Pipeline, Issue #328


Imagine looking over the shoulder of one of comics' premiere colorists. How great would it be to watch what buttons he pushes and what techniques he uses to give his work that signature look? It's the best way to learn, I think: See how someone else does it first, and then do it yourself. Reading something from a book and then following those steps one-by-one is too tedious and often doesn't work. The professional knows what he's doing so well that it doesn't occur to him that every little click of the mouse needs to be explained.

That's why Brian Haberlin's Digital Art Tutorials CDs are such perfect learning tools. If you have any interest in learning how to color comic books, I can't recommend these discs strongly enough for a basic primer in how it can be done. Of course there's more than one way to do it, but this is a nice ground level approach to the art of coloring comics.

You might recognize Haberlin's name or his work. Think ATHENA INC., SPAWN, and ARIA, for starters. They all bear his coloring imprint. Now he's put together a series of three CDs that show the world the basic technical tools he uses in coloring comics. Using video-capture software, Haberlin has recorded the act of coloring a piece of art from the bottom up. You can play back the video -- complete with audio commentary -- on your home computer to see every thing he does.

While he skips over the "flats" process, Haberlin works up to friskets, dark-to-light coloring, special effects, and a host of Photoshop tools that you might find handy. Some Photoshop awareness will come in handy for this. Haberlin isn't running a Photoshop lesson here so much as he's showing how to use those tools for this job. He does cover many of the basic key commands that save him time and the options you'll want to use to protect the coloring work from coming out muddled in print. Some of the tricks are left as exercises to the viewer. He glosses over his unique brushes and some of the action shortcuts he's taken. He explains what they do, but you'll have to figure out how to program them yourself, if you want your work to look just like his. The CDs provide plenty of material for you to practice at home with, including color swatches, line art, and intermediate coloring steps.

It's an invaluable tool that can be addicting. The disc runs anywhere from an hour and a half to nearly three hours. Yes, it can get repetitious at times. You color one area in much the same way you color the next: lay down the base color, highlight it, put your friskets in, move to the next. Haberlin's voice narrates the entire video, as he explains what he's doing. There are some dry spots and some areas where you will wish he didn't have a cold the day he recorded the tutorial, though. Still, it's always fun to watch a master at work.

The four discs illustrate different styles of coloring comics. The main one, "Comic Style," uses a DANGER GIRL pic to show the standard coloring style in vogue today. The second one, "Grayscale Painting," uses a Jay Anacleto pencil drawing from his art book to illustrate how to color from tonal paintings or pencil drawings. The third, "Anime Style," has two different tutorials on it to introduce you to the flatter style of coloring in the manga/anime world. (To be honest, I haven't had the chance to watch the last one yet, although I saw Haberlin give some tips on the style at a presentation in Chicago over the summer.) A fourth is also now available, covering digital painting in the Painter program.

All of these discs are available now at Haberlin's brand new web site, Digital Art Tutorials. You can also check out video clips from the four discs in the series, as well as some Haberlin color samples, and a link to his forum.

One last word of warning: These are CDs with .AVI files on them for video. I've seen them referred to by other people and on the official website as DVDs. They are not. They will run on your home computer with CD player. The CD is recommended for computers with 733 MHz Windows, a good resolution to their screen, and a CD player with sound card. I imagine these won't give you grief on a Mac box, though.

Photo reference is something of a hot topic lately. You could see it in some of the arguments that happened in the comments thread of Comic Book Idol in the past month. Where does one draw the line on being "photorealistic" in one's art, and being one step above fumetti, merely tracing lines over stock photography?

I can't answer that for you here, but I can say that photo reference is an invaluable aid for any artist. Plenty of artists use something called a "morgue." It's an indexed collection of pictures of common and not-so-common objects collected over the years from magazines, catalogues, newspapers, et. al. If a writer asks an artist to draw a specific type of hammer, the artist can go to his morgue and dredge one up.

Of course, in today's day and age, I'm sure many artists just rely on Google for such oddball requests. However, there's something valuable about having a collection of photographs handy that might appeal specifically to a comic book artist: New York City skyline, people holding guns, people kissing, rubble, muscular men fighting, etc.

Buddy Scalera seeks to fill that void with his series of CDs called VISUAL REFERENCE FOR COMIC ARTISTS CD. The third handy volume of this set is available this month.

Like the first two discs, this third volume contains literally hundreds of new photographs like those I mentioned before. New York City gets a good focus, with overhead and ground level shots of more than just Manhattan. You'll also get muscular men wrestling and posing, some cars and tanks, and even a section devoted to small town pictures.

While there are sections of all three volumes that would appeal mainly to superhero artists, there's plenty of material to be had in here for comic artists of all types. You get people lit dramatically, at odd angles, and in every day poses. You can get a batch of images in the second volume, for example, that show you a woman smoking and drinking. These are every day things that are so easy to draw awkwardly. These CDs can be a great help in getting a different perspective than what the mirror on your drawing board might show you.

The three volumes combined have close to 2,000 images. They're all large-scale photographs, and easily viewable with a simple web browser interface. Just plug your CD in, open up the "Start Here" HTML file and away you go. The only quibble I might have is that you'll have to scroll around a bit to see all of the images on the third disc. I'm guessing Scalera picked up a more powerful digital camera for this latest batch.

At just ten bucks each, these things are a steal. And since the whole thing is basic HTML with JPG pictures, you shouldn't have a problem loading it up with a PC, MAC, or Linux system. You just need a basic web browser. You don't even need an internet connection.

You can get the CDs through your local comics shop, or order directly at BuddyScalera.com.


I have to apologize to CrossGen, which seems to be cursed for this column. I have a review written for their Digital Comic Book edition of NEGATION. The DVD contains the first six issues of that series with fancy voice-overs, limited animation, and all sorts of background music and special effects. Unfortunately, it appears that the review I had written of the DVD got lost in a hard drive crash this weekend. It was only a sector of the drive, I think, but that review is still gone. I don't have time enough before this deadline to scurry through my backups and archives to find out if I have a backup saved of the thing. So look for it next week, even if I have to rewrite it from scratch.

[El Cazador]In the meantime, I can recommend a look at EL CAZADOR #1, the new pirate comic from the pens of Chuck Dixon, Steve Epting, and Frank D'Armata. It's a beautiful comic book with a dramatic set-up and easy-to-follow narrative. About half the book is dramatic narration explaining the events that are needed to set up the hook for the title. While it seems like something of a cheat, dramatically, it does make the book much more visually appealing. There are large splashes of art here, including a gorgeous full-page image of a pair of ships on the ocean, a double-page splash of pirates boarding a ship of the Spanish fleet, and even a dramatic upshot of a sinking ship from far below the water's line. This is an artist's book, through and through. The amount of work Epting puts into each page is more impressive than what you'll see in any other comic on the shelves today. Take a look around. Find one that's as well researched or detailed as this. It isn't there.

Dixon pulls you into the pirate's world with surprising ease. While some of the opening narration can seem a little listless, your ear will eventually catch the rhythm of the prose and step into line. By the time the issue is over, you're screaming for more because your whole head is now inside the world Dixon wants it to be in. In this one issue, Dixon has set the stage for the series as a whole, introduces a strong leading female character, and drops a few hints of what's to come. That mystery man at the end, I'm guessing, is fated to be Lady Sin's foil, romantic or otherwise. I can't wait to find out.

Dixon isn't afraid to populate this pirate world with truly evil people, and hardened heroes. You're not getting the hero with the heart of gold here, or any character for that matter which you'll want to meet on the street and give a big hug to. These are battle-hardened and world-weary soldiers trapped on the seas in never-ending struggles. Hope for the big gold find is about all that drives them, with the exception of Lady Sin, for whom revenge is all. She's created to be strong enough to take over a ship by herself. And she does.

D'Armata's coloring remains dirty and earthen throughout most of the issue, with an occasional splash of color to highlight something like a ship's majesty of a port of call's lush green landscape. It looks like it printed out a little darkly. That opening double-page splash popped out a bit more in the preview pages I saw in Chicago this summer. Still, it won't ruin your enjoyment of the book.

Heck, even David Lanphear steps up to the plate for this one, using a new font for dialogue balloons, and an additional one to imitate hand writing on scrolls for the exposition. Both work well.

Find twenty minutes to spend with this book somewhere where you won't be interrupted. Start from the opening text on the inside front cover which sets the historical period for the story, and read straight through from there. It's an effort that is well rewarded.

Pipeline returns next Tuesday with a look at the NEGATION digital comic book, plus more reviews than you can shake a stick at. If I don't miss my guess, next Friday should also be the next edition of PIPELINE PREVIEWS, for items shipping in December.

Various and Sundry is my on-going blog for non-comics-related reviews, commentary, and trivial links. This past week we've looked at COUPLING, SURVIVOR: PEARL ISLAND, what an Emmy win might mean for THE AMAZING RACE, more thoughts on file sharing, BIG BROTHER 4, TINY TOONS on DVD (?), and more. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. VandS is updated daily.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Somewhere around 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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