Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Usagi Yojimbo Dragon Bellow Cover 4

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 #4.

This issue is currently up for pre-order through Diamond with the code JUL210507. Just ask your local comic shop to order it for you, or order it though an online retailer. The issue will be in shops September 29, 2021
To the left you can see the finished cover, but below I'll go through the steps in creating it.

This issue features a really great duel between Gen the Rhinoceros Bounty Hunter and Zato-Ino the blind pig. It's a seminole moment in the Usagi series, so it was my obvious choice for the cover. I'd drawn Gen once before as a commission for a fan, but this was my first time drawing either character for something to be published. I drew each character on separate sheets of copy paper, scanned them in and cobbled together a composition. Photoshop allows me to move, resize, and rotate each character (or limbs & swords if I isolate certain parts of each drawing)––and in this cover that was helpful due to the problem of unwanted visual tangents. I blocked in some quick color to help me see the masses (and to avoid further color/value tangents). and to indicate the lightning and rain.

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 character inks went relatively quickly other than the hatching on Gen's pants and Zato's robe. While I did ink the lightning with the characters, I flipped over the bristol and inked the rain on the backside of the art. Using a lightbox I was able to see through to the front and make sure I wasn't placing a raindrop through a character's eye and to get the rain dripping off character's faces to follow the right contour. The image on the left digitally simulates what it looks like to see the rain through the bristol on a light pad.

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.

Setting up the file by scanning the backside of the art to get the rain (which I then have to flip horizontally and align to the character art) and establishing all the color holds for the lightning and wet clothes took most of the time in this step, especially since I'd already established a color palette in my layout to pull from.

Final Colors:
Here again is the finished art (this time sans-logo). 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 #4 is out in stores September 29th


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