There are many talented comic book illustrators out there, but very few do "sublimely gorgeous" quite like artist David Mack.
Mack — who you may know from such comics as Kabuki, Daredevil, and Alias — recently gave io9 an exclusive tour of his sketchbook. He's illustrating the covers for Dark Horse Comics' upcoming Willow miniseries, which sees Buffy The Vampire Slayer's resident witch attempt to reclaim her lost magic. Here's Mack's ethereal art and his commentary about the design process. Some spoilers ahead.
I began each of the Willow covers with about a dozen sketches that I did on little notepad paper like these. This helps me consider a variety of different solutions based on the themes of the book. In this case, [Dark Horse Comics] editor Scott Allie gave me notes about the idea of Willow interfacing with different dimensions of reality and magic.
This is an early stage of the first color applied to the painting, and you can see the pencil drawings and notes that evolved from the smaller layouts.
Here some background colors are added to carve out the lighting of the figure. I had a friend model for the main character and I set up lighting to get the dramatic shadows on the face and figure. This helps me shape the light contrast that I'll use in the painting.
Here I've added more acrylic paint in the background. As well as some metal elements and some text from a handwritten letter on aged paper.
Here is the design for the second Willow cover mapped out in pencil.
The first steps of painting the face. Here I started with the darker shades — to add the color after.
Here is the beginnings of the watercolor added. I had quite a bit of reference of the actress that the editors sent me, and I tried to finesse it to still capture her likeness but also give the image its own unique tone.
Scott Allie had given me some notes on some animal imagery for this issue, including a serpent woman. I tried to integrate that imagery in the design here to add a sense of the story context to the image.
Here is the design taking shape. I added other segments of color and some metal borders. I do this all by hand without any digital. I added a layer of color over her face, and used an exact know to scratch off some highlights. Then I added some acrylic on the hair and face to create some heightened lighting effects.
For cover #3 of Willow. I was given notes by the editor to have Willow interacting with the serpent woman. So for this cover, I tried to have the tail of the serpent woman encircling Willow but leaving the rest of her off of the panel to keep some mystery about her.
I was sent some reference of other continuity of Willow interacting with the serpent woman so I tried to keep this image in tone with that. Here I'm mapping out the figures in brush strokes of color. But I want to use the negative space to good effect and also add some textures from other media.
Here I've added more watercolor to the Willow figure. I had a friend model for the Willow figure to get the lighting that I wanted to work from. For the serpent woman, I've added texture of actual snake skin. It is from a large snake I skinned when I was a child. I took the snake skin and made a transparency of it. And then I cut the transparency of the scales with an exacto knife to fit it inside the outline of the tail that I had drawn. Its all handmade with no digital effects.
Here I've added a circle of handwritten text on aged paper to outline the figure and make her contrast from the background. The letter was written to me from Miss Fumiko of the First Zen Institute of America. I made a transparency of it and then cut it with an xacto knife around the shape of the figure. Then I added bits of leaf shaped metal. And the book spine texture that I cut into the shape of wings. I liked the idea of the aged book and aged paper to give a sense of ancient wisdom and magic.
This is a detail from the fourth Willow cover. I wanted to show her a bit more triumphant here with a tone of magical otherworldly atmosphere around her.
For this image, I drew out the figure in pencil. I had my same friend model for it to get the lighting right. I put a layer of painted color on plastic over the figure, and then I etched off the color to reveal the highlights below. And then I added acrylic paint on top of that. It's still unfinished here. I also added more collage of text elements and more paint.
Willow #1 is in stores November 7, 2012.