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.