Zander Cannon goes digital with Oni's 'Kaijumax'

Zander Cannon fans can rejoice, as the first issue of his Oni Press giant-monster series Kaijumax hits shelves on Wednesday. When I first heard about the comic, which is send on an island prison for for kaiju, the phrase "Pacific Rim meets Orange is the New Black" was mentioned. That's certainly an apt comparison.

Creatively this project marks a major departure for Cannon, as all of his work is completely digital for the first time. The cartoonist shared a peek behind the scenes at a page from the second issue, showing the steps from rough layout to final product:

"Hi everybody, and welcome to the process by which I make a page from Kaijumax, America's premier monster prison book!"

"One of the things that is interesting about this book, as opposed to all the previous books I've drawn, is that it is done 100 percent digitally. I am not a reluctant digital artist, nor am I a digital evangelist; this method has some real advantages in terms of workflow and speed, and aesthetically it has maneuvered me into a clear-line style that I enjoy. I do, however, prefer to work on paper when it comes to some of my simpler, less high-concept comics."


"I feel like it's a little disingenuous to have the layout be only one step. As you can see from the many copies of the layouts layer, I took several runs at this page. They're not too different from this; I had the large panel 1 in every version, as well as the wide Panel 4, but the contents of the bottom row varied a bit. I like to group panels on pages in little sections, in which the size and orientation determine what's in them to some degree. Those wide shallow panels work really well for closeups or intimate interactions between two people. Three small panels in a row are good for a series of quick, distinct actions. Big squarish panels are great at offering a sense of scale. And so on. When working on this step, I take care to not have my pen be too fine. I like to keep it pretty big so that I think more of the main shapes and the composition rather than getting caught up in details."

"Another point is that I frequently don't design my characters until they show up. Knowing a characters' general type does a lot of the heavy lifting in this kind of book (for example, this character is meant to evoke comparisons to Ultraman and Ultra Seven) and so I'll generally have at least a size and shape for the character -- enough to go on for the layouts."

"One other thing that I make sure to do here is create a tone layer. Since this book is color with no solid black areas, I have to define shape and volume with halftones and color values, so I want to get that started early. But instead of simply drawing on a separate layer with a light gray brush, I create a solid gray layer, then put a black layer mask on it, which blocks it out completely. Then, on that layer mask, I draw in white, which lets the gray through everywhere my pen goes. At this stage, the only advantage that has is that it's easy to change the overall color of the gray tones (by refilling the solid layer with another gray), but its other use will become clear soon enough."

"Oh -- and the panel borders I create by doing a marquee around the whole live area, then using the selection minus marquee to cut the gutters into it. Then I stroke the lines with 100K black (True Black). These are 30 pixels wide in a 600 dpi image."


"Here I do the pencils. Basically I use the same 'pencil' tool as I used for the layouts, except it's half as big. This is a pencil tool (sharp edges) that uses pen pressure to define both size and opacity, which has an effect that doesn't look like an actual pencil line, but serves my purposes for creating detailed, if unfinished, art."

"I've been drawing comics for a while now, so I don't have to do a lot of roughing out of the anatomy of figures. When a character isn't doing anything terribly complicated, I can kind of create the anatomy on the fly, which can be helpful, since this character -- despite his identity as a magical space superhero -- is meant to look as if he is wearing a just-slightly-ill-fitting wetsuit. I like to put in the same weird wrinkles as they had on the old shows, even though I have none of the same technical restrictions as 1960s Japanese TV."

"I also adjust the tone layer and tighten up the tones on all of the figures. I like to just polish up this layer instead of replacing it."

"One of the things I try to do as frequently as I can in Kaijumax is give a sense of the scale of the characters, since everything is meant to be hundreds of feet tall. I include little animals drinking at streams and flocks of birds flying away whenever it makes sense."

"The letters are done as placeholders in this and the previous step (sometimes, since I'm also the writer of this book, I will lay out a page visually to get a sense for the rhythm of a scene before I spend a lot of time writing dialogue), and I just use all-caps Futura Extra Bold Condensed and Futura Black Condensed Oblique as my main font and emphasis font, respectively. I lessened the normal space between lines so that it would look more conventional for comic books. I place these balloons and move them around (and sometimes rewrite them) until everything fits nice and neat."

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