Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Colour Otto or Everything I Know about Photoshop

Okay, kids, time for a tutorial. But before I get started, I just want everyone to know that I'm no expert. But I do have one golden rule, and if you can remember this then ninety percent of your grief will be solved.
Golden Rule #1: If you can't do what you want to do, you are either:
A On the wrong layer or, more likely …
B Have something selected somewhere. Hit deselect and try again.

Unlike many of my younger brethern and sistern who have had computer art hard-wired into them along with their mother's milk, I had to learn the difficult way. I started out colouring on the ICON computer (a footnote in government attempts to develop a made-in-Canada computer industry back in the late 80's) with a palette of four colours at my disposal. Eventually this increased to 16 (oh, the liberty!) It was pre-scanners and the screen resolution was about one pixel to the inch.
My preference has typically been to do my art on my board since then, so my knowledge of Photoshop pretty well begins and ends with what I need to know to colour my comics. But I have developed a system that works well for me (I can colour about two pages on a good day) and I really do prefer the computer for colouring comic art as it adapts well to flat colour, allows me to play around with some graduated screen effects that would be difficult to achieve on my art board, and the undo lets me experiment with colour with impunity.
I've done a series of screen captures as my work progressed, and I will comment on these in the captions below each image.
Here is my working desktop, with swatch and layer palettes out. I've imported the scanned-in ink line work which I've done on my art table and cleaned up in Photoshop. The scanned text has been removed (I glue on blocks of text at the rough stage to determine balloon sizes) but in this case I have kept it on a hidden layer (line copy) so I can place it for the final screen shot.

My layers are always organized this way and the names are pretty well self-explanatory (Whoosh! is the special effects layer). All are transparent with Line at the top so that no colour covers it up, and a White layer on the bottom to rid myself of the checkerboard pattern in transparencies.
The Swatch palette has a number of preset colours, many dedicated to Otto and Crackers to maintain colour consistency throughout.

I begin by blocking in my backgrounds. This is a nice chance to introduce some gradated blocks of colour to add mood and ambience to what will mostly be flat coloured art. This scene is at night so I have elected to go with a subdued, nighttime-like palette.

Next I block in colour on my Colour layer. It can be seen in the above image that this mostly consists of outlining the areas that I wish to fill and then using the fill tool. The beauty of using layers is that the underlying colour does not interfere with what you do on this layer, and any mistakes in filling can easily be erased without damaging your background.

Here is the page with all of the colour now blocked in. I'm not worrying about any sort of shading at this point. You will also notice that I have introduced a second background layer. This is because I realized, as the colouring progressed, that there were some more shading effects that I wanted to bring to the background and it was simpler to work on a higher layer to do this.

And here is the final page. Shadows and highlights have been layered on in the Colour layer, mostly by the simple expedient of selecting the colour throughout (say, Otto's coat) and then using a big fat pencil to block in shadows without worrying about spilling over into other colours. Small effects are brushed in on the Whoosh! layer, edges cleaned up, and then the scanned text reintroduced (in actuality this text will be placed via InDesign, but it gives a better sense of the final page with it in place).

And that's everything I know about Photoshop.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alienation and an Angry Monkey

I was thinking this week as I worked away on colouring my next batch of pages how even in a graphic novel like this, that’s ostensibly for kids with no pretensions about being “important art”, you still have the opportunity, at times, to tackle some of the big questions.
One scene in particular got me mulling this over. It was the one below, just after Otto and Crackers met Django, the organ grinder’s monkey. It was a volatile meeting with Otto snatching Django up off the street and giving him a gigantic elephant hug, thinking at first that he is his long lost pal, Georgie, before unceremoniously dumping him when he realizes his error. Django is a bit miffed …
P. 41 of Big City Otto

When I wrote up the Django character, I modeled him after your stereotypical Brooklynite, rude and to the point, but deep down a big-hearted guy. But Django is also an angry monkey, with a chip on his shoulder the size of a toaster. The anger is that of a multi-generational denizen of the city who still gets asked, “Where you born, cute little fella?” Of course, in our modern-day multi-cultural society, we almost all come from somewhere else, recently or a few generations back. Although Django’s response is meant to be funny and over the top, it’s also trying to touch, in a small way, on an important issue, that of the alienation of immigrants, the children of immigrants and especially visible minorities.
Now enough sermonizing. Cue the dancing bear!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Alligata Gangstas

Pencil rough for p. 56, where we meet Shorty Pants.

Sometimes things just seem to arrive as a gift from heaven.

I knew from the first that sooner or later Otto and Crackers would tangle with some alligator types living in the sewers of New York City. And that they would be bad. (I mean, really, has there ever been a good alligator character? They look bad, they smile bad, they act bad. They are the ultimate bad %&* character!)
However whether this would simply be a back alley encounter, switchblades drawn and tensions high or something more significant, I wasn’t sure. But as the story evolved, scene-by-scene, it soon became clear that our heroes’ encounter with the Alligeri Boys would be the main thrust of the story. So bit by bit they started to take form — Big Al, the diminutive (of course) classic Sinatra loving, zoot suit wearing gangster. Cajun Joe, retired Alligator Wrestling Federation champion, tough and wiry but with a heart of gold. And then there was the third Alligeri Boy.
I knew he was going to be a gangsta rapper, or at least wanna-be rapper, one who Cajun Joe outs right away as just a “suburban gator”. Like the weekend punks I used to run into at Lee’s Palace in Toronto, dressed to kill but always back home to mamma before the last subway. But he needed a name, this suburban gator, and being a big lad my partner Esperança and I, with a nod to Tarantino, knocked around the idea of calling him Shorty. But we already had the little Big Al, so the name still needed to go somewhere else.
Being of a generation that fails to find wearing basketball shorts three sizes too big and hanging around your knees can be anything but funny, when Esperançca suggested Shorty Pants I just about busted a gut and still do every time I draw him.
So now he had a name but how to draw him? I freely admit my knowledge of rap culture is next to nil. So I went to one of my nephews, an expert on all things, and he filled me in on the lingo, what’s cool, what’s not, etc.. And then he suggested I hang a big clock around his neck, like Flavor Fav of Public Enemy fame.
Now I’m old enough to have another iconic clock ticking in my brain and this one is related to the crocodile (close enough!) in Walt Disney’s Peter Pan, and I’m thinking, “That’s it! An over-sized alarm clock slung on a gold chain around Shorty Pants' neck!”  And so it was, like manna from heaven.

Tic-toc-tic-toc …