Simon Gane on the art of DARK RAIN
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!
To mark the publication of Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story I’m going to talk about the various stages behind completing a page of artwork for it. I’m focusing on page 117.
I’d love to talk to you about how scripts come about but I’m baffled and in awe. Reading Mat Johnson’s script was far and away the most enjoyable part of the process for me! Those of us already familiar with his oeuvre know he’s got a lot to say and that he’s direct and succinct enough to know when to think visually too. Page 117 happens to be silent but it still requires staging. Perhaps more than a ballooned page, since there is no dialogue to carry the action.. Here’s what he wrote:
Dabny puts on his scuba mask. He carries his welding equipment in a bag.
Dabny is swimming through the dirty water. We see him from the vantage point of the water. Beneath him is a ton of refuse from the storm.
Dabny gets to the window of the bank. It’s covered in an old-style metal grate.
Dabny, his welding materials out, burns at the grate.
In articles such as this, comic book artists always say that this is the key part of the drawing process. They say this because it’s true. It’s when most of the decisions are made - the general staging, pacing, facial expressions, body language, allowing room for the text etc etc - and thus of the utmost importance to editors. If you’re on the wrong track they can intercept now rather than after time has been wasted. That said, I still try to be as vague as I’m allowed in order to buy myself time! Some artist’s will produce tighter thumbnails, but for me they represent an earlier stage - initial thoughts, if you will. Being faced with an entire script - particularly a 160 page one - can be daunting, but thumbnailing is the point at which you put it into perspective, where you can tackle one page at a time. In the case of this one, editor Jon Vankin asked me to consider a more dynamic pose in panel 2 and encouraged me to feature more of the objects such as the mailbox to heighten the sense that this was a street corner that should not, of course, be underwater.
Once I had the go ahead to start penciling I needed reference material. I took a lot of photos on my trip to New Orleans - both of locations I knew I’d need and background details I felt might come in handy. “You can’t make this shit up!” to paraphrase R. Crumb. Note that I amended panel 3 to incorporate the ATM and included the trash can with it’s Fleur de Lis design, unique to Nola. I also needed help with the scuba gear and underwater welding equipment and got that thanks to the internet. To get a feel for how the hands would look in panel 1 I photographed myself, complete with diving mask. I accidentally answered the door to the postman with it still on the top of my head which wasn’t my finest hour, especially as he didn’t mention it.
I penciled Dark Rain quite tightly on the whole. This was my first time inking a Vertigo project and my first time inking with a brush so I wanted to get as much as the decision-making out of the way to ensure that it was as stress-free a part of the process as possible! I also felt it would help me keep the artwork as crisp and uncluttered as possible.
LETTERING & TONING
Once the page is scanned, dropped onto it’s template and uploaded to the DC server, my job is done. It’s now over to letterer Pat Brosseau (off the hook for this page!) and toner/colorist Lee Loughridge to work their magic, and here’s the page after Lee’s done just that:
I was thrilled with his work on this book; he got a marvelous range from just the gray and blue color and used them with real purpose. Note the different background color in panel 1 to differentiate it from the underwater scene, the strongly lit face and mask in panel 4 and how he changes the color of the keylines for the bubbles and sparks. You might also notice that an additional amendment was required in panel 2 for legal reasons - the wording on the newspaper vending machine.
Okay, thank you if you read this far! Thank you also to all at DC/Vertigo, not least my editors Jon and Sarah and thank you Mat, for involving me in a project I’ve felt so passionately about.
To see more pages from DARK RAIN click here.