Monday, April 16, 2012

Super Ziggy: The Process

So, you know my Super Ziggy piece is hanging in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh's Ziggy Tribute Show for the rest of this month. This is it. Everyone's favorite everyman, soaring high about the city. It's a nice change of pace from watching him lose yo-yo's down sewer grates. If the composition looks slightly familiar to you, it's because it's not just a tribute to Ziggy and Tom Wilson, but a nod to another famously optimistic cartoon character...

The Superman #1 cover by Joe Shuster is iconic and it's fun to mess around with revamps. But in the case of the Ziggy piece, it actually fits perfectly. The brief for the Ziggy tribute show discussed the philosophy behind the character and how his unfailing optimism was his strength and, in the face of the adversities he encounters, downright heroic. There is no more optimistic superhero than Siegel & Shuster's Man of Steel, so the illustration practically designed itself. It was an added bonus that Ziggy had a white dog sidekick to stand in for Krypto. So, let's see how I put it together…

Using the Superman cover as a guide, I penciled in Ziggy and Fuzz, flying above a cityscape. I actually scoured the web for some shots of old Ziggy strips and tried to create a hybrid architecture that incorporated the big-city look of the old Superman cover and the charming building style of Tom Wilson's original Ziggy strips.

Next, I inked the pencils of the figures in Photoshop. The oval frame and marquee were a little too perfect for me to draw by hand (despite them being drawn by hand originally by a much more patient and skilled Shuster) so I pulled the image into Illustrator and used the bezier pen tool to help describe my curves and blends.

Once everything was "inked" I pulled it back into Photoshop to color it. I tried to match the crazy comic book colors on the buildings (green, orange and purple skyscrapers!) but I also needed the colors to be a little washed out so I could make the cover look aged. The Ziggy logo, much like the buildings, is a hybrid of the Superman logo aesthetic and the Ziggy logo letterforms, and I think it worked out pretty well.

One of the most fun parts of doing a revamp like this is coming up with parallels for all the elements of the original. So, as a nod to Ziggy's 40th Anniversary this year, "64 PAGES OF ACTION!" becomes "40 YEARS OF OPTIMISM" and "ALL IN FULL COLOR" becomes "SOME IN FULL COLOR" to reference to black and white daily strips vs. the color sundays. After all the fonts are chosen and the blurbs are in place, I finish the coloring and move on to another fun part -- destroying all my hard work so it looks like a 40-year old comic book.

The first stage in wearing down this image is fading all of the colors. I want this thing to look like it's been sitting in someone's attic for a few decades. I also run a half-tone filter over the image to give it that old printing-press look. We're off to a good start, but I really need to ruin it some more.

I went to a nearby comic book store and dug through their old back stock to do a little more research (while I was there, I also emptied my wallet on a huge stack of Batman comics.) and I noticed a pattern of fading and darkening on some of those old comics that looked like the result of leaving the comics in shafts of sunlight or dirtying up the edges with smudgy little fingers. So I tried to recreate that on the Ziggy cover too.

Next came the binding cracks and overall wear and tear that would occur after years of handling. It's time consuming, but fun, to take a very small brush and etch in all of of those cracks and folds. After I wrecked it just enough, I mocked up some page edges and scanned in the stapled binding of an actual comic to complete the effect (seen in the very first image at the top of the post). If you'd like to see the Super Ziggy cover in person (where it's much larger) you can visit the Art Institute of Pittsburgh before the Ziggy show comes down near the end of this month. -v

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