I used to love newspaper comics. These days, not so much…and it’s probably a combination of getting older and crankier and thinking everything was better dickety-years ago and the thought that they’re simply not as good as they were or as good as they could be.
I’m not going to endlessly prattle on about how the newspaper industry has changed in 80 years (of course, what hasn’t?) and that comics simply aren’t a priority that they once were. All you need to do is look at a Sunday comics feature from this year and compare it a comic feature from decades ago. Comics were a vibrant, amazing art form then. I loved the Sunday comics growing up but once I saw what Sunday comics used to be, I got a little bummed out that the strips used to be printed much larger and many getting a whole page each week.
I thought newspaper comic strip artists had the best job in the world…and I still think that. I had always wanted to make a newspaper comic strip and have it ready by millions of people. The Retros is my chance to do that. Except of course my comic will likely be seen by less than 20 people and it won’t be in a newspaper.
I also love working with restrictions and limitations. When I started the Retros, I wanted each page to be a simple, four panel grid. This limits the layout, storytelling and flow in some ways, but it also forces me to economize. Each panel has to count and no space is wasted. Each panel is packed and it’s hard to do that without it looking cramped or too busy. It’s taking everything I learned from ten years on Uptown Girl and turning it upside-down. With Uptown Girl I could let a story wander and let the characters just talk and talk and that was fun, but when I started a second series, I wanted the Retros to be very different from Uptown Girl. They are different in a lot of ways theme-wise, but also vary in storytelling, pace and humor. The Retros forces me to innovate. Sometimes too many layout options can get overwhelming but with only four, same sized panels, you only have so many ways to go.
I also decided to make the Retros a black and white comic. I made this decision for a number of reasons. Since I self-publish, it’s more affordable to print in black and white. I’m also used to working with just black and white. I create textures, I crosshatch and use different line weights. I am not the best cartoonist in the world, or even on my block but I do okay. But the main reason I am working in black and white is that I suck at coloring. I am amazed at how many options Photoshop gives you not only with swatches but also effects and shading and everything else. Again, this can be overwhelming having so many options. I’ve tried to learn the more fun techniques but I can’t get the hang of it. I didn’t want to color the Retros because I knew it wouldn’t look very good.
But lately I’ve been reconsidering. I’ve also been playing around in color lately with some other projects and having a lot of fun with it. I’ve been wondering what the Retros would look like in color. I decided that if I could come up with a style that was interesting using a technique I could get the hang of, I’d give it a shot.
This is where wine comes into play.
I am brilliant after a couple glasses of wine. Aren’t we all? I don’t drink that often, and I’ve lost a little weight this year so my tolerance is like, zero. Anyway, after a long and draining week, my wife and I had some wine and caught up with each other. I know I am coming off as a total lightweight but I don’t care. After two glasses of wine, I was tired and mmmmaybe a little drunk. Shut up. At any rate, I wasn’t ready to go to sleep and was in no shape to read the book I’m about halfway through. I picked up a collection of old Superman newspaper comic strips from the 1930’s and started looking at that. I’ve been reading a lot of newspaper comic strip collections lately, specifically superhero strips from the 30’s and 40’s.
The strips always amaze me. I love what the cartoonists were able to do with the limits of such small panels and still be able to tell exciting stories. Since I am drawn (ha ha) to limitations in comics, these strips really interest me. Like I said earlier, I’ve been interested in color lately and noticed at how few color swatches these comic strips had back then. This was due to limitations in newspaper printing so most strips were colored very simply with heavy black ink and bright colors.
I had a brilliant idea and decided to try using a very limited palette of color with the Retros. The next day I woke up (and as you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well) and got to work. Because that’s what people do, right? They get up at 5:30am on Saturdays and work?
The first thing I did was scan in the very first Sunday Superman comic strip that originally ran on November 5th, 1939. Here’s what I scanned and I apologize for the poor picture. My scanner is smaller than the book the comic was printed in so this is a…ah, lopsided picture of the strip. I swear I wasn’t having more wine when I took it:
So yeah, lopsided city. Once the page was scanned in Photoshop, I made new swatches from the comic. I think I ended up bringing in about 15 different colors, a couple shades of yellow, red, blue and a few others.
Then I opened up a couple pages from the Retros. Here they are in glorious black and white:
I know the second page doesn’t have dialogue, I’ll get to it.
Anyway, I started coloring them and playing around with using ONLY the swatches from the Superman comic. I realized that I would have to keep using some of the existing colors from Photoshop for skin tones, but for everything else I used Superman’s hues.
So, here they are:
So, I like how these look. I also think it’s appropriate to use coloring swatches from 1939 for a series called The Retros.
This does add a lot of time onto the comic, I think the pages took an hour or so each. But now that I see it in color, I don’t think I can go back to black and white. When I do print collections for the strip, I’ll probably still print in black and white unless I can afford to do color or raise money through Kickstarter or something.