Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Olympians Boxed Set-- Countdown! Megapost Number 1- ZEUS: KING OF THE GODS

In 7 days, on October 7th, the new boxed set of the first 6 Olympians books is officially released.
That's six volumes, and a poster, so for each day leading up to the 7th I'll release a post detailing sketches, anecdotes, alternate drawings-- whatever I can find, really, for one of the books in the series. Today, I'll start with the first book,  Zeus: King of the Gods.

It all started with a conversation I had with my editor Neal Porter-- he referred to having seen a mutual acquaintance of ours the night before, an mentioned that said individual had been "slobbering like Cerberus." i was delighted by Neal's mythological reference-- I hadn't known he was a fan, and I dropped something equally nerdy back about cyclopes or gorgons or something. Neal fixed me with a look, pulled a book off his shelf, and said "What if you did a book retelling Greek myths, about this size, in comics form?" I raced home and two weeks later I had the first draft of Zeus: Father of the  Gods, along with plans for eleven more books.
Look how good I write backwards

Yeah, that's right-- Father of the Gods. Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that Americans didn't like books about royalty, so the book wasn't yet King of the Gods. I was wrong about Americans not digging royalty, obviously, and editorial overrode me on the subtitle. You're going to see that  happen a lot in this series.

Dummy for Zeus:King of the Gods. Zeus's less than stellar first meeting with his father.

This is a spread from the first draft of Zeus I showed Neal. This really was more of a third draft, as it's actually a fairly tight dummy. My first draft is more like the picture below:
Sketchbook page
Just a bunch of drawings and scribblings in one of my sketchbooks. I have a fancy name for this part of my process: key scening. I basically try to visualize scenes and bits of dialogue for how I will retell the myths I want to feature. It's a bit scattershot and inefficient but it's the best way I've found to work for me.
Thumbnails for Zeus.

Second draft is thumbnails, little tiny sketches of how the dummy pages (and the eventual book) will look. I take a look at my pages and pages of key scenes and assemble them into pleasing compositions that tell a coherent story. This is BY FAR the hardest part of the process, and it's where the story really gels.

If you have one of these now, it's worth approximately 3 billion dollars
After the thumbnails, I go to the dummy, but you've already seen that, so instead I'm sharing this rarity. This is a try-out finished page for Olympians that I made up into a postcard that I passed around at conventions in 2008. I was so excited I wanted about this series I wanted to get word out immediately (Zeus wouldn't actually pub for another two years).

black and white
Above we have that same spread as it actually appears in Zeus: King of the Gods, or rather a scan of the black and white artwork, with no panel borders (I add those later in Photoshop). Back then I used to use tape to rule off the edges of the artwork, that's why it's so clean-looking. My originals now aren't so neat. 
The second is the same page with color added in Photoshop. Notice how much my ideas of how to color this scene changed in between that first tryout piece and now. I've learned a lot about color working on these books and my ideas were changing fast. Also notice, if you look at the dummy, how I tweaked the layouts and panel flow. I do that a lot as I work on a book. You constantly notice new and (hopefully) better ways to tell the story.
And if we'd gone this route, I'd probably still be working on the first book.
Above is the piece of artwork I produced along with my pitch to Neal to sell Olympians as a series. I initially wanted to have Olympians be a painted graphic novel series, but very early on in the development process I was convinced by First Second editorial director Mark Siegel that was an insane idea, it would take me forever to do the artwork for each book, and that it would probably look better in Photoshop anyway. Right on all counts.
Turn around, Zeus! Kronos is behind you!
Some early cover concepts. I envisioned wraparound covers, initially. Note my early ideas of logo and text. not my strongest work.
This might work if Zeus was the Hulk
We had a hard time nailing down the type for the series. At some point Mark suggested I try drawing some three dimensional stone logos for Zeus. These abominations are the result of that attempt. 
Suddenly we have this-- a thumbnail for the cover to Zeus (still Father of the Gods here) that nailed the look both for this book, and the series going forward. The composition barely changed,from here until the finish, if at all.


From there I penciled it up. Look at the failure that is Kronos's sickle. I 'm not big on erasing.

My eyes! The burning!!
I really, really, REALLY almost didn't share this with you. I mentioned I was learning a lot about coloring in those days, but man, I had a lot to learn still at this point. When I came across this today I was horrified that I colored this. So were my editors.

Nowhere to go but up from that last one.

This was another attempt, and there's another version with a blue Zeus floating around out there on the interwebs, but while better than that first version, they still weren't quite working.

At last.
Finally, original series designer Danica Novgorodoff (now a fancy cartoonist in her own right) took my three failed color attempts, combined them together, played with some levels and birthed the cover me know and love now. I remember being upset at the time that Zeus was a blond on the cover, knowing that this book was pretty much the only time he was going to be depicted that way, but now I think it looks great.

That's enough for today, I think. Check back tomorrow for the birth of Athena: Grey Eyed Goddess.

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