Welcome to this week’s instalment of Creating Your Own Comics 101. This week we will be looking at the process of artwork. I have worked with and conversed with many different artists over the last couple of years and one statement was never truer than “Art is subjective.” Perhaps this is why I also think that artists are such a diverse group and it is unlikely you will find two that are the same. With art being so subjective and not being an artist myself, this subject is best left to the professionals. So I have brought in expert Todd Alan Benevides to talk about how he creates art for a comic book and his working practices.
- How long have you been a comic book artist and how long has it taken you to reach the level you are at today?
When thinking about art on a personal ‘level’ it’s hard to assess exactly where you are. There are tons of artists that I still see and wish that I had a fraction of their talent. There are also tons of artists that shouldn’t ever show their work to the public. Some of it makes me wonder about having a Police State and to have the banishment of everything artistically substandard with a penalty of death. I believe it’s called the Fan Boy Syndrome in certain circles (and I’m not even sure if I don’t suffer from it.) With that said, from the response I’ve been getting from my own work, I can see that I’ve come a long way from the days of worrying if this arm was right, or that leg was perfect. It’s not about the ‘correctness’ of the piece, but the style of a piece. Oh, I’ve been drawing/creating for over twenty years and only drawing hard, towards a goal, for the past 11 months. I hadn’t meant to ignore the question entirely. I tend to stray in thought from time to time. Honestly, it’s taken me almost 21 years of board after board to find a style that’s acceptable to others, but, mostly one that’s acceptable to me.
- Why did you choose the medium of comics for your artwork?
In short because it works for me. The longer version is a bit winded but it basically boils down to, because it works for me. I believe that being an artist is finding the things that speak to you. Don’t worry about how others will see it. Do what you do because YOU like to do it.
- Now, I know there are many different styles that artists use. Can you tell me a little about your style and how it has evolved?
I’ve taken bits and pieces of things and styles that I love and have blended them into something that works for me. I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s art so you can see some of that when looking at one of my pieces weather it’s a set of big eyes on a character, or the ‘set’ design in the background. I’m also a huge fan of Ben Templesmith so again, when looking at my stuff you can see lines and curves that have been influenced by him. Stephen King’s work has been poking around in my head since I was little, so I attest the black and white/high contrast style to him. We all try and emulate the artists we love, everyone of us. It’s trying to make it your own that is the hard part.
A lot of artists (and I mean a litter crap ton of them) try to copy what they see. They’re trying to copy a pose from a favourite comic artist not understanding that while they may come close, it will never be as good as the person who originally drew the piece. Use that stuff for practice (and practice till your fingers bleed out, man. Just do it.) But don’t use that stuff to ‘show off’ to your talented friends/art friends. Show the stuff you’ve “copied” to your family. The one’s that’ll say, “That’s awesome” because they have never seen the original artwork. They’ll be kind in their response. True artists will not be so kind.
That brings me to another point. If you’re going to be an artist, and you’re going to let the world see your work by showing it and someone doesn’t like it and gives you criticism, don’t cry about it. Take it and learn from it. It’s not going to do you any good by just hearing the positive all the time. I’m so sick and tired of these ‘artists’ crying and bowing up their chests every time someone doesn’t spew out praise towards their work. A real artist will smile at criticism, nod, and know that his work has merit but still might need to work on something.
- With technology moving on, how has this effected the traditional comic book art form of pencils, paper and ink?
For me, technology has a freeing effect on my work. I haven’t touched a piece of paper, a marker, an inking pen, eraser…so on and so on, since I’ve gotten my Cintiq 21 UX. Now with that said, I still haven’t gotten on board with the whole digital comic purchase thing and still like to buy paper books, but the creation of comics digitally is a God send. It allows me to go where I wouldn’t normally with a piece of paper and pen. I can make a line, look at it and erase it. An ink line. Without a trace of it left. That alone will have some people drooling. My philosophy is this on the matter of tech. If you’re against it? You probably can’t afford it. Plain and simple. People aren’t complicated to figure out and I’ve heard all sorts of things like, ‘It’s not true art.” to “Paper will always be better because you can touch it, feel it.” Well, I can print my art and while that may be true of a painting hanging on the wall, or something you got at a CON that someone sketched for you, this my friend, is the business of making comics. Do it fast. Do it well. Streamline.
- How does working 100% digitally help you and are there any negative effects?
The power went out the other day and I was in the middle of a piece that I hadn’t saved. (Idiot, I know.) That was totally negative as I almost started to weep. But, since then I’ve bought a backup power supply so that will never happen again. So, with that taken care of, no, I don’t see anything negative about working 100% digitally.
- Can you talk us through the basics of what happens when you are approached by a creator wanting to work on a comic book with you? Start with first contact and finish with the finished book.
They’re usually excited. Not about working with me per se but all artists are an excitable bunch when they’ve got that story that’s going to make them rich and famous, right? I love that. It starts me off on a good note, hearing that enthusiasm, and I’m sure to put forth my best effort. I always give it my go, but someone who comes up to you all hum-drum over a project…well, you’re only going to put in as much enthusiasm as the creator is, right?
Anyway, they approach and they’re pumped and ready. We talk about page rates. My pages work (or do not work) because they are my own. I rough, pencil, ink, tonal with spot color (if needed) and letter the book. The page is my page and not a collaboration. If the creator has someone in mind for this or that, it is discussed but when I put out a page, I put out a page. I figure if it’s my name on the artwork then it should be done by me. They agree to pay rates, now they’re a little less pumped but they’re good to go. I’ll sketch the book out, send it, changes are made. Once that process has finished, I start pencilling and inking. Creator is working on tightening up script at that time, which is fine because lettering hasn’t started yet. I send inked pages through. Approved. Some things change. Get that done and then work on toning the panels/color where needed. Once the script is too the creator/writers liking I’ll letter the book and presto, complete.
- Do you have anything coming up in the future that you are excited about and our readers should keep an eye out for?
Well, I am currently working with Anthony Ball on a Graphic Novel entitled Red Plains (tentative), working on my own book entitled Ella Mental and I’ve just finished a slew of commissions. For anyone looking to keep in touch or just to check out some off my work, visit my FaceBook fan page. Hit the like button. I might send you some candy.
Thanks for taking the time to talk us about creating comic book art Todd and good luck with your future projects. Join us for next week’s column when we will be looking at coloring.