All images © Alex Ross and Todd Klein

In mid October a Fedex package arrived from Alex containing this truly wonderful gouache painting. It was even better than I had imagined from the sketch. In talking to Alex about it, I learned he had used a neighbor boy, Nicholas Wolf, as his model. And for the comic book, I had suggested something for the back cover inspired by the original DC Comics house ad for the Justice League of America, and Alex did a fine job with that, too. Above, the shadowy, heroic figure against a blazing sun, with radiating rays, added so much to the design in areas that could have been empty and static. I was very happy! Now it was time for me to get to work again.

The first thing I wanted to work on was the lettering for the comic book. I made a 200% enlargement of Alex’s painting in that area so I’d have plenty of room to work. (Amazingly, Alex did the art exactly at printed size!) Then I placed a piece of translucent vellum paper over the enlarged copy and pencilled and inked this lettering and logo:

Long-time readers like myself will probably find the first two words familiar! The rest I made up to fit the design and the idea I wanted to convey. I scanned this and combined it with the art in Photoshop:

In order to get a good match I needed to gray the black areas a little, add some pale gray to the open areas of the lettering, and reverse out the word MAGAZINE, making that a medium gray on the black arrow. All the lettering had to be blurred slightly, too, so it blended better with the art. Now the boy is reading “All The Best COMICS”! Well, some of them, anyway.

So far so good. Next I wanted to integrate my title into the art. I scanned that and laid it over the painting, graying down the blacks and allowing some transparency, so the sun rays would show through. I also reinforced the rays with new gradients and brushwork over the title lettering. Once the title was in position I realized I needed to shorten the letters from the first O to the K in COMIC BOOK, as they were too close to the figure, so I made that adjustment, too.

I also added a byline for Alex and myself near the right end, using an art deco computer font I created years ago. Later I decided it was too small, and made room for it to be larger by trimming the descending stroke of the R in DREAMS. You’ll see that in the next version.

With this much accomplished, I was ready to begin adding the balloons and captions. I still thought they should be a sort of phantom montage floating in the open area around the boy, and that’s the plan I followed.

After scanning all the balloons, I placed them over the art one by one, and by using a mix of transparency, graying and new gradient and brushwork, I tried to get them into the background in a way that made each one seem only half there, fading in and out, still readable, barely, but not taking focus away from the rest of the art. Above is what I had after many hours of work, and while I hadn’t been able to fit all my examples in, I thought it was enough. Satisfied, I added a line of lettering on the bottom using one of my computer fonts: “Thanks to all the creators who inspired this tribute by providing us with a lifetime of great comics and reading enjoyment.”

I made a low resolution version of this image and emailed it to Alex for his comments. I hadn’t been sure what I had come up with for the balloons succeeded or not, so I wasn’t too surprised with Alex’s reply. In essence, he thought it didn’t work. Alex wrote:

My first instinct is that the word balloons should all be balanced properly, so as to create the impression as my composition dictated of a sense of stairs going up from the kid to the superhero figure.  I did it with a very subtle impression of the word balloons getting smaller as they get closer to the hero’s figure.  Also, I went larger with the ones closer to the kid and bunched them up more so as to overlap.  Right now the image feels like it’s just a bunch of word balloons thrown down on the image, and it’s not really integrated.  In a way, it looks like a Colorforms set.  I was also hoping that you would try the Photoshop approach of how the word balloons seem to be blocking the sunlight, causing the rays to be blocked in part by their shape but also leaking streams of light over their gray tone forms.  I was thinking of them as semi-solid objects that, if painted, would have been a third figure, essentially, in the composition.  Right now they’re just translucent and don’t really cooperate with the other two figures.

Alex is a perfectionist with a strong design sense, and once he pointed it out, I could see how my layout and treatment wasn’t what he had in mind. Fair enough, I thought, I’ll try it again. And I’ll begin with that new version in Part 3.



8 thoughts on “Creating COMIC BOOK DREAMS Part 2

  1. Jeff Wetherington

    Hmmmm, while understanding some of what Mr. Ross is conveying in his remarks, I REALLY like your final version above and its composition as it applies to the word balloons. I’m looking forward to your next installment, especially the visualization of Ross’ composition suggestions, to see if it is an improvement or not.

    Thanks for sharing this “behind the scenes” story.

  2. Alethea

    If I may, I rather agree with Alex’s comment “I was also hoping that you would try the Photoshop approach of how the word balloons seem to be blocking the sunlight, causing the rays to be blocked in part by their shape but also leaking streams of light over their gray tone forms.” It was a bit what I was expecting as well. I would like to see the balloons better, or at least some of them, although I very much like the way the rays of light spill over COMIC BOOK DREAMS and I agree with your decision to enlarge the byline. Perhaps having the balloons appear more solid along the gradient of rays to the book/child might be an alternative or could be an addition to the size differential?

    Anyhow, it’s great to have a peep in to the creative act by such talented professionals while it is still ongoing. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Tony Solomun

    Hi Todd,
    that looks awesome,superb,
    your lettering enriches the painting very well,

    when will this go for sale ?
    $20, right ?

    all the best mate,

  4. Brian Woods

    I liked this design quite a bit, mostly because I like the idea of ethereal word balloons floating about. Them being concrete enough to block out the sun, I think, takes away from the imagination the image inspires in me.

    That said, you know what you are doing. I will be very interested in seeing the final version.

  5. Todd Post author

    I’ll be releasing the on-sale date as soon as I have the signed prints back from Alex. Yes, they will sell for $20 each.

  6. Jared

    Wow. I can’t wait. This may be the best yet. You’re going to have to release some sort of annotations somehow on how the word balloons match up to their inspirations…

    The title type and the image look fantastic together. It reminds of Ray Bradbury, for some reason… Possibly the combination of day-dreaming and nostalgia!

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