State of the Art: DALE EAGLESHAM's FF Innovation

State of the Art: EAGLESHAM Innovates FF

[click on any of the images to see full-size versions of Dale Eaglesham's penciled pages along with the final color versions colored by Paul Mounts]

When penciler Dale Eaglesham's first issue of Fantastic Four comes out August 26, there won't be any inks involved. Colorist Paul Mounts will be working straight from Eaglesham's pencils.

"It was something I’ve wanted to do for years," Eaglesham told Newsarama. "DC let me try it a couple of times with covers, and I really loved the control it gave me over the final look. It’s something I specifically asked for when I came to Marvel and they were totally open to it, which I thought was really great."

To illustrate the process of going from pencils to colors, Marvel provided Newsarama with a few pages from Fantastic Four #570, the debut issue for writer Jonathan Hickman and the new art team of Eaglesham and Mounts.

Eaglesham said the biggest difference about skipping the inking stage is that every detail has to be included when the pencils are done.

"You can’t leave anything unfinished. Take the line weight, for example. That refers to the lines going from thin to thicker to indicate anatomy planes and various depths of the muscular form. I used to indicate it when my work was getting inked, but now I have to fully execute it every time," Eaglesham said. "Also, on page nine for example, when detailing technology and other various objects, you want the line to maintain an even weight all the way through. An inker will use a pen to achieve that more easily, whereas with a pencil, as it is ground down during the execution of the line, changes in diameter and the line-weight become erratic. There is a lot of fussing with the backgrounds that I never had to worry about before.

"The black areas are also tricky. You have to make the blacks very full and even, otherwise those areas will look too rough in the final product," he said. "We’re also trying different levels of contrast to determine what looks best once printed. We’re going with a pretty high contrast for a very 'digitally inked' look in the first issue and may take it up or down a notch depending on how it looks printed in the end. There’s a lot of trial and error with our first couple of issues."

Mounts said one of the "dirty little secrets" in comics is that with some artists whose drawing skills aren't quite as strong as they could be, inkers and colorist carry the load to boost the penciler's strengths and hide their weaknesses.

"Not so with Dale!" he said. "His sheer drawing skill is the equal of anyone in this business – this guy knows his anatomy, his perspective, and his storytelling. All of that allows me to concentrate on the palette and helping use color to set the mood and tell the story, not to fix the broken, disguise the ill-drawn or clarify the unclear."

Eaglesham said the main benefit of going straight from pencils to colors is that the reader gets to see the pencils "unadulterated," as the artist intended the work to be seen.

"For the past several years, I’ve been handing in nearly finished pencils, so this wasn’t a huge leap," the artist admitted. "But still, producing perfectly clean and finished pencils does take a while longer. So it’s not primarily a time-saving issue, but it definitely is more efficient. With each batch of pages, we’re cutting at least two days of mailing time to the inker."

"Surprisingly, on the flip side, the hardest part has been finding the right paper and pencil combination to achieve the right pencil finish," Eaglesham said. "Some paper is too smooth, some is too rough or too flimsy. Some pencils are too hard and tear right through the paper, some are too soft and are impossible to erase. I’m making the art stores rich trying out all these different papers and pencils! I’m getting closer to the right combination, but the quest continues. I don’t know if this is actually interesting to anyone but me, but it’s been the greatest challenge for me so far and is making the work more difficult and time-consuming for sure."

Looking at the pages provided, the artist explained his thoughts behind the way the scene was portrayed at the pencil stage. For example, Eaglesham said the scene with Reed Richards and the Wizard focuses more on the boy than the main adversaries.

"In some ways, [the boy] melds into the machinery there, becomes a part of them," Eaglesham said of the boy. "That’s about how much his life is worth to the Wizard. To further portray his neglect, he has no shoes, and in page 10 we can definitely see his feet are cold. Earlier, on page 6, we see him on a heater grate keeping his feet warm. I wanted him large in the foreground as much as possible because I wanted to set the tone of the scene through him. Instead of embracing the arrival of Reed, someone who could release him from this crummy life, he buries his head, his undeveloped personality unable to cope with the sudden turmoil. He has yet to speak."

The scene of the aftermath of the robot fight gave Eaglesham the chance to work on the personalities of the characters from the Fantastic Four, he said.

"My favorite bit of comedy was Ben, getting back at Johnny for a change. Image-conscious Johnny was already ticked off about getting white flame retardant all over his suit when Ben, who dug one of the bio-goo-covered clones out of a robot, put the guy down and then clapped a goo-covered hand on Johnny’s shoulder. Ben gives as good as he gets! Let’s see if Johnny can take what he dishes out. Reed reached into one of his inter-dimensional pockets and took out a device to track the Wizard. He arrived not quite sure where he was and I like that he was okay with that momentary strangeness. A mental note, dampen the thermionic tube flux a little more for the next time!"

When the colors are applied to the scenes that Eaglesham drew, the tone will depend on the mood of the story at that moment, Mounts said. In this first issue, there are classic action sequences, but there are also some more disquieting, disturbing scenes and some peaceful domestic "FF-at-home-as-family" scenes, he said, which all require a different tone.

"The story is always the main engine, and the color palette and lighting should always be in service to that. If everything is always bright or always moody there's no dramatic tension," he said. "The pages with the FF fighting the Wizard-bots on the street are more of a classic FF fight scene, with all the big bright Wizard-themed blue and purple robots.

"But when we cut to the Wizard's lair, the goal is to show his deteriorating mental condition, so those pages needed to be more moody and almost off-putting color-wise. This also helps dilute his costume a bit, because, really, it's hard to make a scene serious and moody with a guy running around in a bright magenta, purple and blue bodysuit," Mounts pointed out. "In fact, at one early stage of these pages, I had his costume colors so dull and greenish that Editor Tom Brevoort had me bring back a little local color so he was recognizable! Other than that - well, of course, it wouldn't be the Fantastic Four without glowing Kirby dots on at least a few pages."

Mounts said going straight from pencils to colors is something many artists are trying now, taking advantage of the benefits of digital coloring.

"I've worked with a half-dozen different artists now coloring straight from pencils, and every one has looked for something different," he said. "Some pencilers like to have the softness and all the gray tones of the pencils coming through, with the color added as a wash, almost like color-tinting an old black and white photograph. Some like the pencils cleaned and tightened so they look almost inked. The goal either way is to create a more direct line from what the penciler puts down on paper to what the reader sees on the printed page, to more clearly communicate his or her intentions."

But the colorist said Eaglesham's pencils are fun for him to work on because he keeps noticing all the subtle details the artist uses to make the scenes more effective.

"Watch the attention to body language and the small details that Dale puts in these pages. From the Thing's rocky tongue, to the interplay between Ben and Johnny on page eight, to Reed's always calm and analytical body language. And while many artists would have drawn the Wizard ranting and raving, flailing his arms about wildly to show his madness, Dale's more subtle take communicates this in a much more subtle fashion, and is stronger for it," Mounts said. "And that's only these five - wait'll you see the other 18, especially the last few. In the ending of this issue Jonathan Hickman and Dale set up a whole new we're-in-the 21st-century take on the FF, while still true to the spirit that Stan and Jack began in 1961."

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