Scott: Thinking About Style

Scott: Thinking About Style

We’ve got another piece of VIEWER MAIL. This time, the answer is from Scott. In Scott’s own words…

I’ve been having a rather pleasant exchange with an Atomic Robo reader about how my art has changed since the first issue, and I thought I would share my thoughts here since this is something I get asked all the time. Here’s my response.

My style did change in Vol 7 and it was largely a deliberate change, and partially just the normal progress I’ve been making from volume to volume as I learn to draw more with my hands and less with my feet. The covers for Vol 7 appear unaffected because I am forced to create them before I draw most (or any) of the interior pages. Thus none of the deliberate changes had been decided on for the She-Devil’s arc. This is due to the lead time required by Previews. It’s not a system I like, but there’s little I can do about it.

Note how Robo’s jetpack on the cover of 7.5 looks nothing like his jetpack in the actual issue. That’s because I still had no idea how it would look when I did the cover. In general I try to keep the covers as vague and abstractly related to the interior pages as possible. The first 4 covers do this pretty well I think, but that last one yeeesh! My bad!

On to my art style in Volume 7 — two things happened. First, I started drawing pages at actual print size, instead of using the entire live area of the traditional 11”x17” art board that I work on. I tend to enjoy drawing smaller and it feels to me like I get the most life (though the least detail) out of my work when forced to work in small spaces. It also freed up a lot of space on the page for layouts and doodles used to refine the actual panels. I love the extra space.

I started drawing smaller in Vol.6, though nobody noticed. I was still working on large art boards, but I began to cram lots of little panels into the pages. Not because they were in the script, but just so I wouldn’t have to draw certain action scenes at a scale which I found uncomfortable to work with. It also allowed me to add more visual beats to the page which I think helped with pacing during the action scenes.

Let’s look at art in very general terms. It happens in three parts of the artist’s arm: big gestural strokes from the shoulder, more precise and concrete movements from the elbow as he/she refines their idea, and finally, precise details from the wrist and fingers. Skill is developed through repetition as each of these parts of the arm and hand are used over and over. Muscle memory is built.

Having never gone to art school, I taught myself everything that I know while working in small sketchbooks or doodling in the margins of notepads while pretending to pay attention in school and later in meetings at work. I was forever a fugitive trying to hide my art from scowling professors or employers. I worked small and in a manner that was easily disposed of should the pigs suddenly raid my gin joint of doodling.

My comfort zone, and most of my skill, lays firmly in the small scale. In the wrist and fingers. I enjoy how I am forced to apply subtractive design to almost everything I do because high detail at small scales leads to visual mud, and the less specificity one uses in the small scale, the easier it is for the viewer to fill in the gaps with their own imagination, and in a way become a participant in the art itself. Its why rough concept art and Lego constructions look so cool, they lack almost all detail, and are just the vaguest sketch of an idea. It’s the imagination of the viewer that makes them so incredible.

My first real attempt at working small was FCBD 2012. There were a lot of technical problems with that book due to some re-staffing we were doing at the time. I am forever indebted to the friends who helped pull it off, but I don’t love the end product. Dr. Dinosaur was actually fun to draw for the first time though. The goofy scientists, George and Ananth, were abstracted a bit and simplified in a way that I found very appealing. I was very pleased with Futuresaurus Rex. All in all it worked out.

As a side note, I sometimes feel like working at a size that is not industry standard, either smaller or larger than normal, is seen as somehow being “not right.” Mainstream comics are overloaded with seemingly inflexible traditions, both in their content and process, that I find unappealing. Especially when you consider that in the early days of American comics it was all seat-of-your-pants production and nobody knew what they were doing. Obviously there are many creators and fans who do not care about these things -they just want to make/read good comics. But in a general sense, there feels like there are all these unspoken rules, and I think that’s silly in any creative endeavor. Especially with how digital comics and webcomics are exploding the idea of what comics even are.

When it came to Vol 7 and the She-Devils I feel like working small was an advantage most of the time, but was a real problem in a few instances. However, Issue 7.4, Panel 2 is one of my favorite panels of the entire volume. It is very small. An anonymous Yatagarasu is taken out just to the right of Takeshi’s mech by the as-yet unseen She-Devils. Fire, smoke, and mecha guts dump onto the Hida’s deck. The Japanese mechs are just feet off the flight deck and crewmen are scattering. In the extreme foreground is the landing skid of a mostly off-panel Yatagarasu. I actually love this entire page, but that single panel nicely encapsulates something I was trying to do throughout the She-Devils story, and that is approach my “camera work” differently than I have in the past.

The most exciting and impactful moving images I have ever seen are not those crafted in million dollar movie studios. Rather it is those that accidentally capture the drama of human existence. Cell phones and camcorders on 9/11, WWII gun-camera footage, combat cameramen in Vietnam, and un-embedded civilian journalists in today’s Middle East. They are all hoping to catch something important and emotional with their cameras, but when they do it is never expected or scripted.

The most notable emulation of this kind of camera work, (I can’t really call it a style), can be seen in modern sci-fi like Battle Star Galactica with its oft-blurry zooms in and out, and the use of so-called “shaky-cam” to make the completely fictional and CGI action feel real to the viewer. Another good example is Cloverfield where much of the story is happening just out of, or only partially, in frame. Our imaginations are left to fill in the blank spots, and even the dullest of us will imagine something more interested than the most talented of us can actually create.

In Vol 7 I wanted all of the action to feel very much as if it was captured spontaneously. Page 17 of 7.3 is a pretty good example of this. I like how the Tigermoth, Robo, and the Shinden fighter all appear to hang motionless in the sky, connected by a train of wobbly and buzzing tracer rounds. Its just this little moment of dangerous tranquility, and I adore those moments.

The other real change in Vol 7 was how I approach human faces. I have many weak spots in my art knowledge. Human faces are probably the worst of these. I can draw expressions fairly well, I think, but creating appealing and consistent faces is something I struggle with. Thank God Robo is just a husky guy with a bucket for a head! Because Vol 7 would have a large cast of characters, relative to previous volumes, I knew this was going to be a challenge for me. Far more so than drawing jetpacks and flying mechs.

My characters tend to be very angular and sharp. Mostly this is because I am impatient and swing my pencil like a tiny sword when drawing faces. But I needed the She-Devils to look feminine and appealing. “Cute” if you will. Since we refused to do that with butt shots, low cut shirts, and lots of cleavage, the appeal had to be all in their faces. I spent a lot of time thinking about design and how most illustrators and animators approach the female face in ways that are different from drawing the male face. Turns out the differences are subtle, but important. The She-Devil’s mechanic, Lauren, is probably the best example of this. She’s soft, expressive, and while not always anatomically (facetomocally?) correct, her abstractions generally serve to show an emotion or reaction and are deliberate.

As a result the characters in Vol 7 are very soft looking and in stark contrast to even the lady Action Scientists Lang and Ada in Vol 6. I think at times things were a bit too soft in She-Devils, but you have to remember, while Brian and I pretend to know what we are doing, we are basically learning how to make comics while we make comics. Even now, five years into this we are still figuring it out.

In short, there are three main differences between Vol 7 and the stories that came before it.

-Physical size of the work.
-A deliberate attempt to frame images differently.
-A refinement/development in my skills, specifically as applied to the human face.


  • Sethintheflesh

    I have seen very little of vol. 7 (waiting for the trade), but I have to tell you Scott, the subtle changes between volumes is one of the many things that keeps me coming back to Atomic Robo. Anticipation of each volume is only enhanced by wondering how you’ll manage to make robo and friends even cooler this time around. Volume 6, when robo falls from space and the herc dives to catch him, for example. Dude. Can’t wait to see what awesome surprises you have for me this time.

    Any how, I’m even more psyched for the Vol. 7 TPB now, as if that was possible. Damn it.

  • JohnIGottschalk

    The concept of the shaky cam during action scenes actually comes from Firefly and was adopted by Battlestar Galactica. If you watch the extras on the Firefly dvd they lay out all the things they tried to do. It’s pretty cool, because it’s actually quite risky in digital sfx.

  • Scott!

    You just made my day. :)

  • Scott!

    Ah yes, Firefly did do it first, but I think BSG did it better. Though overall Firefly was a much better show.

    I borrowed the DVDs years ago from a friend. I don’t remember the Extras at all, but I love that stuff. Wonder if that is ob Netflix with the regular episodes. The extras about process are always fascinating to me.

  • Brian!

    If we want to be super pedantic, it’s from decades of cinema. And then adopted for television digital SFX to help smartly cover up low budget TV digital SFX.

  • JohnIGottschalk

    Haha, that’s true, wasn’t trying to be pedantic, just trying to throw out a good place to look into why and how people did it previously, especially in scenes completely replicated without a real camera.

  • Scott!

    Wait . . people are pedantic on the internet? This changes my perceptions of everything.

    Hehe, I knew where John was coming from.

  • Doshi

    The two characters that I always enjoy seeing the stylistic
    differences from you are Jenkins and Bernard. Simply because they have
    changed so much over the years. Jenkins started as sort of this generic army dude with a silver streak of hair, turned into this short-speaking musclefreak, and the last I saw him he had toned down a bit but was, idk, even more imposing because of it. Bernard, OTOH, wow what a difference. Starting as a generic bald geek without much personality; moving to the newbie that I voiced as Screech from Saved by the Bell; and then the last I saw him, bald again but looking much closer to his first day appearance than his Vol1 appearance.

    I don’t really care if you guys know what you’re doing. What you’re doing is pretty damn great. Keep doing that, and we’ll keep reading.

  • Scott!

    Oh man, Jenkins and his poor muscles.

    The first time he ballooned up was right after my fill-in work on Punisher: War Journal. Robo also got super-thick. Brian was beside himself with frustration and I had to unlearn all the bad habits I’d picked up doing the superhero thing.

    In theory, Jenkin’s should look like Clint Eastwood circa Heartbreak Ridge, before he started talking to chairs. But I mess him up constantly.I think he was a nice balance in Vol.6, though even then a bit too muscly.

    Bernard is hands-down the most fun Action Scientist to draw. He’s so out of place and awkward. I was really happy Brian was agreeable to giving him hair in Vol.4 so we could see in Vol.6, and retroactively in Vol.1, what the stress of being a field agent has done to him. He’s also fun because he’s a classic Jewish writer’s trope, (that is a trope of writers who are Jewish, not a stereotype about Jewish people). He’s neurotic, cowardly, has an over-bearing mother, and is just an all-around mess. He’s Joel Fleishman from Northern Exposure. He’s a much less annoying Larry David.

    Having a well defined personality makes him easy to draw expressively since I know who he is as a person, even if we have not yet gotten a chance to explore that in the published work.

    Bao Lang, the stout little Korean Action Scientist, is another favorite of mine. Where Bernard is the kind of Action Scientist I would probably be, Lang is the Action Scientists I would hope to become. She’s not the strongest or the smartest, but she’s brave and feisty. She’s a bit like Scrappy-Doo. Who is a terrible character and made my least favorite cartoon as a kid even less fun to watch. But it’s an easy touchstone for you guys to reference. :P

    Anyway -thanks! :D

  • Just some guy

    so many compliments, I feel bad for giving my 2 cents (which after the exchange rate to common cents amounts to less than nothing) But I felt the smaller panel size hurt this volume, mostly because I felt many of the she devils didn’t have faces, but rather two circles and a line… Vol. 7 Issue #2 Pg. 9 serves as an example I think, looking at how wildly the details of the ladies swing based on their proximity to the ‘Camera’ and it was something I noticed throughout the entire volume. I’ve gone back through my other trades and this does seem to be a ‘new’ thing. I hate to be someone who posts negatives, but as a reader I wanted to give my impressions.

  • Scott!

    It’s fine. Not everybody is going to like it.

    Or you may decide you like it at some later date.

    Or I may decide that I hate it and go back to how I used to do things.

    That’s what I like about comics.

  • Doshi

    Y’know something? I had been voicing Jenkins using Jason Stratham as Transporter, and that worked remarkably well. But I found myself deepening it a little bit each time. Now that you said Clint Eastwood, I realize that’s the voice I’ve been using for Jenkins without even realizing it.

    And, strangely enough, I have the most fun with Volume 4 over all of the other volumes (haven’t read 7 yet). Because that’s the one I felt like you guys had the most fun writing and drawing. If you’re frustrated about how huge Jenkins and Robo are in that one, don’t be. The silly ideas in that one made their cartoonish appearance so much better.

  • Scott!

    I like your justifications.


  • Ernie Stiner

    I like drawing at printed size too – speeds up the process, and most importantly it discourages wasting time on smaller details and textures that don’t translate anyways, when the page is reduced to printed size.

  • Steven Palchinski-Guerrero

    Hey scott. its Groundhog day. remember your promise?

  • Scott!

    I thought I said Flag Day?

  • Steven Palchinski-Guerrero

    You forgot again didn’t you? Well, whatever. i will just expect a super awesome one at Christmas 2013.

  • Scott!

    Actually I did not. BUT I have been buried in 4 separate Robo projects at once since the beginning of December.:D

  • Steven Palchinski-Guerrero

    Well, if you put it that way. I am much happier with 4 new projects then a single picture.