Images © Bill Willingham and DC Comics, Inc., art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha, colors by Lee Loughridge, letters by Todd Klein.
At the San Diego con this year, inker Steve Leialoha showed me some of the original art for FABLES, and I found it intriguing for several reasons. First, Bucky is working almost at printed size instead of the usual larger art board size, about 150% of printed size. This shows Bucky’s great control of his linework. I’ve only known two other artists who worked at or close to printed size: Linda Medley on CASTLE WAITING, and Trevor Von Eeden back in the 1980s on THRILLER, among others. (A few artists like Gene Ha work at a size somewhere between art board and printed size, but not usually this small.) Note that this is the central portion of page 9, FABLES 108, not page 8, as Bucky has written at the top, so either he added a page after this one was finished, or counted wrong. As in all the FABLES art Bucky does, the narrow side panels are put in later, and are often repeated, with a particular pair for each setting or scene.
Here’s the other intriguing aspect of the art on these pages. Before sending the pencils to Steve Leialoha, Bucky paints gray washes over them, as seen here, sometimes doing a bit of the inking as well. Here he’s inked Bufkin’s eyes in the last panel, and I think a bit of linework on Bungle, the glass cat, as well as the panel borders. He’s also added shrubbery in mostly darker watercolor grays where there was nothing in the pencils. This is what Steve received from Bucky, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen art done quite this way before: doing gray tones over pencils. Steve told me it’s not a problem for him to ink them, though it takes him longer than the standard way and size, and if anything doesn’t come out quite right he fixes it on the computer after scanning his finished inks. Frankly I don’t think there are many inkers who would be able to handle this as well as Steve, who is a fine artist in his own right.
Here’s the page with Steve’s great inks, and also with the side panel art added, which is entirely by Bucky. How Bucky can add the gray tones and have them come out so perfectly in tune with the inks is truly a mystery to me. It means he sees the inks in his head, I guess! This is what comes to me for lettering.
And here’s the page with the lettering, which I do using my own fonts in Adobe Illustrator. The green guideline shows where the page will be trimmed, and the red one shows the safe area for lettering. As usual, Bucky’s panels are well within that.
Colorist Lee Loughridge gets the inked art file at the same time I do, and he’s working on the coloring while I’m working on the lettering. Lee declines to discuss his process coloring over the gray washes, but the result sure is gorgeous! And I think when things are running late, he begins his coloring over the pencils. I have no idea how that can possibly work…! One thing that saves Lee some time, as it does Steve, is the repeated side panels. They only have to ink and color those once.
And here’s an approximation of what the printed page will look like, though the colors may not be as bright on paper as they are here, and a small edge will be trimmed off the side panels at each side.
Hope you’ve enjoyed a look into this unique FABLES art process!