“9 – Lives” – A(n unusual*) Comics-based Commission
* For a number of reasons I don’t normally take on commissions (relating to my own self-published comics work). Or haven’t until this point.
… As curious an exercise as this was, and despite its one-off* status; this turned out to be fun. Particularly as it riffed on my recent Character Design discussions/investigations.
Anyway… to the brief,
…it came in back in December and was essentially completed in an evening, albeit that time spread over a week due to other commitments.
“Can you draw _________ with his cat, he’s a comic art fan”.
Pretty wide open, so where to start? First up I hit the sketchbook, and looked at some basic thumbnails for composition purposes… I had in mind the typical “poised for action” hero shot, the type of thing you might get with typical** Wolverine/Gambit style cover art. …
**… whilst on the subject of “typical” its worth noting >THIS< – Fair point I think.
I have to say, this isn’t my normal bag… my comic is pretty much designed with the idea of putting an unfit/non-typical (read overweight) protagonist at the forefront of the narrative. So it was a bit of a challenge trying to get this more typical hero anatomy looking right, particularly when it is all so exposed… Those girls and boys that draw superheros all day really have their work cut out. Not being one of those people, I guess I fell into a lot of old holes/cliches that people who have drawn “Hero” comics have worked through earlier in their careers… Ultimately as fun as these images were, I wasn’t happy with the results in terms of content, mostly as the commission was essentially a portrait of sorts, …more than anything, I couldn’t be sure that the subject would be happy to see themselves in a spandex suit. So at that point I went back to formula, and rethought the cover idea. I thought I might try a more Captain America style stance, that stoic/sentinel look, as opposed to the “fight-ready” or mid-scuffle pose, and I wanted to run with a more street fashion based costume, the only nod to the superhero being the logo on the guys chest. I had at this point still not figured out where I was going with the title… The cat, which I’d decided to feature as a regular domestic cat rather than “super-ing it up”(albeit in a mask of its own) was the obvious “in” for the hero’s side-kick… though regarding names, I wasn’t going to go for “Cat-boy/Cat-suit/or Cat-man” for the same reasons as the no spandex decision above. … In the end after much flipping back and forth through my well thumbed copy of Brewer’s dictionary of Phrase and Fable ( brand new when I bought it back in ’93, it has served me well) …I settled on Nine (9) Lives. My thought was a superhero who could perhaps survive 9 fatal attacks/deadly falls/incidents each night, before having to head home to “recharge” his powers…
(probably by sleeping in a drawer full of Lego… joking… but seriously, why do cats find that comfortable?)
Anyway, rather than calling the character (or the book) 9 Lives (rhymes with Knives), I thought it might be fun to call it 9 Lives! (rhymes with Gives). As in, Nine (the name of the hero), miraculously still Lives. Nine Lives! …d’y’see what I did there? Okay. So with a few further thumbnails to choose from I picked my final composition… And then worked up the final composition in pencil and light inks… I worked the book titles into the pencils as they needed to be part of the original art commission… rather than leaving space for them as is common practice, and adding them in on a separate layer later digitally. The vignettes of the villains in the background… well, these where kinda fun to come up with (as you might see from the names I gave them). And with all of those lightly inked in… it was time for the final inks, and some quick fills and tones using a range of grey copic markers. Lastly (or so I thought…) I scanned the image and worked up a heavier, digitally toned version…creating a grey mid-ground, then expunging the vignette panel borders and any highlights, trying to create a sense of stronger light from the right side of the composition. Nine’s shadow was added by outlining the figures using the “lasso” tools, then creating a black/grey fill on a separate layer, “distorting” it and multiply-ing it. Then finally ending up with this… Like I said… or so I thought…
9 Lives…? or Olives…?
And as soon as someone says it… its all that you can see right? Type… Most people (particularly non-design oriented people) imagine it can be pretty subjective (don’t get @Spenika started). But as with any form of design there exist rules and conventions, and methods of good practice for a reason, and an error is an error, is an error. And this was an error. My Bad.
- Perhaps (and I mean, definitely) I should have thumbnailed out a range of layouts for the title before committing them to the page.
- Perhaps that tail on the cat could have been a little thicker to really represent the tail of the “9”.
- Perhaps “9, Lives!” may have been better… that comma separating the two words more clearly.
Hindsight, such a great general. Regardless, if one person can see it, maybe others will too. And so now… laughs, “Olives” is all I can see when I look at it too… … So, not to leave it unfinished… I reworked the titles a little more; threw in a little more typical/old school copy in the lower portion of the image… and here you go… The Final final image. All-in-all a fun, and useful, little diversion/exercise… that definitely taught me a few things along the way. …
This sort of thing would no doubt make good (and quick) portfolio project brief, if you are looking to expand it, for example you could randomly pick a friend and their pet and work up a superhero based on that combo, or a celebrity and a proverb and do the same thing.