Here's a step-by-step explanation on how (and why) I made this:
It appeared in Wizard Magazine #195.
It starts off when the editors at Wizard email me with the general concept of the piece. In their exact words: "We'd like to see all of these characters in an airport-type situation with the dead characters sitting in the waiting area talking, listening to iPods, playing video games, typing on laptops, etc and the resurrected pouring in from the gate as if they just got off the plane." , followed with a long list of characters to include and some gag suggestions. I'm always encouraged to "plus" the jokes and make the piece even funnier, which is one of the best parts of these jobs.
This was my tightest deadline ever for Wizard - they needed a sketch in 2 days, and the final art in a week. And as luck would have it, I was attending the Small Press Expo during the production time, so I had to work on it at night in the hotel room after show hours. Then when I got home on monday, my computer's hard drive crashed and was going to require a full data recovery to get it back up to speed. Luckily I have an older computer I keep around for just such emergencies - it's a little slow but it runs photoshop just fine so I was back up and running in less than an hour.
Enough excuses - time to get crackin'!
STEP ONE - Research!
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the DC Encyclopedia have saved my behind many, many times over with these assignments. I'm a lifelong reader of superhero comics so I know the a-list and b-list characters pretty well, but these books come in very handy for when I have to draw someone really obscure or for details like, say, the pattern on Black Bolt's costume or something. I find the Marvel book much more usefull, even though it's in black and white and not as comprehensive, but it's got nice full-body pictures of all the characters one to a page so it's easy to browse. The DC book has the advantage of being in color, but it's an awkwardly oversized hardcover and there's usually 5 or 6 characters listed on a single page, so it's not easy to flip through when you need to look up a ton of characters at once. What's worse, the pictures they pick for the entries are just lifted from the comics themselves and often just head shots that cut out the costume details I need, like this entry for Terra (a character I had to draw for this assignment):
Thanks for nothing DC Encylopedia. Glad I bought you at a discount.
Ah well, there's always the internet. Wikipedia is my main go-to visual reference point, and the Micro-heroes site is a great resource for looking up costume colors and such, both are INSANELY comprehensive - it's rare I have to look beyond those two sites. There were more than a few characters that I had never heard of in this one and didn't show up in either book, so I hit the interweb and I hit it HARD. Any internet reference I find I download into iPhoto so it's always there - I even synch it to my iPod and use that as a portable mini reference library. (nerd alert!)
For the background, I did a google image search for airport waiting areas and found a really nice picture taken at LAX that was just perfect - good composition, interesting architecture and the columns created a natural visual divide that I needed for this assignment, yet it was still generic enough to be any old airport. Idealy I would have gathered my own reference or made something up from my head, but this was a rush assignment and airports aren't exactly an easy thing to get to these days. Stupid terrorists.
STEP TWO - Rough sketch.
Okay, time to really dive and do this thing. In art school I learned that if you're drawing a crowd scene you need to vary the sizes of the people - big in the foreground, small in the background. It makes for a more pleasing composition AND it's easier to draw than if they were all drawn at the same size. My philosophy with these "do one of everything" pieces is to put the most recognizable characters (Thor, the Flash) or the ones I like (Madman, The Question) in the foreground, fill in the mid-ground with as many jokes as I can, then use up all the other characters that I've either never heard of (Grayven) or I hate (Jericho) as filler. Hey , it's my art - I'll draw it my way!
I draw the rough sketch at the size it will be printed at, 11 x 17 inches, leaving room at the top for editorial copy and making sure there are no characters faces or other important visual info that falls on the center line - which would just look weird when it was printed. Not all the details are there, but it's enough for the editors to give feedback on. I also make a character key so they know who's who, 'cause a lot of time I do loose interpretations of the characters rather than slavish reproductions:
STEP THREE - Revised pencils.
So after they saw my first sketch the editors wanted some changes: they thought the joke with the two Flashes didn't make sense and there wasn't a clear division between the dead and resurrected sides, so I expanded the rope and staffed it with grim reaper type airport personnel. They also wanted Captain America's to be in a death pose from the comics. Finally, right after I sent in the sketch the editors got the inside scoop that Green Arrow wasn't actually dead, so I pulled him out entirely. On a completely unrelated note - superhero comics sure can be stupid sometimes.
Anyways, in the big picture (ha ha) these changes are pretty minor, so doing another sketch at the small size would just be a waste of time since I would mostly be re-drawing characters that were already approved at a size I couldn't use for the final art. So I skip to the next step - I enlarge the scan of the sketch by 150%, change the lines to 10% cyan and print that out onto two pieces of 11 x 14 inch bristol board using an oversize inkjet printer. I tape those two pieces together - the full size of the art is 22 x 14 inches. I draw the revised pencils on top of that, starting with all the stuff the editors wanted changed, then just re-drawing the rest essentially just tracing the printed light blue lines but with more detail:
STEP FOUR - Inking
The revised pencils were approved with one small change - the ticket taker was changed from a stewardess into a more traditional Grim Reaper type. For most assignments I usually just do finished colors after the pencils are approved - but the deadline was very tight and I wanted the editors to know that I was making progress, so I sent them the inks after I scanned them, which were approved quickly:
STEP FIVE - Flat colors
Coloring is a whole tutorial unto itself, but I always start out with very basic, solid colors (sometimes called "flats") before adding shadows and highlights and stuff. I keep the inks on the top layer, and the color flats below that.
I don't pump in a lot of creativity at this stage - for my Wizard assignments it's more important that the characters are correctly identifiable rather than coming up with a unique or imaginative color scheme. I keep the backgrounds mostly monotone, since the focus is on the characters, not the setting. I sent a high-res version of this to the magazine so that the graphic designers could start working on the layout without waiting for me to finish the fully renered colors.
STEP SIX - Color rendering and special effects
I add the shadows on a layer between the line art and the colors, and the highlights on a layer above that. I try not to get too complex with the rendering - at the most I'll give a color area 3 values (outline, shadow, midtone). Having a drawing tablet is absolutely essential for this stage - with the tablet the work goes pretty quickly and is a lot of fun.
>> Click here to download a layered sample of the final file to see how I set up my coloring file. 410k, Adobe Photoshop required!
STEP SEVEN - Sleep
My favorite part!
So that's it. No big secrets really, just a lot of hard work. I hope I explained everything clearly, if you've got any questions please post them in the comments. Thanks for reading!