Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Usagi Yojimbo: Lone Goat & Kid #1

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 short story issues that will be collectively called 'Lone Goat and Kid'. 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 #1.

This issue is currently up for pre-order through Diamond with the code NOV210415. Just ask your local comic shop to order it for you, or order it though an online retailer. The issue will be in shops Jan 26, 2022

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

This issue's story has to do with Usagi being sent to a village to retrieve an heirloom sword of a deceased Lord and finding the situation to be a moral quandary. So, I chose the moment where Usagi has found the location of the sword and has to choose if he's willing to use force to get it back. It's always nice on an issue one to have the main character in a heroic pose large in the layout. The woman in front of him is a character specific to this issue, and not Tomoe (as some fans thought when I was working on this piece on my Twitch stream).

I penciled each character and the background separately on copy paper and then scanned and assembled them into a composition I liked. I tend to go overboard on this stage roughing in color too, this helps me and the editor to really understand the goal of the final look of the piece without problems to solve in the coming stages.

When the 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).

Most of the inks were straight forward, but I did spend some extra time trying to do some rendering on Usagi's hat.

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.

Most of the color choices had been made in the layout stage, but I made changes to the value structure as I worked. In this step I also added color holds (areas where I want the lineart to be a color other than black) to the woman's dress pattern, here eyes, and Usagi's scar, as well as a slight fade to the inkwork of the background near the bottom.

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.

Usagi Yojimbo: Lone Goat & Kid #1 is out in stores Jan 26, 2022

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