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Storytelling Philosophy

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Electronic collage for graphic novel.

While it may cause die hard comic purists to curse and throw their Series 7 Number 2 inking brushes in outrage:  I have to admit this book could never have been created without Photoshop.

Two-ply Bristol board, pencils, lettering guides, inks, and electric erasers? I would still be working on the first chapters.

Blue pencils can be removed from the final Photoshop scan by selecting the blue filter in the convert to Black and White setting.

Most of the drawings in Soyuz Blue were created separately in small sketchbooks, and at various times and locations. My tools of choice are mechanical pencils of H, HB, and B value. I took these disparate pencil drawings, scanned and darkened the line work, then combined them into the collaged images you see in the finished novel. On occasion, I have also included a file or two drawn in Adobe Illustrator.

For the figure drawing, the most demanding part of any comic, I relied on a two-step process. First, I create a gesture and wireframe drawing to get the feel of the figure. Second, I cleaned up this rough drawing by tracing the figure on to 80 pound cold press paper, retaining some gesture lines to make sure the drawing still felt “alive.”

Also handy in Photoshop was the ability to rough things out in a non-repro blue pencil, draw directly over the sketch with a black pencil or pen, scan the image and “erase” the blue using the “black and white” conversion tool.

In this way the novel has been portable.  For instance, the fiery explosions at the end of the first volume were done while waiting to comment on a zoning issue at the Arlington County courthouse. I also did some pretty good work waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Smoke, ice, and other elements are added from other drawings.

This technique heavily influenced the final look of the novel. Scanning and converting pencils result in much more of the artist’s’ “hand” showing. The rougher look contrasts with the slick expectations the reader might have for a science fiction story. Also, while I tried to draw at 120% of the final print size, I occasionally mixed scales of drawings; using bolder rougher renderings for grittier special effects. Having the drawings as layers in Photoshop also allowed for quicker corrections and more spontaneous combining of images.

More coming in February 2016 with the release of Volume Three, the final installment of the three part Soyuz Novel.

See it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Photonic mouse haunts artist’s dreams (artistic influences, part 1)

There is a saying that children are like wet cement, whatever they run into leaves an impression.

My first artistic memory dates from when I was four years old. I was riding in a car through Baltimore on a November night in the 1960s. From the highway there was a clear view of a drive-in theater. On the screen, four stories high, was a Mickey Mouse cartoon. That giant, powerful, graphic rodent still haunts me. Here was a two dimensional being made of light, but as real as the three dimensional brick and morter city around it.

Art and graphics, especially in popular culture, were a huge influence. My Mother has always been a voracious reader, and in the 50s and 60s she was a fan of science fiction. That was the age of the 25 cent paperback book. There was a treasure trove of colorful tales lying about the house, each with a bold illustrated cover.

I was also born on the cusp of when small children in America stopped playing  “Cowboys,” and began to playing “Spaceman.” Black and white TV was still rerunning with the Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers; while the nightly news featured the real life exploits of America’s Mercury and Gemini Astronauts.

Traces of these themes show up now and then in my fine art. Everything shows up in my graphic novel.

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Casting the characters in Soyuz Blue.

Soyuz Blue is a science fiction thriller set in the not too distant future. All of the space vehicles and hardware are very similar to what currently exists. As an illustrator I felt a realistic style would be best for this kind of story. I also wanted each of the characters to have a distinct look. I tend to be cinematic in my storytelling, so I needed source material on my characters from many different “camera angles.”

I found one of the best places to “audition” characters was the art museum. Statues and portrait busts hold still, are great to sketch from, and happy to be photographed. They also won’t sue you if you make them the villain of your tale.

Andrew-Jackson-as-Dr-Ouspenskaya

My Dr. Ouspenskaya, with his rugged features and mad scientist hair, is based on  a bust of President Andrew Jackson. I sketched his likeness in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery from various angles. Also useful were the additional sculptures of Jackson at different ages. Of course, I still had to make decisions on what the character would look like smiling, laughing, and talking. A basic knowledge of human anatomy allowed me to make up certain rules: “Ouspenskaya shows his lower teeth when he talks…”

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His countenance is perfect for a successful military officer who is politically savvy and has mastered his area of expertise.  Zhukov also knows that a lot of what goes on in the military is nonsense, but he is in on the joke.

In this way I collected faces to match my script, but also found that it was much easier to edit and sharpen dialogue once I had a likeness of each player in the drama.

Did I cast the novel correctly? Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue and let me know!

A tale of suspense: Hitchcock “icy blonde” in space.

I have always been a fan of film director Alfred Hitchcock. When creating the character of Elizabeth Floyd I thought it might be fun to reimagine the Hitchcock “icy blonde” for a high-tech new century.

Hitchcock was famous for his leading ladies. They were inevitably complex, willful, sexy, and  frequently blonde. While they seem somewhat dated today, they were a radical departure from the tepid female characters of their time. Here is just a sampling of Hitchcock’s blonde brew of heroines:

The plucky socialite Lisa Freeman (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window is beautifully coiffed, wears Channel, attends all the right parties, and knows all the right people. She also breaks into a suspected murderer’s apartment and steals evidence that proves the man’s wife is not away visiting her Mother, but murdered.

The daring Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho steals a fortune from her boss to help her indebted boyfriend and ends up murdered in the shower of the Bates motel. Equally bold and blonde, her sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) comes in for the balance of the film and sees the story through to the shocking climax.

The complex Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) is a conniving thief in Marnie, who is repressing an even more criminal past. She dazzles and torments her husband (Sean Connery) into behaving badly. When the central mystery is finally revealed they emerge as an equal, if damaged, couple.

The mysterious and destructive Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) is both haunted and haunting in Vertigo. Both a victim and victimizer, she becomes the acrophobic hero’s (Jimmy Stewart) unhealthy compulsion. They torment each other until the very last obsessive frame of the film.

Soyuz Blue puts this smart, strong willed, and flawed Hitchcock persona into the unforgiving crucible of space exploration: a hostile environment where the slightest misstep can lead to disaster. Add to the mix: corporate politics, scientific fraud, international terrorism, a love triangle, and you have a supercharged stage on which to tell a tale of suspense.

What will icey blonde Elizabeth Floyd’s fate be?

Did I capture the spirit of Hitchcock’s frosty heroines? Check out the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue