Thursday 31 December 2009

Happy New Year!

Well it's New Year's Eve and it seem just a bit churlish not to put up a posting wishing you all the best for 2010. So here goes with another holiday themed blog with none other than Winsor McCay as MC.

Winsor McCay was a pioneer in both the fields of animation and comic strip. His work even in a world grown accustomed to fantasy made reality, has an ability to connect with the subconscious and his ironic sense of humor is still as relevant today as it was at the turn of the last century.

The sample I've chosen for you is a really charming page from McCay's best known strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland". Here you can see his mastery of form and appreciation of outline (a vital ingredient of successful cartooning). McCay's draughtsmanship which he had been steadily developing since the age of six was such that not only could he draw an anatomically correct outline which he would then infill with great speed and brio but his powers of observation and recall were so well honed that he could also supply all the correct reference necessary for adding credibility to his artwork - an indispensable accomplishment for anyone working within the deadline driven world of newspaper cartooning.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Cloud 109 - In 3-D!!! A Quick Guide to Making 3-D Comics

Monday's posting on those halcyon days of 3-D comics made me think about the processes involved in creating the artwork and how close they were to the way images are generated in Illustrator. The difference between working in Illustrator and Photoshop is best summed up by using the analogy of creating a picture through paper cutouts (Illustrator) as opposed to working with a programme (Photoshop)that in many ways emulates the experience of drawing and painting with pencil and brush, albeit cybernetically with multiple undos and layers to boot.

So I tiddled around with the first page of Cloud 109 created a new file and started shunting various elements in their own respective layers to the right (I'll do a more fulsome tutorial in the New Year) whilst retaining my original file. Thereby creating two slightly different views replicating the kind of stereo impression of the characters as they wander through the alien landscape.

I then imported the files into Photoshop and via some more technical wizardry (tutorial in January) created a green file for the right eye and a red file for the left eye using a genuine 3-D comic as my template and guide.

Then I dragged one file in a transparent layer on top of the other and "By George!" there was my page looking not unlike those fabulous EC 3-D comics from 1954!

The only downside to all this being that I can't supply you readers with the red/green or blue glasses that you need to wear. But you might still have some lurking around the house from the recent Channel 4 3-D extravaganza. If you have make sure you look at this page with the red lens over the left eye and then it should work.

"What about all of us that haven't got those fershlugginer 3-D glasses?" I hear you ask. Ahhh ... Well I've thought about that too and you guys are even luckier as you can look at the page in 3-D AND colour!!! Here's the page, just download it and open it up on your desktop and then gaze at it for a bit, let your eyes relax and gradually let them cross - at this stage you should start to be aware that there is a third "cross-eyed" image starting to happen between the two original images. At this point just hang in there and after a while this image will start to come into focus, it's a bit like looking at those old fashioned stereoscopic photos but without the aid of a viewer but it does work.

O.K that's enough technical wizardry for today, in the meantime David and I have temporarily relased Gina, Cary and Rabby from the confines of the dungeon so they can get wasted over Christmas but we will bung them back in time for you to pick up on their exploits from Wednesday January 6th.

Meantime here's a Richard Corben Santa story from Creepy, plus a one page bio which appeared around the same time.

Monday 21 December 2009


In 1954 as events were conspiring against William Gaines', he was still determined to be at the forefront of new developments in comic reading. As a result and hot on the heels of the 3-D craze sweeping U.S. movie audiences, comic publishers were experimenting with applying the same technology to the printed page. The first 3-D comic with the imaginative title "Three Dimensional Comics" had sold over a million copies the previous year and it's inventor Leonard Maurer in partnership with his brother Norman and Cartoonist Joe Kubert (yes - THE Joe Kubert) had hopes of licensing the technology to other comic publishers.

That was until the ever resourceful Gaines who was already the owner of a StereoRealist camera, made a search of patents and discovered the whereabouts of the original inventor of stereoscopic cartoons for newspaper repro, who had taken out a patent for precisely this procedure in 1936. Gaines swiftly made contact with the now frail and elderly Freeman H. Owens and bought the patent off him for the princely sum of $100.00. He then initiated a patent infringement suit against all his rivals and whilst the case was ultimately dismissed as being vexatious in the extreme the damage was done as regards the ambitions of Maurer and his partners and 3-D comics were destined to become yet another in a parade of developments which in retrospect seem more like gimmicks than real pushing of the boundaries.

However Gaines' footwork did enable him to exploit the medium with his own band of highly talented creatives and 2 E.C. 3-D comics were published. The first titled simply 3-D EC Classics was a collection of four stories from across the range of EC's output. The second collection Three Dimensional Tales From The Crypt of Terror reprised a selection of stories from EC's horror output.

A third collection devoted to the best of EC's science fiction comics was prepared but never saw print. Eventually the four stories were reprinted in the EC fanzine Squa Tront and Wally Wood's Witzend, where Wood's masterful treatment of "Spawn of Venus" finally made it's first appearance.

A note on the production process undertaken by the artists concerned is worth running past you.
The first image you can see is a page of original artwork from Wood's "V-Vampires" which was arguably the most successful of the stories to see print. As you might be able to discern what you are in effect looking at is a series of cels with artwork on each cel representing a layer with the final layer being the base board background artwork on which all the other cels are affixed.

The procedure for the artists involved was painful in the extreme.

Firstly the artist would pencil the page on an ordinary sheet of art paper with holes punched into the top margin which he would affix to an animator's peg board. When the penciling was complete he would note down next to every item drawn what layer it would ultimately appear on. You'll notice the numbers on Woody's penciled page second image down.

Then he would start tracing onto celluloid using the peg bar to affix the pre-punched cel sheet so that everything remained in register. All figures and objects on that particular layer are thus traced onto the cel.

When each layer of cel inking is complete he repeats the process apart from the last and deepest (stereoscopically speaking) which is inked up on the original sheet of art paper.

But that's not the end of the process for the artist, as each item must be rendered opaque while it's surrounding cel remains transparent. To achieve this the artist then needs to flip over each cel and paint on the reverse side of each drawn element with white paint again much in the manner of the trace and paint department of animation studios for much of the past century.

Tedious in the extreme - what!? And of course for each level (most publishers would settle for three or four but EC went for five to six), it was necessary to include loads of extra detail that wouldn't normally be required in a regular comic, the kind of detail that disappears behind objects but in 3-D comics needs to be drawn.

The final artwork was then sent off to repro where it would be shot as it was delivered and then at the next stage each layer would be shunted a bit to the right, the further away the background elements the deeper the shunt.

Then one photo is printed in red and the next is printed in green and the resultant page is viewed through those wacky looking red-green 3-D glasses and an illusion of 3-D is experienced by the viewer.

An absolute nightmare to draw but the results of the best comics and in particular Wood's "V-Vampires" is truly impressive. Anyway here's "Spawn of Venus", see if you can spot the panel where the charming street scene from the third image down appears.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Gesture Drawing (Revisited)

Essentially there are two ways of drawing a figure from imagination, the first and in some ways most sensible way is to conceive of the figure as a collection of blocks and cylinders and keeping true to the pre-designated proportions of the average human or the somewhat idealized proportions of the kind of people who regularly sashay around Manga and Superhero comics you then proceed in an orderly direction to construct your drawing. The example here is courtesy of George Bridgman's Life Drawing a book that was recommended to me by none other than Ian Gibson, who was less than impressed with my parlous figure drawing. It is I think a little less parlous these days and any success that I have achieved in this direction I attribute to Messrs Gibson and Bridgman.

Anyway lets assume that you have at least got a rudimentary feel for anatomy and that you have immersed yourself in some good life drawing books and classes aren't a bad idea either, plus most of us see people on a daily basis in one form or another so carry a sketch book and draw them whenever possible. You're building up knowledge and avoiding the trap of settling into faulty pre-conceptions of figure work.

So you've got all this knowledge tucked under your belt, now you start to work up your figures from imagination, with method one which I'll call the considered approach you continue following the constructivist building up of the figure as a series of blocks and cylinders following what you've absorbed from Bridgman. This has the advantage of putting you in the position of having to analyze exactly what it is that the figure is doing before you put pencil to paper - it really forces you to think.

But this is also the disadvantage of this approach - it is considered and it doesn't allow for you prodding your subconscious.

Method two, which is often referred to as gesture drawing is the polar opposite to the constructivism of method one. With gesture drawing you absorb the lessons of Bridgeman and then you throw the book away and scribble what you feel the figure might be doing. This is much, much more intuitive but it's also more exciting. It's not unlike being confined to bed with nothing to stare at but a damp patch on some textured wallpaper - after a while you can start to see the most amazing scenes revealing themselves and this is essentially what you're doing with gesture drawing. You are creating the opportunity to stimulate zones of your subconscious and pull forth memories and impressions which drawing in the pre-ordained manner of the constructivist approach doesn't cater for.

Pre-eminent amongst the school of gesture artists is Frank Frazetta, here's some of his drawings which shows his sense of rhythm and fluidity that suffuses all of his work and a couple of pages from his last comic book story from Creepy No 1. After this story appeared Frazetta devoted himself entirely to his painting producing a simply phenomenal run of covers for Warren, but with this story in contrast to the stories of all the other artists appearing in that issue Frazetta's piece stands out as being uncompromisingly visceral and edgy, everything is crackling with life and dynamism, even if individually some aspects of the drawing aren't as fully resolved as the Reed Crandall or Al Williamson pieces appearing in that same magazine. You can see the influence it had on a young Berni Wrightson in the following Web of Horror story, which first appeared in issue one of that magazine when Wrightson was still only twenty but clearly absorbing the lessons of the master.

Interesting how this story neatly anticipates the compulsive and addictive tendencies of on-line gamers, which in 1969 would have seemed an incomprehensible concept to most Web of Horror readers.

Friday 18 December 2009

Web of Horror

As mentioned in a couple of earlier postings there was a period when the Warren line of magazines, well at least Creepy and Eerie looked distinctly dire. The problem was created by Warren's move from Philadelphia to New York combined with a downturn in sales of his magazines. As a result budgets were slashed and a lot of his creatives were obliged to either work for a fraction of their previous page rates or seek employment elsewhere. Hence the rapid loss of quality as reprints and so-so artwork and scripts filled out the pages of Creepy and Eerie.

Terry Bisson who had already started to submit scripts to Warren with his friend Clark Diamond was hired by Long Island based publisher Robert Sproul to create a rival horror mag. Sproul already had a line of imitations going with Cracked (Mad) as an obvious example. Bisson's remit was simple with the aid of Diamond he just needed to hire enough people to fill out the pages of the new and as yet untitled magazine.

Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, Bruce Jones all hung out together and shared a passion for gothic fantasy and E.C. comics, once Bisson had secured the services of one, he'd got the rest and it was around these talents and Ralph Reese and Wayne Howard both working as studio assistants to Wallace Wood and able to recreate the classic Woody E.C. style that Bisson launched his magazine, ultimately titled Web of Horror.

The debut issue with cover by Jeff Jones and artwork by many unfamiliar but nevertheless intriguing if not downright exciting talents so alarmed James Warren that he sent all his creatives a them or us ultimatum; i.e. you could either work for Warren or the imitators but not both.

Three issues were produced and a fourth issue was put together under the editorship of Berni Wrightson and Bruce Jones. Bisson and Diamond who were doubtless cognizant of the change of fortunes with WOH's funding, had relinquished the editorial reins and skipped town to join a hippy commune somewhere in the deep southwest. The fourth issue as we know never appeared but most of the stories that had disappeared along with most everything else from Sproul's Long Island offices were eventually retrieved by Frank Brunner, one of Web of Horror's latter contributors.

Here as a taster is a particularly fine Wrightson tale from the third and final issue - with many thanks to Mr Door Tree and his excellent Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog for these scans. I do have these magazines somewhere but time as ever is not on my side.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Cloud 109 - The Eleventh Instalment

Well we're at the start of the next game in the cyber world of Cloud 109 which Gina, Cary and Rabby have to undertake if they want to gain any more of those all important credits and as an aide memoire I'll reprise the previous pages to aid with the flow.

Because today is our weekly Cloud 109 update day I'm taking a break from the postings of Christmas Creep Comix and instead I'm going to run several items that have caught my eye recently which you might be interested in checking out. Firstly and very much in the vein of those wonderful Warren magazines of yore, Dave Morris has a really engaging spook out comic of his own over at The Mirabilis Blog. Scintillating script is by Dave and the beautifully atmospheric artwork is by Martin McKenna, who is an exquisite draughtsman (check out his version of Estelle from Mirabilis) whose work would have blended seamlessly into the pages of Creepy magazine when it was in it's golden age.

In addition I'd also like to mention an online phenomenon going under the name of Fractal Fiction, it's an ongoing comic involving several creatives who are posting pages on a regular basis. Total weirdness but strangely compelling with some delightful nuances and well worth a visit.

Tomorrow it's going to be back to creeping you out with the much anticipated Berni Wrightson shocker Jenifer a masterpiece in marker pen, created on a lightbox but more of that tomorrow, for today I hand you over to Gina, Cary and Rabby as they venture into the portals of "The Dungeon of Death".

They're going to be there for quite some time ...