Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Other People's Characters Part I

A Creative Voice with Licensed Characters:
Today’s blogpost topic comes from a fan who asked: “How do you find your POV/voice as an artist when using licensed properties?” This is an interesting question, partly because I didn't have an answer spring to mind when first asked. Another reason was that while I explored an answer, this post would give new readers a look at some of my licensed character cover work. These pieces were all done as work-for-hire and have been published as either covers, posters, trading cards, or as pin-ups in hardcover collections.

Working with a licensed property means serving a few masters. The publisher has licensed the rights from a rights holder...so in the case of Fraggle Rock, Archaia have the rights to do the comics granted to them by the Henson Company who own the characters. There is editorial at the publisher level, but also at the rights holder level...and sometimes there are some other folks along the way who get a say. So while you have been hired to do original work, hopefully because of the style of work you do in mind, you must stay within the realm of what the publisher and rights holders have in mind.

My first thought about keeping your own voice is that I'm mindful of the work I take on. Some of that boils down to what I'm offered...but I've also said no to a few cover gigs because I knew my style wasn't going to jive well with their established aesthetic and that it would be more work than I wanted to take on to adapt to that. The things I've done are all things I'm genuinely a fan of and fit well with my work. Henson properties, the Muppets, and TMNT are clearly in my wheelhouse...superheroes and sexy ladies aren't. So right there I've started on a path of keeping my creative voice with job selection. Having the excitement of getting to work on something you've long admired also gets your brain thinking about how to sum up that love in a single image that works for what everyone on the publishing end & owners want, but also keeps your inner fanboy excited.

Each project and property is a bit different, and not just because of the publishing team and approval process, but because of the subject matter & tone. I look at each one and think of what I like about that property and how I can embrace that, especially if the property has been around long enough to have several incarnations of it exist. For the Muppet covers, I really loved how real the characters felt even though you knew they were puppets. You could see the materials they were made of, they didn't blink or move their eyes, but they felt like real characters. I wanted to draw the Muppets as though I were drawing the puppets, with all the limitations the puppets had, but still make them believable as characters.

For something like the Turtles, which have been reinvented through movies, animation, games, multiple comic series, and by lots of talented people, I wanted to hone in on the grittiness of the original Eastman & Laird run. I was never a fan of many of the other versions of the Turtles, but I know that most of the TMNT fans were fans of some other version of them. So I did my best to get inspiration from my favorite incarnation, but while never being disrespectful of any of the others. Figuring out how you are going to take on something, what to emphasize and what not to is a big part of the battle and inherently is a method of bringing a voice to the property.

I then try to bring what it is I do with my work naturally to exemplify what I like about each property. I tend to focus on texture with my inks, so on the Muppets or Fraggles that meant trying to render the fleece and fur and feathers and foam that the characters were made of. In other properties the texture worked its way into the background. With Mouse Guard I try and make the locations and backgrounds as convincing as possible to help ground the premise of walking, talking, sword-wielding mice. The more detail and realism I add to the environments of the Turtles, the Muppets, the Dark Crystal characters, or The Storyteller the more set in their time and location they become, and ultimately the more real as a single-image story.

I've had good and bad luck with approvals and going through the steps of showing the stages of work to catch any problems. Some pieces slide through with no trouble at every stage, others get nitpicked along the way...and what gets called out and what doesn't can seem arbitrary at times. My worst approval process was with the Muppets & Boom. The Boom editors were always supportive of me, but Disney wouldn't look at my covers until they were pretty far along (ie: when it's painful to make a change because it's almost done now). Disney would also keep Boom on the line for script approval and then make changes late in the game. Changes like swapping out characters for roles...which affected finished covers multiple times. Overall the Muppet covers were fun and rewarding to do, I just learned how to deal with that approval process while still doing the best work I could within their system. The notes Pixar sent over for the Brave poster from Mondo were some of the best notes I've ever gotten. My initial reaction was "oh no, they want me to change things", but after doing a mock-up of what they wanted I could see instantly that it improved the piece so much, it would be artistically negligent to not make the alterations.

So to sum up, being selective of the properties to work on, honoring what it is you enjoy or feel those properties do well, and then bringing your skill set to the table to show off those characters as best as you can while still playing withn the rules of approvals the publishers and property owners set-up is my answer.
I didn't include examples of work I've done for Usagi Yojimbo, Cursed Pirate Girl, or the Abominable Charles Christopher in this post. That's because unlike the pieces I've shown today, they are owned by a single creator and therefore is a slightly different process of making it and making them happy. Next week I'll focus on those. *DIRECT LINK FOR PART II OF THIS POST*

To read more about some of these covers and the process behind them here's a list of links:
-Fraggle Rock cover
-TMNT Leonardo cover
-Jim Henson's The Storyteller pinup
-Brave poster for Mondo
-TMNT Splinter cover

Watercolor Wednesday: 
I got into a D&D beastie style mood when doing last week watercolors. First up is a half-orc. I imagine that he fancies himself an intellectual and perhaps a decent spell-caster. In my high-school roleplaying group we had a paladin that died. We then used several methods in the game to resurrect reincarnate him...but it was with mixed results....he came back as a goblin. A heated debate started about if he could still use his paladin abilities (as in those days only humans could be paladin. My main gripe was in the game...where my thief had to surrender my hat of disguise so our goblin-paladin could go into towns.

Second up is some kind of a goblin...I guess I spent my goblin story above while showing the half-orc painting. While painting this goblin I thought of something the Henson creature shop might have made if doing a D&D fantasy style movie. Not too grotesque...but still un-human.

The last of last week's paintings started as a rushed and quick sketch that became a rather muddy painting. It's a cockatrice...which is a mythical beast which comes into being when a chicken's egg is hatched by a snake. I feel I saved this painting with the action in the background.

2013 Appearances: 
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
Albuquerque Comic Expo June 21-23
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's very cool that you give us so much insight. I always look forward to your posts.
Also enjoyed the CBR interview. Can't wait to see the new Legends book.

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