WARNING: INCLUDES VERY GRAPHIC CARTOON VIOLENCE
Pax Americana was my first time working with Frank Quitely, an artist whose work I have enormous respect and love for. It was literally a dream gig.
That Grant Morrison guy is no slouch either.
Anyway. Here’s my process.
Step 1: read Grant’s script and look at Frank’s line art
After weeping in a corner for a few minutes, I picked myself up and got stuck in.
Step 2: pull reference
Sometimes this step adds a lot, and sometimes it adds a little, but you should always do it.
Step 2: flat the thing
Nothing terribly impressive here. Just a highly realist approach with everything in blocks of local color. I briefly considered casting the panels where Harley’s head initially gets blown apart in restricted expressionist palettes of shocking yellows, hot oranges and lurid reds but that immediately felt like the wrong approach. My read was that we wanted this whole three-page cold open to hit the reader hard. We wanted hyper-realism and hyper-detail. We wanted it to play out like a nature documentary of a cheetah ripping the throat out of a gazelle in super slow motion. And, uh, backwards.
Step 3: cast shadows
Casting shadows from one object onto another is a huge pain in the ass and I hate it so much. Don’t believe me? Just ask Andrew Loomis:
And that’s just for starters! There’s a stunning amount of thought and care that goes into doing it right, which is why I usually just fake the hell out of it. On this book, though, I put in the effort.
And by “put in the effort” I mean “eventually asked Frank to do it for me when I couldn’t get it to look right.”
At any rate, this particular shadow was important. Frank told me he wanted the peace flag to cast the shadow of a mask on Harley’s face, which, symbolically, is so goddamn brilliant it makes me want to fly to Glasgow and hug the guy.
Now, with some books and some art, this is the end of the process. Nothing more than flat colors with a few choice cast shadows is required. For example, this is as far as I took the colors in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds:
But for Pax Americana and Frank Quitely, an elegantly minimalist approach isn’t enough. Not even close. Coloring Frank’s art requires texture and luminescence and every scrap of modelling and lighting skill you can muster. Just look at how the man colors himself:
Holy shit, right? Pores? Seriously? We’re painting in pores, now?
Now, I knew I could never really color Frank’s art and have it end up looking as good as if he’d done it himself, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least try my fucking best. So I put on my big boy pants, drank all the coffees, blacked out for a bit towards the end there, and eventually came up with this:
Step 4: paint the fucking thing
Up to this point, all of these colors are sitting on a layer below the line art. The last step after that is coloring the line art itself (this is called a “color hold”) and painting glow effects and the like on top of everything. There’s not a ton of that sort of thing on this page, but if you look closely, you can spot it.
Step 5: hold and glows**
And that’s about it, really (unless you count Steps 6 through ∞, during which I color the other 39 pages and then spend the rest of my life second-guessing every brushstroke).
** Oh, and looking at it again, sometime during this step I realized Frank had forgotten to draw Harley’s ring after that first panel, so I put that in there for him.
I don’t know that I did a perfect job, and it’s a pale substitute for Frank coloring himself, but at the end of the project he thanked me and said some beautifully kind things. So even given the fact that he was probably just being a perfectly wonderful Scottish gentleman, I feel that at the very least I didn’t fuck it all up too badly.
There ya go.