April 21, 2005

The Skiff

The Skiff

So imagine for a moment that you’re this guy named Evan. You manage a bookstore for a living and lead a fairly uneventful but sane life. It’s around 2 AM and you’re asleep in bed. The phone rings. It’s this girl you know, Kitty. If it were any other girl, she might be calling because her boyfriend just dumped her or she just feels like nobody understands her. Not so with Kitty. She needs you to help her pick up something from an abandoned warehouse. Two more things: you’re madly in love with her, and the thing that needs picking up is a dead body.

So begins “The Skiff,” a comic story by Mike McGee, Art & Lettering by Tamas Jakab (me).

As a quick sidenote, this is the first comic book story I’ve ever drawn. There comes a time when if you’re going to do something, you just have to get off your butt and do it. I had a few false starts in my 20s, but this time I had a real deadline and other people counting on me. Read on for more on how the story came together.

The Skiff Page 7 Detail

“The Skiff” originally appeared as a short story in the 2002 collection Wicked by Mike McGee. The principal characters, Evan and Kitty, had previously appeared in the supporting cast of Mike’s novella, Chemical Burn (coming in paperback later this year). Since the first issue of Frontier Publishing Presents was intended to tie-in with Frontier’s print ventures, it was a no-brainer to adapt The Skiff to comics.

Now, usually a comics writer will write a script one of two ways. The traditional way is a full script, similar to a screenplay but with more detailed descriptions for the artist. That’s how most writers in the industry do it. The other way is known as the “Marvel Style,” since it was created by Stan Lee for Marvel Comics in the 1960s to speed up the comics writing process. In this style, the writer summarizes the story’s plot and then the artist draws the story from the summary, making sure it fits the assigned pages for the book. Then the writer (or a second writer) adds dialog and captions to the artwork.

The Skiff Page 6 Thumbnail

Page 6 breakdown by Mike McGee

Then there’s Mike McGee’s approach for this story. Since the story was already written, rather adapt the whole thing to a comics script, Mike simply took a printout of the short story, and drew very rough thumbnails of the story, breaking it down into 10 pages of panels. Mike has had no artistic training at all, aside from a lifetime of comic book consumption. Nevertheless, he’s a very visual writer, and his thumbnails made a lot of sense.

The Skiff Page 5 Thumbnail

Detail of page 5 breakdown by Mike McGee

It was then my job to turn these simple little stick-figure pictures into a proper comic book story. I dusted off the old drawing table, took some fresh sheets of bristol board and quickly got down to work. Facing a tight deadline and little free time to draw the story, somehow I managed to pencil all 10 pages over two weekends.

The Skiff Page 5 Pencils

Detail of page 5 pencils

So it seemed that the hard part was over. Now I just had to ink the story…

Under normal circumstances, I would have just inked the story like everybody else does: using a brush or ink pen. I’d even considered doing so while pencilling the story. The night I finished the pencils, I should have done something sensible like go to bed. I instead scanned all the artwork (which I had to do anyway to show the other Frontier collaborators, since they’re scattered across the country) into my Mac and decided to try something different.

The Skiff Page 5 Final

Detail of finished page 5

Grabbing my trusty Wacom tablet and pen, I inked the first page of the story directly in Photoshop. Using Photoshop I could ink the pages as quickly as if I had used ink, plus I had the added benefit of being able to fix mistakes quickly. I could also create a halftone effect on the art similar to Zip-A-Tone, a halftone film that was popular up until the late 80s (right around the time that digital coloring started up). Since we were creating a dark and moody tone, I wanted to use the black & white limitations to my advantage.

The Skiff Page 6 Detail

As I was inking the story, Mike was busy writing the dialogue, using scans of my pencils for reference. Then he sent me his script and I lettered the story in Adobe Illustrator. I ended up redrawing some stuff in the story, which at this point was all done in Photoshop.

So, all finished, right? Oh, no, dear reader. The fun was just beginning. My story contribution was finished, but at this point, the comic was still far from done. But that’s a story for another day.

I’m off to Pittsburgh to help promote the book this weekend. I’ll post photos after I return.

If I’ve piqued your interest in reading The Skiff, you can order a copy of Frontier Publishing Presents #1 or stop by our table if you happen to be at the Pittsburgh Comicon this weekend (April 22-24).

The Skiff Page 7 Detail

Posted by tjakab at April 21, 2005 04:31 PM | TrackBack
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