Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crimson Conan

Today we have a couple of the preliminary drawings we did in preparation for painting the cover of Del Rey's 2007 edition of Crimson Shadows. Del Rey established a cover design that required the image to appear in a very small box, so we tried to keep our picture bold and simple. Below is our first tiny thumbnail and a super-quick color study:

Our editor liked the pose, but requested that we lose the helmet and chain mail shirt:

Sans hat and shirt, we were given the go-ahead, and this is how it appeared on the cover:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Old Garfield's Heart

Here's a preview of the work we're doing for the planned Subterranean Press edition of Grim Lands (no release date yet). This plate is from the story "Old Garfield's Heart." This was painted 12 × 16" in oil on Ampersand Hardbord.

Silently he extended his hand, and I dropped Jim Garfield's heart into it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob: Torbett Sanatorium

One of the challenges of drawing a biographical comic strip is that, unlike a prose biographer, we not only have to know as much as possible about the who, what, when, and where of any given event, but we also have to know what things looked like. This can be particularly difficult when you're talking about remote, rarely photographed places that no longer exist.

A few days ago, Brian Leno made a great post over on the Two-Gun Raconteur site about Frank Thurston Torbett, a one-time collaborator of Robert E. Howard's.

Howard met Frank while taking his mother for medical treatment at Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas. Of special interest to us was this picture postcard of the Sanatorium that Brian ran with his post:

This picture caused us to remember an episode of The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob that we drew back in 2006. The strip featured the Sanatorium, and our reference for the buildings ultimately came from the postcard seen below (as much illustration as photograph), which bore a 1939 postmark (3 years after REH's death):

At the time, we also had a photograph similar to the one Leno posted, and in comparing the two, it was easy to see that several changes had been made to the buildings during the time between when the two photos were taken.

Most notably, the small structure in the foreground is made of wood in Leno's picture, but (what looks like) cement in the picture we had. Also, the building on the left had an upper floor added, and the hotel clearly changed its name from “Hotel Imperial” to “Hotel Majestic” at some point.

Since we didn't know the exact dates the pictures were taken, we agonized over which version to draw in our strip (which took place in 1935). We ultimately went with cement structure and extra floor, probably because of the general vintage of the automobiles shown in the later postcard.

Later, long after our comic strip had been printed (Conan #26), we discovered that at The Falls County TXGenWeb project, they'd posted a 1947 book written by Dr. J. W. Torbett, Sr. which features the illustration seen below — which, we were happy to see, clearly bears the date, 1928, and shows the cement structure in place, and the extra floor added to the building on the left (also notice that the hotel is named “Anne's Hotel”):

Of course, that picture is not a photograph, so it's possible that the illustration Dr. Torbett included in his book is just an architectural rendering imagining what a proposed new cement structure and extra floor would look like — but even if that's the case, it's likely that these changes were put in place before 1935, when our comic strip shows REH taking his mother there.

Below is the finished strip as it appeared back in 2006 in Dark Horse's Conan #26:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Remembering Steve

Today marks a year since the passing of Howard scholar, Steve Tompkins. Several blogs have posted nice reminiscences for the sad anniversary, some of which you can read here, here and here. We never met Steve in person, but we were fortunate enough to have his words elevate several of our projects.

In 2004, Wandering Star hired us to produce a publication designed to act as an introduction to some of the literary creations of Robert E. Howard. We immediately thought of Steve, who possessed an almost surgical ability for precise, clever description. We asked him if he could sum up each of Howard's heroes in a single, short paragraph — and he delivered the goods in his usual style, describing Kull as an, “upstart usurper who lived by the sword and now rules by the axe,” and Dark Agnes as, “Silk strengthened by steel, fire sheathed in ice.” Great stuff!

Steve also wrote numerous blog posts for The Cimmerian, all of which have been archived and can be easily accessed by going here. The last of the wine turned out to be Steve's essay for this year's Del Rey release, El Borak and Other Desert Adventures.

Below is our El Borak illustration from The Illustrated World of Robert E. Howard, followed by Steve's wonderful description from the same publication. RIP, Steve.

European empires are on the march and Afghan hillmen are on the prowl across the Country of the Knife, where treachery and trustworthiness are different edges of the same blade. Of Indian fighting Southwestern stock, Francis Xavier Gordon has found in the East a wilder West, where he embroils himself in the Great Game and the Great War, pitting the legend of El Borak against the Black Tigers of Rub el Harami, the Hidden Ones of Ghulistan, conscience-less English renegades, and the ambitions of Kaiser and Czar. And in Arabia, where Lawrence has fanned the flames of an uprising against the Ottomans, a banner more ancient than Cross or Crescent encourages atavism and atrocity, and Gordon must join with old enemies to bring down a new madman.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

B&W: Part Two

Here's a few more examples of our B&W ink-wash work. These were all painted with an inexpensive Loew-Cornell #6 on 10 × 15" pieces of cold-press illustration board, using Higgins non-waterproof black ink (& water).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

...and B&W All Over

Our friend Marcelo Anciano, the creative force behind Wandering Star Publishing, suggested that we post some of our B&W work here. He feels that seeing an illustration created to appear amid text has an entirely different impact when seen alone, and large. With that in mind, we'll occasionally post some of our ink-wash work. Today, here's a few of our favorites (click on each image to see them larger).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob: Bunker Hill

In the 1991 Necronomicon Press chapbook, Report on a Writing Man, there's a chapter titled, "So Far the Poet...," which reprints a series of quick notations made by Tevis Clyde Smith in preparation for a never-written memoir of his friendship with author Robert E. Howard.

Among these frustratingly vague notes is the following entry:

His affection for Bunker Hill - "Youse is a viper, Fagin." Kept up with the strip, and retold it in a charming way. Liked to talk Brooklynese, and once entered a local dry goods store, and asked to see a shoitel.

The editor of Report on a Writing Man, REH uberscholar Rusty Burke, told us that he'd been searching in vain for a comic strip named "Bunker Hill." Finally! — our obsession with old comic strips paid off. We knew that Bunker Hill, Jr., was the wise-beyond-his-years-infant brainchild of artist Billy DeBeck — most famous as the creator of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. The strip Rusty was looking for was actually titled Parlor, Bedroom, & Sink, and wasn't a feature that ran on its own, but instead appeared each week (beginning in 1926) as the introductory "topper" to the much beloved Barney Google comic strip.

We chose this subject for our 55th Dark Horse episode of The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob. We decided that it would be fun to transition from one of DeBeck's strips into a scene of Bob retelling the story to his friends. Parlor, Bedroom, & Sink has rarely been reprinted, and we didn't have access to any original tear-sheets, so we only had few examples to chose from. Ultimately, we chose this strip (March 9th, 1930) which was reprinted (in B&W) in Nemo #3, published by Fantagraphics in 1983 (you can click on the images to see them larger):

Brendan Burford at King Features Syndicate (the rights holders of Parlor, Bedroom, & Sink), was kind enough to allow us to incorporate their strip into our own.

Because of the roughness of the sample we had, we redrew the art onto a new sheet of paper and reinked it, making sure to duplicate every line as accurately as we could — but the ratio between the two strips was very different, which forced us to stretch the height of the panels so that they would fit our format better.

We were never able to locate a color version of the exact strip we needed, so the colors were extrapolated based on a few color examples of other episodes published in Bill Blackbeard's book The Comic Strip Century (Kitchen Sink, 1995), later republished as 100 Years of Comics (Barnes & Nobile, 2004).

Here's the strip that resulted, as published in Conan #36 (Dark Horse, 2006):

It's interesting to note that Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, was nicknamed "Sparky" after Barney Google's racehorse, "Sparkplug" — another creation of the great Billy DeBeck.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

El Borak in the House!

Today we received our copies of THE EARLY ADVENTURES OF EL BORAK from the Robert E. Howard Foundation. The book, for which Ruth and I provided the cover illustration/design, collects ALL of the remaining Robert E. Howard El Borak/Desert Adventures material NOT published in the recently released Del Rey volume — juvenilia, fragments, maps, drawings, and a synopsis.

If you haven't looked into the Robert E. Howard Foundation, you should. They've published wonderful books, including Howard's Collected Poetry, and three volumes of Howard's Collected Letters. Their website can be found HERE.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Solomon Kane study

This is a study of Solomon Kane, painted in oil on canvas. We did this while working out the Puritan's facial features in preparation for the cover of the Subterranean Press edition of Crimson Shadows.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Shadow Kingdom: Step-by-Step

Here's a step-by-step look at our color plate for Robert E. Howard's classic story, "The Shadow Kingdom," which appears in the Subterranean Press edition of Crimson Shadows (if you click on the pictures, you can see them larger). The first set shows: Top left: Our concept thumbnail, done in marker at about 2 inches high. Top right: The subsequent pencil drawing. Bottom left: A quick color study done in Photoshop. Bottom right: The final drawing transferred to a gessoed board, and stained with a mixture of acrylic medium and ultramarine.


After that we begin painting with oil. The following pictures show a few stages along the way.


And finally, the completed painting. The murderous, snake-headed cult in the story inspired us to try to mix pulp art with the flavor of those wonderful Universal Studios monster posters of the 1930s. It was fun. This particular picture was painted very small — just 12 x 16 on illustration board. After this piece, we switched to painting on the much heartier Ampersand Hardbord instead.


"Kull saw the familiar faces dim like fading fog, and in their places
gaped horrid reptilian visages as the whole band rushed forward."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Red Hell

Here's a picture we did for BLACK GATE #14. It illustrates a great steampunk adventure by author Renee Stern, titled "Red Hell." We tried to channel a Soviet-Worker's Poster style.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

El Borak: The Director's Cut

The gunman on our blog header is Francis Xavier Gordon (better known as El Borak, The Swift). He's Robert E. Howard's fictional amalgam of such real life adventurers as Lawrence of Arabia, Richard Francis Burton, and "Chinese" Gordon, mixed with touches of Rudyard Kipling, Talbot Mundy, and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

The latest volume in Del Rey's ongoing REH Library is the just released, EL BORAK AND OTHER DESERT ADVENTURES — a fantastic book that collects the stories of Howard's Texans-gone-East — El Borak, Kirby O'Donnell and Steve Clarney. The book features over 50 illustrations by artist Tim Bradstreet, who delivered the goods in his signature high-octane, black & white style (To learn more about Tim's illos, go to this LINK). We contributed 5 paintings, but somehow only 4 of them appear in the published book.

Although the plate listing in the front of the book is correct, apparently Murphy's Law kicked in on page 399, which instead sports an illustration that Tim Bradstreet intended to replace the illo now seen on page 413.

Our plate that was intended for page 399 — "... Afzal Khan came and stood over them, combing his crimson beard..." is seen below:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Joining the 21st Century

It's taken a while, but we're finally sorta-kinda on the web. A lot of people ask for our website address, and a person can only shuffle their feet and mumble apologies for so long before it gets embarrassing. So, we've set up this blog, and it's a work in progress. We're not entirely sure what we'll do here, but mostly we'll post illustrations and comics and things like that.

So, for our first test post, here's a cover that we did for the December issue of Comics Revue. We love comic strips — especially the old ones — and it was a blast to draw The Ghost Who Walks!