Debuting this week from Image Comics, "Chew" focuses on the stomach-turning adventures of Tony Chu, a federal agent who uses his powers as a Cibopath - one who gets psychic impressions from what he eats (i.e. murder victims) - to solve crimes in a possible future where massive Avian Flu deaths have made the Food and Drug Administration a more powerful government agency than the Department of Homeland Security. You can check out a preview right here on CBR.
Approaching the cover for "Chew" #1 was a tricky bit of business. Written by John Layman, the concept of the book was just so completely out there that summarizing it with one image was a bit daunting.
In situations like this, where the solution to the image is not so clear-cut, I start out with a general idea sheet, which you can check out below. After reading the script, I jotted down general themes and imagery that popped into my mind upon reflecting on the material. From the start, I was leaning toward doing more of a montage cover, showcasing the main characters and scenery of the book, and I explored a few possibilities on the page.
Still, the montage layout felt too busy and forced, so I explored the opposite approach, going minimal and focusing on the book's protagonist alone. I decided that since food was such a prevalent theme in the book that putting Tony Chu at a dinner table would make perfect sense. I pictured a clean, white tablecloth, the ideal of fine dining, and decided to juxtapose that by putting something horribly morbid on Tony's plate. Originally, I was thinking of a severed hand, but settled on a cooked bird, slightly munched on and undercooked to the point of bleeding. Disgusting, but striking.
Next, I decided to kick it up even more, zooming out and adding a bunch of corpses to the bottom of the image. I figured they could represent either the victims of the Avian flu outbreak or the many unclosed cases that our hero would be solving throughout the series. Both worked for me. I also considered inserting images of the supporting cast in the background, which is what the boxes in the thumbnail are supposed to represent.
From there, I worked up a pencil sketch. NOTE: the below image obviously isn't of the cover, since I apparently didn't scan it (slacker), but it gives the idea. I work rough, fast and dirty at this stage. My pencils are high on energy and low on tidiness. I focus primarily on nailing the desired gesture for maximum clarity of storytelling. I never go very tight on pencils, mainly because I like to work it out in the inks stage. Also, I pencil using red Pentel lead. I find blue line pencils to be a bit too waxy to ink on top of, plus the red is a lot easier for me to see and just as invisible to scanners in Line Art mode.
Working it all out in the inks is probably the most fun part of the process for me. I tighten up loose pencil lines, work out shadow and lighting and whatever else is necessary. I work mostly with pen (Faber-Castells and Microns) with a Pentel Watercolor brush filled with ink to fill in large areas of black.
In this case, I wanted the cover to have a "special" feel, so I decided to apply a little inkwash on top of the inked art. It gave a nice grimy feel to the cover, and left me excited about what I could do with it in Photoshop.
Next, I scan the art in at 1200 DPI, then reduce it to 600 DPI once I have it in Photoshop. My approach to digital coloring is pretty standard, using flat areas of color beneath the lineart, and applying color filters where necessary. In this case, I left the bodies a general green color, giving them a feeling of "oneness", all victims of the same fate. Besides, I just liked the striking nature of the green versus the red blood.
The second most important image of "Chew" #1 was the double-page spread. This spread would be the centerpiece of the first issue, the pivotal moment where our hero uses his ability for the first time in the series. Below is John's script for the spread, as well as the thumbnail I worked up. Simple stuff, and I knew exactly what I wanted from the beginning.
Since I knew the spread at its core was simply two elements, Foreground (Tony in one color style) and Background (the images he's seeing in another style), I decided the smartest way to go was to work both elements out separately and compose them together digitally in the end stage. First up, I worked out the Foreground layer, which is below. I decided to go fairly heavy on the shadow work, since I knew that I'd probably end up going with some bright, glowing effect on the background "vision."
Next, I drew up several pencil sketches from John's script. These are all just generally horrible images of a serial killer's attacks on various women. Not the kinda stuff I usually draw in my spare time, but I'm happy with the results (which is kinda disturbing). I left the pencils really rough, only inking the outlines. From there, I tweaked them a bit in Photoshop, applying some tints and tones until I came up with this.
Then, having both elements completed, it's time to compose them as one image. I dropped in the foreground image of Tony first. Simple drag and drop placement. From there, I worked up a grid in Photoshop (and just drag and dropped the attack images in individually. I also included some variations of several of them, zooming in or out, just to give the feeling of repetition. I then dropped in some panels from an earlier page in the issue, tying that page with this one.
Lastly, I dropped in two color filters, orange for the flashback visions and green for the more recent ones. I like the contrast between both colors, as well as the referencing of the earlier page. I also overlay a nice, bloody splatter texture, just for kicks and to tie it all together as one image. And that's it. Thanks for listening.