Make a hor­ror comic page

Dave Ken­dall takes you from script to fin­ished page for the an­i­mated graphic novel Houses of the Holy, cre­ated for Madefire mo­tion books

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

Dave Ken­dall uses Manga Stu­dio and Pho­to­shop.

Houses of the Holy has been a part of my life for many years. It was one of the first sam­ple strips pro­duced for a fledg­ling company called Madefire ( www.madefire.com). The first six pages be­came part of the fund­ing port­fo­lio, along­side Dave Gib­bons’ Treat­ment, and Liam Sharp’s Cap­tain Stone and MONO. Since then this Mike Carey-scripted hor­ror tragedy, fea­tur­ing the vam­pire Magda, has punc­tu­ated my past four or five years. As Madefire has grown, Magda’s life and mind has dis­in­te­grated. Madefire is a dig­i­tally driven sto­ry­telling plat­form that runs on Ap­ple’s iOS and Google’s An­droid. It takes ad­van­tage of sound, lay­ers and the abil­ity to shake up the usu­ally static pages of the comic book. The app is free to use and en­ables you to ex­per­i­ment with your own sto­ries.

In this work­shop I’ll take you through the process for pro­duc­ing a Houses of the Holy page for Madefire. I’ll ex­plain the lay­er­ing as­pects of the comic and sto­ry­telling ideas. I’ll be rein­ter­pret­ing one of my early pages and sig­nif­i­cantly chang­ing it, es­pe­cially where the fi­nal re­veal is con­cerned. So let’s join Magda’s fa­ther as he es­corts his newly in­fected vam­pire daugh­ter Magda through the woods. She’s get­ting a lit­tle peck­ish…

1 Words and pic­tures

The first step be­fore you even pick up a pen­cil is the script. So get comfy and start read­ing. Don’t touch that pen­cil. I tend to read it through a cou­ple of times and start mak­ing notes on the third pass. I al­low the di­a­logue and mood to dic­tate my de­ci­sions. The story must be served first, so make sure it’s clear in your head. I’m very well served in hav­ing Mike Carey, one of the most re­spected writ­ers in comics, as the fa­ther of this story.

2 Ar­bo­real fram­ing de­vice

This is a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of a page I pro­duced a cou­ple of years ago. In­spired by Ser­gio Toppi, an Ital­ian il­lus­tra­tor, I de­cide to use a tree to pro­vide a fram­ing de­vice rather than a sim­ple grid. The first two pan­els are framed by the branches of a tree that dom­i­nates the fi­nal panel. In Madefire the pan­els can be iso­lated with a large re­veal that would build the sus­pense, mak­ing the dom­i­nant panel vis­i­ble at the very end.

3 Ges­ture sketch­ing

I never go straight in with highly ac­cu­rate draw­ing. In­stead, I start with ges­ture sketches and build up the ac­cu­racy, ei­ther with suc­ces­sive draw­ings or by us­ing lay­ers in Pho­to­shop. This en­ables me to keep the en­ergy of the ini­tial sketch while re­fin­ing anatomy and de­tails. Here you can see ex­am­ples of my sketch­book, to show how I de­velop panel ideas.

4 Dig­i­tal blue­line

I scan in some of my more promis­ing sketches and ideas to use as a base for de­sign­ing the pan­els. I set the sketches as a layer. I ap­ply another layer and fill it with a light cyan. If you set the blend­ing mode to Screen it gives the un­der­ly­ing sketch a blue line ef­fect. This colour cast en­ables me to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the re­fined pen­cils that I’ll use above the sketch layer.

5 Sim­ple brushes

For dig­i­tal draw­ing I use sim­ple brushes – I don’t want lag be­cause of a com­plex brush. Here I use the Manga Stu­dio dig­i­tal pen­cil. It’s a brush with a light soft­ness that, although it doesn’t em­u­late pen­cil, gives a good base for paint­ing. I en­joy draw­ing comic pages out in line. I could use block-in tech­niques, but draw­ing gives you a per­sonal finger­print.

6 Defin­ing el­e­ments

I im­port the im­age into Pho­to­shop. Nor­mally I wouldn’t worry about ex­tract­ing and sep­a­rat­ing el­e­ments, but Madefire’s ex­pe­ri­ence can be en­hanced by the power of its en­gine, and hav­ing sep­a­rate lay­ers makes con­struc­tion eas­ier. I use the Mag­netic Lasso tool to roughly mask the pen­cil out­line. The mask can be fur­ther re­fined with the Quick Mask fea­ture.

7 Work­ing in greyscale

Once I have masks for my sep­a­rate pen­cil el­e­ments, I cre­ate lay­ers with those selections filled in white, and ap­ply my greyscale work. I iso­late the layer (Ctrl+click) and ap­ply a sim­ple white-to-black gra­di­ent set on Mul­ti­ply to build up the tones. This can give you a sense of light­ing. I then place the high­lights and shad­ows with sim­ple brushes. I don’t touch the draw­ing layer, which should be above the paint­ing layer.

8 Re­fin­ing the val­ues

Once I’m happy with my val­ues, I flat­ten the pen­cils to the greyscale layer and con­tinue to re­fine the tonal val­ues, us­ing sim­ple brushes. I carry out this sim­ple value ex­er­cise on all the sep­a­rate el­e­ments on the page. Be­cause I’m work­ing with mul­ti­ple pan­els, I use the Group/Folder op­tion to sep­a­rate and lock them. Work­ing on the wrong panel is frus­trat­ing!

9 Night colours

I ap­ply a Color Blend­ing layer to the whole page. Colour al­ters the hue with­out touch­ing the val­ues. I fill the layer with a twi­light, night-time hue. Once the ba­sic colour is set I work flesh tones and other colours into Magda, the horse and her fa­ther. Be­cause it’s a night scene I don’t want to make it too sat­u­rated, so I move care­fully, feel­ing my way.

10 Mar­ry­ing colour to el­e­ments

Be­cause all my el­e­ments are on sep­a­rate lay­ers I se­lect the pix­els on each layer, and lift an Iden­ti­cal se­lec­tion from the colour layer. I pair the colour and greyscale layer to­gether, and flat­ten them. After this stage my fig­ure and back­ground el­e­ments are in­de­pen­dently coloured. If some colours over­lap, I re­move the of­fend­ing ar­eas with a brush set to Color Blend.

11 Colour re­fine­ment

The lay­ers look a lit­tle anaemic to me, so more work is needed. I en­hance the colour us­ing an Over­lay layer. This mode can af­fect the val­ues of the im­age, so work­ing colour into a sep­a­rate layer gives you more con­trol. I gen­tly en­hance ar­eas through­out the page, usu­ally work­ing on one el­e­ment at a time. Mul­ti­ply and Color Dodge is use­ful in small amounts.

12 Clean­ing up and en­hance­ment

I’ve now tack­led ev­ery panel and worked up the colour to a level I’m happy with, but I find there’s al­ways room to tweak and en­hance. I no­tice that there are some small arte­facts aris­ing from the lay­er­ing process, so I erase here and there and tidy up what­ever is glar­ingly ob­vi­ous to me.

13 Tai­lor­ing it for Madefire

Although this strip would work with­out square pan­els, I add some to give more op­tions for Madefire. When work­ing on Houses of the Holy I de­sign the pages to work as a dig­i­tal so­lu­tion with the op­tion of a printed book. Peo­ple still like to hold the phys­i­cal ob­ject. I’m told Houses of the Holy in tan­dem with Madefire’s en­gine has in­duced jumps and shocks.

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