Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Kelly J. Compeau is from my old skool HEROES days. She was one of the first to start reading my artblog and commenting on my posts. We chatted through email and I found out she was a very well established and connected creator in her own right. Her magnum opus is THE BLACK TOWER: a story that stretches time, dimensions and reality and about a girl, Dreanna who controls it all.

It's co-written by her and comics legend, Jeff Mariotte and drawn and coloured by Donald Jackson.

I can't remember exactly how it started, but Kelly's talented artist, Donald had a smack at a cover. While it was a good job, Kelly wanted to try and get all her main characters into the composition. It just so happened that I had a small calm in between storms and asked her if she wanted me to do a cover. She leaped at the offer and I was pumped as Kelly and I had been talking about working together on the Black Tower somehow. Finally it had come to pass!

I shot her 8 composition ideas, and while I explored a variety of different ideas, I knew that this one was the one she would go for. It had everyone in it and balanced them all nicely. Kelly just asked me to drop Dreanna's glowing eyes.

All systems were go!

I began the research phase. To Dreanna's right (our left side of the image) are her human parents, Lori and Kyle. To her left (our right) are her supernatural parents, Iblis and Jennifer, the lord of demons and the embodiment of the Earth. Cosmic stuff.

It's really tough drawing new characters. If you want me to draw Superman or Wolverine, that's easy. It's hard to get them wrong as we both know what their costumes look like. But for new characters I have to basically just make them up. Even though Kelly had done a virtual casting, where she showed me which actors she'd ideally cast for the roles (and one she had already signed on - Cliff Simon from Stargate) I still had to do a great deal of costume design. I'm usually nervous about this as my ideas may not marry with your ideas.

Researching outfits for Lori and Kyle was easy. Dreanna was a bit tougher. Let's just say that I raised an eyebrow at the stuff I found when I typed "catholic schoolgirl" into Google Images. But my Google skills are powerful and will crush the toughest image search. Eventually I found some good, normal reference. Kelly asked me to base Ibliss, Lord of Demons on Ares from Xena. Using that as a base I tried to take it a little further. Jennifer is also her bodyguard, so a dark suit seemed appropriate. I found a great outfit with a hood and I was sold.

I am particularly happy with the line art of this piece. Dreanna looks more 17 than 15, but it's a small sacrifice. I wanted her to look beautiful and captivating without being sexy. Hell, she's fifteen! Settle down people.

Where this piece really became a landmark piece for me was on the tonal work. The one comment I get a lot about my colouring is that it has a tendency to look muddy. I realised that this occurs at the toning stage. So for the Black Tower I decided to avoid going to black on the tones, limiting and lightening my tonal range.

Annette and I had been chatting about her and my colouring recently. I was urging her to go to black on her tones on my artwork. She had been reluctant as every artist and editor she had ever worked with discouraged this as the colours ended up swamping over the line work. I emailed her some examples, but again I was too muddy. I agreed that an ideal point exists halfway between both our colouring styles.

I think I found that halfway point on this piece. I couldn't be happier!

Here are the basic colour flats wrapped over my textures. If you compare this to other work I've coloured you can already see it's a lot lighter at this stage. It seems fresher and easier on the eyes. I remember a huge smile creeping across my face. I knew I had hit the mark Annette and I were talking about. All I had to do was not screw it up from here.

Colouring the Black Tower itself was easy, I just followed Donald's guide. Black with gold edges. Sweet! Toning and drawng it were a pain in the ass though. Damn perspectives are only bearable because of the lovely line tool in Photoshop. Otherwise I find drawing perspectives by hand more frustrating than downloading catholic school girl "reference" by dial up.

The next step was the textures. I found a nice tartan for Dreanna's skirt. I mean, what's a catholic school girl without her tartan skirt? Donald drew her with a jumper, but I ditched that as I wanted the flowing feel of her shirt and tie to add to the drama of the piece.

Next up was the sky. I think I built the sky from about 5 different photos. I like it. It's powerful, foreboding, and most importantly unreal. I wanted to communicate the supernatural nature of the book immediately with the sky. You only have to look at it to know that there's something rotten in the state of Denmark.

Regular readers know how excited I get over a good fill light. You can fill in my future girlfriend that all she needs is a good lighting setup and I'm good to go.

But I wanted to say something about the story with the fill lights. You will notice that the characters on the left are predominantly coloured in blues, while the characters on the right are more red.

The Black Tower is about the mixing and interaction of all these worlds. So I had a blue light coming from the right, and a red light coming from the left. Each set of characters are affected by the other set's colour scheme. Dreanna sits in the middle bathed in both those lights showing her interaction with both of the supernatural and natural world.

While I liked the piece, it was looking very bottom heavy and cluttered. I also wanted to up the mystical element of the piece. I added a mist behind the characters and that helped to separate them from the actual Black Tower itself. Suddenly there was breathing space in the piece, depth and an increased sense of mystery about the Black Tower itself.

Now, I knew glowing eyes were off the table, but I needed to draw more supernatural attention to Dreanna. I added glowing white hands. I was going to make one hand blue and the other hand red, but it just didn't work. She looked like some sort of traffic light. This way she looks angelic rather than looking like she should be waving planes in for a landing

The last thing that I did was a colour balance. This is my newest trick, taught to be my friend Xander. I can't believe I'm releasing this one, but here goes.

Once you've finished coloring your piece, you need to unify all the colours. In Photoshop, flatten the piece, copy it, un-flatten then paste the piece back over the top of all your layers. Blur it slightly, then use one of four layer effects for the look you want: multiply, screen, overlay or colour. Sometimes I use multiple layer effects at various opacities. Then hit control b and play with the colour balance to get what you want. This is a multiply with a slight red balance.

God. Now it's all out of the bag. This better help someone.

When I emailed it to Kelly she said she actually started crying when she saw it. I've never had higher praise. And my nerves about drawing characters that had never been visualised before were unfounded. Kelly loved everything I had done. I beamed a huge smile. I don't ever expect to hit things the first time out of the gate, but it's really nice when it does happen.

So a final and huge thanks to Kelly for bringing me onto this project. It's a landmark piece for me which marks a significant step forward in my artistic career. It's one of the best covers that I've ever drawn and I love it totally.

Kelly's sending this to Erik Larsen, publisher of Image to see if she can publish through him. Cross everything you've got two of for her, people. It's not an easy job to bring magic into everyone's lives.

The only thing I can promise about the new HEROES story I'm doing is that the first part looks like this cover for every panel. It's easily the best stuff I've drawn.


Oh, so the other awesome thing that happened has to do with Alex Zamm's and my ideas for promotion of Zero G. Alex came up with the great idea of getting quotes for our back cover. You're not gonna believe this, but the first person to get back to us is Stan Lee! Yeah, Stan "the Man" Lee. You know, the guy that co-created Spiderman, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. Here's what he had to say in his awesomely alliterative style:

"Mystery, murder and mayhem on a meteorite! What else could a sci-fi fan hope for? Jason Badower's awesome artwork and Alex Zamm's suspenseful script have created a torrid, terrific and tantalizing must-read graphic novel!"
-- Stan Lee

Alex met Stan at a movie premiere and they got chatting. But it says so much about what an incredibly generous and supportive guy he is. He gave us the most valuable thing he owns: his time.

When Alex emailed me about this I was practically dancing around the flat to my sister's amusement. She practically threw money into a hat I was that good.


I'm also doing a signing at Orbital Comics in London on the 7th of June. It's so little notice as I fly out of London on the 15th. So that's next Saturday for all those keeping score.

Here's the link with the details at ORBITAL COMICS.

I will be doing a portfolio review and workshop at 12pm, then signing at 1230pm til whenever I run out of people or Orbital kick my ass out onto the street.

I'm also doing a competition raffle, and one lucky person gets to be drawn into part 3 of my HEROES comic.

So please tell your London based friends to come on down and say "Hi." I'm terrified I'm going to be watching tumbleweeds go by and listening to crickets.

Oh! And one lucky person gets to be drawn into the third part of the upcoming HEROES trilogy I'm working on.


Kelly J. Compeau said...

Best cover you've done to date, I think, Jas. Thanks for taking the time to help me out with this. You're a real sweetie!


PS: Holy crap, a quote from Stan Lee?!

Jessy said...

That is truly a beautiful cover, Jason. Looks different in stages to your other works, but seriously amazing. =)

PS: Oh how I wish I lived in London. COme back to Australia!

pngaou said...

Hey Jason! It's been a long while but I wanted to drop by and say that your latest GN for HEROES is pretty awesome! You have such a distinctive style.

Can't wait for next week's!

MiamiVolts said...

Great work again on the recent Heroes GN, Root and Branch, Part 1. Did it really take 55 minutes for Bianca to knock out the Australian duplicate? Heh. ;) Looking forward to the next two parts as well.

Ron said...

..was Australia chosen by you or the writer, and were any of the people based on your friends? much action and cool shout-outs! ... the SARMY and its members thanks you =)