then finish the remaining inks & colours full size. Overcomplicated, but sometimes them's the breaks.

A4 inking in progress.

The A3 upgrade. Colour at last!

This really was an old school illustration - I just noticed the Magic Plus tape masking the white border around the work. Haven't had to do that in a long while. So, at this point the job was basically done - some earthy colours on the cityscape (a palette chosen so as not to let the figures disappear into the background) & finishing on the Daily Planet and bam.. or shazam.. or something.. but finito anyway. As a result of the circumstances of it's production the delivered work had a very handmade look that I was pleased with & might not otherwise have tried - that grainy, almost lumpy coloured pencil look made it something that couldn't be mistaken for the machine-printed sheen of a real comic book & spelled it out as a love-letter to one instead. Here's a slightly over-compressed version of it - 

The delivered work.

And the reason I've included a fairly low-res version is because there is one more - as time went by I couldn't resist going back & doing a little retouching. I liked the finished work, but couldn't help picturing it with one of those exclamation-prone story headlines below the figures, and maybe some whoosh lines under Lana to balance that up... I also took the opportunity to bring some grey into the sky area, like it's a smoggy Metropolis day they're getting up & out of. I'm happy with it now, (as much as you can ever be with a finished piece) & really glad to have had the chance to work on something that struck me at first as perhaps not the most exciting job. I need to offer my apologies to the man of steel on that front. Sorry Superman. You were really good fun.*



*Superman apology does not indicate change in personal preference for Spidey or Batman. Nice try Supes.