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Tenth Post: making a poo-brown movie poster

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Bernard and Dan asked me to do the poster for their new docco, Graphic Novels! Melbourne! I haven’t done much drawing this year because I’ve been working on my PhD thesis so this was a pretty exciting project. The movie is all about the noble and nefarious cartooning activities that have happened in and around the fine city of Melbourne in recent years. Stuff like this:

The first idea I came up with first was pretty “stock”. Melbourne. Trams. Melbourne. Bleh.

But the fallback solution to most of my design problems is to simply draw a city. I just love drawing cities. Especially cities with terrace houses in them and Melbourne has loads of terrace houses. I decided to draw a streetscape that might be Brunswick but might be Collingwood. I wanted to depict this place as a city with loads of awesome comic book stuff happening in it. An ant farm full of comic nerds. I wanted something you could pour over for a little bit like a Where’s Wally book (not Where’s Waldo, big difference) or this Fortune Magazine cover that Chris Ware drew which became famous despite the fact that it was rejected by the magazine.

Here’s what I came up with. Not very exciting and possibly a little bit too much like a few of the interlocking city landscapes that I’ve done in the past.

The revelation came when I incorporated a more rigid perspective schema.

Isometric projection, which isn’t actually a perspective drawing technology but a utilitarian kind of cubism, creates this impossible 3D illusion without any elements receding toward a vanishing point. I learned it in technical drawing class but don’t use it much in my cartooning.

It has been used to wonderful effect in videogames and in the great illustrations by Dan Zettwoch (one of my great cartooning heroes) and also by Eboy below.

Mostly though, this drafting technology is used for explaining to people how shit works and what shit might look like if we exploded it.

Here’s the original in its early stages next to the sketches.

I would normally do a drawing like this on a very large piece of paper but I had put aside a particular day to work on this project but when it came around I realised I had no large bits at home. My sweetie had the car and I was too lazy to get the train to the art supplies store so had to make do with what I had. This 11’’ by 14’’ piece of Bristol Board was the ticket. This is an extremely small working size for me which gave me the willies so bad I spilled my coffee on it. Gosh!

The cool thing about isometric projection is that you don’t really have to compose the image in the same way as you might when using point perspective. The drawing sometimes feels a lot more like building with Lego.

You draw a shape on the ‘floor’ and you are forced to follow the laws of physics that govern this world you’ve created to build upwards.

Because of this I didn’t have to carefully pencil the whole thing before I started inking.

I started with the text, inked that, and filled the other spaces in as per the ‘rules’ of the simulation. I never work this way. I’m normally a fastidious penciller and I never ink on the same day that I pencil but this isometric thing allowed me a different approach.

I used a 60-30 set square when I was drawing this with a pencil but I didn’t use it when I was inking. The inking was all done freehand with a crow quill over the ruled construction lines. This seems to conflict with the technical drawing schema going on here because traditionally isometric drawings are about cold precision but I kind of like the idea of a loose ink marks traced over a page anal-retentive pencil lines.

I have this fruity philosophy about embodied knowledge and the performance of mark-making that underpins all this. There’s loads about it in the PhD thesis which no one will ever read.

When I had finished inking I scanned the original at 600dpi then bumped out all of the whites to prepare the image for a two colour printing process with Pantone inks. This is a digital process that closely replicates the old-fashioned colour separation method used in a pre-digital design studio. Instead of choosing a palette from a few million colours I choose two ink colours from the Pantone swatch library that is built into Photoshop.

Pantone inks work on spot channels in Photoshop. What that means is that instead of storing the information on the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black of your usual process channels the information is stored on two channels. My original plan was to use a pale blue or a blue green with orange. Man did that idea suck.

The easiest way to think about ink channels is to think of each one as a giant metal plate that gets colouredy ink slopped onto it before it is rolled over the paper. There’s a different plate for each ink. The inks mix and smear together in a magical mysterious ways to create different tones and hues. Orange and brown seemed to work better.

My process involves drawing directly onto these metal plates with the Wacom stylus rather than the more obvious practice of drawing onto layers. I create a multichannel Photoshop file that might look like this if someone went and exploded it.

I leave all the data on the grayscale channel invisible and I simulate a warm paper tone by adding an extra pantone layer with a light yellow ink. Consequently this fake paper simulation can be used in offset printing as an inexpensive way of making harsh white paper look warm when you are too cheap to pay for a more expensive cream stock.

I copied and pasted the line-work data onto a brown channel and then drew the mid-tones directly onto another brown channel.

In the end you have one brown channel that looks like this:

One brown channel that looks like this:

And an orange channel that looks like this:

Before printing I need to collapse these four channels down to two. So I select then cut-and-paste the linework from channel 2 onto channel 3 and then delete the grayscale channel. To give the brown lines a bit of sting I decided to put a little bit of orange ink behind them. Before I delete channel 2 I select the brown lines with the magic wand and then contract the selection by 1 pixel (this is to account for shifts in registration on the press). I fill that selection in on channel 4 with a 40% mid tone with the paint bucket. Once I’ve deleted channel 1 and 5 I’m left with just two channels:

A brown one:

And an orange one:

When they are printed over the top of each other on some thick cream paper they should look great. I used a similar process to this when I was working on my graphic novel Blue. Here’s a page from Blue split up into channels.

Blue Pantone:

Brown Pantone:

Put em together:

Here it is! Click on the version below for a closer look at a higher res jpeg.

The premiere screening of Graphic Novels! Melbourne! will be held at 8:30 pm, Thursday November 22nd at Readings Bookstore, Carlton. You should go.

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November 1, 2012 at 5:02 am

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