For August's issue of Angel & Faith, artists Rebekah Isaacs and Steve Morris teamed up on a two-part cover of the comic's Whedonverse heroes hanging out in the vastly unpleasant demon dimension of Quor'Toth.
The two artists took io9 through the process of designing this piece — behold an exclusive first look at Angel and company stuck in the pits. But first, here's a synopsis of this issue, which hits stores August 29 from Dark Horse Comics:
Angel & Faith #13:
Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Rebekah Isaacs
The expedition to Quor'Toth has taken an unplanned turn for Angel, Faith, Willow, and Connor. While they struggle to survive the horrors that surround them, they have also taken on a mission to stage a great escape-and not just for themselves! They must act fast, before the effect that this hell dimension is having on their thoughts and emotions overcomes them!
Rebekah Isaacs: Most covers for Angel & Faith start with a prompt from the editors — one sentence to a paragraph describing what will be going on in the cover. It may or may not specify the setting or even the specific characters to be shown, but just a general feeling to be conveyed. This prompt was pretty specific and straightforward though — Angel and Connor (and for Steve's, Willow and Faith) looking hot and bad-a** in Quor'Toth. I think neither of us had done a straight-up heroes-looking-heroic pin-up style cover in a few issues, and every now and then it's fun to throw one of those in to the mix.
Steve Morris: Rebekah got the ball rolling on this, sending me a couple of sketches of the two-cover spreads, which looked really good. And Dark Horse had previously divvied up who was doing which characters, thus avoiding the inevitable medieval death-match between Rebekah and I for character drawing rights! Since I was buried in work, Rebekah moved forward with her pencils, which she then passed to me so I could draw my half.
RI: I tried to keep the composition fairly simple so that all four heroes could be mostly on the same plane and featured equally. But you always want some depth in a cover — everyone standing shoulder to shoulder looks flat and boring — so one character in each cover was pushed more into the foreground. I chose to put Connor in the foreground on mine since it was my first time drawing him in Angel & Faith. Building a sense of depth further, there would be large landscape features in the midground, and then the Necropolis in the far distance.
SM: The original sketch had Rebekah's cover on the left and mine on the right, but Dark Horse wanted them flipped, so I needed to rearrange the positions of Faith and Willow to work with the composition of Rebekah's half, which was now on the right side. Also, having seen Rebekah's cool pencils and the final poses, I wanted to increase the drama on mine, mostly by putting Faith in a poised-to-strike pose.
I started with a sketch in Photoshop, keeping the edges of Rebekah's line art visible, in order to line up key elements. My sketches are usually loose (this being no exception), my main goal is to get across my basic premise and I accompany it with some additional text so that Dark Horse can full understand my blobs and chicken scratches.
RI: I often change a lot from my sketch to my pencils as I start to get more of a feel for what the big picture, and this one was no exception. In my sketch, Angel and Connor are looking cool, but too much like a Levi's ad. Too posed and definitely not bad-a**. Along with the new action-hero poses, Angel's coat is always an easy way to add extra motion and energy to a scene.
I wanted to create a nice sweeping curve in my composition from the top to the bottom, so I built in some space for a giant demon/monster skeleton to lead the eye down. I got a little worried that it might appear to be a LIVING skeleton monster (like a giant version of Baphon from #2) which our heroes were just casually ignoring, so I threw in some demon birds with lots of little spider-eyes perched on his horns.
SM: Once my sketch was approved, I started the line art (also in Photoshop). Christos had supplied us with a very useful description of how he envisioned Quor'Toth. His description included: "post-apocalyptic, blasted landscape," "nuclear winter type ash storms," "they'd (demons) use bones, corpses, skins, etc. in all aspects of life, including shelters and clothes and vehicles," and "trees, forests, rivers, etc. should all look poisonous and diseased." So with all that bouncing around my mind, I focused on creating a landscape that was caked with layers of ash over rotted skulls forms, while tortured trees and megalith sized bones rose over the decay.
The large tree and bones were useful to frame our two heroines and I carried over Rebekah's smoke (at the top) and river/swamp water-flow (at the bottom) which helped tie the covers together in both line and motion. Concerning the likenesses, I already had plenty of images for both actresses, from previous covers; so I followed my typical route of triangulating the likenesses from several pictures and bridging the gaps with educated guess work. When drawing likenesses at a small scale, I try to convey the impression of the actress/character rather than fussing with the exact shapes of features.
RI: Likenesses were a huge challenge for me at the beginning of the series, but I eventually developed a method that worked for me. When I tried drawing from photo references first in the beginning, the finished product ended up looking like a funhouse mirror — somehow I'll have missed the forest for the trees, and while the individual features look fine, they'll be out of proportion and in all the wrong places.
Eventually I'd studied the character's faces so much that I found I could draw them more or less accurately from memory, and then by going back in and refining and correcting features while crosschecking reference photos I could fix anything that wasn't quite right.
SM: With the line art approved, I dove into the coloring (again in PS). I decided to keep my line art visible, rather than color over it with a more painterly style, since I knew it would blend more seamlessly with Rebekah's cover/inks. My color choices were pretty straight forward, in that I wanted it to look real rather than stylized, so I didn't need to experiment much and just focused on colors that would evoke ash and acid. A harmony was created by repeating the grayish-purple of the ground, in the upper clouds and carrying the acid green/yellow hues of the water, into the horizon of the sky. The real polish on the piece was the burning bits of falling ash which brought the image to life. I had been waiting from the time I started the cover to do that burning ash lol. The bonus was that it created another element of motion which could be pulled across both covers.
RI: Yeah, the falling ash was a real stroke of genius on Steve's part! It tied the two pieces together and set the tone so incredibly well. And Dan Jackson duplicated it really beautifully on our side of the cover as well. As always, his colors gave my lines entirely new life.
SM: With my colors done, I passed my file to Dan Jackson, so he could duplicate some of the textured parts and match up his colors on Rebekah's inks. He did a great job making the two covers feel like a continuous scene.