When I was four I was immensely into tracing paper. So much so my parents would perform this song-and-dance routine treating it as a big-ticket item burning a hole in their pocket. But I knew it wasn’t costing them an arm and a leg as they purported it to be. Tracing paper was cheap. Still is. But to their point, I’ll admit moderation wasn’t in my vocabulary. I use to chain-trace images with barely a breath in between. At my worst I was probably tracing two to three packs a day. My composure towards tracing paper was that of a rabid dog- fiercely scribbling the black line paths of Casper and Scooby-doo from coloring books left stark white from an absent of crayon wax.
Those were my first memories of drawing and undoubtedly one of my first lessons. That being- know what you draw. A reliance on reference material is a common practice among illustrators and cartoonists but unfortunately misunderstood by fine artists. In fact my stint in art school was littered with lamenting fine artists who detested references to the point that it was a religion. The three issues not to bring up in art school were abortion, the death penalty, and using reference sources. Personally I felt the drama was unnecessary. Fine artists evoke inspiration from inside themselves and we, hedonistic miscreants, elicit inspiration from the carnal outside world. No hard feelings.
To boot it was also a process taken lightly by art students, as I experienced first-hand in continuously harrowing critiques where a student, who plain as day spent forty-five minutes right before class haphazardly scribbling a potted sunflower on top of a corvette while a sun blared down on them from the corner of the page, tried to defend that their illustration does in fact correlate with the assignment’s subject matter- the overcrowding of America’s prison population (to note the sun and flower did have a smile drawn on. Yes both of them). And those that stayed on topic drew a prison cell consisting of a room with not a window in sight and an inmate holding bars shooting from floor to ceiling with no apparent door built into them. Both of these individuals drew based on their internal interpretation of a prison cell (or smiling sunflowers- which don’t exist) and not from an actual prison setting.
To illustrate this point, below on the left is a horse drawing done by memory. And next to it is a drawing I did of a horse with references to aid me. I know it’s tough to say which horse is better, but if you are the art director at Horse Illustrated and you’re hiring someone to draw you a horse for next month’s issue…..
Next week’s wedding is in Chicago. Which means time to see the baby bro! He’s 30 years-old and missing his front teeth. No, he’s not a hockey player. My doppelgänger knocked them out with a beer bottle.
In the interim I’ve started drawing with blue lead. I stumbled upon the fact that they sell blue mechanical pencil lead (even on amazon)- which surprised me. The lead should be invisible to scanners if they are set to black/white. But some sources contest that point. I hope it does work, because I suspiciously believe erasing the normal lead (that scanner typically pick up) damages the ink.
More so, due to actively preparing written material to send to publishers I am tinkering with placing the graphic novel online. I would love to publish it. But it will be three years until I finish and the reality is if I can’t find a publisher it will mostly likely surface here anyways. Also most indie comic cartoonists don’t make that much money. I have a decent job and can draw in my spare time. I’m lucky I can do this. It would be great to be paid for it, but this industry is built off people who love the media and love making it- not dollar signs.
When I first began “Sacco” it was to open avenues for future illustration assignments. But now I like telling stories with images. If I get an illustration job- great! If I get a book published- even better! Nonetheless, Illustration-wise, drawing 250+ pages has definitely helped my process and placing myself on the regiment of two pages a week has really sped up my delivery time. (It used to be about two weeks for one illustration- one!)
My doppelgänger recently sent me a copy of his novel through his Kindle account. He’s been writing it in his spare time while teaching in South Korea. He wants me to send him a copy of what I have finished of Sacco. But I’m reluctant to do so. Not because I don’t want his opinion. It’s because the drawings from the first chapter are shit compared to my latest completed pages. Plus I’d like to pretend my storytelling skills have gotten better.
I mentioned this hesitation to him. He said it’s not uncommon- look at the Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowling’s craft in the first book was rougher and more jagged compared to the final installments.
He has a point. If the “ten-thousand-hour rule” is held to be true, then yes, any author should see improvement. Except novels are typed words. Their worth is contingent on if you know the language it’s printed in. A graphic novel’s worth is a bit more transparent.
Below are the first 2 pages I created in January 2009 overlapped by the 2 pages I completed inking this week (P172-173). I haven’t finished adding all the grey tones to the pages from this week. As for the 2009 pages, at that time I had just begun inking with a brush and constructing entire pages with several panels. Prior to this I normally did one-off illustrations with ink pens for freelance assignments. The 2009 pages aren’t in my final draft of Sacco. I’ve already redrawn them.
However I’m not the only illustrator/cartoonist whose style changes as their work progresses. Look at Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work from the first and sixth Scott Pilgrim book (below). There is a vast difference. Tighter lines, better form, more apparent panel edges and all his characters don’t look alike by the end of the story.