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Research Part Four

I’ve just completed the artwork for the inaugural Free Comic Book Day issue of Transformers vs. G.I.Joe. I want nothing more than to share it with the world immediately, but it’s not a webcomic, at least not yet. What I can share are the notes and sketches I did in preparation for working on this series.

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Below is what I thought was an original observation, that when turned upside-down the Autobot symbol bears a passing resemblance to Darth Vader or KISS’s Peter Criss. A quick search revealed that lots of people have made the same observation.

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I’ve been turning the G.I. Joe Public Service tagline “knowing is half the battle” around in my head, taking it apart, shuffling it around. As a child, I found those segments preachy and off-putting, but now I find that tagline to be rather profound and has different associations in this information-based economy we find ourselves in. It could be a key element to figuring out how to make this story into something transcendent.

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As the 80’s turned into the 90’s the line of toys got stranger. They stopped making new episodes around this time, so I’ll never know if I stopped following it because I outgrew it or because the ongoing story of the Autobots and Decepticons ended. I liked the way the series jumped from a present day continuity to the year 2005. Had the TV series continued I would’ve enjoyed following the story of mankind’s relationship with living alien robots as it hurtled further and further into the deep future.

I don’t know if these characters from the weird fringes of ┬áthe Transformers mythology will find their way into the story, but it’s good to know the lay of the land. These things must be handled carefully, but I think it’s healthy for an imaginary universe to have as broad a range as possible, where anything can happen. What’s the point of a make-believe world incapable of genuine surprise?

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I remember a toy, a set of plastic armor that allowed you to become an Autobot. I’m considering using that design as the basis for a cybernetic armor worn by Autobot-allied humans in the story. Although it’s not the driving force of the project, some of the appeal for me is linking it to the parts of these mythologies that resonated with me as a child, and in a way continue to resonate with me. There’s a generational aspect to these things. There was a generation that really basked in the glow of Marvel superheroes and created compelling second-generation work with those characters that someone from the generation before and after would be incapable of for the reason that these characters did not resonate with them in the same way. I feel like something similar is happening with this project. I was 8 when these characters, toys and cartoons were new. They were of the moment, but as far as I knew, they could’ve been around for a thousand years.

 

Transformers vs. G.I.Joe Research: Part Two

Here are some more sketches made during the research phase for Transformers vs. G.I.Joe. At this point in the process I’m riffing on the source material, getting a feel for the characters and generating the earliest bits and pieces of story elements.

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There are lots of different ways to draw Duke.

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The character with the beard is Mercer, the ex-Cobra-Viper who was one of Sgt. Slaughter’s Marauders. If you’ve seen the cover art to the Transformers vs. G.I.Joe Free Comic Book Day issue, you’ll see that the M.A.C. helicopter backpack made it in to the actual comic.

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Since there are comparatively few female Transformers, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about all of them.

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The “Peace Thru War” poster is from G.I. Joe #3. The two drawings on the right are riffs based on images in Jack Kirby’s 2001 #5, a comic that’s haunted me since I first discovered it at a flea market in the early 90’s.

Free Comic Book Day Gold: Transformers vs. G.I.Joe

It’s just been announced, the Free Comic Book Day Gold Comic from IDW will by Transformers vs. G.I.Joe by me and John Barber. We just turned in our script for this issue, and it is hands-down the best thing I’ve ever worked on. I wrote a little bit about the research process at ComicsAlliance. Here’s the cover art:

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Initially Ed Piskor and I hatched a plan to create an unofficial crossover with our Free Comic Book Day books. We were both going to use a layout that pays homage to Marvel’s 25th Anniversary covers.

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Here’s Ed’s HHFT Free Comic Book Day cover for Fantagraphics (minus the surprise reveal of the issue’s star):

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Here’s my initial layout for the Transformers vs. G.I.Joe Free Comic Book Day issue:

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I think the end result would’ve been great, but to be honest, as an image, I just wasn’t feeling it. I liked the prankish aspects of us doing an unofficial crossover. I thought it was something that could be highly promotable, the idea of two friends creating an unofficial crossover between their FCBD books. I lament the missed opportunity for those reasons. But as iconic as it is, I’ve just never been a big fan of that Marvel 25th Anniversary layout.

For a comic about Hip Hop, the idea of using a classic superhero layout like this is genius, real outside-the-box thinking, which perfectly fits Piskor’s “Hip Hop as Superheroes” thesis. For a Transformers vs. G.I.Joe comic, where this layout has been used before more than once, it seemed like it would be a bit obvious. These are the difficult decisions an artist has to make. This isn’t your father’s Transformers/G.I. Joe comic. I wanted to show a real break from what’s come before with Transformers and G.I. Joe, the start of a new era that reflects my aesthetic, my strengths as an artist.

Something immediate. Something you’ve never seen before. Something like this:

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With a layout I was happy with, I went about penciling:

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Then inking and texturing:

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Then color (with the assistance of the great Josh Burcham):

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So that’s the long and winding road to a comic book cover.

Retailers, order a ton of IDW’s Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Free Comic Book Day Gold Comic. Watch everybody come back a month later to buy issue one.

Comics Fans, ask your retailer to order a bunch of these so you’ll get your copy.

Transformers vs. G.I.Joe Studies 1

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Here’s some sketches I’ve been doing in preparation for the upcoming Transformers vs. G.I.Joe. There are two whole universes of characters and concepts that I’ve been acquainting myself with over the last few months.

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That means a lot of reading, cartoon-viewing, sketching and writing. The goal is to immerse myself so fully in these worlds that the characters become as real to me as anybody I know.

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I want to be so well-versed in this body of knowledge that if I need to know what Megatron had for breakfast this morning, I’d have an answer ready to go.

THE FINAL ISSUE OF GODLAND IS HERE NOW!!! (Next Wednesday for Everybody Else)

My box of Godland Finales.

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It’s the culmination of almost ten years worth of hard work. This is a nice moment.

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Five copies of Godland Finale, when lain side-by-side, form a Decuple-Page Spread. If Jack Kirby didn’t invent the Double-Page Spread, he at least perfected it in every imaginable way. Jim Steranko later resurrected and amplified the Kirbyesque Double-Spread, before creating the Quadruple-Page Spread, which necessitated the purchase of 2 copies of Strange Tales to view it. Frank Miller and Jim Lee did a Sextuple-Page Spread in All-Star Batman and Robin, which actually folded out, so you only had to buy one copy. Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III took it as far as you can with the finale to Promethea which, when liberated of its staples, unfolded into a giant double-sided continuous image poster. The next step would be a graphic novel that, when you break its spine, unfolds into a giant continuous-image quilt.

Transformers/Joe Test

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What kind of paper to use for the Transformers/Joe comic? I like the softer line and blending of colors that occurs on a course uncoated stock, like American Barbarian was printed on. Glossy bright white paper is the default setting for comic books. For years I bristled against it, but now I know how to use it to my advantage. Glossy stock, because of the way the ink sits on top of the page, allows for a fuller range of colors.

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Here’s a test page I drew. This is not an actual story moment from TF/Joe. It was a test page, to work out the scale, the way these characters might move and interact, and get some practice drawing the characters and working out the kinks before I settle on a final approach to the art. It was also a chance to test out some possible ways of coloring the book. Most importantly, I’ve been spending so much time in the writing phase, I needed to take a break and draw something, even if it isn’t part of the actual book itself.

Here’s a closer look showing some of the detail:

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With American Barbarian, in terms of color, I went for a nostalgic approach, but with a few flourishes. I chose a palette for the line and color that was different from the actual palette in an old comic, but hit notes that I felt captured the spirit, but in a more aesthetically pleasing way. With Satan’s Soldier I went for a more intense, saturated, eye-melting approach to color.

This image printed on glossy paper would have the visual noise that makes old comics so pleasing, but also the full range of intense colors that buzz in the eye.

With this test page, I feel like I brought lessons learned from each approach. I’d like to push this line of inquiry further in subsequent tests.