Monday, September 20, 2010

The Evolution Of A Scooby Comic Cover!

I was sent an email from my editor at Wildstorm and he asked me about doing some cover sketches based on a Scooby story I just drew. I love to do covers so I readily jumped on it! Since I've been asked on this blog (and other places) about the process and the steps of what I do and how it happens, I thought this cover would be good for doing a step-by-step of the creative process.

The first thing I do is ask the editor, or art director, if they have any specific thing in their mind that they want to have portrayed or the main focus of a cover. A lot of times they will leave it up to the artist but I've had some who wanted to convey a theme or idea. This cover is based on a story I just drew and not to give anything away but the story was based in a circus setting and a locked door was a big part of the mystery to be solved. The only real dynamic to doing a Scooby cover is to make it fun and a bit spooky, with possibly some humorous overtone to it.

So, in terms of drawing, the first thing I do is work up some thumbnails of ideas, which you see above. My editor said I could write down concept ideas in an email and see if those ideas would work in a verbal pitch and sometimes they do, but for this cover I thought a verbal description wasn't as "readable" as a visual thumbnail. There was a lot going on and a visual guide would be more helpful. For doing my thumbnails, I have a small layout page (8.5" x 11") I made based on the DC Comics grid and there are four of them on a page. The grid is 30% of the original art size but it's all proportional. It has all the bleed and live area marked out and as you can see from my thumbnails there is a mark on the outside of each of the grids (on each side) and this lets me know that the top 1/3 of the cover is where the logos and other company info will go and I can't have any important information go up higher on the cover since it may be covered up. I also plan where the UPC box code will go as well.

I came up with six ideas and drew them that night and the editor had them the next morning. He liked them and submitted them to Warner Bros for approval. They came back four days later and ALL the cover ideas were approved (WOW! That's cool to hear! It doesn't happen all the time!) but WB liked Cover "E" best. So my editor asked me which one I liked best and (as noted on the thumbnails) I liked Cover "C". My editor then said to do "C" but to add some creepy hands reaching out for Shaggy and Fred and to possibly add a spider dropping down on a web to add a spooky or comedic feel to it. I was happy with all of them really so any of them would have been fun to draw.

As an aside, I want to mention that I also wanted the door to be as part of the main focus as well as working with the character (or characters) as the initial focus or "read". A lot of covers are much more effective usually with just one or two characters on it as opposed to a lot of them all vying for the attention of your eye. Rule #1 of a comic cover (or any cover or poster) is that it has to "pop out" on the comic stand from all the others and work at a distance. If you can "read" it from about 5 feet away, and everything is well designed and it catches your eye, it stands out. This is what you strive for when designing a cover. I had that success with the Scooby "Earth Day" cover I did. Also, one of the thumbnails I did is more action-oriented and has the characters running from the circus wagon and the locked door. I try to have some kind of kinetic energy to my covers instead of them just being a static image. Some art directors and editors like a more action-based image to sell something. I do think action-based covers draw a viewer in a lot more than a static one, but it depends on the mood and feel that you are going for. It's hard to do that though when the main mystery is based around a locked door. If there was a monster at the heart of it, there is always a chase involved and you can do that scenario in an unlimited amount of ways visually.

As I said, WB liked "E" which I can see why since it was a focus on Scooby (our hero) and the shadow on the door (K.I.S.S. or Keep It Simple, Stupid). I liked "C" as it had focus on Scooby and the whole gang and encompassed the feel of the story best (in my mind).

Now once I got the final additions from my editor I then roughed out the cover and worked out the details worrying about design, positive/negative space, readability of the shadow on the door and other little details when it gets printed smaller. In an effort to please, and to see if the Cover "E" was also a viable option, I did two roughs. The roughs are done at full comic cover size, which is around 11 x 17 varying the DC art board. I do the roughs at full size just to be sure that the specs are correct and my bleed is accurate. And here are my two roughs:

As you can see on the rough of Cover "C", I left off the Spider on the web since I thought it may be overkill and too much detail to look at and digest. There was enough pulling for your attention as it was. I did have to cheat the angle of the door just a bit to be sure that the shadow cast on the door would work and be readable. This is something that the color will also add to it.

These sketches are inked as well. It's just how I work. I like things to be tight enough and I experiment with the ink to figure out how I will do it on the final version sometimes. It helped to ink these as I was working out how I wanted the wood work shadow lines to run and how thick I wanted the lines to be. I try to nail down as much as I can in the rough stage so that the inking stage is just some spit and polish.

I think Cover "E" works well too. It reads great and the shadow on the door is very readable! I liked the spider but wasn't sure how far to bring it into the picture since Scooby is reacting more to the doorknob twisting than the spider or the looming shadow. Plus you get a great view of the circus. In the 11th hour, lighting strikes me (pun intended) and I thought it would be cool to add a looming storm in the background as well since I added lighting bolts in the background of the story as it progressed. It's another aspect that color will enhance.

Once both these roughs were submitted the next day, it was agreed upon to use Cover "C". The only thing was that the UPC symbol would have covered up part of Scooby and that's kind of something that artists and editors hate. You never try to have anything cover up the main character, let alone the star of the project! The editor asked if he could get more bleed on it so we could move Scooby a bit so the UPC wouldn't hurt the art. So I immediately got the great idea of how to fix it in a minute and rescue the piece from any redrawing! This is why I love Photoshop! I grabbed a portion of the lower inside of the door and the doorknob itself and raised it up with a simple copy and paste. I moved it up and then placed a scanned version of the UPC symbol that I use for my layout grid and then emailed it back to the editor in about 2 minutes! He loved it and told me to then go and finish it! Problem solved! I didn't even have to tweak the eyeballs of the characters as they were all looking that way anyway. Talk about an easy fix!

So I lightboxed and inked the final art onto DC Comic art board and I do this as well instead of digitally inking since I can then sell the artwork after it's done. The main reason why I do all my comic work still by hand is for the sale of the original art. At this stage of the final art I make little tweaks and finalize the art and make sure my line quality is sharp and strong. Fans may not notice any difference between my roughs and final art sometimes but I try to make sure the quality of the final art is as high as I can do it. As you can see I also tweaked the shadow on the door's hand a bit to make it more readable, so that's a noticeable fix. Once this is done and inked, I scan the art at 600dpi and save a copy at full size for my own records and then load the art into a DC Layout Cover Grid and then save it to their settings and emailed it to the editor! If it's small enough I can usually email it instead of loading it up to my folder on their FTP.

Since it was somewhat of a rush, Wildstorm will be coloring it and I'll post it when I get a copy of it! I hope this post was informative to you all! Here's the final art!


john said...

very interesting piece , its good to know what goes into this kind of project.thanks for sharing it.

SNeelyArt said...

Thanks, John. There are a lot of variables that go into design and it's the same for doing a magazine cover, newspaper or a menu. You have to make it appealing to the eye. I've always said that 90% of the job is design and layout. For all the work I do at least. Every comic panel as well has to be laid out with the same concepts.

And this isn't talking about color theory!

David said...

Another great post Scott. Will you be posting the DelcoMag interview soon? I've been looking forward to it.

SNeelyArt said...

Y'know, David, I forgot all about it! I'll post it tomorrow for you!

Chris Sabatino said...

AWESOME post! Look the inside look at the creative process...especially if it includes some of my favorite characters!! I hope you'll do more of these!