Welcome to the “Comics” issue of your free Digital Art Live magazine. This special issue aligns with the launch of our Visual Narratives Academy membership club, and also celebrates comics and visual storytelling.
“With one mighty bound, he was FREE!” — such was the late-1930s comics cliché, at the dawn of the golden age of the superhero. And yet for the makers of comics, that cliché has come true. We have taken a mighty bound forward, and in little more than a decade have become markedly more free to create and sell than we were before. For instance we now have superb tools to make comics. The paper crowd has affordable sketchbooks, elegant pencils, high-tech pens, prismatic ink marker-brushes specially shipped in from Japan, and big low-cost scanners for the end result. The digital crowd has affordable production tools in 2D (Krita), 2.5D (Cartoon Animator) and 3D (Poser, Blender, SketchUp), which can be used with £350 ‘draw on the screen’ pen-displays. Better, these 3D tools tap into an ocean of royalty-free content for DAZ/Poser, and 3D Warehouse.
We are also freer in terms of our choice of subject-matter, and the angle from which a topic can be addressed — while still finding readers. Of course, if you want mega-bucks then the current sweet spot might be to make your heroine a freckle-faced 11-year old steampunk-kid having magical comedy-adventures in the dreamlands, in the company of a feisty pet rabbit. But if you want to make a serious documentary comic detailing corruption in certain murky areas of science… then you’ll be able to find a reading audience for that too.
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Brian Clevinger (story) and Scott Wegener (art) talk about Atomic Robo, and how they make and sell this superb series.
PENCILS | CLIP STUDIO
“I came to comics, and very shortly thereafter to Robo, with absolutely no formal art education and no deliberate craft to how I approached my work. I was passionate about it, and maybe had an aptitude for it. In the early days, if it worked at all, it was luck and instincts.”
Kara is a comics maker in Paris who blends 3D and 2D, and has successfully used the method to make many graphic novels.
PENCILS | 3D | BRYCE
“I first render the 3D model ‘realistic’ — with full lines, textures, lights, and shadows — then in Photoshop I manipulate the renders to give the illusion of a handmade drawing. Sometimes you really have to tinker, but only the final result counts.”
Ricardo works across a variety of media, including digital — and has just published a wordless 260-panel ‘storyboard book’.
DIGITAL | TRADITIONAL
“My process is a laying on, in order to build up. Each panel is built up from the initial drawing, with each new type of material being applied in such a way as to correct the previous image beneath it. In this way the pictures ‘evolve’ to achieve the desired end”.
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DAL: Brian and Scott, welcome to the Digital Art Live in-depth interview. This is our “comics” themed issue and we’re very pleased to have two makers of a great adventure comic. Had you worked together before Atomic Robo, or — if not — then how did you first meet and get together to brainstorm your character?
Brian: No, at the time my day job was the webcomic 8-bit Theater. That series was approaching its conclusion and I figured it’d be a better idea to have another comic lined up, before I put myself out of work. Robo was a character I’d been tinkering with for a number of years. Just loose ideas in the back of my mind. I finally came to realize that he could be this lens through which we explore all sorts of adventure fiction and sci-fi and pulp and weird history stories. Robo is basically an excuse to research and to play with and to remix all my favourite narratives, tropes, and clichés.
I’d been looking for an artist for a while, something like four or six months, without any luck. I was about to give up on the idea when I came across some of Scott’s artwork online. It was this great mix of the ordinary and the fantastic in a style where both looked like they belong to the same world. I threw the pitch at him, he said it sounded like the sort of thing he could have fun with, and Scott got so invested in the idea that he went from work-for-hire to co-creator in a couple of weeks!
Scott: Yes it was really weird how well we meshed from the start? We’re both big history nerds, big sci-fi nerds, big pulp nerds, and big tabletop nerds. Robo and his world were filled with so many of the same inspirations that I was also trying to explore on my own, it was easy to jump into it at full speed.
DAL: The Atomic Robo series as it now stands is rather complex, what with leaping across time and all the tech, and having a very long-lived robot character and all that. Was it completely planned out from the first, with all the timelines and elements? Was there lots of looping arrows on a huge planning wall at your secret HQ and a three-inch forward-planning “ten year plan” binder on the desk… alongside a fluffy white cat? Or was it more like, just… “heck, let’s wing it, have fun and see how he develops?”
Brian: Not entirely planned, but we figured out the major ‘beats’ of Robo’s life. We weren’t interested in chronologically going through it all, starting with the origin story. We knew it’d be more interesting for Robo to already exist in his world, to be this staple that everyone ‘just knows and accepts’, and then to tell stories from throughout the timeline of that world, to see glimpses of how that came to be.
Scott: Yes, so… we plotted out maybe one or two major things that could happen to him in each decade, starting with the 1920s and moving forward. We figured some of this stuff would become its own volumes, if we were lucky enough to do more than one. Some of it would be stuff that only referred to in a passing dialog or a background detail or what not. Our thinking was that with those major events loosely sketched out — like usually no more than a sentence — that gave us enough material for it to feel like there’s a history to this world, but also gave us a ton of freedom to explore what happens in between. Or to change the details of the major thing once we got to it and have to actually make a story out of it!
DAL: Right. I see, thanks. But then… was there a particular set of influences? For instance I visualise a cork-board with Tintin, Doc Savage, Sky Captain, H.P. Lovecraft, all at different corners? On a six-sided board, of course!
Brian: Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Rocketeer, and Buckaroo Banzai are the big ones for me. There’s also a lot of Dragnet in there.
Scott: Oh, boy. Dragnet.
Brian: Yes…. we usually don’t mention that one because it derails the conversation.
Scott: Usually if we’re telling people it’s like… Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones… it’s because we’re tabling at a convention and trying to make a sale.
Brian: Yes, the sale is way more important than Dragnet at that point! But I found it interesting because it’s this highly technical and kind of dangerous job. But it’s ‘just another day at the office’ for the detectives. And I kind of wanted to see if we could do huge adventures with a main character who wasn’t as impressed with them as the reader or bystanders might be.