Monday, December 23, 2013

Dr. Killdeath & Count Gothula's Venomous Christmas: Behind The Scenes

Now that my 2013 Christmas Card Slash Book is finally finished, I thought I'd post a behind the scenes look at how I made it for the three or four people out there who may be interested in long-winded explanations of mildly interesting topics.

This year's card is kind of an homage to Classic Looney Tunes-- you know, the kind where the characters spend the entire cartoon trying to kill one another. No lesson. Nor moral. Just outright fun and mayhem. I thought such a story would be infinitely preferable to the usual "Timmy Learned That The Most Important Thing Is To Always Be Yourself" lesson that infests most modern kid's books.

Like every year, I honestly wasn't sure it would be done in time for Christmas. Christmas 2013, that is. It was touch and go there for a while. Every page took way longer to draw than I expected, my annual computer problems cropped up, and even the weather threatened to shut down the project.  

But I digress. You're here to get a behind the scenes look at the process, right?

I drew the cover pretty late into the project, like I usually do. Not a fan of making covers. I usually don't have much trouble laying out interior pages, but for some reason covers always flummox me. I think it's because they need to encapsulate the story in a single image and grab your attention at the same time. That ain't always easy.

I chose to encapsulate this story in a single image by showing the two main characters pretending to be civil while secretly plotting to kill each other.

The logo turned out better than last year's, I think. The text was all hand lettered. Why type out a title in a pre-existing font when I can painstakingly draw it by hand? The skull & crossbones wreath and the skull-flakes were last minute ideas. Not a fan of the skull's teeth. I messed with them for a long time and finally had to move on before they caused me to miss the Christmas deadline.

You may have noticed that the pages of all my books slash cards are very rectangular, while real Little Golden Books tend to be more square in shape. The reason for the rectangularness? Because the printer on which I used to output the books could only fold and staple letter sized paper.

The end papers and back cover are the same ones I've used every year since 2009. Why reinvent the wheel if I don't have to?

Whenever I do one of these card slash books I always map out all the pages to help me keep track of them. Usually they're a bit more detailed than this year's. This one was on a letter sized sheet of paper and the page sketches were so small I could barely see them without my glasses. Surprisingly it worked though.

This year's card slash book ended up being a whopping 28 pages, almost twice as long as previous ones. Due to the way books are made, page counts always have to be multiples of four. Early on in the project I planned on drawing 32 or possibly even 36 pages, but I managed to compress some things and whittle it down to a more manageable (barely) 28.

The title page features pretty much the same image as the cover, and yet not. The logo was easy to turn into a duotone (that means two colors for you non-art majors), but the figures had to be completely redrawn. Why? Because they're "painted" on the cover-- they're solid shapes with no outlines. On this page they're drawn and then colored in, much like a comic book.

I knew this establishing shot was gonna be a pain (and I was right), so I saved it for nearly last. Eventually the day came when I had to finally deal with it.

Count Gothula's castle went through many, many, MANY versions. Trust me, there were even more sketches than you see here. Should it look like a real castle? It's a kid's book, so it should probably look whimsical. Should it have a face? Would a face be too much? It was a long time before I finally settled on a design I could live with.

The castle is of course an homage to He-Man's Castle Greyskull. Speaking of which, one thing I've always wondered-- He-Man was the good guy, right? So why'd he live in Castle GRAYSKULL? A castle shaped like a damn skull! Wouldn't it make more sense if he lived in Castle Broadshoudlers or Castle FirmHandShake? But I digress.

Dr. Killdeath's lab went through almost as many variations. It's inspired by the Googie architecture movement. Googie, not Google. You know, 1950s jet-age stuff. If I ever get the chance to design my own house it would look much like this one.

Our first look at Count Gothula!

I first drew both the Count and the Doctor wayyyy back in 2009. I'd always wanted to do something with one or both of the characters, but just never got around to it. When I decided to use them in this year's card, I dusted them off and took a good look at them.

The Doctor looked OK, but I realized the Count needed a major overhaul. That's the original version of him on the left. He wasn't a very well designed character, as he only looked good from one angle-- the front. Any time I needed to draw him from the side or have him actually do something other than stand motionless, he just didn't work.

Here's a page of sketches in which you can see me trying to get the old design to work. His face and clothing were just impossible to work with.

So I decided to totally rework him. The first thing I did was get rid of the fussy, curly Tim Burton-esque collar. Yeah, it looked kind of cool, but it was very difficult to draw, especially in any kind of action pose. His face got a major overhaul as well.

I also took this opportunity to add some color to the count. The original version was dressed completely in black, and was frankly a little bland. The blood red collar added some much needed visual interest to the character.

I made him a bit wider and more squat as well, so he'd fit in better with Dr. Killdeath, and look like they both belonged in the same world. All in all I was much happier with the Count once I'd completely redesigned him from scratch.

This was my original sketch for the Count Gothula introduction page. As you can see, it's quite a bit different from the finished product. Originally I wanted it to look like Ned Stark sitting on the Iron Throne from the first season of Game Of Thrones. Why? I dunno. I just thought it would make for a striking image.

I tried and tried for days to make it work, with no success. For one thing I couldn't get his pose down right. And then because I wanted the throne to be ridiculously tall, that meant the Count would end up so small you'd barely be able to see him. This was supposed to be our first look at him, so that was no good.

In the end I realized that when a page gives you that much trouble, it means it's just not a good idea, so I changed it. The new layout works much better. We get to see the Count close up, and see him in action as well as he demonstrates his magical powers. I'm glad I changed it.

The Count and Doctor's respective minions were pretty easy to design. They're both homages to the little light bulb-headed sidekick of Gyro Gearloose in Walt Disney Comics. 

They're there for comedy relief of course, but also to fill up space. Let's face it, the two main characters are really short, so there was always a ton of dead space above their heads. I needed something to fill up all that space, so the flying minions were born. I learned that trick from Shag (one of my favorite artists) who often sticks a white or black cat into his paintings to fill up dead space.

The glowing, floating eyeballs the Count is conjuring up are a shout out to Ka-Bala, The Mysterious Game That Foretells The Future. I remember seeing comic book ads for this game when I was a kid, and I wanted one so bad I couldn't stand it. Never got it. Thanks a lot, Santa.

Unfortunately when I was looking up reference for the game, I saw that I'd forgotten that the Mystic Eyeball was black. I was afraid if I made my floating eyeballs black that readers might think they were eight balls, so I reluctantly had to made them white. Oh well.

If you look closely you'll see the bat is holding a copy of the Necronomicon from the original Evil Dead movie. Where's Ash when you need him? Also I just realized I forgot to draw page lines on the sides of the book, so it looks like one big slab. Poop!

Our first look at Doctor Killdeath! This was the first page I worked on, and coincidentally also the last.

It took for-freakin' ever to draw this page, no doubt because it was the first. It always takes a long time to draw a character at the beginning of a project. As you go along though they usually take less time as you figure out better and quicker ways to draw them. I bet I worked on this page for a solid week. I hoped the rest of the pages wouldn't take as long, or I was gonna be in deep trouble.

I have a confession to make— I hate drawing brains. I tend to draw a lot of characters with exposed brains and I hate drawing them every time. For some reason I have a hard time drawing all those fiddly little folds, which of course are the thing that makes a brain look like a brain.

So once I drew the Doctor's brain on this page, I took advantage of Photoshop and just cut and pasted it. Yep, Dr. Killdeath has the exact same brain on every page! Thank you, Photoshop!

Observant readers may have noticed that all through the book Count Gothula always faces right, while Dr. Killdeath always faces left. Also the Count's pages always feature blue or green backgrounds, while the Doctor's are yellow, orange and brown. I did this purposely as sort of a visual shorthand; like a subconscious identity marker. Think of it as the visual equivalent of leitmotif.

If you'll look at the sketch above you'll see that unfortunately I drew this page before I'd decided on that idea, so the Doctor was facing right. D'oh! I used Photoshop to flop the image and make him face left, like he's supposed to. As I was giving all the pages a final once-over before posting them, I suddenly realized the Doctor's exposed brain was on the wrong side of his head! Whoops! So I had to quickly correct that grievous error, as well as move his jacket flap and buttons to the proper side too.

Note the large floor-to-ceiling window in the background, a feature you can see in the establishing shot of the Doctor's lab.

Lastly, based on the book on his desk (which looks a lot like my kitchen table) it looks like the Doctor is a fan of Da Vinci.

More cool 1950s architecture and decor!

The Doctor's brain wasn't the only thing I reused throughout the book. I first drew the robotic minion on Page 6. I started to draw him again on this page, and realized that because he's basically just a ball, he was going to look pretty much the same on every page. Why go to all the trouble of redrawing the same basic image over and over? So I used Photoshop to clone him. Every time you see the robotic minion, he's the same piece of art with a few minor adjustments.

There's a lot of depth in this illustration—  the background, the mountains outside the window, and even the sun.

When I first started drawing these characters I had a lot of trouble getting them to look right from different angles. I could draw the Count and the Doctor's heads from the front with no problem, but when I had to draw them from the side... yeesh. They looked awful. 

I finally gave up for the night and went to bed. I leafed through a book of Dennis The Menace comics before I went to sleep, drawn by the amazing Hank Ketcham. I love Ketcham's artwork-- he could cram so much detail in a panel with the bare minimum of lines.

As I read the book I noticed that Dennis' head looked perfect from every angle. How the hell did Ketcham accomplish that? After studying his art further I realized Dennis' head was the same shape no matter what direction he was facing. That's it! That was the answer! Thanks for the art lesson, Hank Ketcham!

It's too small to read so you'll have to take my word for it-- There's a subscription label on the Doctor's magazine, and his name is misspelled on it. Something that'll be familiar to anyone who's ever subscribed to a publication. Attention to detail!

And yes, Count Gothula's interview in Evil Genius Monthly is a parody of Ellen DeGeneres' "Yep, I'm Gay" TIME magazine cover from 1997. Timely!

Another page with a long and twisted history. Because I don't draw the pages in order, I drew this closeup of the Count's castle way before I drew the establishing shot on Page 4. In fact I drew it before I'd even locked down a final castle design. When I did finally get around to drawing the full castle, it didn't look ANYTHING like it did here. So I had to go back to this drawing and totally redo the background (I'm beginning to realize why this project took four months!). 

Actually I'm glad this happened, because trust me, this page looks about ten times better than the original version.

The doorknob and bat knocker were last minute additions, because I thought the door looked too bare.

I like the "acting" on this page if I do say so myself. I try to always have my characters-- even the ones in the background-- doing some kind of little "bit" instead of just standing there motionless. It makes for a more interesting page and makes them seem like real people who are thinking and reacting to what's happening.

So who's this Professor Flytrap mentioned in the text? He's another little mad scientist character I drew a while back who's similar to the Count and the Doctor. I briefly considered making him part of the story too, but it was already complicated enough without adding a third character. So instead he has to settle for just a shout out in the dialog.

Lastly, I discovered that drawing realistic gift bows is really hard too, so once again-- every bow in the book is the exact same piece of art. I changed the color of it as needed with Photoshop.

This was the first of the "gift attack" pages I worked on, and like many others it went through a bunch of changes. First of all I drew it before I decided on the "Count Right-Doctor Left" thing, so the Count was facing the wrong way and I had to flop the page after it was drawn. Then originally the Count was just kind of standing there, mildly reacting to the situation. I decided that was pretty meh. I mean there's a freakin' tornado in his house! He should be flying violently through the air, right? So I redrew him in a more buffeted pose.

Because I drew these pages out of order, I was afraid I'd lose track of the color of the gift boxes and draw three red ones in a row or something like that. So I actually made up a chart to keep track of all the gift boxes I used on each page-- the size, shape and color of the wrapping paper and bows-- so I wouldn't use a particular color too often. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking— "Bob's got Aspergers!"

This was kind of an odd page. I drew the Doctor, his minion and the gift and then... sort of stopped. For some reason I started on another page before finishing this one. Several months later when I was wrapping up everything I realized it was still unfinished and had to hurriedly add the house, the Count, the bat and the background.

And yes, the gift tag actually says "To Doctor Killdeath." Details!

This was a bear of a page, if you'll permit me a bad pun. I knew it would be, what with all those tentacles flailing around everywhere, and I was right. I redrew all eight of 'em many, many times until they filled the space properly and I thought they looked right.

The Doctor's in pretty bad shape here— he's being squeezed so hard his face is turning red, and his brain even popped out! Ouch!

One thing I wanted to do on these "attack" pages was show that the characters were actually getting hurt. In fact I wanted them to suffer accumulated damage. If Dr. Killdeath got a scar on this page, then I wanted it to be there on every subsequent page.

Because I was doing the pages out of order it would have been a nightmare to keep track of all that, so I decided to just draw the characters "clean" and then once I was done, go back in and start adding the damage. Obviously that didn't happen. There are two reasons why. A, I ran out of time, and B, I decided it was more in keeping with Classic Looney Tunes style cartoons (which I tried to channel here) for the characters to be grievously injured on one page, only to be back to normal on the next.

I tried to show that the robot minion was extremely upset here by giving his electronic eyeball a red "danger" display. It's tough to show expressions on one-eyed characters. I did the best I could to give him emotions and expressions, but I'm not sure I was totally successful.

I don't have a lot to say about this page. Wasn't sure how far to go with the burning here. How do you draw someone's eyes melting and make it seem funny and not horrifying? I fiddled with the background color quite a bit before settling on a bluish green.

Com-O-Dee from the bat minion! His future's so bright he has to wear shades!

As for the gift, would you believe I actually researched wrapping paper patterns? You think you know what wrapping paper looks like until you sit down to draw some, and then you can't remember any patterns.

You might notice that the backgrounds on these attack pages are pretty simple; almost nonexistent. That was intentional. The backgrounds in the first couple of pages are fairly detailed to help establish the environments. Once they're firmly established you don't have to repeat them every time— your eye kind of fills in the fact that that blank wall is Doctor Killdeath's lab.

Also there was so much going on in the attack pages that a detailed background would have been too much.

Note that the robot minion can produce hands when he needs them!

I like this page (if I do say so myself), even though it's kind of confusing. The Giant Robot has supposedly just sprang out of the red gift box. I should have put his right foot inside the box to make that more obvious. 

Also, it looks like the Robot crashed through the wall of the Count's castle. So I guess the box is really on the other side of the wall? Outside? Or maybe they were inside and the Robot is carrying them outside. I honestly never thought about what was going on here until now. Whoops!

Apparently the Count and the Doctor have discovered Time Lord technology, because their gift boxes are obviously bigger on the inside than the outside.

As the text points out, the Giant Robot looks like Dr. Killdeath. Note the clear brain globe with electricity sparking inside. The "K1" on the Giant Robot's shoulder is for Killdeath, natch.

Also note that in the sketch the Giant Robot was originally standing with both legs planted firmly on the floor. Boring! You can see I added a smaller sketch below showing him in a bit more of a dynamic pose.

More wrapping paper patterns, and another tiny gift tag!

Now that I step back and look at it, this page is probably a bit too crowded. Too late to change it now! It was fun to draw though.

Note that the Zombie Monkey on the right side of the page is squeezing the Doctor's head so hard he's cracking the glass. Unfortunately I don't think the white lines read very well as cracks. It looks more like electricity inside his head, much like in the Giant Robot.

Sometimes I like to tilt the image to give it more energy and visual interest.

This is another page that changed quite a bit from the preliminary sketch. As you can see, originally it was going to be a swarm of mechanical hornets or wasps that attacked the Count.

Then it became a CyberShark, complete with bionic arms. Then it went back to hornets for a while, then finally settled on CyberWeasels.

The CyberWeasels were originally going to be much more complicated, with metal implants all over their faces and bodies. In the end I decided simpler was better and just give them cybernetic eyes and arms.

And yes, the line about the weasels' ripping the Count's flesh is a shout out to the album by Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention, which was itself a shout out to an old Man's Life magazine, thrown in to amuse myself during the long hours I worked on this thing.

The Soul Sucker! My favorite of all the attack pages! I had a lot of fun drawing the Doctor's ghostly soul here. Note that his soul self doesn't have a glass dome on its head.

Once again I tried to show extreme emotion on the robot minion's "face."

In all there are eight attack pages. I'd planned on doing two more, but due to the way books are laid out, to do that I would have had to add four more pages. There just wasn't enough time to tackle that many more. I did manage to at least give a shout out to some of the proposed and unseen attacks in the dialog.

This page will look familiar to anyone who's ever watched an anime. They always seem to have "spit screen attack scenes" like this.

Note that the Count is holding He-Man's Power Sword. That makes two He-Man references in this card slash book. So sue me, I like He-Man (please don't sue me). Dr. Killdeath's ray guns are based on old 1950s and 1960s toys.

This was another one of those problem pages that I started drawing early on in the project and finished up nearly last.

I started drawing it sometime in September and it just wasn't working, so I set it aside and decided I'd deal with it later. Well, mid December arrived and suddenly "later" was here and I had to finally deal with it.

I went through lots of different explosions, changing their shape, size, color and numbers before I was satisfied with it.

Judging from the background, the two are now attacking one another in the ruins of the Count's castle. I hadn't established any middle ground in which they could stage their battle, so I had to set them in one of their houses. I picked the Count's place because I thought castle rubble would look more interesting than a demolished house.

And yes, that pattern on the Count's axe was tough to draw and took a long time. It was kind of relaxing though, like some kind of Zen exercise.

The Doctor's bomb changed somewhat from the sketch, after I did some research to see what one actually looked like.

Santa appears! Santa's starred in a couple of my previous cards slash books, and I've always drawn him in a cutesy Rankin-Bass style. I wanted this Santa to be terrifying; like he might have been in a biker gang or something and would kill you just for looking at him funny. As the text says, he's an elemental, terrifying and powerful force of nature. A Santa you definitely don't want to mess with.

Had fun with the lighting effects here. Any time you want someone to look evil or menacing, light them from below. Nice people are only lit from above or the side.

Originally I drew this page with the Count and the Doctor looking ashamed as Santa stood menacingly behind them. It was OK, but I realized that would make four pages in a row with the same basic layout. Plus it looked almost identical to this page from the Space Dweebs card slash book. Boring! So I decided to do an extreme closeup of just Santa.

I also did my best to put lots of extra disgusting detail in this closeup, like they used to do on Ren & Stimpy. You know, Ren would get a toothache and when they'd show a closeup of his mouth it would be an actual painting (rather than cel animation) showing all kinds of grotesque detail.

I tried to make Santa look as terrifying and disgusting as possible. I'm happy with the way his unsettling blubbery lips turned out.

This was another one of those pages I started and then set aside and had to hurry and finish. It ended up being the last page I worked on in the frenzied, final push to get the project done.

Looks like we're still inside the Count's ruined castle. I like the way the shattered walls came out, if I do say so myself.

I had fun drawing the dissipating Santa cloud. Originally his face was much more prominent, and as you can see from the sketch, the afterimage of his arms was still visible. The Santa cloud was on a separate layer in Photoshop (layers are your friend, kids!) so I kept lowering the opacity more and more until it was barely visible.

I like the ashamed and abashed expressions on the Count and the Doctor here.

This was one of the last pages I worked on. By now I could knock out a drawing of the Count and the Doctor in half an hour, a far cry from the days it took when I first started the project.

Hey, the minions are back to fill up space at the top of the page! They both kind of disappeared when the Count and the Doctor started attacking each other in person, and when Santa appeared. Truth is, there just wasn't room for them on those pages, so... they got dropped. They were probably both hiding. Yeah, hiding, that's it.

The original layout for this page showed full views of the two characters shaking hands. I realized that was pretty dull, plus it would make three pages in a row of the same basic layout. So I kept zooming in closer and closer. 

I knew an extreme closeup of just their hands would be a striking layout, but I was reluctant to do that as this would be the last page in which we'd see the two characters. Seemed odd to me that our last view of them should be of just their hands. In the end I couldn't make it work any other way, so... handshake it is.

Not surprisingly, this was probably the easiest page I drew.

This was the next to last page I drew, and it wasn't as tough as you'd think. I made a copy of Page 4 and then just started picking away at the two buildings, erasing walls and adding damage. It was actually kind of fun.

I added some smoke and changed the sky color to make it a little more different from Page 4.

And there you have it! Way more detail than you probably ever wanted or needed to know about this year's card slash book. Four solid months of work distilled into 28 little pages. These things just keep escalating and getting bigger and more complicated every year, so I'm serious when I say this is the last one. I'll probably still do something for next Christmas, but don't be disappointed if it's not a 64 page book.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo, Bob. Thanks for sharing the sketch/finished looks and behind the scenes.


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