Red and yellow and green and blue – he can paint a Rainbow (Orchid)

Published On August 10, 2010 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

We have a lovely treat for you today as Garen Ewing becomes the latest comics creator to give us a ‘director’s commentary’, talking us through the creation process for some of the pages of the new second volume of his wonderful Rainbow Orchid (which, as regular readers will know, has been a complete favourite with the blog crew for years and which we’re delighted to see being published by Egmont so it can reach a wider audience).

As well as talking us through the creation of some of his page work, Garen has also explained in his introduction that he had, in some ways, mixed feelings about it and about discussing the creation of his work when he gives his talks at book festivals and the like. I can understand that – some people don’t want to know how a comic, painting, book or film actually come together in case it breaks the magic for them. I’m pretty much the other way (and I suspect many fellow geeks are too) in that I do actually watch the extras on my DVDs to see how something was done and, far from diminishing the magic of the finished item for me it has always enhanced it – it leaves me with more respect for the effort, work and love the creators put into their work and the magic of the finished work too. If you do fall into the former category then pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, but I suspect that for many of you this will only increase your appreciation for Garen’s work. Over to Garen:

For a short while in the early 1990s I was involved with a local amateur dramatics group who put on various musicals and variety shows. The producer of these shows (who, incidentally, had appeared as a member of the Happy Patrol in that Sylvester McCoy Bertie Bassett Doctor Who) was always very strict about us not being allowed out of the dressing room in our costumes before the show started, during the intermission, or after it had finished. “Don’t let the audience see behind the magic”, she’d say – a bit ‘show biz’ perhaps, but I kind of agreed with the principle. In a recent British Film Institute interview, Ray Harryhausen said much the same thing, telling the story of when he first saw King Kong in 1933 and was amazed at the wonders appearing on screen, with no idea how this giant gorilla and its dinosaur adversaries had been made to come to life. He lamented the fact that these days everyone knows how everything is done, and the magic has pretty much disappeared from our lives.

As if to illustrate this, I once decided to watch the extras on the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings DVD and discovered that one of the ways they got Frodo to appear of such small stature in relation to Gandalf when riding on the cart into Hobbiton was merely by having him sit further back on the set. Unfortunately, now I know this, the optical illusion has been shattered and I always see the reality rather than the effect whenever I watch the film.

The musical producer’s phrase, “don’t let the audience see behind the magic” still echoes in my ears whenever I do my slideshow talk on how I go about making my adventure comic, The Rainbow Orchid, yet my website has been generously praised in various quarters for its range of ‘DVD extras’ that add greatly to the experience of the book for those who want more.

The truth is, I really love reading about other comic creators’ working methods. There’s no school program for making comics (well, there wasn’t when I was starting out), you learn your own way, and if that works, then it’s right. But there are always tips to pick up from your colleagues, and it’s nice when you see that, essentially, our working methods are often very similar. It’s also probably the most common question I get asked, in a variety of different guises: what pens and paper do I use? How big do I rule my gutters? What resolution do I scan pages at? How do I lay out a script? I tend to think my answers would be quite dull, but more often than not I get profusely thanked for any insights I’m able to supply (always with the caveat that there is no one right way).

Doing it all day almost every day, I forget that maybe there is a little bit of ‘magic’ involved for those who don’t know anything about how a comic comes together. This is revealed in some of the comments that come my way, some more often than you’d expect, for instance: “isn’t the art all done by computer these days?” or “I didn’t know comic strips had to be written as well!” (once said to me by a published novelist).

For the majority of my readers, I think, they don’t visit the Rainbow Orchid website – they just read the book, enjoy it (hopefully), and put it on their shelf. For those who want to know more, perhaps because they’d like to try making their own comic strip, a bit more information is available. Seeing King Kong motivated Ray Harryhausen to find out just how Willis O’Brien made a giant gorilla move, and he was inspired to forge out a career for himself in that area. His enthusiasm has never waned. As a huge fan of adventure films in the 70s, I wanted to know how Harryhausen did it, and so I read as much as I could about the making of films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or The Valley of Gwangi, and, unlike Lord of the Rings (which I now suspect was just a bad effect) I feel the magic just gets better each time I watch them. All the 3D CGI in the world doesn’t thrill me as much as watching the six-armed Kali come to life in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad!

One last point before I end this rambling introduction: it is often the case that I suspect my answers to questions such as “what pen do you use” do actually disappoint the enquirer – because what I think they really want is an answer that will give them a magic wand, a golden rule, with which to create comics. In the end there’s no such thing – it’s love and hard work that make the so-called ‘magic’. Harryhausen knew this truth every time he moved the cyclops’ arm a fraction and clicked the shutter for the 3000th time to advance the camera one more frame. The only ingredient you need – be it musical, clay monster or comic strip – is a darn good story. How you make that story come alive, is totally up to you.

So, after all that, I’m now going to set about destroying any ‘magic’ and give you some idea of how I go about creating a page for The Rainbow Orchid. I’ll skip the most mysterious phase, when a story is formed in the soup of everyday life, dreams, idle thoughts and general inspiration, and get right down to the technical information, following the development of a page from volume two. Writing it out in order like this might make it all seem very organised, and it is to a certain extent, but the reality means that it often develops out of order and in bits and pieces here and there.

(click the pics for the larger image)

1) Rough script: most often I will hand-write the script in the first instance as I work out what needs to have happened by the end of a page. You can see on the rough here that there is a list in the top-right hand corner where I’ve ticked off the various events I needed to include before the page reached its end. Quite often I’ll also do little doodles to work out how a panel could be laid out, or how a particular pose might work. This page includes a research note: “Mauser pistol – 8 shots – 9 if one in chamber” because I needed to know how many shots Evelyn’s hand gun could fire before running out of bullets.

2) Typed script: typing out the script from my rough notes gives me a chance to order the page properly and give it a bit of a re-write. It’s also useful to have it typed as I computer-letter the finished artwork, so I can copy and paste the text onto the master file. Because I write and draw The Rainbow Orchid myself, the panel descriptions tend to be pretty sparse, in fact quite often I just put down the dialogue. As this page is basically a fight scene there is a little more description included.

3) Thumbnail: the thumbnail rough is usually drawn at the same time as I’m typing up the script. They’re about 2 x 2.75″ in size. As often as I can I like the end of a tier to be a hook, a mini-cliffhanger (whether action or dialogue), leading the reader down to the next row of panels to draw them through the page.

4) A4 rough: the next thing I do is take an A3 sheet of Bristol board and rule out the panels as dictated by the thumbnail. I then scan this is in to the computer, reduce it to A4 and print it out. On this print-out I do a slightly more detailed, but still very rough, version of the page. This then gets scanned back in and I copy the dialogue and sound effects from the typed script so I have an idea of the space needed for the lettering and balloons (it’ll often also be an excuse for another rewrite and this will become the master file). As this is a fight scene there is not a lot of dialogue to worry about here. The A4 roughs will go to my editor at Egmont to give him an early idea of how the comic will read.

I work out fight scenes quite carefully – I’ve been a martial arts practitioner for over 25 years, so I like them to ‘work’. I promised myself that Julius Chancer would never be a punch-thrower, I always want fight scenes to be a little more creative than just slug-fests between teeth-gritters! I also have a thing about guns being used to get heroes out of trouble – as far as I’m concerned, guns always complicate things rather solve them!

5) Pencils: remember the A3 Bristol board onto which I laid out the panels? Now I start pencilling the actual artwork onto that, using the script and the A4 roughs as a guide. Things will quite often change again here for a variety of reasons, for instance, a rough sketch may look great but when drawn more seriously turns out to be a physically impossible pose, or the lettering may reveal that characters need to be in different places within the panel, or sometimes I’ll realise two adjacent panels are a bit too similar in layout or character pose, so I’ll have to have a rethink. Trying to bring some of the free-form liveliness of the roughs into the more careful art of the finished pencils is something I’m still grappling with!

At any of the stages mentioned so far, a certain amount of research may come into play. It may be at the script stage, where I’ll need to know something in particular before I know how it will affect the story, or it may be at the drawing stage, where I need to know what something looks like. This can sometimes add a few hours to the work (or in some cases, days, as I’ve had to wait for an obscure second-hand book to come in the post!).

6) Inking: this is one of the most enjoyable parts for me. It requires less conscious concentration, so my brain is freed up to listen to music, the radio, or an audiobook while I work. But inking is still a fairly intensive task – the cartooning may look quite simple, but a millimetre’s difference can change a facial expression substantially. I use a dip pen with a Hunt 107 nib and Winsor & Newton black Indian ink. I fill in solid blacks with the same ink and a brush.

7) Scan: a bit of a laborious step now as I scan the completed A3 original into the computer (in two parts as I only have an A4 scanner) at 600dpi in bitmap mode. I then start working in Photoshop and spend about thirty minutes tidying up the page and adding any ‘white ink’ required.

8) Colour: the colouring is all done in Photoshop. For a graphically clean look I stick to flat colours (with sparsely used hand-made gradients here and there) and use a fairly subdued palette. I’m not a big fan of computery effects or bright colours! They wouldn’t suit a page with this many panels anyway, it needs to be kept simple – restraint is a big part of my cartooning style (I probably need more). A page can take a good three to five hours to colour in all.

9) Lettering: for the final master art file, the colour artwork is placed onto the page that was the scanned A4 rough, as this already has the lettering on (the lettering for The Rainbow Orchid is a font of my own hand lettering that I constructed using TypeTool). I then add the speech balloons (in Photoshop) and shape the lettering to flow properly within the balloon’s space. Quite often I’ll take advantage of this and do another slight re-write as well.

The end of the process will see the master Photoshop file go off to the publisher who will re-set the lettering on the artwork in Adobe InDesign as it needs to be key black and vector-sharp. Really, the only reason I do the lettering is as a guide for the text-flow and to get the balloon sizes right.

And there you have it – no magic wand, but all my ‘secrets’ revealed: a page from start to finish.

FPI would like to thank a very busy Garen, who’s been continuing with more work while also managing numerous festival and convention appearances, for taking the time to share his thoughts and art with us. Garen will at the East Grinstead Library today (another good reason to support you local libraries) and will be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 23rd of August; the first two volumes of the Rainbow Orchid are available now and are highly recommended. You can follow the latest from Garen via his website. All art by and (c) Garen Ewing, Rainbow Orchid published by Egmont.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

2 Responses to Red and yellow and green and blue – he can paint a Rainbow (Orchid)

  1. Matt Badham says:

    Very cool tutorial! Cheers, Garen.

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks, Garen! That’s a fascinating read.