Welcome to the 3rd edition of Tools & Techniques of the Comic Book Artist. This time around we talk with small press artist MARCEL L. WALKER. Marcel's work might not be known much outside the Pittsburgh, PA area, but he's hoping to change that very soon with his upcoming comic series HERO CORP. set to be released this fall.
(Marcel looking triumphant at this years Pittsburgh Comicon)So Marcel to begin what tools do you use in creating your comic book art (example: Pens, brushes, pencils, PhotoShop etc.)?
I consider myself a mixed-media graphic-prose artist. My comics-related work typically follows a path of pencils/ink/PhotoShop/Illustrator. I'm fond of technical pencils, but no specific brand. I use a medium-to-hard lead, HB to 2H.
Most of my inking is done with a brush, although I keep a number of other tools available (particularly technical pens and lately brush pens). Again, no specific brand. I work with natural-fiber brushes, usually Number 2 for most linework, and go thicker (for spotting large areas of black or bold lines) or thinner (for details) throughout. I still keep my quill pens around too -- I don't do much fine cross-hatching, but one never knows when the urge will strike!
I use PhotoShop for cleaning up my inked art, and Illustrator for lettering. (I’ve found that the font LETTER-O-MATIC most closely resembles my own lettering style.)Where do you purchase your tools? And do you have any recommended stores for artists to shop at?
I make a habit of visiting my local art stores whenever I get the chance, even when I don't specifically need anything. (I also like to pay attention to what other artists are using at conventions and such, and ask where they got them.) Here in Pittsburgh, I gravitate primarily toward Utrecht Art Supplies, and Top Notch.
I have ordered certain art supplies (like Faber Castell brush markers) online in bulk. I try to do that with anything I think might get discontinued, or be difficult to find when I need it. I shop around for price discounts, so I don’t have a specific site I’d recommend.(Faber Castell Brush Pens - Don't worry they come in black too)
I tend to keep a lot of art supplies on hand and in storage. I’m of the opinion that you never know when something may come in handy, so I rarely throw extra stuff away – I just get better at organizing it all!What kind of paper do you use, or are you a digital guy?
I still currently do 90% of my base art on paper. I work up sketches on regular 24# paper, and use medium-finish 80# white cardstock for more formal work.
For certain pieces, I have worked entirely digital in PhotoShop. This work is usually not as smooth-looking as my traditional artwork, and is currently reserved for experimental pieces or sketches. I am honing my skills in this area, though.At what size do you do your original art?
Most of my comics art is drawn at 11" x 17", or a smaller, proportional size. (5.5" x 8.5" is a favorite.)What is your method or process for creating your original comic book art? (ex. thumbs, roughs, inks? Or straight to finishes?)
I’ve found that working loosely initially helps maintain the energy of a concept. Beyond that, I tend to be very methodical: For my most current project, I threw an eight-foot scroll of white paper on the floor, took a black Sharpie marker to it and spent a weekend loosely sketching out 24 pages of my story.
I bounced all over the place, sometimes going on tangents to write dialogue, or random character sketches, or whatever else I had an idea for elaborating on. Very stream-of-consciousness-like, and it was a lot of fun.
Then I spent roughly a week and a half tightening up those page layouts.
I did this working in pencil on cards measuring 2.75” x 4.25”, which
are proportional to 11” x 17” pages. I sweat the details, so a LOT of
what we’ll see in the final pages is conceived here, including word
balloon placement and text. Some of the Sharpie sketches are reworked,
or discarded completely at this stage. It also gives me a solid idea of
how the final narrative will flow. Each card took me roughly an hour to
The cards are then scanned, darkened, saved as a PDF file and printed
out enlarged to 11” x 17” on regular paper. This is to be lightboxed
onto the final paper, and then fully embellished in pencil.
I always, always, ALWAYS make nice clean & dark copies of my pencil artwork at this stage. I can’t stress enough how IMPORTANT this is. Beyond having some type of archive of your pencil artwork, you always want to avoid having to do any of this work over again. Trust me!
Then I ink my artwork in full, primarily with a brush, and using a pen for details and process white for corrections and highlights; then I erase any remaining pencils before scanning the artwork in and cleaning it up.
I import the artwork into Illustrator, and add lettering, with a few exceptions that are hand-lettered.Any out-of-the-ordinary tricks or methods you employ in creating your work? Something you think no one else does?
Actually, I like to think I’ve gleaned some of the best working methods from some stellar pros over the years. I could tell you specific things I learned directly from professionals like Don Simpson, Ron Frenz, Pat Oliffe, Marshall Rogers
and others. I also was pleasantly surprised to discover that Alex Ross
– whose talent I greatly admire – works up his thumbnail sketches in much the same size, detail and format that I do.
As far as technique goes, amalgamation is my innovation.Is there a specific time of the day you like to work? Or when do you get the most work done?
I most prefer to get an early start. If I can be at the drawing board by 7:30AM, I’m a happy guy.Originally how did you learn to do comics? Self-taught? Or schooling?
My father was a very talented visual artist, who never pursued it as a
career. He would buy me comic books when I was little (four or five
years old), I would read them, and then ask him to re-draw my favorite
panels of artwork. Typically he would comply, until one day he was tired
or preoccupied and suggested I re-draw the images myself…which had
never occurred to me!
I never asked him again. True story.
I mostly taught myself to draw over the years, although one of my cousins – Nathaniel “Brother” Alexander – was very influential. I attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh from 1988-89, where I met Don Simpson (Megaton Man, DON SIMPSON’S BZARRE HEROES, KING KONG). He invited me to his studio where I learned more (specifically about inking) in one afternoon than I had for YEARS before.
After that, it came down to practicing and observing. I also taught comic-book art classes at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts for six years, which was a great learning experience for me. If you ever REALLY want to learn about a subject, try teaching it!Finally, where can someone see more of your work?
Up ‘til now, my most widely celebrated project was my self-published comic-book SMOKING GUNS from ’98. My website RICOCHETGRAPHICS.COM
is mostly dedicated to this (but expect updates). I also participated in a regional jam comic called NORTH last year, celebrating Pittsburgh’s North Side in conjunction with Pittsburgh’s TOONSEUM
My current project (the one requiring the scroll!) is my first official foray into super-heroes: M.L. Walker’s HERO CORP.
It is in production, and the first issue is slated to be available locally in mid-October. It will debut at a new local comic-art convention, P.I.X.
(Pittsburgh Independent eXpo), and you can follow the fun on facebook. (Search for H.C.I. by name!)