Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Final Outcome: Poster set

My poster comic as I expect it would be seen. Maybe not as a single board, but in line of sight of each other. 

The designer must always meet the specifications of the brief. There are usually technical reasons something needs to be a certain size or format. It was with horror and confusion when I found somewhere in the mountains of text applicants were expected to read, that all entries should be created to be viewed on laptop: landscape format with an average ratio of 16:9. That is not the format of the comic book.

It was literally as I was preparing to upload images to the D&AD website that I found this out. I considered simply calling it a day and saving the £15 I would have to pay to enter the competition in the first place, but decided to take all three of my portrait pages and put them side to side. This satisfied the landscape requirements of the brief, and made my pages understandable in the process. Debrief never specified whether the posters should be stand-alone or a collective. I opted to make them a sequential narrative because I felt it was the only way to get across the significance of the wisdom being offered. I mean, if you just tell people stuff, it’s just a marketing tagline isn’t it? ‘Be yourself’, ‘think outside the box’, ‘just do it’. See what I mean?

I explained the reasons most of the comic is in black-and-white in the last post, and I stand by them, but one thing became very obvious while I was checking out last years winners. All entries were full-colour and usually quite bold. It’s hardly surprising. When you think of graphic design or illustration, you think of MasterCard adverts or some sort of pop-art portrait derivative. You know exactly what I mean when you see it. Black-and-white comics, from what little I know, were a fad in the 1980s. They gave us the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,Usagi Yojimbo and lots of other titles I don’t know about, but really should.

Perhaps the most educational thing about the process is the entrance fee. It is normal to pay to enter a competition. You pay for your lottery tickets, to enter any phone-in competitions or anything like that. But those competitions are a matter of chance: sure you pick your numbers for the lottery, but a machine picks some other numbers you have to try and match. Say what you want, but it’s not about the skills or talents of the competition entrants. With the D&AD competition, not only do you have to pay, but you also have to be objectively better (subjectively, really) than the other entrants. And while it doesn’t seem like it to me, since I’ve been spending other people’s money for the last four years, I’ve been reliably informed that £15 is a lot of money (it’s actually £20 because they add VAT when you pay).

It reminds me of people complaining about journalism being only open to those of sufficient economic means because poor people were priced out of the unpaid internships that were required for students to become professionals. I don’t want to go on a rant about the disproportionate representation of certain demographics in the design industry, but when I look at the faces on my design course, both at the students and staff, and of all of the professionals we’ve had speak to us over the years, I see it wouldn’t be difficult to if I wanted. And you thought I was here to talk about cartoon cats. Lol, joke’s on you.


Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Final Outcome: Page 3

Final page of my poster comic

The final page was always going to be the hardest. Not only did I have to bring the story to a powerful conclusion, emphasising my message, but it needed to be somehow better than the previous two pages, to simulate growth and success. I toyed with various ways of going about achieving this. One idea was to simply pencil the first page, ink the second and have the third be full-colour. Another idea was to have the first page be simplistic, either in terms of complexity of line work or in terms of composition. The third page, yet again, would show dramatic improvement. I decided to do the first two pages in black-and-white and have the artwork be the only thing in colour. The significance is obvious, I’m sure, but all of these ideas share the same problem: the first page effectively has to be worse. This wouldn’t be a problem if I had enough skill to do one element well, say, the pencil work, but, I’m sort of making all of this up as I go.Ironically, when I look at the first page, I feel like it’s the best. I think I just like that tie the doctor’s wearing.

I’ve definitely enjoyed my time doing this brief. Making a comic book well requires and understanding several different forms of perspective, architecture, anatomy, body language and all sorts of other things. Not to mention the technical skills required to render all of those things in the style most befitting the subject. I have a lot to learn about every element and every stage of the process.

Over the three pages, there is a sort of grid system going on: main character in the top left, what he should do next, top right, and how it turns out, as big image for the rest of the page. It is representative of the trial and error nature of the main character’s actions and how he ends up back where he started. Graphic design is as much a part of making comics as illustration is. It’s goes to show there are many ways to make your point and good design is about combining the obvious with the subtle, sort of like a magician and slight of hand.

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Final Outcome: Page 2

Second page of my poster comic

My police-pigs are not meant as an overtly political jibe at the police, merely an obvious joke in keeping with long-standing tradition. Actually, I’m not sure there’s a difference. Unfortunately, right before the deadline for the competition, a police officer was killed in the terrorist attack at Westminster. And while my little joke is surely harmless enough, a designer should always be aware of the context surrounding the work they produce. I toyed with the idea of simply not entering the competition for fear of potential backlash, but ultimately decided to enter.

The brief explicitly said not to use words, and I have used them on both the first and second page. I don’t think I give the game away by having a police van that says ‘police’ and the ‘no beds’ joke, is a joke.   the designer conforms to the brief where it is necessary, but bends the rules to enhance the end result. The hard earned wisdom, I believe, is entirely inferred through the imagery.

I spent much of my development process trying to create my characters, but on both this page and the first, the landscape did need to be considered. You can tell the rabbit, fox and mole are being addressed at the side of the road from the van being parked and the pavement nearby, but I found I couldn’t just leave the ground they’re actually standing on blank and white. I added wavy lines to simulate texture. It goes back to my earlier attempts to ensure that white space was about the composition of the images and not indicative of incompletion of the images.

I’ve always wanted to make contemporary statements through illustration like David Foldvari and all the caricaturists and the like who’ve worked for things like Punch Magazine or Mad Magazine. I feel like the work I want to make should contain elements of wit, parody or satire, humour and just a touch of class. Showing the police as aggressive, domineering bullies is not going to set the world on fire any more than it’s going to surprise anyone, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Final Outcome: Page 1

The first page of my three page poster comic.

Once I figured out where everything should go, it’s became an issue of how to render it well. It’s a very difficult thing to tell a story with no words. And looking at the first page, you really do have to hit the ground running. I think I did a decent job of filling the white space with details that enhance the scenes. I did cheat a little and use crosshatching to create a sense of texture in the first and last panel, but I’ve seen it done in the comic book industry, so it’s only adds to my sense of professional conduct.

The bottom panel has the main character’s hair extend out of the panel. This is a technique regularly employed in comic books, usually to enhance some sort of action scene by having the characters come out of the panel and towards the reader, like some sort of bar-room brawl. Even though I don’t use it for that purpose, I am very much using the vernacular of comic books yet again.

One thing I picked up from Blacksad was how to put animals in human clothes. The way the fur goes over the collar of the dog doctor, I owe entirely to Juanjo Guarnido. I think you can tell its hospital, but more research and development would’ve been nice. The incidental characters definitely help. I’m encouraged that, with enough time and dedication, I will be able to achieve a level of skill and competence to become a full time comic book artist. 

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Development: Third page

Semiotics are an important part of conveying information implicitly. The abstract art, clothing and the like imply a relationship with Picasso and also imply our cat friend may become just as culturally significant.

As stated previously, trying to simulate a Picasso, albeit only arbitrarily, is a tall order. I experimented with different colours and different compositions, and of course, forgot to make save states or take screenshots of those things. The thing with working digitally, is that it is very fluid. Every decision you make can be unmade. And not covered up, like old comic book artists had to do with white-out if they made a mistake. I mean undone. It’s as quick and simple and simply pushing a button, because that’s exactly what you do. I’ve never manage to train myself to capture all of these variations, successful and unsuccessful, as I do them.

The pictures in the background hint at events and characters that could be expanded upon if I ever revisit the cast. World building is an important part of story telling.

The irony of this is that in the real-world, the people who give you your briefs will have no interest in how you get to the end result. However, watching the processes used to reach that end result is fascinating, both to those who wish to emulate, and those who simply want to know what the trick is. Like I said, ironic.

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Development: Second page

Figuring out where people go. Sometimes you need to leave yourself notes

It’s around this time I inadvertently start increasing the line weights on all the characters. I still haven’t figured out the preferred method for producing clean, fluid, black lines of appropriate weight in my digital work. The best I can manage is to, not unlike sculpture, put down many black lines, knowing one of them is the right one, and then erasing all the other ones to end up with the one I want.

The new standard of thicker line weight starts to emerge

This is the tightest I’ve ever managed to get these lines to date. It still feels like an unnecessarily labour-intensive approach. I am aware Adobe Illustrator has tools that allow graceful, weighted illustrative line work, but one must sacrifice a certain amount of control in where the line goes, and what it looks like.

 It would take a great deal of experimentation across a great deal of different mediums, both digital and analogue, before I have closure on this issue. I also expect it will be temporary closure. I will no doubt, come across something new that will become my new favourite thing, like my Pentel brush-pen for instance.

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Development: First Page

Using the layers function in photoshop and different colours to try and figure out where everything should go

This is the first page of my three-page poster series. The most important thing when trying to create a realistic looking interior or exterior building space is perspective. And while it’s not the most interesting thing to be looking at, the placement of the ceiling lights, not so much adds to the image, but poor placement does detract from it.

Trying to simulate one point perspective using the ceiling lights. Difficult stuff

It’s around this time that I remember that I’m not particularly good at tight illustration. It occurs to me that the best way to balance out my lack of quality is by increasing the quantity of illustration per panel. Pictures on the wall, signage in the hospital, incidental characters going about their business, all of these add depth.

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Development: sketchbook

Some early ideas I didn’t use and the genesis of the one I did

Here are some sketchbook pages of me trying to figure out the ins and outs of drawing anthropomorphic characters. Some images are directly referenced from Juanjo Guarnido, artist of Blacksad, others are me trying to internalise what he does. I suspect I’ll be drawing anthropomorphic people for some time to come, since my YouTube channel art is an anthropomorphic mountain lion cowboy called Colt Cougar (best sentence ever). It’s great to do something that will definitely feed into what I do in the future.

Bit of Blacksad copying and trying to work out my own style

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Research: Picasso

Example of Picasso’s work. A cautionary tale of using google images to find stuff. Now I can’t reference it properly!

Keeping with the notion of the visual metaphor, the idea occurred to me that the only thing that should be in colour should be the artwork the main character produces at the end, to emphasise its significance in his life, and as the message of my poster series. In refusing to enforce the law or to help propagate the species, it seemed only natural our artist would be somewhat avant-garde. And who is more avant-garde than Picasso? Don’t answer that. Comic books are all about clarity, and by linking my character to one of the most famous artists ever, it should ensure that my message is received with no confusion. To that effect, I put my protagonist in Picasso’s famous striped shirt and had him paint the portrait of his parents in some sort of abstract manner.

Pablo Picasso in that striped t shirt of his.

Picasso spent decades trying to recapture a child-like approach to art. Attempting to mimic him for my final panel was rather difficult. I had a look at a few of his abstract paintings to get a sense of what colours and shapes he tended to use, but honestly, as long as you can see both eyes on the same plane of the face, with the nose were the ear should be, you can probably figure out what it is I’m trying to do.

Design Competition: D&AD New Blood Awards: Research: Hospitals, police uniform, etc

Example of hospital reception area

One of the joys and challenges of being an illustrator, and specifically a comic book artist, (or storyboard artist or whatever) is that you will regularly be asked to draw things you haven’t drawn before. The only way for me to depict a hospital is to look at real hospitals. The only way you can tell my pigs are the police, is if they are wearing a uniform that looks like an authentic police uniform. I had a notion that the main character’s parents would be some sort of typical 1950s American family, so that would need me to ensure their clothes and hairstyles matched the time period I was seeking to emulate, even if only vaguely.

British police uniform

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people say ‘the devil is in the details’. I also think I’ve heard people say ‘God is in the details’. Either way, just like trying to capture someone’s likeness in an illustration, it’s the little things that matter. Where the pockets are on a doctors jacket, The shape of the colour, the cut of trousers from the 1950s, hairstyles, obviously.

Example of hospital signage

Whether hospitals actively display clocks on their wards, or if there is a particular reason they don’t. Research is great, because it’s learning. And you know what they say about knowledge? Its power. And I don’t know about you, but like Virgil from Devil May cry 3, ‘I need more power’.