Hello Ė this is Francis Tsai, the artist on the new Top Cow book Tracker. I'm relatively new to comics, having come from a conceptual design and architecture background. I have however had a lifelong love of comics and horror, so I was pretty thrilled to be asked to provide the artwork for Jonathan's story.
I work almost completely digitally these days, only breaking out the pencils, inks and paint when there is a generous time frame, or if I'm working on some personal stuff. Digital tools allow me a lot of flexibility for experimenting and changing things, and with some planning they can emulate traditional media pretty well. For Tracker I wanted to keep a bit of the old school 'line art' feel, combined with more of a painterly approach on the colors.
My process with comics usually starts by sitting down with the story and reading it through once, marking any seemingly important details or events, and establishing the important locations in my mind. Once I've done this quick read-through, I go back and start working on figuring out the look and feel of the characters, especially if there are characters that have not been seen in a book before.
Based on some background notes of the main characters that Jonathan provided me, I sketch out some head shots to see if Iím on the same page with the rest of the guys. Thereís a bit of back and forth but they give me a fair bit of freedom to visualize the main cast.
After the head shots are all approved, I pick up the story again and start thumbnailing out the page right on the story. I've seen other artists do this step on specially prepared, proportionally correct thumbnail layout sheets, but since I am lazy and am generally working on several things at once, I just use whatís available. As you can see from the scan of the page, I also sometimes work out individual panel designs on the story pages as well.
In Photoshop, I block out the page using the scribbly thumbnail as a guide. (This time I *am* paying attention to sizes and proportions, using a page template supplied to me by the guys at Top Cow.) I rule in the panel borders with a bright obnoxious red so I can easily tell where the edges are. Photoshop's handy shift-click option lets me bang in straight lines, to start setting up perspective grids and orthogonal shapes like wrecked city buses. In some of the tighter panels I will also rough in some word balloons based on the story, so I know to leave room in the artwork for the letterer. In addition to the line work at this stage, I will also start playing around with lighting and values.
The description of this process makes it sound a lot more organized than it really is; the reality is I will add value work or detail or splashes of color at this stage if it's something that jazzes me. There is an overall general evolution from rough to finished, but the steps along the way can vary a bit depending on what I'm thinking about or how I react to the story.
I wish I had saved an intermediate step on this page, but I didn't. As you can see, the first panel got rejiggered a bit, in response to some comments from the Top Cow and Heroes and Villains crew. The rest of the page is pretty close to the original thumbnails and rough layout. The process involves painting underneath the line art for the most part, with some painting over as the case may be. Using digital tools like Photoshop also lets me use tricks like adding texture layers (using scans of stained concrete, watercolor paper, stone, canvas, etc.), adjusting positions of characters or proportions if necessary, and tweaking color balance and overall values after the fact.
Creating comics is hard work; it's some of the most labor intensive artwork I've had to do. I am bringing a lot of techniques and information from my previous jobs in architecture and concept design for games and film; creating a believable narrative in comics form involves many different skills, and hopefully I've been able to learn a few of those along the way.
For more of my work check out my site at www.teamgt.com.
Comment on the making of Tracker.