Q: What have you been drawing lately?
A: Just some guy with a soul patch being killed by a woman and her magical snake. The woman has magical powers, by the way.
If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably already seen the above — a small section of a larger page I am currently working on for my “The Yellow Sign” comic. Please excuse the quality – it’s a screen capture of a picture from my phone (the original is being drawn right now). It’s a bit of a departure of what I have done before so I am sure there will be frustrations and challenges. I inked part of page 1 but think I should hold off until I get more of the rest of the layout in a more finished state.
I started by reading the original Robert W. Chambers story several times and then I created a written outline. There was a lot I had to (reluctantly) cut from the original story… going from text based fiction to comic book is a bit like going from a book to a movie… the medium changes the story. The original was written in 1895 and what was considered modern behavior and values at that time served as one of the themes in the story. I didn’t want to do a comic set in the late 19th century — I felt the modern viewer would see the story as having a sense of nostalgia that Chambers would not have intended, so I am setting my interpretation in a non-specific “modern” era that might be today, might be 20-30 years ago.
At this point, I have roughed out the pages to (hopefully) get the rhythm of the story and where events occur paced in a way that feels right. This consists of drawing really rough versions of how I imagine I will lay out the pages in a digital program (I plan to do the final art with pen and ink). So at present the pages look like this:
My next step is to go through and revise/refine the layout, eventually working my way (in 2 or 3 passes) to the point where I can start to do final inks. This is a much more deliberate method than I usually employ… I’m trying to learn from past projects (both successes and failures) and applying lessons learned.
Hopefully, with the many projects I currently have in the works, this will all end in a finished comic before Gencon 2019 in August.
This one is done for now.
Another recent thing. Wizard man has a Captain Crunch hat. The big black space at the top isn’t a statement… it is reserved for type.
Above: Recent drawing of a man being attacked by rats for an upcoming book being published by Goodman Games. Sharp eyed observers may notice this fellow bears a certain resemblance to The Klartesh Fiend of the Hobonomicon. That is not an accident.
I get questions from people who want to buy art as to how much art should cost (and I also get questions from other artists trying to suss out how much I charge… but I’ve noticed other artists are pretty cagey when I ask them that same question so I am not sure if answering the question honestly is ensuring that I will then get underbid on a future projects). And I want to answer those questions clearly but it’s hard to understand how complicated art pricing is until you try to do it.
I don’t want to sound condescending (and just by saying that I already do sound condescending), but a lot of first time art buyers don’t understand the difference between “reproduction rights” and “ownership of the original.” “Reproduction rights” (also called “usage”) is what publishers tend to buy. If I sell you the right to use a picture I drew in a book you are publishing (or on a t-shirt or a poster or whatever) you are buying just that – the right to use the picture. You don’t get to keep the original artwork itself… legally, that needs to be returned to the artist (and these are not just my rules, there are US copyright laws governing the rights of artists and creators). “Ownership of the original” means you are buying the artwork itself (a physical object like a painting, drawing, etc.). If you buy a Frank Frazetta painting, you get the right to hang it on your wall. You don’t automatically get the right to sell reproductions or license the image for use on book covers, album covers, T-Shirts, etc. When I have a new client I always have to find out whether they want to own the “thing” or they want to own reproduction rights. I often feel stupid asking the question because people who are getting into self publishing don’t understand what I am getting at.
Once I establish what the customer wants, I need to generate a price. I used to just charge a set rate… x number of dollars for a BW drawing of such-and-such a size, half that for a drawing half that size, etc. I soon discovered this was a bad way of doing things since I sometimes ended up spending a lot of time on a small drawing which would pay me very little when compared to a larger drawing. And it needs to be mentioned that I am always drawing things larger than they will appear in print — in order to get a good image for 8.5×11 size reproduction, my original needs to be at least 11×14 or larger. To keep the proportions right, I use an artist’s proportion scale (which is a wheel-like calculator thing that you can use to make sure the image that you draw in a larger scale will properly fit a smaller space). So my new method is to try to figure out how long I think a certain drawing will take, then multiply that by what I hope is a fair hourly rate and then adjust the total to something that I feel is more realistic (in other words, I regret to say I usually feel compelled to discount my own work). This is a terrible system, but it is better than any other of pricing system I have used.
This system is terrible because I am a notoriously bad estimator of how much time it will take me to do anything and I always seem to think it will take me less time than it actually will. Unfortunately, clients always seem to need to know what an illustration will cost before I even start it. It’s also a bad system since the more I work at a skill like drawing, the better I get at it and then I can accomplish more good work in less time — which means that if I price my work based on time, as I get to be a better artist I am earning less money per drawing since I am doing better work in less time. It is also a bad system because it is not always clear to me what is art time and what isn’t. Sometimes, if I get stuck on a drawing, I might take one of my dogs outside or make myself a cup of coffee and think about whatever it is I am getting stuck on. If I manage to get the self discipline to do this (instead of trying to force myself to continue to draw even tho I am stuck), I often manage to solve the problem… but then we wonder, if the client is paying for a drawing, should they also pay me for the time I spent thinking about how to make that drawing or should they just be paying for the time I spend rubbing pencils and pens across the paper? Similarly, if I spend time looking for pictures of interesting shaped hats for a specific drawing, should that be on my time or on my client’s time? What about all the time spent scanning the artwork or communicating with the client and trying to figure out what it is they want? I think what I am trying to say is that figuring out what a drawing should cost is really hard.
I don’t remember who said it, but some famous artist person said (I paraphrase), “You are not paying me for the time it took me to make that drawing. You are paying me for the time it took me to learn how to draw like that.” Which I guess is the philosophy that should be driving my pricing but I am not at that point yet.
Above, a work in progress sketch from my next comic book — an adaptation of Richard W. Chamber’s story, “The Yellow Sign.” I’ve really been struggling with how to adapt this story to comic book form… last night, after struggling with it for a couple of days, I finally got my written outline blocked out into pages in order to get the pacing right and to try to make the flow of the panels (hopefully) communicate the disintegration of hope and sanity being experienced by the characters. I’m a long way off from finished (a couple of different versions of this sketch is about as far as I have gotten on the actual artwork), but the part I struggle with most (translating the story into panels) is at least done in a rough state.
“The Yellow Sign” is a short story from Chamber’s collection, “The King in Yellow.” Lovecraft apparently loved “The King in Yellow” and it is easy to see that HPL got a number of his recurring horror themes from the book. Several of the stories in “The King in Yellow” make reference to a play (also called “The King in Yellow”) which deals with a mysterious masked ruler from an ancient city named Carcosa. If you watched season 1 of the “True Detective” TV show, you may have caught some references to it.
I hope to have this done so I can sell copies at Gencon 2019 in August. Assuming I manage to finish it, I will have produced a total of 4 horror comics at that point… Dagon, The People of the Pit, The Mother of Toads and this one. Eventually I hope to publish a compendium that will include all of my classic horror comics.
Sketch for an idea I was mulling over. The “book bearer” is a living podium for a large book… fated to carry that heavy tome of their back and pause for reading when the scholar or priest who uses the book deems it necessary. In some conditions, the book bearer might be required to carry an umbrella and/or a light source as well.
This one is intended as a companion to the one I posted yesterday. It has all of the essential elements — tentacles, spiders, skull, etc.
Large fly-leaf illustration recently completed for a yet-to-be published Lovecraft book.