All images © Alex Ross and Todd Klein.
So, the first version combining the lettering with the art, shown again here, was not a success. For the second one I needed a different approach. The balloons, captions and sound effects had to have a more solid feel, allowing them to be a substantial part of the picture, but at the same time I wanted them to be somewhat obscured, grayed to match the background art, and with the rays of light flowing over and bouncing off them. I added the lettering piece by piece, and with each one I began by adding a gradient from top to bottom to give it a more solid look. I still used some transparency as well, which helped to gray down the black lines, and then I spent lots of time adding lighting effects in photoshop. Alex’s original sketch had shown very large balloons at the bottom, with the sizes decreasing until they were quite small at the top. I was reluctant to go as large as he indicated at the bottom because I thought that would make those balloons seem too important, but otherwise I tried to follow his lead. The other thing I changed was the angle of the balloons. His layout had shown them all aligned horizontally. I thought it would add interest and perspective if I angled them each toward the blazing sun. So, after many hours, this is what I had:
A bit crowded, but I managed to get in even more lettering than the previous version, and it did have a more cohesive look. I made a low resolution copy and emailed it off to Alex, anxious to see what he thought.
Well, the news wasn’t good. Alex thought it was much better, and liked the effects and look of the balloons, but didn’t like the way they were all angled toward the sun, and felt they still missed the idea of his original layout, both in proportions and depth, front to back. It was around this time that I thought wistfully of working with writers. Both Alan and Neil turned in their words, and the rest was all up to me…this was definitely more challenging! But I knew if Alex wasn’t happy, this wasn’t going to work, so I called him to talk about where to go next.
After some discussion, I suggested I could do another version sticking more closely to his original layout, but I needed to get more lettering in than he’d indicated. I asked Alex if he could give me a revised layout with more balloons in it. He agreed, asking, “How many do you want?” I told him I had about 50, but didn’t need to use them all, though definitely a lot more than the 20 or so on his first layout. A few hours later it came by email.
Lots of balloons, and they covered more of the flying figure than I really liked, but I hoped by using some transparency there I could avoid covering too much of it. This version definitely still had the “stairstepping” effect Alex was after, allowing the eye to follow the balloons up and back to the figure, making it seem more distant. This time I would follow the layout closely by putting it on a layer over the art and positioning all the balloons in place first, something I should have done from the beginning. Hindsight is so easy… When I had them positioned, I removed the layout and made a small copy to send Alex:
Not quite this small, but you get the idea. Alex thought it worked well, he just cautioned me to have the balloons go behind the boy, which I had planned to do. Relieved, I once again set to work in Photoshop adding all the effects and lighting to the lettering. Many hours later, this is what I had:
Not as many balloons as either of the first two versions, but enough. And, shockingly, by following Alex’s layout, they now formed a pleasing pattern that not only seemed less crowded, but also had lots more depth and perspective. Funny how that worked. I emailed it to Alex, and he thought it was just fine. Success!
Next I needed to do a print test. I had chosen an ivory-colored paper to print on for two reasons. First, the color suggested old comics paper to me, and second, the yellowish/tan shade added some warmth to the grays. I did some tests, and was pretty happy with the way it looked:
Each of my prints is produced on my black and white laser printer, so black is the only ink color. I can add some color two ways, with the paper, as above, and with small areas of painted-on watercolor. For this one I wanted a color to go in the open area of the large C, and in the word COMICS on the book the boy is reading. I experimented with several color variants:
My first idea was a golden yellow, seen on the left. It was a little too distracting, though, and the edges were a problem. Since the black areas of the C have been grayed down, there’s no black line to paint to. In the second and third versions above I tried adding that, but again it was too distracting, standing out from the rest in a way I didn’t like. The fourth version, a tan color, worked well with the paper, but the colors I needed to mix to get there didn’t go on evenly, so I rejected that version as well, and settled on a pale yellow, the fifth and rightmost one. This was light enough so that if I painted over the gray edges a little it didn’t show unless you looked really closely, and it was subtle enough to add to the overall design without jumping out too much. Plus, the color suggested to me the way yellow ink often printed on old comics.
Here’s the final printed version, needing only Alex’s and my signatures at the bottom, and the copyright line on the lower right edge. I added that, printed a little over 500 copies, and got to work painting them. In a few days they were done, and I signed them, packed them, and shipped them off to Alex for him to sign. They came back ready to sell:
This print is for comics fans of all ages, and I think it will make a nice addition to my growing catalog. Hope you like it, too. Earlier parts of this series are linked below. You can read more about the creation of my other prints on my SIGNED PRINTS page, and ordering information can be found there, or on my BUY STUFF page.