How To Create A Witchblade Cover

by  in Comic News Comment

This was my first comic book cover, and the patience and direction given by both Filip Sablik and Phil Smith at Top Cow was invaluable. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to work on a comic cover, and getting the opportunity to work on a title that I’ve loved since I was a kid has only made the experience more special.

The process I used to create this cover is a direct result of two factors: one, my overall goal for the piece, and two, my lack of knowledge regarding the ins-and-outs of how solicitation plays a role in the pipeline of a comic cover. My intention from the moment that Filip and Phil mentioned I’d be working on a cover for the “War of the Witchblades” was to show off the differences and similarities between the two bearers. The direction they chose, with the girls standing back to back, was visually an attempt to create a synergy between two of my favorite artists, Alphonse Mucha and H.R. Giger. I believe that each artist lends himself to the dualistic nature of the Witchblade characters: the simplicity and elegance of the female form vs. the harsh complexity of the living armor.

Metaphorically speaking, I wanted to show a balanced asymmetry between Sara and Dani (and in a larger sense, the concept behind the Witchblade story). I designed Sara’s armor to be more primal, not only to show off her possession of the “dark” side of the Witchblade, but also her relationship with the gauntlet. The armor is jagged and sharp, it folds over itself in a much more random pattern and covers her in an unnatural way. Her head is facing down, shrouded in shadow, and her hand is slightly clenched. Emanating from her head is a series of large horns. I didn’t want her to feel evil, just more bestial.

Dani, on the other hand, possesses the “light” and is much more elegant. Her armor is smooth and curved, with its folds creating rounded geometric shapes that resemble a high-collared top and pants. Her head is tilted up into the light, with her hand more relaxed than Sara’s. Her headdress is composed of small antler-like horns.

At this point I intended to enlarge the sketch and transfer it onto my standard illustration paper to begin my pencil and inks. I had roughly 4-5 days before my first proof was due, and having a background in advertising I’d assumed that the first proof was just going to be an early draft of the finished piece, with changes being given from there. When I contacted Filip and Phil to verify this I was informed that, in actuality, this was the stage where the illustration would be sent out for solicitation. I realized that I had only a couple of days to render out the armor and background, illustrate the girls, figure out how to marry the dichotomy of two artistic styles, and paint the whole piece. Realizing that this would not be possible with my traditional technique, I figured out a way to incorporate my 8.5×11 sketch into what I thought would be the finished 11×17 piece.

As the girls are the most important aspect of the piece, I decided to render them first. Again, I wanted to keep them soft and beautiful amid a sea of bio-metallic complexity. I illustrated their skin and hair in my traditional style, using different shades of pencil, with ink for certain areas and outlines. I rendered it out at my standard 11×17 size.

I then scanned the 8.5×11 sketch in at approximately 600 dpi and placed it into a Photoshop file with an 11×17 canvas size. I scanned the girls’ skin and hair in separately and cut them out to fit into the piece. This time my background in advertising paid off; I was able to ink both of the girls’ armor and half of the background using Adobe Illustrator. I then mirrored the background and began flatting the piece.

I began choosing colors and started painting just their skin and hair, deciding to render the actual girls in color while allowing the Giger-esque section to remain flat (essentially, I elected to flip the painting styles of my two inspirations).

I finished painting the two figures and chose a dark palette to hide the roughness of the background. I tried several different “Mucha” patterns to frame the characters, but the dark background just created too much contrast for any of them to work. The piece still felt dead and bare. I had decided in the beginning to continue the brilliant color motif that Stjepan Sejic had established to define the two characters through the entire War of the Witchblades arc, with Sara being red and Dani blue. So I simply chose to add those colors as a light source in the bottom corners to help fill the dead-space.

At this point, I quite frankly just ran out of time. I tried a few more iterations with the Mucha pattern, but nothing seemed to work. I sent off this iteration of the cover feeling that there was still a lot of work that could be done.

Filip, Phil and myself all felt that there was more to be done with this cover. The guys at Top Cow where gracious enough to give me two extra weeks to beef the cover up. They made some great recommendations about going with a more earth-tone palette (and with that, the ability to incorporate the Mucha design). They sent me some samples of what direction they were looking for, and we were all on the same page.

I scrapped all of the background coloring and replaced it with a more warm toned value.

The standard “War of the Witchblades” cover is designed to have a large white logo treatment at the top of the page. I wanted to design the Mucha element around that, but they also wanted to see a version with the standard logo and full image coverage (which is what I’ve been showing). From the beginning I wanted to use the circle as a center point for the entire piece, so naturally I built the design around this. I thought that it would be interesting to incorporate all of the graphical elements of a cover into the design, so I designed the logo itself into the pattern. I also created a space for the month and issue number next to the logo, and left negative space on the bottom left corner for a barcode.

I colorized the lines and added a subtle amount of depth to the background to help break up the space.

I felt that the armor was lacking and with the additional time I wanted to help separate the girls from the background, yet still integrate them into it. I penciled and inked the armor, and placed it into the illustration in the same way I did the skin and hair earlier.

The background still felt like it lacked focus, so I decided to design a foreground element to the background to help bridge the gap and to help define it. I placed all of the elements together and began to mask everything out.

I hid the Mucha pattern and started to work on creating a synergy between all of the different layers. I created a unified palette and dropped the opacity of the original background so that it did not compete with the foreground. I also bumped the outline of the two girls to accommodate the complexity of the new background.

The final step was making the Mucha pattern visible and making subtle modifications to bring the piece together.

Thank you again for your interest in this process, and I apologize for the length!