In the fall of 2011 I contacted artist Gene Ha about collaborating on a signed print with me. Gene and I had worked together on TOP 10 for America’s Best Comics, among other things, and I love his art. Gene thought it would be fun to work together on a print, as long as I could wait until he had time to fit it into his schedule. I agreed and told him I’d come up with an idea and script.
The title of our print would need to begin with the letter J, in keeping with the alphabetical series I’ve been doing since 2007. I had no immediate idea, and went through the dictionary, making lists of words beginning with J that sounded promising. The word, or actually words “joy ride” seemed like it would lead in a fun direction, though I knew right away I would combine them into one word for my title. At first some kind of wild teenage car ride suggested itself, and I thought Gene could probably do that, but I wasn’t sure what I could write about it. Then another kind of ride came to me, from a favorite story of my childhood, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s retelling of the Greek myth about Bellerophon and Pegasus the winged horse. I reread the story in one of my books above, don’t recall which, and I still loved it just as much, though Hawthorne does seem rather sugary to me now. But the core of the story — a man taming a winged horse, and the bond between them as they agree to fight a monster together — still appealed to me. I didn’t want to simply illustrate the Hawthorne story, though. I’d done that already with my Hope print about Pandora. I read up on the myth of Bellerophon and found another character I hadn’t heard of before that I thought I could center a story on: the daughter of King Iobates, the man who set Bellerophon the task of trying to kill the deadly Chimæra. Her name was given as Philonœ, and one version of the story has her marrying Bellerophon after the defeat of the monster, and the two of them ruling her country Lycia together and raising a family. I decided to write from her point of view, but first I had to do something about her name, which had an œ, hard to read, and didn’t sound very feminine in English. I made it Philona, and began working out her tale. After a week or so I had a story of a few pages that I liked. I decided to make the print a single-page comic with several panels that would depict one important moment from her story, the one where Philona gets to go for a joy ride with her lover Bell on Pegasus. It seemed right up Gene Ha’s alley. I put my script together with Hawthorne’s story and my script for the print and emailed it to Gene. The complete text of both stories, mine and Hawthorne’s are on my website HERE.
On January 21st, 2012, Gene emailed that he liked my script very much. He said, “My take on your script is that it’s about youthful hope in the face of death. Bellerophon is audacity and dreams, Philona is hope tempered by wisdom. The note that gives the story complexity and a hint of sadness is the presence of the Chimaera.” I knew from this that Gene had really absorbed the story and gotten into the character’s heads as much as I had. I was happy and excited about the project, and now it was just a matter of waiting until he could fit me into his work schedule.
As it turned out Gene had lots of prior commitments, as all good comics artists do, and it wasn’t until November 13th of 2012 that I received his loose pencils, above. I loved his layouts, my one request was that he have the wings of Pegasus go over the panels above rather than behind them. Gene said he would lower the wing angles and make that happen.
On November 16th Gene sent me this scan of his inks. I loved it! the entire piece was perfect, and better than I could have imagined. And his storytelling is great, you almost don’t need any dialogue to know what’s going on here, though I planned to add some! Gene still needed to add textures and gray tones in Photoshop, and while he did that, I went through my script again and made a few small changes. First, I wanted to keep my words on the page to a minimum so as to cover as little of this fine art as possible. Second, I wanted to help tell the story as Gene had drawn it, and a few tweaks were needed for that.
On November 21st Gene sent over the finished art file. I was thrilled all over again! One thing that surprised me was the white background on the large lower panel. I thought Gene would probably add gray clouds or something like that, but when I saw it this way, it seemed perfect. You can place a white horse on a white sky if you know what you’re doing! Now the ball was in my court, it was time to start lettering. Thanksgiving was here, though, so it took me a week and a half before I found time.
On December 1st I was ready to begin. First I printed out the image as large as possible on two 11 by 17-inch pages and taped them together. This would allow me to letter larger than printed size for the first time on one of my prints. I thought that would give me the freedom to be a little less fussy with the scans later. I worked on the upper and lower halves of the print separately, the upper half first, working on translucent vellum, a fancy name for thick tracing paper. I penciled everything in first and then got out my lettering pens and began working.
For this project I used a Speedball dip-pen with a C-6 wedge-tipped point for the regular letters, and a Castell TG-1 technical drawing pen, point size 2.5 (0.70mm) for the emphasized words like LISTENED above. I decided Philona’s narrative captions would be italicized or slanted. This made the emphasized words stand out less than I really liked, but I felt it worked best for the page overall.
The balloon borders were done with the next size tech pen down, point size 2 (0.50mm), and with some large oval templates to make the rounded shapes look good. Here there are two versions of one balloon. The upper one was my original placement, above Bell’s head, but it was too tight a fit, so I did the lower one as well, in the clear over a little shrubbery that wasn’t important. That’s the one I would go with.
Here’s another section showing the borders in process. I use different parts of several ovals to get the exact shape I’m after, sometimes filling in long sections with a french curve. And there’s Pegasus’s one brief line of dialogue!
The rest of the lettering and what came after it follows in Part 2 of this article. More about the making of all my signed prints can be found on the SIGNED PRINTS page of my website.