In today's post, I'd like to discuss the importance of reference photography. It has always been a major part of my production process and I would go as far to say that it's what separates the amateurs from the professionals in the comic industry.
A common misconception is that comic artists just draw whatever comes to mind. If we need to draw an airplane, we just wave our magic pencil and within minutes create a perfect Boeing 747 without looking at ANYTHING. The truth is, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Illustrators are often very diligent when it comes to practicing their craft, carrying sketchbooks or participating in modeling sessions to flex their creative recall, so to speak. They focus on drawing the world around them from varying perspectives and techniques so that they better understand their subject matter. Any artist who draws Spider-man or Batman, must have a command of the human anatomy, no matter how many muscles they layer on their heroes. So they spend hours studying muscles and human anatomy, almost to the point of rivaling medical students. This gives them a better ability to accurately depict their characters correctly. If they simply relied on mental recall all the time, and drew what they perceived an athletic hero should look like, we could end up with characters that even a 5 year old would raise an eyebrow at.
Likewise, the creative writer, who spends time developing novels set in a fantasy land with wizards and elves and dwarves, pour over all the resources of medieval Europe, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and historical documentation of the 12th century to make sure that their worlds are as believable as King Arthur's Camelot or Henry the Eighth's Court.
When delving into something historically driven (especially something of a very specific niche) you have even less wiggle room. An author/artist has to spend hours researching everything from the architecture of the time, to the fashion to even the hairstyles. On the off-shot that you have a historical buff (which is probably 90% of A Land Remembered's fans) is reading and critiquing the historical accuracy. You don't want something to instantly take you out of the story and break the illusion you've set up for your reader.
Let me give you an example, study this page below from Marvel's Treasure Island, from creative team Roy Thomas and Mario Gully. First, let me start by saying that I'm not criticizing Gully's artistic talents, I enjoyed his work overall and felt it was fitting for this story. However, take a look at the gentleman in the foreground of panels 3, 4 and 10. Notice anything unusual?
You are probably asking yourself: "why does that pirate look like he'd fit in as an overweight, overworked detective of some NYC Police precinct?" Your second thought, if you think like I do, is that he must be some time traveler, but I promise you that Robert Louis Stevenson did not write any such character into his 19th century novel. You won't find any blue boxes or Deloreans in this period piece.
This is not the only visual hiccup in Gully's adaptation. If you pick the book up at your local library or book store, you'll find that there are several instances throughout the book where characters are distinctively dressed in what appears to be modern attire. When you're illustrating a swashbuckling tale for pirate enthusiasts, you can't have your pirates wearing neck ties with a Windsor knot...
So that brings us back to reference imagery. Using reference images, such as historical photos, classic illustrations or wood cuttings from the time period and self-photographed location shots can help give a novel set in the 1860's the right amount of flavor to appease even the most critical historian.
When I was working on my second book, Lost Souls of Savannah, I poured over several photo books of 1930's Savannah, Georgia to make sure that I got the look of the city down right, and that the buildings I used as backdrops were meticulously period accurate. I remember in one scene, I set the characters in the backdrop of Bonaventure Cemetery, iconic for it's part in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I wanted to use the Bird Girl statue to make the setting more obvious, until I realized that the statue wasn't set in the cemetery until a decade later in my story...so I left it out.
Facts are EVERYTHING...
So to start the research process off right. I drove out to my local historic preservation, Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville, and armed with my wife and her camera, proceeded to snap photos of the mid-19th century farm house that sits on the preserved property.
A Land Remembered begins with Tobias and Zech tromping about their farm in search of hogs, and the scene is set somewhere in the North Florida area, close to Paynes Praire, so honestly, I couldn't image a more ideal location for us to shoot. The trees, flora, house style and wares are all true to that particular period.
Of course, this won't be enough to build a convincing 19th century pioneer home alone, but it'll be the building blocks to my library of photo and illustration references that I'll use throughout production to assure that we create a convincing hammock for the MacIvey Family to thrive in.
Next week, I'll share with you thumbnails, and no, I'm not talking about the kind on your fingers.