Friday, May 20, 2005

Elektra: Before and after

This week's Comic Art Friday we share with our Canadian neighbors to the north. We stand on guard for thee.

Previously on SSTOL, we've looked at the dramatic improvement a talented inker can bring to a piece of unadorned pencil art. In this example, the original artwork was a rough (or "loose") pencil sketch by Bob McLeod that was later finished in ink by the same artist, who just happens to be one of the best inkers in the comics business. It's strikingly clear how much sharper and more detailed McLeod's finished art is than his original rough.

But what about an artist whose pencil drawings are extremely detailed (or "tight"), to the point of being finished art even in their original pristine state? Can an inker bring anything new and worthwhile to this artist's party?

Judge for yourself.

This sharp pencil portrait of Elektra was created by the incredibly talented Brazilian artist who goes by the nom de plume Al Rio. An amazing stylist, Al's pencil work here is finished quality. This drawing is visually satisfying without any additional embellishment; it's a fine piece of comic art just as Al drew it.

Now take a second look.

This is the exact same drawing after undergoing the magical inking touch of one of Comic Art Friday's perennial favorites, Geof Isherwood. Notice that here, unlike the McLeod example, the finished artwork bears almost all of the recognizable hallmarks of the original piece. In fact, at a casual first glance, one might even think that the second picture is merely a darker scan of the same penciled art.

But the closer we examine the two versions, the more we see how — without masking or diluting the essential character of Al's drawing — Geof has lent the piece powerful new life, by:
  • Removing some of the heavy shadows on Elektra's face, brightening her appearance.

  • Adding depth and dimension to the background elements: more textured rocks and more abundant grass.

  • Eliminating the artificial white outline between the character and her background (note her left arm and right leg). As Geof noted when we were discussing his approach before the inking began, this "halo" effect became especially common in pinup-style comic art in the early 1990s. Artists such as Rio often use the halo to make the character stand out more prominently from the background. It's problematic, though, because it robs the drawing of depth, while inserting a distracting visual element that serves only to remind us as viewers that we're looking at a drawing and not at reality. (If you watch many films on DVD, you may have noticed a visual effect called "edge enhancement" that adds a similar halo around objects in the foreground, particularly in more brightly lit scenes. It's every bit as jarring on your TV screen as it is in a comic artwork.)

  • Streamlining the chunky disco-era heels on Elektra's boots into more stylish stilettos.

  • Cleaning up the shadows on Elektra's chest so that we can't tell how chilly it is as she poses for her portrait, and making her bustline more natural and proportional. (Geof made these last alterations at my request.)
The differences between the original Rio pencils and the finished Isherwood inks are subtle. Any devotee of comic art familiar with Al Rio will still immediately recognize the picture as his work. And yet, there's no question that — as brilliant as the original is — the inked version enhances and improves upon that brilliance.

For the benefit of the artists in our reading audience who like getting the nitty-gritty technical nuts and bolts, Geof accomplished the fine feathering on this drawing with a .005 Sigma Micron pen ("You can't beat it for small details," Geof says). Thanks to the archival-quality ink used, this artwork will retain its glory in my collection for years to come.

My sincere thanks to Geof Isherwood for his invaluable contributions to today's Comic Art Friday. Now go outside and play, you crazy kids!

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