Concrete Park™ has a lot of characters. Let me repeat that. Concrete Park™ has a lot of characters, and god help me, it’s my job to draw them all. As the co-creator, co-writer and artist of this new graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics, I helped to dream them up, and I now have the privilege of going to work every day with these brave, crazy, noble, cowardly, brilliant, dangerous, colorful, multi-ethnic, sexy people. It’s a big responsibility.
With the first issue of our new mini-series due in stores Sept. 3, and our new hardcover coming out Oct. 14th, (and with San Diego and Salt Lake Comic Cons around the corner) I was looking for a way to promote Concrete Park on twitter. It hit me: why not try and draw portraits of all the lead characters in our sci-fi epic, going back to our first publication in December, 2011 in the pages of Dark Horse Presents? Wouldn’t that be a fun challenge?
So I started drawing them. I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be enough to draw just the leads. With its sprawling, Game of Thrones-sized storyline, Concrete Park features scores of important, colorful characters with “speaking roles”, and they are each the stars of their own movies. I drew more. And more. I had to draw them quickly (I am still, as of this writing, working to beat the deadlines of the monthly book). And I found something interesting started happening.
I was cartooning. At last. Let me explain.
I’ve been a writer in Hollywood for more than twenty years. It’s what I’m known for, it’s what I believe I’m good at. Though I painted and pursued an art degree at Brown, venturing into drawing comics was a big step outside of my comfort zone. Let me put it this way. I’ve had the slightly surreal experience of having the first comics drawing work I ever did run in the pages of Dark Horse Presents sandwiched between stories by comics giants Mike Mignola and Neal Adams, each of whom has forgotten more about putting these marks on paper than I’ll ever know.
To say I was plagued by feelings of fear, inadequacy and doubt would be an understatement.
Three years on, I’m still scared every time out, but I’ve gotten faster at the work, and with speed has come a new understanding. Comics artists are cartoonists, we trade in a form of abstraction. We are precisely not making photographically “real” images, but rather images that are simplified and abstracted enough so that the audience may imagine themselves in them. (This thesis was best explained by Scott McCloud in his seminal work, Understanding Comics, and I acknowledge my debt to him here. The panel below is from his book).
When I first drew some of our Concrete Park characters, I thought I wanted them to look “real” or, in the case of the female characters, “real” and “pretty”, or just real pretty. Over time, and with hundreds and hundreds of repetitions, each of these distinctive people evolved into a series of simplified pencil and brush strokes. Like Charlie Brown with his one curl of hair, or Superman with his spit curl, each character in Concrete Park has started to boil down to a limited rhetoric of simple, repeatable gestures. Paradoxically, the more abstract and “cartoonish” they became, the more they looked like themselves. They were becoming, to use Scott McCloud’s word, iconic.
The first head I drew for the series is one of my favorites, the Big Mofongo, The Potato King™. I love his fat face, I love the scars that radiate out from its center to give his every expression an extra bit of energy. He’s become very easy to draw, and the lessons I learned drawing (and coloring) his un-pretty mug really came in handy when approaching the women, and those lessons are starting to free me from the trap of trying to draw pretty.
Next in the series was The Madman Fontaine™. This character is just batshit crazy, and he leads a crazy gang that operates more like a cult. He looks like an Indian holy man, but there’s nothing holy about him. His hair, his face paint, his pretty eyelashes, his big ears and his epic ‘stache make him a lot of fun to draw.
The third in the series was Lena™. She is also quite mad. (Is this a theme rearing its ugly, dare I say it, head?) Her hair does some serious acting for her, and her alien blue eyes and tongue make her jump off the page even when I draw her badly.
What do you think of the series so far? I’d love to hear from you.
Watch this space for more heads! Collect them all!
Concrete Park #1, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, hits you local comics store Sept. 3. The Concrete Park hardcover, Vol.1, “You Send Me” is available for pre-order now!