Dave Sim's blogandmail #87 (December 7th, 2006)
Thursday December 7 -
There's also the problem coming up, as soon as I transfer the background to the Dr. Strangeroach piece onto the artboard as to how I'm going to chart the progress from that point when I start colouring it. I don't have a colour photocopier here and Ger is on vacation with his digital camera. So I think what I'm going to do is to walk down to Sherwood and get colour photocopies done as I progress on it. Looking on the bright side it will force me to slow down and let each layer of colour dry before applying the next one and give me time to mentally assess what I'm doing on the way there and back. Looking on the not-so-bright side what I'm really doing is just avoiding buying my own digital camera which is going to be an invaluable part of doing the Blog & Mail at some point but which is also going to be a literal albatross around my neck that has remained largely albatross free for lo, these many years.
All right, time to transfer the background.
Background transferred and tightened up in pencil and I've also done the initial colour which is a sort of golden yellow background colour. So, while that's drying…
It's interesting that the colour on the Marvel Masterworks book by Andy Yanchus is actually pretty good. Flat colour—that air-brushy quality that computer colorists tend to overuse that makes everyone and everything look like the back end of a Buick has been kept to a minimum—and as far as I can remember is reasonably faithful to the original colour sense of the early sixties Marvel Comics in general and Dr. Strange in particular. Very bright colours for the most part. Comparing the colour volume to the Essentials volume is an education in just what a challenge Ditko's art was when it came to colour. You have to think about what it is that he's driving at because he has a very idiosyncratic sense of lighting and composition that issues from his largely brush inking (there's some speedball pen nib work on there as well but I'm pretty sure that most of it is brush). You have to follow his compositional decisions and sort of mentally "hook up" the established areas with flat outlines from panel to panel. Not too slavishly or the whole thing would flatten out but at the same time with a consistency that makes the great compositions jump out at you. I suspect that the advantage for a colorist on one of these Masterworks volumes is that you do so many pages of a defined, singular viewpoint (and Steve Ditko pretty much defines "singular viewpoint" in the comic-book field) that you can lock into the artist's way of seeing and learn to work to his strengths. The problem I always have with doing colour is that it opens up so many possibilities that there's no right way to do it. I'm sitting here looking at my initial layer of yellow and mentally colouring everything else every shade in the rainbow. I have a lot of trouble visualizing colour. The ectoplasmic figure is going to be black and white and the corporeal figure's cape is going to be comic-book crimson and bright yellow. White, yellow, crimson and bright yellow. So what "goes" with that? In any conventional environment vis-à-vis colour schemes it would be either an eyebrow harshly arched in disapproval or spontaneous projectile vomiting. In the comic-book field it's considered a serious question. Pale green, navy blue or brownish red. Having very little to no experience with it, my choice is to colour everything (like the cape) the colour it has to be and see what "comic-booky" colour seems called for. Bet I guess wrong.
The other question as I'm sitting here looking at it is the inking. And I still haven't made up my mind on that one. I've pencilled it like a Dave Sim parody piece which means it needs to be inked sort of half-Mort Drucker and half-Will Eisner Tudor City studio. On the other hand, because I'm "doing" Ditko it calls for brush inking—BOLD brush inking—which I'm loathe to do because I'm not very good at it and eager to do because I never get to ink that way and I've been studying it for about a week now. There you get into the question of what Sean M. is paying for and that would be pushing the boundaries of creative freedom even though he has given me carte blanche. I can do this in a way that I'm familiar with and have it come out looking as if its worth more than what you paid for it or I can do it in a way where I haven't really got a clue what I'm doing and have it come out looking as if it's worth about half what you paid for it. Nice married guy with a comic-book-tolerant wife it is certainly tempting but we're talking an amount that would pay for part of a freezer or a nicer coffee table or some lawn furniture. One doesn't muck about in those situations.
I think I'll go for a total Steve Ditko-brush-like quality on the folds on the cape, the radiation lines around the amulet's eye, the foreground cage and the drippy curved path (I'm looking at the one in the Essentials reprint of Strange Tales 127 in the panels featuring the battle between The Mindless Ones—and, no, they aren't feminists: this was 1964! Good guess, though!—and it's absolutely astonishing what Ditko was able to do with what appears to be a brush he hadn't cleaned in a few weeks and maybe—MAYBE!—two or three thin lines defining the fingers on one of the characters. Completely astonishing in the way that Joe Kubert's brush inking is completely astonishing) and hope that those elements dominate the finished image to the extent that any comic-book ocular brain is going to register it as "DIT! KO!" without having to look any more closely. And when that ocular brain does look more closely (hereby resolved) it will see all the little Mort Drucker and Will Eisner pen lines "PEN! LINES!" it has every right to expect from a Dave Sim commissioned piece.
While studying Ditko's approach to the ectoplasmic figures (how in the heck do you do the eyebrows and mustache if you aren't using solid black anywhere? Several different ways, evidently: outline, thin line hatching to establish definition or just "the hell with it" and make `em black) altered the line-weight on the ectoplasmic figures on a regular basis using either a thin brush line or a thick or thin pen line. The question he seemed to be asking himself was "Do I really need to alter the density of the line that much if the printed image is going to be in black and white?" You can see this quandry more clearly in the Essentials volume than in the Masterworks volume because the former is in black and white as the original art had been. Where he has rendered the ectoplasmic Strange in a thin brush line roughly the same density as the corporeal Strange it definitely looks…uh…strange: like a double image instead of a ghost image emerging from the corporeal form. Conversely in Masterworks there is a tendency for the figure to look "under-drawn" and too insubstantial once the colour has been added, which raises the question: if he's that insubstantial and ghost-like, why can't you see things through him? At least part of the answer there is "Because it's a pain in the butt to draw things visible through a ghost image where you are trafficking in a minimalist brush approach to inking." The thinnest line—and my own Ditko ectoplasmic rendering of choice—is in "Witchcraft in the Wax Museum" from Strange Tales #121 where the line-work is so thin that it's definitely breaking up in places, particularly on the last page (even with the restoration work that was done). I don't know if Ditko sensed that he was going way too fine for 1960s-era colour comics production values or if he got a phone call from Stan Lee or the production department when they had the stats shot for the colorist, but he goes to the other extreme in the next two issues and inks the ectoplasmic Strange in the same density as the corporeal Strange. Which, to me, is a shame. The slight loss of density and the breaking up of some of his linework in 121 was more than offset by the gracefulness of the look that he achieved there. So that's the story I'll be looking at for my own ectoplasmic Dr. Strangeroach.
Okay, it's 9:15 pm on Day Three of BIOGRAPHY OF A COMMISSION and I'm going to pack it in and read some more Dr. Strange. I'm up to issue 130's "The Defeat of Dr. Strange" which I can't wait to read. I mean, if Dr. Strange gets defeated in issue 130, what happens in the next eleven issues? If it wasn't for the fact that it says right on the splash page "BEGINNING NOW!! The Start of the Greatest Black Magic Spectacular Ever Presented!" I'd almost suspect that Dr. Strange doesn't get defeated (I mean, AT ALL!) in this one.
But I HAVE to find out.
Tomorrow, we'll see if I can colour the piece, describe my progress on it, take it back and forth to Sherwood to get colour copies made AND talk about Mr. A at some point.
Can it be…?
"The Defeat of Dave Sim"?
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