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Monday, February 6, 2023

The Value of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone



Over a year ago, I was approached by a creator, Osmar Ramos-Caballero, looking for an inker for his book, Las Bravas.   I was hesitant at first to take on the job.  I've always tried to maintain a kind of realism in my work, having cut my artistic teeth on the artists of Conan and Master of Kung-Fu, and followed up learning from the work of artists as varied as Frazetta, Vallejo, Wrightson, Bart Sears and Frank Cho.  The style of the pages he was offering me were very different from what I was used to and I wasn't sure if I could adapt to the work.

However, a job is a job, and to be honest, I needed the income at that time, so I took on the job and tried to do the best I could with it.

My first mistake was to try to adapt Osmar's work to my own style, layering a more realistic style of rendering over his simpler page designs, a style with lots of hatching, feathering and shading.  It didn't work, and I'm glad I didn't try to show him those pages.  

When it comes to inking, part of the challenge is always to try to respect the penciler's work while adding some of your own style.  Osmar's work has a more cartoonish, grafitti-inspired style, with lots of large closed shapes, very stylized forms, and a dramatic sense of action.  His pages are as much about design as they are about illustration; everything is not always technically perfect, but it always works.  Stylistically, it reminds me of the early comic work of Alejandro Jodorowsky.

So, stepping back, I decided to back off on my attempts on interpretation and give his original work more room to breathe.  I tried again, sticking more closely to his own sense of form and motion, and just allowing my use of line weights to bring out the depth of the panels.  This time it worked much better.  So much so, in fact, that Osmar asked me to follow up with lettering and coloring on this pages.  

Osmar colors his original pages in marker, so there's lots of visible brush stroke and somewhat muted colors in the pages.  However, I could see that he was aiming for the kind of vivid colors that you see in grafitti or in Meso-American art.  So I decided that this was again a case of "less is more" and went for mainly flat color with some simple cut-and-grad shading instead of risking overwhelming his art with unnecessary subtle shading.  And let me tell you that learning how to letter a comic in Spanish was no easy task.  Lettering in any form has never been my strong suit, and trying to do it with Spanish characters only made it more complicated for me.  Still, with the very handy lettering tools in Clip Studio Paint and the Komika font from Dafont, I was able to get the job done.

If I hadn't taken a chance on that first set of pages, I would not have had the successful collaboration with Osmar that I've had for the past year, and I would missed the chance to work on these very enjoyable pages.  Sometimes it's helpful to ignore that nagging little voice that tells you not to do something and take a chance on expanding your creative horizons; step outside your comfort zone and see what happens.

As of the date of this post, I've completed inking, color and lettering on three volumes of Las Bravas for Osmar, as well as dozens of pages of pinups and character portraits.  Volumes 1 & 2  are available on Amazon right now, while Volume 3 will be arriving shortly.  If you've got Kindle Unlimited, they're free to read.  If not, they're still reasonably priced.  They're in Spanish, of course, but they do a Spanish-English guide at the end that may be very helpful.  And besides, in any language, they're pretty to look at...if I do say so myself!

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