Tuesday, April 2, 2019

1ST LEGION of UTOPIA!


I can't believe how quickly time has passed since my last update... but when it comes to the art blog, no news is always good news! Between working freelance, directing at an animation studio and teaching comics from Kindergarten to College, its been a busy and exciting year. But I couldn't pass up the chance to talk about this latest project...

1ST LEGION OF UTOPIA is a comic written by my long-time collaborator James Davidge. It covers what has recently become a great source of fascination and inspiration for me: Canadian History! Americans have long had the knack for mythologizing their past, using stories to tell their history in engaging ways. Canadian History is equally fascinating, with plenty of lessons left for us to learn, and the best way to get the word out is through story.

This particular story tells the tale of the turbulent political times of 1930s Calgary Alberta, my hometown and current base of operations! It follows a character named Holly Burnside as she explores this rowdy place and meets Brian Mah, her guide through a city full of protesters, politicians, riots and dandy clubs!


On the last two Holly Burnside graphic novels, James worked with talented Edmonton cartoonist Bob Prodor. James wanted to maintain the visual consistency of her story here but Bob needed a hand with the art chores to ensure it was all wrapped up on time. So a very unique collaboration was born wherein Bob would layout the pages along with the figure pencils and inks. He would then mail the pages to me, old-school style, and I would fill in the blanks with historical Calgary locations and background figures, as well as colours. The letters would be handled by the one-and-only writer/letterer superstar, Ryan Ferrier!


I've never considered myself much of a background artist, preferring to spend time on figures and movement. But this offered me a challenge. I've never been a very technical artist either, so instead of focusing on perspective and realism, I created scenes that featured overlapping shapes and a strong Foreground, Midground and Background. My goal was to immerse the reader in these moments, to draw them in and bring the past to life. How can I lead the eye through a crowded protest scene without causing confusion? How can I use shapes and colour to create the chaotic nature of a riot? How do I use buildings and windows and figures to create a feeling of claustrophobia? 


While photo realism wasn't my goal, photo reference was a must-have, and I enjoyed pouring over old photos and searching for period furniture and decorations to adorn the world. 


In some of the pages, it is quite clear that two different artists are working together, but our intent as a team was never to have my style disappear as I copied Bob's look. It was a visual experiment of sorts, to see how our work would mesh and complement one another. I found the synthesis of our two styles to be an exciting, interesting look, that gives this book its own unique feel. The contrast between the thick brush strokes and tighter brush pen lines lend the page a lot of energy, while also bringing focus to the important characters in the midst of busy settings.


The above splash page is definitely one of my favourites. Finding a way to weave the images around the singing character was a challenge, but those musical notes and bars really helped to bring it all together. That simple colour palette was essential to keeping everything in harmony and balance...much like good music.


I love the way Bob drew the three characters in the middle panel, like they were posing for the album art of their first single. It's a fine example of that casual cool that Bob is so good at creating in figures. Check out his work on ROAD TO RUIN for more examples of that. And drawing the Legion was a lot of fun! Not to mention the Plaza theatre (see below.) Trains? Not so fun...


When working on historical subject matter, the temptation is there to do your colours in sepia, or monotone, or drowning in brown (horrible phrasing....) but you better believe this: they had just as many colours back in the 1930s as they do today. That time was full of rich texture and colour and emotion and colour is instrumental in conveying that. I was determined to activate these pages with lots of saturation and energy.


I knew I was on a tight schedule with this book, so I challenged myself to let a simple, restrained palette do the talking. Unlike my previous comic project THE V-CARD, which featured dozens of colours, layers of gradients and lighting adjustments, as well as complex shadows, I used flat colours, with barely any shading or gradients.  It was a challenge indeed, but I really learned a lot about colour, I'm very pleased with the results, and the book was finished on time (hell, a week earlier than I expected, haha!)

While I had a great collaborative team on this book, it was still a remarkable challenge to wrap up in the midst of everything. And it brings me great pleasure to say that this book was picked up by an amazing comic publisher, RENEGADE ARTS ENTERTAINMENT. They are the perfect fit for this story, because they have proven to be a publisher who truly values diverse stories from Canada's past. I greatly look forward to working on future projects with them.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this inside look at the unique process of 1st LEGION! We are launching the book at SHELF LIFE this month so if you're free on Saturday, April 20th, please join us for some laughs and some revealing insights. 

Not too revealing I hope...who am I kidding, I'm an open book!

ADDENDUM: Here's an informative little interview of James and I talking 1st LEGION with our good friend Chris Doucer of GNN! Enjoy!



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