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Seeing Inside “Syndrome”

by  in Comic News Comment
Seeing Inside “Syndrome”

When curious readers get their hands on the graphic novel “Syndrome” (on sale now) from Archaia and writers Daniel Quantz and R.J. Ryan, what they’ll find is a story that digs in to the root of all evil…literally.

“Syndrome” takes a science fiction look at what makes humans go bad as a conglomerate of individuals begin a series of experiments using unsuspecting actors at a remote compound and a sadistic serial killer as the human guinea pigs. “The big hook of this book is that an experiment, as opposed to any single character, is the ‘protagonist’ or ‘hero’ of the piece. What you’ll see in ‘Syndrome’ is four highly distinct and totally intimate points-of-view on what is a gigantic scientific undertaking that, if successful, changes the world,” Ryan told CBR shortly after the book was announced. “Dan and I had been writing other stuff outside comics together for a few years before we did “Syndrome” and we worked really hard to give it a single strong authoritative voice, while still collaborating creatively with David Marquez, Bill Farmer and the teams of people at Fantasy Prone, the production studio we worked with, and Archaia, our publisher.”

To give readers a peek at the visual side of that vision, Archaia tapped Marquez to give an inside look at his process creating “Syndrome’s” pages. Known for his work on the publisher’s “Days Missing” series as well as an upcoming gig for Top Cow’s Pilot Season promotion, Marquez below takes us into the tools he uses to build the world in which “Syndrome” takes place from the ground up, how he creates mood and texture on the page and more.

Hi everyone!

My name is David Marquez, writing to you from Austin, Texas. I’m the artist on “Syndrome,” the original graphic novel about a rogue scientist who conducts a grand multi-million dollar experiment to find the cure for evil. The hardcover hit comic shops on September 9 from Archaia and Fantasy Prone, and CBR was gracious enough to allow me to show a bit of how I draw, giving y’all a sneak peek at some of the art from “Syndrome” in the process.

The art for “Syndrome” was created using a 100% digital workflow. There’s a pretty lively discussion in art and comics circles on the relative merits of digital versus traditional tools, and while I generally fall in the “tools are tools, so use whatever works for you” camp, I happen to find digital a good match for my own creative needs.

Specifically, I spend most of the time drawing in Photoshop with a 12″ Wacom Cintiq tablet, supplementing with Google SketchUp and DAZ Studio (3D modeling programs) as the need arises.

(I use the same drafting table I used when drawing with traditional media-hence the ink splatter everywhere). Having a completely digital workflow has proven to be a godsend from a production standpoint. Not only do I not have to bother much with scanning and correcting my pages in Photoshop before sending the pages in to my editor (as the templates I use already match the specifications needed for the colorist and printer), the ease with which I can tweak and modify elements within a page make drawing a much more fluid and forgiving process.

Any given page begins, naturally, with the script. In the case of “Syndrome,” the initial concept was originally developed by Blake Leibel and his folks at Fantasy Prone, then was fleshed out and given form by the writing team of Daniel Quantz and R.J. Ryan. Throughout the creation of “Syndrome,” the writers and I were in constant communication by phone, e-mail and the (sadly) now-defunct Google Wave. From the first drafts of the story through the final script, the writers brought me into their creative process, which helped incredibly when time came to start drawing the actual pages.

Interestingly, I like having a physical printout of the script (leaving me with a 95% digital workflow, I guess). After reading through the entire script a couple times to get a decent “big picture” idea of what’s going on, I tend to tackle pages one scene at a time, moving through the script from beginning to end. For each page, I go through the script with a Hi-Liter, picking out important elements for each panel. Finally, before diving back into Photoshop, I draw up a few tiny thumbnail sketches of the full page, blocking out panels until I find a layout that works.

From here on out, the rest of the page will be done on the computer. I break down my pages in two steps: rough “pencils” and finished “inks.” Using my thumbnails as a guide, I draw out the panel borders before diving into roughing in each panel. Even more than inking, these rough layouts are the most important (and difficult) part of the process. Things like composition, pacing, perspective, anatomy, movement and emotion are all figured out during this step. Thankfully, the digital toolset I use is of great help here, specifically the perspective grids and 3D models.

I tackle backgrounds in one of two different ways, depending on how much any given environment shows up. If an environment only shows up in a couple of panels, I’ll usually just draw it out “by hand.” My page template includes a perspective grid that I can manipulate to easily layout two- or three-point perspective for any panel.

Once that’s in place, I can sketch in all the various elements that will need to go in the panel.

On the other hand, if a whole series of pages all take place in the same environment, I’ll often build a 3D model so I won’t have to go through the fairly labor-intensive process of drawing it all out by hand each time.

This is where a careful read-through of the script is important. Knowing which pages will require me to develop these supplemental assets (3D models, new character designs, etc.) before I’m really ready to dive into the page. Once I have the 3D model, it’s just a matter of positioning the model properly (usually using a basic sketch of how I want the panel to look as a guide), taking a snapshot, and inserting the picture of the model directly into the digital page. I’ll have to do some fun Photoshop trickery to give the image a line-drawn feel, and will often end up drawing in little details that weren’t included in the 3D model.

Before diving into the inks, I’ll pass the roughs on to the good folks at Archaia, Fantasy Prone and the writers for their input. As much as I may love certain artistic and storytelling choices I’ve made, having another set of eyes to pour over each page is an invaluable part in maintaining the high quality all comics professionals strive for. Though inking takes considerably longer than roughing (I spend about two-thirds of my total drawing time for a page doing the inks), I actually find it a lot easier, as all the hard thinking has already been taken care of in the roughs stage. Inking is mostly about making sure everything looks pretty. Photoshop offers a lot of control over the inking process, where in addition to the built-in brushes, you can build your own (which I do). From standard brushes to effects…

…to whole elements within a panel that would normally take a long time to draw…

Each of those trees is actually a brush, a “stamp” of the outline.

Once everything is finished, there will likely be a quick round of tweaks suggested by the editors and writers. Here again, going digital really helps as there’s no Whiteout required. I just make a quick copy of the problem area (saving the old art in case I mess it up more) and fix it. Easy peasy.

At this point, the page is handed off to the colorist - for “Syndrome,” the incomparable Bill Farmer. In some cases I have color notes in mind, but most of the time we left it to Bill to work his magic.

So there you have it! I hope you pick up “Syndrome” and give it a read. You can see more of my work in Top Cow’s upcoming Pilot Season book, “The Asset,” written by Filip Sablik, and in Archaia Black Label and Roddenberry Productions’ “Days Missing: Kestus,” created by Trevor Roth and written by the awesome Phil Hester. The first issue hits in just a few weeks! In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter (@davemarquez) and at my website,, where I have more samples of my past work and other fun stuff to see. And there’s contact info for me there in case you want to drop me a line and ask me a question or two. Thanks for reading!

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