1 of 6: In these 6 entries I am going to walk you step by step through the process I went through to create 6 of the 17 pages I pencilled and inked for the upcoming “The Odyssey Of Sergeant Jack Brennan” graphic novel. This is a DARPA funded project intended to assist veterans with PTSD. The power of myth lies in its metaphorical applications, and this project has used that to great effect, and I am proud to have been a part of it. So… let’s go…
But before we really dig in, I have opted not to separate my emotions from the art, nor my emotional experiences from what you will read below. For me the making of art and living life as an artists are all tied into my emotional nature–and, after all, this whole bizarre need we feel in our culture to separate ourselves professionally from our emotions is really just part of the patriarchal construct of our culture, which I find so nonsensical.
The whole project started with a script, below you will see the first page of 3 that I was sent. To be honest, I was not the first artist chosen to illustrate this section of the book (but I damn well should have been). The first artist was not interested in the project in the least and turned in a cramped and lifeless 6 page interpretation of this story. He was let go, and the team called me to come in at the last minute and save this section of the story–which was all around for the best. My adaption of this section of script stretched it to a much more appropriate 17 pages, and my enthusiasm level for the project was high from the get-go. In the page of script included below you will see that it has been marked up with notes. Tom Hart did an initial round of breakdowns (which means he essentially worked out which action would appear on which page), and though his breakdowns were a life-saver (as they really got me over the hump and started in the right direction), I was allowed the liberty of stretching things out and reworking the initial breakdown of the script in a way that better fit my storytelling style and sense of timing. You will also notice not only my ballpoint red-line breakdowns, but a few thumbnails for images and pages that came to me before I had even begun any real sketching.
Prior to even beginning the pressure was on. I was led to believe that, since the first artist had fallen down on the job, this whole section had to be pencilled and inked in 2 to 4 weeks! When I started on the thumbnails I decided to think hard about what kinds of images I could simply draw by relying on the lessons I have internalized–in other words, I didn’t have time to research or stretch. Fortunately over time that changed, the deadline loosened up and I managed to stretch more on this project than I have in a very long time.
Something very unusual happened on the first page, and that is that I more or less knew what the finished page was going to look like from the start. I have a lousy visual memory, and I rarely see anything clearly in my head prior to sketching or drawing, instead I have always had to set pencil to paper and work my compositions and the elements of the drawings out directly on paper, and sometimes much of the real thinking doesn’t even start until I am drawing on the finished piece.
In this instance I knew I wanted a Jeffrey Catherine Jones feel to this page (and many of the pages throughout, until I started looking at and thinking about Hal Foster and Al Williamson). I wanted the lines to be as loose and alive as Jeffrey’s, and the compositions to be open and full of white space. One of the most important lessons I learned from my friendship with Jeffrey Catherine Jones was when she busted me for not using enough white in my designs, and in fact, Jeffrey said to me at one point: “I see you spot blacks well… but where’s the white?” Well, my dear Jeffrey, here’s the white! Lots of it… this page is for you. Looking at it now, especially in the clouds of the final inks of the final panel, I was also paying tribute to another of my mentors, P. Craig Russell–who I seem to have had a falling out with, he knew me when I was very young.
Also note the strong mythological look of the first panel. There were no mythic creatures in my section of the script, and this bothered me, so not only did I want to draw some creatures, I also wanted to cue the reader in from the very first panel that this was a dangerous world full of mythic beasts. Though I knew I wanted to create (in panel 1) an image that existed in two planes (above and below water), at this point I had no idea how I was going to pull that off–that came later.
Note my note to self in the sketch below, “not compositionally sound.” I find that odd now as I did little revision to the compositions, most notably the sea serpent is pointing the wrong direction and leads the eye of the viewer off the page (for more on this, see my story about Steranko in the entry for page 6), and I corrected that in the final image (we’ll get to that later).
Another unusual aspect of this project, one that most definitely caused me some anxiety, was the way I had to deliver the work. Normally, when working out a passage in comics, I have an outline I work from, and I work out one page at a time, or a few if I truly know how I want the storytelling to work out for a particular passage. In this case I had to offer a full run of 16 pages of layouts for approval (16 pages turned into 17 at the suggestion of Tom Hart who correctly felt that an extra page needed to be included to make an important emotional point later in the story). Below you will see the layout I turned in for the first page, which is not dissimilar to the finished piece.
Note the “bumps” at the top and bottom of the page, the painted out borders that I then extended top and bottom as I had mismeasured the dimensions for the layout. That proved to be all for the best as the elongated panels were much more attractive. And note that idiot sea serpent is still pointed in the wrong direction.
From here I had to simply draw the page. There were a number of problems, first off… I don’t know Jack about boats, how they work, or what all those ropes and doodads are for–it seems to me there are just too damn many of them. I turned to Hal Foster for reference, as I found his boats far more useful than the other references I could find. Additionally, I was watching Ray Harryhausen’s “Jason and the Argonauts” on repeat play as I pencilled these pages… and I’m still not sick of that movie! That movie and the Argonaut itself was a life saver. I have loved that movie and Greek Myth since I was a kid, so the whole project was a dream come true. I would also like to mention that I pencilled this page in 4 to 6 hours. This is important as I have (in the past) had a habit of torturing my pages into existence, of erasing, redrawing, suffering, and fighting with megalithic blocks for countless days and hours. This time I decided with great intent that I was simply going to sit down and draw. I was not going to allow any blocks to enter my being. In order to make this happen I would bow before Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of knowledge–teaching?–and the arts) to ask for her blessing and for her grace to guide my hand. The moment I felt a block coming, if I couldn’t just deny it and draw over, past, or around it, I would stop and meditate before the Goddess again, allow her to slay those demons for me, and, calmer, I would simply get back at it. Oh… and note the direction of the sea serpent, pointing the viewer into the next panel rather than out of the page… and also creating a nice compositional flow that leads from panel to panel and continues across the page. Often when I lay out pages I look at my compositions on two levels: I consider my compositions not only in regards to the single panel, but often I see the whole page as having a unified composition or sense of movement.
Ok, so now it was time to do my favorite part… INK! I love that moment when I get to hold a brush in my hand and truly bring the lines to life. I love dipping my brush in ink and making those sensual lines come alive on the paper! The problem was… I wanted the images to look loose (yet perfectly consciously designed). Looseness is a difficult thing to manufacture. it was important that my lines looked as much like those of Master and teacher Jeffrey Catherine Jones as possible… or at least that was the challenge I had in mind, and the mark I was aiming to hit. One of the things I did to meet this end was ink page 2 (and maybe 3) first, then after I was warmed up and loosened up I went back and inked page 1.
Below you will find the unfinished inks, note the single ship in panel 1 (more on that below):
I would like to note that I signed this page to Saraswati, as I felt it was her grace that guided my hand. When the team of editors decided that they needed more boats in many of the panels of the book for the sake of continuity, this included the first panel. Tom Hart suggested to the committee that I redraw the panel. I flipped out! NOT that panel!
“To sing a wrong note is insignificant, but to sing without passion is unforgivable.”
― Ludwig van Beethoven
Boats… I was communing with my Gods… I cared not about 3 boats! I felt unusually passionate about the work I did on this project… page after page I was experiencing huge breakthroughs as an artist. And that first panel is one of my favorite panels in the book, and it was divinely inspired and rendered, I was never going to be able to hit that mark again. Look closely (you can… click on it, the image below is larger and at a higher resolution), the lines are controlled but loose, exactly what I wanted, and a thing I have never been able to accomplish before. Poor dear Tom… he had no idea, this wasn’t just 17 pages of comics, I happened to have made enormous breakthroughs throughout the course of this particular project, and it was a subject I had been in love with since childhood… Odysseus and Greek Myth. Over the course of the project I had two emotional moments, and the writer/overlord didn’t mind them in the least. He saw my passion as a huge plus considering the lifeless attitude of the first artist. Inspired work comes at a minor cost, that cost being that inspired and passionate artists can be feisty. Still, in the end, I drew in the extra boats. I believe it is not in the best interest of any project for the artists to be too malleable. Artists have to fight for their ideas, their vision, it serves the project they are working on… but here’s the catch, as an illustrator you ultimately have to give in and give the client what they want, as that, too is the responsibility of the illustrator.
Fight to win, but in the end, always give in to the client, at its heart, that is our job.
But we’re not done yet. Keep checking in, 5 more pages to go! I will be uploading an entry a week over the next few weeks, and probably a second entry later this week just to get some momentum going.
Huge gratitude to Tom Hart for taking the time to find all the scans I needed to write this, and the coming, entries on this project.
To see the next installment in this series, click here: https://barefootjustine.com/2014/09/03/justines-odysseus-page-6-an-in-depth-look-at-the-process/
Please, comment below…
The first panel is an excellent study of thalassophobia. I am delighted.
Well… I am afraid of things THAT much bigger than I am (by that I mean the sea and–GOD FORBID–<>–space!)
I think you managed to render the feeling of primordial fear in a great way then. This panel IMHO is very well in tune with the ancient Greek attitude: a human hero and a much greater scary world of monsters around him. But he still goes forward and is victorious.
I was thinking of some of the horrors Dore unleashed upon us in his fabulous and unnerving images.
I enjoyed – it sucked me in – going through your process. What I find interesting is that the first panel and the last panel in this page are visually like inverted mirror images of each other. Very yin-yang like. The first panel showing the danger ahead, and the last one showing the hope ahead, as it were. I also liked how you effected the transition – with a close-up and a flip – from the first panel to the last using the two middle panels.
I enjoyed – it sucked me in – reading through your process. Thank you for sharing it. The first panel and the last panel on the first page, I see, are like inverted mirror images of each other. And it is like they suggest danger ahead in one and hope ahead in the other. Yin and Yang like. And I liked how you effected the transition from one to the other using the two middle panels, flip-flip.
Thanks for your comments and observations. Very astute.