Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Usagi Yojimbo Dragon Bellow Cover 5

I was fortunate enough to be asked by IDW and Stan Sakai to do a run of covers on the new Usagi Yojimbo reprints of 'The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy'. I'll be doing six in total, and for this blogpost I'll be sharing my process for the creation of the cover art for issue #5.

This issue is currently up for pre-order through Diamond with the code AUG210595. Just ask your local comic shop to order it for you, or order it though an online retailer. The issue will be in shops October 20, 2021

To the left you can see the finished cover, but below I'll go through the steps in creating it.

Back in 1988 when this story was originally printed in black and white, Stan Sakai drew the covers for the series. For most of my covers so far, I've relied on what he thought was important enough from that issue's story to be the focus of each cover. But for #5, I decided to go off on my own. I worried about the spoiler nature of the imagery (there's a massive explosion at the castle that Usagi & Tomoe survive). I drew the explosion on one sheet of copy paper (thinking of the plumes of smoke I'd draw on my Plotmasters Claw piece) and the forms of Usagi & Tomoe I drew each separately on other sheets of copy paper. I scanned them all, and assembled them getting to resize and make adjustments to each element until I liked the overall composition. Tinting each part helped me see the forms. I also blocked in the severe shadows I would later use color to imply.

When the above layout was approved by the editor and Stan, I started the inks. First step was to print the layout file onto copy paper (over two sheets that had to be taped together at the seam) and tape that to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 bristol. On my Huion lightpad I was able to ink the cover art using the printout as my pencils lines. This way in the end the inked artwork is very crisp and clean with no need to erase pencils lines. I used Copic Multiliner SP pens to ink the art (the 0.7 and 0.3 nibs).

The majority of the inking process was all of the rolling smoke while inking around the negative shapes of the blast forces.

Color Flats:
The inks were approved and I scanned them in to Photoshop to start the coloring process. This first part of coloring digitally is called 'flatting' and is a professional version of coloring inside the lines. Establishing what each area's color is and where it ends. This not only is a color base for the image, but also allows a quick flat color area to be able to quickly isolate to render or make adjustments on.

I used a gradient fill on the background, some orange for each character, & a blue violet for those shadows. I went through and established color holds (areas where I want the inkwork to be a color other than black) on the castle & explosion, as well as Usagi's eye scar.

Final Colors:
Here again is the finished art (this time sans-logo). I made significant changes to the tones from the flats by adjusting color balance, brightness, & contrast. To render all of the color I mostly used the Dodge and Burn tools (Photoshop tools based on real photography techniques for purposely over or under exposing film as it develops). Burn is do darken and Dodge is to lighten. I use a stock Photoshop textured brush as I add shadows and highlights with these tools so the work looks a little more organic and less digital.

It's an honor to be asked by Stan to do these covers and to get his approvals as I work through each cover.

Usagi Yojimbo: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy #5 is out in stores October 20, 2021

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