Hello Uptonites!

As you enjoy this week’s page, I’ll share with you the reasons why everything you’re reading is done by hand with little to no computer editing. I’m no stranger to Photoshop. Heck, I took a computer graphic course in high school back in ’87 or so. I’ve played with Amigas and Macs. So why not use all this not-so-new tech like most of the pros do when creating the Agreement? Heck, why even bother to hand letter, especially since it’s such a pain in the arse?

One Christmas, my sister gave me “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.” Through reading and rereading, I learned the basics of storytelling and figure drawing. I’d spend countless hours in my room playing music way too loud and drawing comics. Along the way, I met Alan Bessen, a cartoonist and graduate of SVA in NY. He’d look at my work every few months and tell me what worked and what didn’t work. In the years since, Alan has taught dozens of young cartoonists in the NY area at various schools and universities. Anyway, Alan would tell me take a life drawing class (I never did), and to avoid too many close ups.

It’s funny when you look at contemporary comics. All the tips John Buscema shared in HtDCtMW have been forgotten. Exaggerated poses which conveyed such power have been replaced with poses anyone can make. Is it more like-like? Maybe. Is it better storytelling? No. You’ll find multiple close-ups on each page. Does it help the story? Debatable. I read a John Byrne post where he described a panel of Thor breaking through a massive wall. He focused on the many pieces of splintering metal where the hammer struck. Looking back, he thought it didn’t tell the story as well as a long shot that showed the scale and scope of the what Thor was doing.  So what does any of this have to do with why I draw the Agreement old-school?

I wanted to make the Agreement the same way all my heroes made my favorite comics. If writing the Agreement was a reaction to the dark and depressing output of DC, then my art would a counter to those overly computerized, custom font books. Consider it hipster comics. Curt Swan, Jack Kirby, George Perez, Kevin Maguire, Greg Capullo, Walt Simonson, all put pencil to paper. This is the way I did it in the past. I dug up my old light box, larger enough for 11×17 boards, as well as my rulers and other ancient tools I had buried in a closet.

In the past, I’d create a thumbnail of the page, then a full breakdown on paper. Then trace it into tighter pencils, turn it over and trace it backwards to fix any right eye/left eye optical tricks, then a final tracing onto the board. A lot of work. Eventually I’d ink it all with brushes. When I got the light box, I cut out a couple of tracing steps, including the reverse trace. Now I picked up a little more speed. When Alan suggested I focus on pencils, I stopped inking. So that’s where I was 20-something years ago. In hindsight, I realized my art looked it’s best before I went to my 3rd tracing. It had a spontaneity and cleaner line. Much like John Byrne’s example, I learned more about storytelling by thinking of what the important moment was, rather than what may or may not be a cool picture. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been in television production for 20-something years and have learned how to present a story to an audience in a clear manner. Self reflection can be a powerful tool.

So today I work from a thumbnail, then layout the page full working size (10×15), polish up the layout and trace what is close to a finished page. Using the light box, I ink from the tracing. Before I start inking, I hand letter the entire page. Nick Marino (Holy Fuck/ed) got me to think about lettering, so you’ll see in the coming weeks how I’ve been evolving my lettering style.If you look at a Jim Aparo page, you’ll see how he made the art work with the balloons.  That’s been another inspiration. So once everything is lettered, I start inking. No additional pencils, except for faces. The lines have the energy (mostly) that I want.  Once the figures are done, I spot the blacks and in some cases, over detail the page. Again, it’s a work in progress. I hope you’ll still be with me at the end of the book and we can both laugh at where I started and how I finished.


Letters to Upton