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Mastering Comic Art - Chapter 1

By David Nakayama
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Date Added: 17th September 2012
Software used:
Photoshop

Using my original front-view design as inspiration, I begin to apply similar shapes to the character's back, designing as I go but informed by two useful rules of thumb: firstly that costume elements work best when they reflect and flow with the shape of the underlying anatomy and secondly, it helps to establish a visual "language" and stick to it. In this case, my design vocabulary consists of triangles, half-hexagons, and the occasional circle - all geometric forms, in other words. Organic lines would probably feel out of place on this tech-based character.

More surface details. I continue to use the hexagon motif established earlier, as I render the sword and leggings. Recently I've noticed that the hexagon - and particularly hexagon mesh patterns - have become an all too common visual shorthand for the sci-fi genre. I'm deliberately using the shape in a different way here, because I think the standard mesh thing's pretty played-out. If I use a texture overlay during the color phase, I'll definitely go with a different pattern (Fig.05).

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Fig.05

Note that it helps to juxtapose areas of dense detail next to areas that are more sparse. This gives the eye a "breather" so to speak, as it moves around the form.

It also helps me focus the viewer's attention where I want it (which, in this case, is her *ahem* shapely behind).

All this time, I've been debating whether to interpret Tech Angel's wings as metal or hard light, and you can tell from the sketch that I originally had feather-like shapes in mind (Fig.06).

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Fig.06

Well, at this point, I commit to complex, machine-like forms made of hard light, sort of combining the best of both worlds. I feel like the sword and wings are shaping up to be her coolest, most unique assets, and I want to put a literal spotlight on them. I complete the right leg and arm, but try to leave the line weight and level of detail a little lighter here to help sell the idea that they're further back in space. If you look at the left vs. right wing, you'll notice that I pulled the same trick there. This really helps complete the illusion that one object is closer than another.

All that remains is the face and head. Fortunately, I hit the expression just about right in the sketch phase, and all I really have to do at this point is tighten up the hair and some of the finer details. But because they're so critical let's discuss faces for a moment. For female characters, the important thing to remember is that "less is more." Even a single unnecessary line can age your character 10 years. This means that you have to nail the lines you do put down (Fig.07).

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Fig.07

Another thing to keep in mind is that facial expression is one of only two key tools you've got (the other being body language) in communicating a character's state of mind, personality and intent. In this case, the "story" is about strength and, to a lesser extent, sex appeal. She looks back at the viewer as if to say: "Don't mess with me", but you could just as easily read it as: "Hey, eyes up here, buddy."

So there's a little built-in viewer interaction, and that's absolutely vital if you want to engage people. Other strategies for this might include a visual gag, pop culture reference, or just a metric ton of detail - in each case, you're asking the viewer to bring something to the table and to invest some thought in your art, and ultimately, that's what makes a cover memorable.





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