Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Conan: Kiss of the Undead

Conan and Bart Sears. Many of us Searsians have been dreaming of that combination for many a year now. And seriously, it should have happened years ago; there are few artists who have the skill and artistic bent to really do Conan justice, and Bart is definitely one of those few artists.
So, back in August when Bart started working on the ‘Conan: Kiss of the Undead’ 8-page story, I was rather thrilled at the thought of finally seeing what Bart could do with everyone’s favourite Cimmerian after so many years since last he drew him.
One of the great things about being close to Bart is the fact that he’s happy to show what he’s working on, and I was privileged enough to see all of the 8 pages for the story pretty much straight after they were finished, through all stages from pencils to colours.

And whilst Bart was working away at these pages, an idea came to me that came to fruition only last week. I asked Bart, who is normally a pretty prodigious thumbnail and roughs producer, if he would mind putting all of those pages of sketches and such aside for me. Bart would often simply discard these pages, a truth that has haunted me for years and years, the thought of all of those beautiful pages ending up in a land-fill somewhere – a horrid thought indeed.
So Bart was only too happy to start stacking those pages up, and, boy, did they stack up. The box I received last Tuesday (16/11) contained nearly 200 pages of page layouts, thumbnails, roughs, sketches, revisions, the script and photocopies of the finished pencils. It took me the better part of a week to organise, scan and clean up all of the pages, and it would be remiss of me not to share with you some of the treasures to be found in those 200 pages.

And, yes, 200 pages does sound like a heck of a lot of roughs for a little 8-page story. But as Bart has often informed me, it always takes him a while to get up to speed and comfortable when starting a new project. This mostly has to do with Bart’s ongoing quest to bring a slightly adjusted style to every new thing he does, because the work he has been doing lately for another company would not suit the Conan story, and visa versa.
To further emphasise this point, the first page of the Conan story took some 70 pages of roughs to complete, whereas pages 2-7 took anywhere from 5 to 15 pages. So you can see, once Bart gets cracking, he really gets cracking.

And now, let’s get to the good stuff! I thought it would be fun to not only show you some of the cooler drawings, but to also give you a window into how Bart goes about creating his artwork, and the steps he takes to reach the final piece.

So here’s page 1 pencilled, inked and coloured, but minus the text.
And this is how it started.
As you can see, it is quite different, especially the top panel of Conan, which caused Bart some serious headache for a while. Let’s look at that first panel some more.
Originally, Bart was going to treat that panel as a typical letterbox shaped rectangle, and he began working on figures to fit this idea-
The premise of that panel, as written by Ron Marz, was that this should be a scene of Conan either in the middle of a battle, or just afterward, ideas that you can see Bart was playing with both of. He then seemed to hone in on a particular pose, best drawn here-
But Bart quickly moved on to other ideas than this, creating more rough thumbnails such as these-
He once again found something to explore in further detail, which is not too dissimilar to the previous more detailed rough-
But, once again, Bart discarded this idea and decided to concentrate on a more vertical and design-oriented view of Conan-
This was obviously to Bart’s liking, because he drew several roughs based on these ideas, getting closer and closer to the final rendition as he went.
And here are the final pencils for the entire page.
Pretty cool stuff, huh? What I like most about the way that Bart goes about drawing anything, is the way that he doesn’t care what the roughs and other preliminary work looks like when set on its own. I have found that far too often today, comic artists are treating every little scribble they do as a masterpiece worthy of being sold and put up on a wall. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of Bart’s preliminary drawings are beautiful and will probably end up on a wall, but this fact is simply a product of what Bart is drawing, not necessarily the way he has drawn it. To further explain myself, I would much prefer to have a rough like this on my wall-
-rather than some pretty little sketch by some other artist who fully intended it to be on a wall somewhere. Bart didn’t want this stuff to be pretty, it is a means to an end, you can see that he draws these roughs quickly and, well, roughly. As they should be!
Let’s have a look at some more cool preliminary drawings, shall we?

Here’s a nice one from page 3. Bart had a bit of trouble with the Countess’s face in this panel, to the point where the original pencilled version was redone again, and there are numerous preliminary pages of her facial structure and details.
Here are the rough page layouts for page 5. They’re a good example of how Bart sometimes nails the roughs on the first go, as very little of this page is changed by the time the finished pencils are done. The most notable change being the last panel, in which Bart originally went for a midriff shot of Conan, but opted for a head and shoulders shot in the end.
Next up is the rough page layouts for page 7, another great example of Bart’s ability to get a design he wants with sometimes very few changes needed. I’ve also included a nifty rough of the first panel, drawn in a little more detail. Bart would have blown this panel up to its correct size and drawn the final pencils straight from this piece, with the use of a lightbox.

And finally, because it is such a fantastic shot of our hero Conan, I thought I might bookend this post by showing you how Bart went about producing the final image of Conan on page 8. So here’s the final version, expertly inked by Randy Elliott, and coloured beautifully by relative newcomer, Mark Roberts.
Bart was obviously keen to end the story with a real strong Conan shot, as you can see from these early roughs.
And as he progressed through the designs, he found a pose he liked, and worked it through to finished pencils.
But wait a second! That isn’t the Conan that appears on the published comic! That’s very true, because after Bart did all of that work, even pencilling it up amazingly, he decided he wasn’t happy with the figure and decided to start it all over again. Bart mentioned to me that he didn’t feel he had quite grasped Conan’s persona in the first attempt, but was happy with this second attempt.

So there you have it, a brief enough walk through some fantastic new Bart Sears art and how he goes about creating it. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of actually seeing the Conan: Kiss of the Undead story yet, I suggest you mosey on over to the USA Today site, or just click on the direct link to the comic right here.

As usual, I have a few other posts in the works at the moment, so don’t forget to pop back soon for more Bart Sears goodies.

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