CUP O' DOODLES: The "Siege" Cover Process

When I was first offered the chance to illustrate the four connecting "Siege" covers, I originally turned Tom Brevoort down. For me, the task of doing one of these connecting cover gigs is really a very big project. I like to put a lot of thought behind them, and ultimately, if I don't have a layout that excites me, I will, ten times out of ten, turn the job down. Of course, as more often happens than not, the idea of doing the piece stayed with me. Admittedly, I wasn't thinking all that hard about it, but the thought of it was there, nevertheless.

This inevitably led me to go over some of my old layouts. I try to keep all of my unused ideas just in case one works as inspiration on some other piece later down the road. As it turns out, I had a bunch of unused "Iron Man" cover layouts that I figured I would eventually use some day. Some were left over from my sketches for the Iron Man animated DVD, and some were just generic evergreen covers. Amongst that pile o' stuff, I found this sketch which I did about two years ago.

I went through this phase a few years ago - actually I still kind of dig it - where I was doing these up close, cropped tightly, what I hope would be iconic, shots of some Marvel heroes. These were mostly Wolverine covers, but there was also a batch of unused Iron Man pieces. Seeing this particular sketch for the first time in a while got me thinking that maybe I could apply the "up close and personal" style of cover to all the connecting pieces. Now, all that remained was to call Tom and let him know I was back in. I hate speaking to Tom more than I have to.

Oh, and before I forget, this was the photo ref that I took of myself for that original Iron Man piece.

This piece is rare, because unlike almost all my covers, I didn't do a thumbnail sketch. However, with the Iron Man piece as inspiration and the first brick, I had the idea pretty much in my head of how I wanted all four covers to play out. Still, by not doing a rough sketch, my fear was that I ran the risk of not having all the characters properly relating to each other or living in the same space/world. So, with Mjolnir in hand, I took several shots of myself posing as Thor and Cap, and these were the two I decided to use. Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth was already cast as the god of Thunder, because I'm sure these pics would have made Kevin Feige change his mind.

For those that care, the layout for this cover was drawn digitally on a Cintiq tablet.

Now, to save me from the sheer pain in the ass that is drawing Cap's shield properly, and through the magic of Sketchup, I inserted a 3D version of the shield to my reference shot.

The next step was to draw out the figures. Add musculature, costumes, attitude and all the other bells and whistles that you need to apply to pictures of a portly 47 year old dude and make him look like a super hero. Trust me, this is hard work and not for the faint of heart.

It's at this point that I start to work on deeper details such as Cap's chainmail, which took me about six attempts before I got it to a point where it looked right. It's one thing to just draw in the chainmail, it's a completely different animal to have it look right while defining some of the form underneath. This last pass worked okay, but I still haven't mastered it like John Cassaday and other artist much more talented than me. Oh yeah, and it's at this time that Brevoort calls me up and tells me that I was drawing Iron Man in the wrong suit and headgear. So those changes had to be made. You'll notice that I also reworked certain elements of Thor, especially the cape which wasn't working for me before this last pass.

By now, you're wondering where the heck the Sentry is. Well, I knew where (as Bob Ross would say) I wanted him to live. There was a reason why I had Cap and Thor's hands lead our eye the way they do. I was trying to give the piece a sense of movement and perspective. The Sentry is our visual vanishing point, and everything flows out of his cover and out to the edges if I do my job right.

Just as a note for you cats who are looking to break in, I didn't just draw a partial Sentry figure. On a separate layer, I drew him fully in. I feel that this is really the only way you can make an ensemble piece like this work and make sure that all the characters look like they exist in the same moment.

The final element to add to this was Osborn's reflection.

Here's the photo ref I used. You'll noticed that I took the picture and then warped it in Photoshop so that it would fit the contours of Iron Man's headgear. I also had to take great care placing the reflection in a spot that would still allow us to read Iron man's eyes and mouth slots. You'll also notice that when it comes to rendering a scum-of-the-earth villain's face, I changed very little from the photo ref in order to make it look like Osborn. What can I say?

The very final step before penciling was lighting. I kind of had an idea of how I wanted the lighting to work on the piece, but I wasn't sure how dark I wanted to go and thought it would be best to let the penciling determine that. While I had most of this worked out ahead of time, I wanted to have the flexibility to use cross hatching on several areas instead of just solid blacks. So, what I did was apply a gray tone and indicate where my light source was coming from.

Now it was time to get drawing.

One of the good things about having a layout worked out as fully as this one is that it made the actual pencil drawing move rather quickly. All four pieces took a total of a day and a half to pencil. The layout took me about two days, total.

Here's the Cap pencils. More details added to the chainmail, and of course, additional rendering added to all the textures.

On the Sentry's pencils, I went with a much more high-contrast look. Since he has powers based on the sun, I figured that Richard Isanove, who is going to color the piece, can have some fun with it.

On Thor, I added deep shadows to his face as I felt it made him look really badass on the cover. While I could have applied just as harsh a light source on his hands, after a few attempts it ended up being too harsh and took drama away from his face, which is what I wanted the viewer to notice first. Every once in a while, I love to take out my Sergio Toppi books for inspiration, and this was one of those times. You can see that I used a tremendous amount of thin crosshatching on Thor's hands, face, and some on Cap as well. By the way, if you're not familiar with Toppi, you should look him up - he's a master.

Admittedly, Iron Man was the quarter I was looking the least forward to doing, simply because I hate rendering all that shiny metal. It's just tedious work, and it drives me nuts. That said, I was happy with the way Norman's reflection was integrated into the metal sheen, I think it sort of works.

And here it is, all put together and ready to go to Danny Miki for the inks. As soon as he's done with them, I'll make sure to post it here.

I hope you guys found this helpful.

See ya in the funny books,


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