Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Special Guest Robert Pope on Drawing Comics -- Part 1

Robert Pope is an animator and a fantastic comic book artist. Robert has provided the pencils for numerous stories that I have written as well as many more written by other people. You've probably seen his artwork on the covers and inside of comic books such as Scooby-Doo, Batman The Brave and the Bold, as well as stories featuring Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends in Cartoon Network Block Party and Cartoon Cartoons

He has generously agreed to answer some questions about what it is he does as a penciller, how he works, what inspires him, and many other things. He's provided such great detailed answers that we can't fit them all into a single post.  Here is Part One. 

1.  How do you interact with the writer (if at all) the editor, the inker, letterer, and colorist?  

Most of my interactions are with the editor.  Typically, the editor will call me up and say he or she has a script that they think would work for me.  This can be due to any number of reasons, including the subject material, number of pages I can do in any given month, etc.  Sometimes I call the editor up and ask for work before they call me.  The editor describes the story to me over the phone, then they e-mail me the script for my review.  The editor tells me how long I have to draw the script, and once I have read through it if I need more time, I ask for it (usually no more than a day or two, sometimes an extra weekend.)  If I am given a long script, I will "feed" the editor pages in batches of five or ten, and upon his or her approval, ship those pages to the inker to keep the process in motion. 

 Most of the writers I work with have very specific visuals in mind, and often provide useful reference to help me "see" props, supporting characters, and settings.  Aside from reviewing these materials, I have not had much regular interaction with my writers over the years concerning scripts.  Sometimes, I will adjust panel layouts, move dialogue bubbles from one panel to another, break up a single panel into multiple panels and other small things to help the narrative flow and make for smoother reading and recognition.  If I become concerned that I may be altering or compromising the writers' vision, I'll shoot the editor a quick description of my intentions and make sure they're O.K. with my actions.  Usually, my goal is to get the writer's idea across in a way that's fun to read multiple times.  I think the best comics are the ones you can return to and keep finding new bits of visual and verbal interest. 

 If I have suggestions for the colorist, I usually send them via the editor, but unless I feel a panel or page has a very specific or necessary coloring effect, I have no stomach for telling other pros how to do their job.  My regular inker Scott McRae and I talk quite often, but again, unless I'm asking him something specific (like to fill a space scene with stars made of white correction fluid) I wouldn't presume to direct him.  Once the story is completed up to inking and lettering, the team (writer, editor, penciller, inker) get a copy via e-mail and have the chance for correction.  Usually, there are very few flubs, most often a dialogue balloon pointer aimed at the wrong character, something like that.

2.  What do you do when you get a script for a story?  

The first night I get a script (and it's always at night, comics are my night job!) I read the script all the way through, and note any reference I may need above and beyond what the writer has provided.  The internet, and specifically Google images, have made this much easier than it used to be as we now no longer need to keep massive "swipe files" [ a swipe file is a collection of reference material that artists collect. These are images of anything they might be asked to draw from horses and army uniforms to old cars and airplanes and monkeys and clothes from the 1500s or the 1960s] on hand at all hours to provide examples of the many new and different things we draw in our comics.  After I have read and re-read the script, I do thumbnail sketches [ a thumbnail sketch is a small (about the size of an adult thumbnail, or bigger) drawing without a lot of detail that artists use to try out compositions for finished drawings] right on the script page, just to get a sense of flow and to get a good idea of how much work each individual page will take.  After a few years, you get good at estimating how much energy certain things take to draw.

Above is one of Robert Pope's thumbnails for a panel with Bloo talking to Mac from a Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends story. There isn't much detail but it shows where the characters are in the panel and where the word balloon will go. It also show's Bloo's expression. 

3.  Does the finished artwork veer from those thumbnails?  

For a twenty page script, I figure on average I re-think at least one or two pages when I blow up the thumbnails.  But mostly, I stick with my first instinct, my first try.

4. For new characters do you do sketches of them separately, or do you just make them up when you get to them? 

If the character is going to appear in just a few panels, I'll probably make them up on the fly.  However, if he or she (or it) has a bigger role in the story and shows up repeatedly, I'll create a model sheet for myself to maintain the look throughout (recent stories like "Howling Good Time" and "Monster of 1000 Faces" had several important characters that popped up throughout and had to be very clearly defined-the director in "Monsters" was based on, in part, Jim Steranko!)  And of course the writer often has an idea of how these ancillary or new characters should look, and forward helpful reference.

Above is the real Jim Steranko, an innovative comic book artist best known for his work at marvel Comics in the 1960s. He also did some illustration work for the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark

Here is the movie director from "Man of a Thousand Monsters" from SCOOBY-DOO #145. Do you see the resemblance? 

5. What about backgrounds, props and locations? 

I like to get as much reference as I can stomach before I begin and really absorb it.  Some stories are fun to draw because the backgrounds are vague and nondescript enough to allow you to concentrate on the characters themselves and their "acting."  DC editor Joan Hilty considered any Scooby story that featured a beach practically a gift to the penciller, because it's something that's very easy to draw.  I am not one of those cartoonists who can draw much "out of my head," and reference plays a BIG part in my work.  Unless it's a very imaginary setting, prop, or set piece, I feel better with reference.

6. Do you have favorite things you like to draw? 

I love drawing characters in motion.  I have staged Shaggy and Scooby running from ghosts and monsters more times than I can count, and I always love the challenge.  Same with Batman swinging or throwing a punch.  I love drawing characters that are more or less grounded in reality, but still very cartoony.  The great designer Iwao Takamoto, who worked for both Disney and later as Hanna-Barbera's main man for character design, was one of my big heroes and best personified this kind of cartooning.  His creations are both cartoony and realistic at the same time, sort of like Alex Toth, but even more rubbery and skewed for animation.  As the bulk of my career has been translating animated characters to the printed page, my personal "style" has been deliberately subverted and it's main outlet is in the elasticity and momentum of the characters themselves.  

7. Things you hate to draw? 
Buildings.  Cars.  Crowd scenes with masses of incidental characters that are both generic and specific at the same time.  Most of my heroes or influences (with the exception of Charles Schulz) were cartoonists who filled the page with copious amounts of details both relevant and incidental (Jack Kirby, John Byrne, George Perez, John Romita Sr., to name a few) and while I love packing in the bells and whistles, it certainly can be regarded as much more like work than staging the foreground characters.

Above is a panel where Robert Pope really packs in the details. This is also from "Man of a Thousand Monsters" from SCOOBY-DOO #145.

Before we continue, here is some information about the people that Robert mentions in his responses to questions  6 and 7. 

Iwao Takamoto (1925-2007) worked as an animator on Disney movies such as Cinderella and 101 Dalmations, but is best known for designing the characters on Scooby-Doo, as well as Astro on The Jetsons. He also directed the animated adaptation of Charlotte's Web.

Alex Toth (1928-2006) was a comic book artist and a character designer for animated television series such as Space Ghost, The Herculoids, Jonny Quest, Super Friends, and other "realistically' styled shows. He drew in a very clean high contrast style using mostly white and black, and is a favorite of many comic book artists and animators. You can see some of his character designs below.

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) was the creator of "Peanuts" the long running newspaper comic strip starring Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

Jack Kirby (1917-1994), John Byrne (b. 1950), George Perez (b. 1954), and John Romita Sr. (b. 1930) are all comic book artists popular for their styles of drawing and their approaches to visual storytelling. Some exciting panels by Jack Kirby can be seen below.

Check back tomorrow for part two with Robert Pope!

No comments:

Post a Comment