Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Usagi Yojimbo: Lone Goat #3

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 #3.

This issue is currently up for pre-order through Diamond with the code JAN220500. Just ask your local comic shop to order it for you, or order it though an online retailer. The issue will be in shops March 30, 2022

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

In this issue, Usagi faces off for the first time against the Komori Ninjas––bats with sword blades on their wings. Part of their attack strategy is to bewilder the victim by creating a flurry of branch and leaf debris as they come down chopping from the trees. I started my layout by figuring out how I'd draw the Komori. Stan originally drew them as silhouettes in the early days because he was doing a strictly black and white book, but I wanted to figure out something with more detail that implies they wear tight ninja bodysuits with the blades attached to the cloth. I drew each bat ninja separately and then arranged them with Usagi in a fight stance and I added some stock tree shapes and a moon to round out the scene.

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).

The real time went into doing the linework on the Komori bodysuits so they didn't feel like scribbled hatching nor a digitally applied line texture.

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 moon and trees

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 #3 is out in stores March 30, 2022

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