Sunday, June 08, 2008

Who Is Rocket Johnson (part one)


For the past two and a quarter years I have managed to blog without ever plugging anything for you to buy. Over the next few posts I will talk a bit about a comic book that some of us at Disney have created called "Who Is Rocket Johnson?", but I don't consider this "plugging" the book because I don't think the book needs any promotion. There will only be 1,000 copies printed and they will only be for sale at the San Diego Comic-con. If you are headed to the Con and you want one, head on over and grab one as soon as you get there. For booth information and updates on the book please visit here.

Several guys at work put this thing together and there are a lot of great artists who contributed work for it. Paul Briggs deserves a big kudos for putting in a lot of the elbow grease so if you get a copy and you like it drop him a line and tell him how much you enjoyed it.

Working on that book took a lot of time away from blogging so I suppose it's only fitting to blog about it now. I actually learned a lot doing it, because doing your own thing is so different from working on stuff that's for your day job.

One of the first things I learned was something I am already painfully aware of, and probably 90% of all artists are used to experiencing: that cleaning up my rough drawings was a miserable and tedious process because I could never capture the life and energy of my rough drawings in the cleaned-up finished drawings.

This is the case at work as well, of course, but at work we rarely have much time to devote to clean-ups and we work under such intense deadlines that there's not really time to dwell on the quality of the drawings. Also there's a difference when it's your own personal work of art, and it's probably the only thing the world will ever see of yours and judge you by, and you may never get another chance to be published again in your life, so there's a lot of pressure to do something that you will be at least partially proud of.

The reason roughs are easier to do, I guess, is because you're not feeling as much pressure when you're doing them, because in the back of your mind you're thinking "well, nobody will ever see this drawing anyway so it doesn't have to be perfect". Also you're really thinking when you're roughing it out, you're experiencing the action and the acting of the drawing for the first time and you're trying to get all of it on paper which gives it a wonderful energy. Then, when you go to clean it up, you're at a terrible disadvantage because you're trying to remember that original feeling and recapture it and preserve it, so it's not as strong to you and now you're experiencing a little bit of fear because now you have something to lose: if you goof up the clean-up, the drawing is ruined and you destroyed the great rough you had.

Also when you're drawing the roughs you're thinking about big shapes and how they move in space. Once you're cleaning it up, it's too easy to focus on lines instead of shapes in space, as well as wrinkles, buttons and all of the other fussy details that can destroy the overall feeling of the drawing and reduce it into a mess of pointless lines.

So I was paralyzed for a while after I completed my roughs. I was miserable about having to start cleaning up my drawings, and unwilling to let the roughs stand as the final artwork, because they were just too rough to tell the story.

What finally saved me and lifted me out of my funk, allowing me to continue, was that I had a realization: I don't ever like an artist's cleaned up drawings. Whenever I see an artist's roughs, I always like them better than the finished final product, no matter who the artist is, and that actually helped me quite a bit. It helped me accept that I am just like everybody else and that we all tend to lose a bit of something in the cleaning up phase...at least in my opinion, anyway.

It's a shame that we rarely get to see the rough unfinished work of an artist, that everything is so refined and polished before we get to see it. Did you know that there's even a magazine devoted to the rough drawings of comic book artists called "Rough Stuff"?

Anyway, I don't have any brilliant solutions to offer about how to clean up your drawings, but in general it is easier to clean up a drawing if you don't focus on the lines as you put them down but distract yourself with other considerations, above all thinking about design: how to use a good variety of small, medium and large shapes, how to strengthen the poses of your characters, how to arrange the backgrounds to better frame the action, etc.

Anyway, here are some examples of my progression, from rough to final color. I wish I could show better examples but I don't want to give anything away before anyone's had a chance to read it...





The original roughs were done on paper; the clean-ups and the color were done on a Cintiq.

16 comments:

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JP said...

Great post! The book looks like it will be a treat. I also obsess with getting a bold, vital final line to match the feel of the roughs- The only way I try to solve it is by leaving my roughs as loose as I can, so I still have to do some thinking and decisiveness in the inks. Not so easy for animators though!

David said...

Clean-up is an underrated skill because if you do it right nobody notices !

Randeep Katari said...

I am so getting this book.
It's interesting to attempt coming up with a compromise between rough and clean drawings, doing clean-up is extremely tough. I really like the final look of it. Can NOT wait for this one.
Hope all is well
R.

Scott Sackett said...

On a forum I frequent we were planning a SDCC get together and one of the posters mentioned he worked on this book.

It looked intresting and I was going to look at it, but this convinced me.

In regards to the clean-up problem, this is something I am constantly struggling with, how too keep that nice, loose line, but still producing something clean enough to publish?

One thing I am experimenting with is drawing my comics a sketchbook. It's a fun experiment, but I'm afraid still too rough so far.

Are all the stories related in Rocket Johnson or is it an anthology (ala Flight or Afterworks)?

Either way I'm planning on picking this book up early!

Jeff Z said...

Y'know who's got the best solution I've seen for this problem?

Two guys: Sergio Aragones and Joe Kubert.

Both of them use only the barest minimum pencil sketch lines to lay their drawings out - I'm talking like, panel borders, horizon line, a few ellipses to mark head positions, an action line or two - and then just goes straight to ink.

Sergio uses a pen, Joe uses a brush. And they are both spectacular at it.

Siyar said...

I wish I had some sort of insight regarding capturing the liveliness during clean-up. It can be the most disheartening.

I do prefer to do inking of my work in brush as opposed to pen, as it allows a certain fluidity to enter my comics--especially when there's so many results brushwork can yield (dry brush being a favorite). I'm not sure, as jp said, how well it that carries over to animating, as the standards are much stricter.

Emma said...

I know I find that I can get away with a lot less in roughs, and maybe that's why they're so much more appealing... they allow for more audience participation, interpretation of exactly what that hand is doing.
The ways to suggest things in ink are completely different from the way to do it in pencil, which is horribly frustrating!

I also find that when I ink and clean up, it reveals every little spot where I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing in the pencils. Perspective lines in pencil can be 'ehhh over here somewhere', but it's paralyzing to have to make a choice and commit so permanently!

I'm excited to pick up Rocket Johnson at Comicon... great work, I'm sure!

edhead said...

what if we're not going to san diego and are in the UK!?!?!?!??!?!? how can we get one?!

Streetsy said...

What if we are as far away from SD as its possible to get? Australia. We want some too....

Pinflux said...

Ah, I can't stand the rough to cleaned-up process. For what it's worth, your final cleaned up work looks lovely and I think really retains the essence of those original drawings!

Anonymous said...

When I look at your drawings, I also like the rough initial ones better. My suggestions would be:
- use different pen widths
- smoother lines (some of the lines look like drawn too slow, with too many mini-curves)
- less detail (all the lines around the nose in your third example)
- cleaner designs (some of the proportions seem a bit off, but not in a way that looks cool, like the trousers in the first example).

Just my 2 cents, please don't take it personal.

-Bill

mark kennedy said...

Thanks to all for the comments!

Anon - I don't speak French, I'm sorry. I barely speak English.

jp - Yeah, that is a good way to do it...I tried to do that too on the book.

david - yes! Exactly. It looks easy when it is done well, doesn't it?

Randeep - glad you are going to get it, maybe I will see you there.

scott - that's an interesting idea, about the sketchbook. Sometimes color can be helpful for "tying together" loose drawings so you don't have to clean them up. I might try that next year, if we do this again...Yes, it's an anthology, with every artist answering the question of who Rocket Johnson might be. Hope you enjoy the book!

jeff z - yes, they are both good at it. I find that it's easier for me if my roughs are left on the rough side as well.

siyar - I've never actually tried to use a brush for inking, that seems really tough but I sure would like to try that someday.

emma - yes, it's so much harder to commit to the final placement of lines in ink. In the roughs you can be so much more vague about stuff. I sure hope you get a copy and I hope you like it!

edhead and streetsy- I dunno. We will see if there are some left over. If there are we will see about selling them to a book dealer after the Con. Otherwise, I am not sure. There are no plans to make additional copies, but we will see how the Con goes. Do you have a friend who can pick one up in SD?

pinflux - thanks for the kind words, much appreciated!

Bill - thanks for the honest critique. I think it all goes back to the fact that you need to be thinking design more than anything when you are cleaning up. But it's hard not to get fearful and noodly when I'm cleaning up drawings...something to keep working on!

k. borcz said...

Sweet! I look forward to gettin my copy at the con! :) Thanks for not spoilin the story, I hate it when stories are spoiled.

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