Monday, April 19, 2010

"Doctor Strange" - 1989
More Comic Book Style Illustrations
A 6-page Submission Sample


Welcome, once again, to this the third in a series of "flashbacks" at some of my old comic book style artwork.

Today is a 6-page short story sample that I "wrote" (a plot outline) and drew back in 1989 (or it might have been 1988 - sadly, I can't provide an actual date for these, but I know it was one of those two years - late '88 or early '89.)

Previous entries into this series are:
  • A series of magazine cover submission samples - as seen [HERE]
  • An 11-page comic book story featuring my own take on the "Secret Defenders: - as seen [HERE]

Continuing in the vein of the previous entries, this post also focuses on Marvel comics character, Doctor Strange.

Trust me, I DO have other works, of other characters, including my own original creations. I'm just working down the history of these Dr. Strange samples first.
This is primarily so you can get a better vantage point of how my work (hopefully) advanced over time, and since it deals with the same character, it makes it easier to notice any differences.
(Although, since we're "turning back the clock", we'll see that in reverse.)

A few differences you'll be able to notice right from the start.
In this sample (which is even older than the previous entries), the first 2 pages are rendered with a lot of grey-tone pencil "smudging".
That was a technique that I was highly fond of (still am, to a certain extent), and is basically made by using rolled up stylus' of special paper that would help you use your pencil work to add shading and depth to your line art.

However, by the third page, for some reason or other, I halted that technique and just stuck with a more traditional style.

I'll get into more on the "smudge style" and grey-tone rendering as a whole after the art pages.

One last thing before we start, like the last entry, I'll give a basic biography for the characters in the tale.

The cast of characters are (in order of appearance):


Doctor Strange
Master of the Mystic Arts
and Sorcerer Supreme
of the Marvel comics "universe".


The Ancient One
Dr. Strange's mentor.
He held the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme long before (for over 400 years).
Now deceased. Is currently "One with the Universe".


Other-dimensional princess of the "Dark Dimension".
(At the time of this story, she had recently become "Queen" and wears the "flames of regency" upon her head as a crown of her position.)
She has been Dr. Strange's love for some time.


Flame-headed tyrant overlord of the Dark Dimension.
Scourge of untold realms.
Dr. Strange is his primary obstacle for taking over our earthly plane.


The "Living Embodiment" of the Universe.
He is ALL there is.


He is as his name and title decree.
The ruler of the realm of sleep where Nightmares run rampant.
He never ceases to try and rule to our reality.


Now that we know who's who, let's begin.

*click pics to enlarge *

page 1 of 6

Panel one:
Dr. Strange gazes into his magical "Orb".

Panel two:
Suddenly, an image of his dead master; the Ancient One, appears in the sphere.

Panel three:
The Ancient One tells his former pupil that a danger is lurking in between realities.
One that threatens to destroy the world.

Panel four:
As the visage of his aged master fades from view, Strange ruminates upon the dilemma while looking out of his Sanctum's uniquely shaped window.

page 2 of 6

Panel one:
While Strange broods over his task, his love, Clea appears through a dimensional aperture.

Panel two:
Strange looks solomn. Heavy is his burden.

Panel three:
She can't bear to see him like this and in a loving embrace tries to help soothe his mind.

Panel four:
As he vanishes into tendrils of smokey magic, he tells he that loves her and vows to return to her.

Panel five:
Now left holding empty air, Clea is nearly heartbroken over the thought that one day he may never return.

page 3 of 6

Panel one:
Appearing in a doorway that looms over the pathways to many realms of reality, Dr. Strange uses his mystic "Eye of Agamotto" medallion to peer into the void.

Panel two, three and four:
Strange walks the unending byways in search of any clues as to the name or nature of the danger his master forewarned.

Panel five:
A mystic alarm is raised in his consciousness! His "Eye of Agamotto"is open and alert! The mystic sign of the "ankh" appearing upon his brow (which it would only in the most dire of circumstances)...

page 4 of 6

Panel one:
Dr. Strange quickly conjures forth a protective shield, which is just as quickly shattered.

Panel two:
Trying to maintain a protective spell, Strange is barraged by an overpowering display of force which smashes him to the ground.

Panel three:
While all Strange can do is crawl backward, the flaming head and hands of the Dread Dormammu rises before him... menacingly.

Panel four:
As Dormammu attempts to grab him, Strange casts a sphere of protection about himself.

Panel five:
Releasing the "Eye" from its housing in his amulet, Strange begind the incantation which will call forth (from the realm that can be accessed inside the amulet) the one entity who can defeat this arch foe.

page 5 of 6

Note: This page is laid out using a non-traditional method of moving the reader's eye from place to place which allows them to "follow" the events in the proper order.

Panel one:
Strange in engulfed in cascading light as he allows the amulet to grow and expand from its place at his throat.

Panel two:
Emerging from the other-realm that exists beyond the amulet, steps forth Eternity - he who has bested Dormammu before. Sensing his defeat, Dormammu cringes back upon seeing this impossible foe.

Panel three:
Dormammu screams his outrage...

Panel four: he is dragged by Eternity into the dimensional portal within the amulet.

page 6 of 6

Panel one:
Returning the amulet to its proper place and closing its "Eye", Dr. Strange also closes the access to the other dimensions - returning to our world.

Panel two:
Walking up the stairs to his study, Strange casts a spell, sealing the way to the other realms.

Panel three:
Entering his study, he finds Clea asleep on the floor.

Panel four:
As he gently awakens her with a kiss, the two lovers share an intimate moment of passion.

Panel five:
Now adrift in slumber... are they now to be beset upon by Nightmare?



Similar to the previous entry in this "flashback" series (the 1993 "Secret Defenders" story), this short tale has no room for lengthy plot points, intricate story or anything beyond "the basics".
It is even more reliant upon hitting the story "beats" quickly as it is only 6 pages - as opposed to the 11-page length of the previous entry.

6 pages was an average length for minor back-up features in comic books. Especially if the issue is an anthology or a "shared" title with more than one "headliner".

As is often the case when I work up samples, I try to produce them in "real time". Meaning: I endevor to produce a page a day - which was an industry standard.
(Sadly, these days that rate of production is a lofty dream - as artists grow ever more detailed [or as is sometimes the case... lax] - in their work.)

I seem to remember going back to rework some pages after they were "done" and causing my pages to back-log a bit, so that by page 5 I was in need of something big, bold and quick to pick up the pace.
My experimentation with the storytelling on page five only "half-worked".
It could have worked, except that I don't think it was all that good.

The other down-side to that reworking is that there was far too much detail in the final pieces.
I was still getting the hang of it at this point, but comics are drawn (like these pages) at a size of 10 inches wide by 15 inches high (on an 11 x 17 board) and then, after inks and colors are added would be reproduced much smaller - (the modern comic size being approximately 6.5 x 10.25 inches).
All that detail would blur together if it were to be used in an actual comic (at least one printed back in 1989).

Aside from that, as a purely "full-size" presentation, I think this would have looked better if I had continued it in the "smudge" technique.
At the very least, it would have helped hide a multitude of sins.
(Some of them, like the "stairs" that lead up to the corner window "seats") to the far left of panel 1 on page 2 were just painfully bad.)


On a slightly technical note, the smudge technique was a complicated thing back in those days.
Simply stated, most comic printers couldn't work with them.

Also, most publishers and submissions editors refused to look at anything rendered in grey tones (whether by smudge or by grey-tone markers). They want to see good, clear, understandable artwork - and many an artist (myself included) would try to hide poor drawings with a multitude of "tricks" - such as the smudge.

I always believed that if penciled dark enough, and clear enough, any printer could use finished pencils (with grey-tones or not) to reproduce for publication. The grey-tone "rendering" would have worked as well - if the printer was advanced enough, the plates they used good enough and the paper of a decent quality.

However, when these were drawn, the plates that were created to print the artwork were of cheap plastic for budgetary reasons, and paper was frequently poor - all of which made "artsy" pencils like these look like mud - IF they reproduced at all.

Simply put, unless a project was specially arranged in advance to be drawn like this... it just didn't happen.
(Oddly enough, the few times back then that such artwork was commissioned professionally, the printers couldn't seem to reproduce it well anyway.

Such advances in the medium would take over another decade.

Every so often, I'll work up pieces (pin-ups and other stuff) and use the smudge style, and with the scanners and printers available now (heck, even good photocopiers can reproduce the technique fairly faithfully so) it's not a worry.
(However, with the advance of photoshop "inking and coloring" methods, the simple smudge style of rendering can be done digitally.)


I'll wrap up this entry with an anecdote about how I met STAN LEE (he who co-crated much of the Marvel comics characters, like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk and many others... including Doctor Strange) and how he gave me a portfolio review.

(That day, I also met JACK "KING" KIRBY - the man largely responsible for co-creating much of the same characters and worlds that Stan would write about - if not even more of the visual nature of comics themselves - but this isn't the time for the story of that meeting.)

From a period of 1988 - 1992, I would frequently travel to various comic conventions and have a table set up in either the dealer's room or, later, in the professional's "Artist's Alley".
One such convention both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were in attendance!
(For some reason, I seem to think this was either in Chicago or Boston - except that if both Stan and Jack were present - it was more likely in New York City.)

It was announced that Stan Lee would be conducting portfolio reviews for a few hours that day, and so, many artists in attendance registered, were assigned a time-slot and then had their own private freak-outs while waiting for their time.

When it was finally my turn, Stan was as boisterously pleasant and friendly as his public persona has always been. Quick with a smile and a handshake.

I sat down and he flipped through my book - I recall it being fairly daunting that many of the images that he was seeing - mostly pin-up style drawings - were of characters that he co-created with some of the greatest comic artists ever known.

Luckily, I didn't freeze up or panic (or worse... "geek out"). Stan made it easy to just be at ease.
As Stan flipped, and had a few "Ah... good." and "This is nice." comments, we finally reached the portion with the actual comic artwork.
The only problem is that, by now, the almost surreal nature of this meeting was starting to get to me a little.

When he reached this sample, and he got to page three, he simply said; "Ahh... Doctor Strange! His legs are too thin."

All I could say was..." No. I don't think so." (because I was thinking that as a sorcerer, Strange should be leaner and less bulked up - as opposed to the traditional "superheroes" in comics).
However, I immediately realized that my own, personal thoughts on the proper handling of a magic-user character, were not appropriate for this meeting, and so I quickly added, "Really? Hmmm... Well, I guess so. YOU would know, right?"

He took my gaff in stride, but I didn't hear anything else he said during my time with him.
I was far too shaken by my own hubris and kept repeating the blurted words over and over in my head.
Finally, we reached the end of the portfolio, he smiled and told me to keep up the good work ("Marvel needs up and comic young artists like you!" - or some words to that effect, were the last thing he said to me.)
We shook hands again (and I think he gave me his business card - I mean I have one of his for his then California offices - how else did I get it?) and I walked back to my booth.

Looking at these pages now, I know that Stan was being far too easy on me.
To only pick up on the fact that his character's legs were thin was a kindness!
It could have (should have) been much worse of a critique.
But, Stan was being nice to an idiot young guy.

(I can pick a multitude of flaws from the pages - all of which glare at me now.)

To this day, that small snippet of our meeting is the only thing that I can remember with clarity.
And even though, I really DO feel that Doctor Strange should be portrayed as a more "wizardly" character (spending more time reading dusty old tomes than getting out to walk - and when he does battle it isn't usually done physically) I learned the valuable lesson that unless you are being granted artistic license to do so, it is best to write or draw trademarked characters as they are - not how you think they should be.

At least when showing them to the guy that pretty much created them anyway.

No comments: