I’ve been trying to write a blog post about my “process” (which makes it sound a lot more orderly than it is) for ages, and I keep not finishing, because I have too much to say.
This, however, I know how to talk about. Here’s a tiny chunk of a page, where I have a waist-up portrait to create with very definite goals.
may be are minor spoiler-ish things. I run into problems trying to explain the ‘why’ without the ‘what’, that is, it’s hard to explain decisions without spoiling parts of character or plot that those decisions are supposed to build up to
For reference, I have the left-half of the sequence in question here. On the page previous, Jesse has received a new piece of information: he thought he was talking to another reporter, but this is actually a sergeant with the armed forces. He took a moment to consider what to do about this, and on this page he’s ready to reassert his control of the scene. He’s just asked to see the man’s ID.
I made two artistic choices for this page right off the bat.
One, that the important thing to note here is Jesse’s facial expressions. To play up the small shifts in gesture, I kept the camera angle and panel shape the same. They say tragedy is a close-up, and a comedy is a long-shot, and I don’t like to over-dramatize things, (we’re already in prison, I don’t feel like I need to play up how shitty that is) so we’re keeping a pretty wide angle. That also keeps the walls in focus, which keeps that nice claustrophobic feeling going.
Two. This scene, like the last, needs to establish how Jesse fights. That is, he doesn’t. He can’t: he’s 5’2″ and built like one of those marshmallow and toothpick molecule models–if he ever really pissed anyone off, he’s deliciously squish-able.
When Jesse feels threatened, he’s got nothing but smoke and mirrors to defend himself with. He bluffs. So I arranged this shot like my memory of the poker scenes in old westerns like Maverick. Jesse is diminished by forced perspective. He’s not in a position of power, this unknown opponent “holds all the cards”. The sergeant has his back to us, because one: drawing faces takes time and two: I don’t need people to empathize with him right now. In retrospect, I wish I’d put both of Jesse’s hands on that card, to make that card game parallel stronger. I did get to take advantage of the classic top-down interrogation room lighting.
We’re going to be talking about drawing the third panel in particular, so let’s get the lay of the land up to that point.
In panel one, Jesse calls the sergeant’s bluff. Jesse doesn’t think he is who he says he is. He still kinda thinks this might be another asshole reporter. His expression here is straight forward: suspicion. eyes narrowed, holding his card/metaphorical cards close to the vest.
At first it seems like Jesse’s won the hand, but in the second panel the sergeant reveals he’s only embarrassed that he’s not the classic bad-ass army sergeant. I almost used two panels here, because there’s a subtle shift between “oh”: where he’s trying not to be put-off, and “yeah. I could tell.”: where he bluffs that he’s holding more information than he does. But, I liked how breezy it was to scroll through this three panel set up, so I had to settle on a single expression. His mouth is open in a trapezoid shape with his lower teeth showing. This is the mouth shape of the expression of horror. But there aren’t any active muscles in the area, so it lacks punch. The mouth shape is countered by eyes that are deliberately held in near neutral. The more whites show above the eyes, the more heightened an expression looks. Jesse is well aware of this, and he is actively working to keep his eyes the same shape, though he’s not entirely successful. His eyebrows are giving away his true feelings. The way they point up in the middle slightly is the shape of brows expressing fear. Like in the mouth, the active muscles in this expression aren’t leaving any marks (wrinkles or lumps), so the effect is diminished.
I did some onion skinning to get my pencils to line up with the last panel. Again, I’m trying to play up the small gestures by limiting the other changes between panels.
The surface level expression that Jesse is trying to portray is that of disdain. He’s laying into the sergeant’s embarrassment about his job title. Taking him down a notch.
That expression is muddied slightly by his true intent: finding out whether the guy is packing. That’s is extremely important to Jesse, now that he’s accepted that he’s genuinely talking to a guy from the army, and not a reporter.
On the inside, he’s panicking. He’s already had to deal with a lot of shit today, and someone from the army… well… his grandma may have served back in the day, but that doesn’t mean he trusts and organization built explicitly to torture and kill. Especially not given his reputation…
Jesse holds most of his tension in his shoulders. When he’s trying not to look stressed, it’s the first part of him that he loses control of. Usually, we see his shoulders go up towards his ears as he represses his flight response. In this case, he’s leaning forward slightly to look more aggressive, and his shoulders pull forward a little too far, because his instinct is to put his arms between himself and the thing he’s scared of.
He also lowers his arm slightly. He’s no longer questioning this man’s identity and doesn’t need to look at the card, but he’s also not about to just give it back. He’d rather the guy have to ask him for it.
I struggled with the small amount of forshortening here. If you look at the way the cuff is draped over his arm, it’s falling straight down, which implies that the side of his arm is perpendicular to us, while the curve of the cuffs around the wrist show that his arm is extended toward us slightly. I mitigated that later, but I think it’s still a problem spot in this image.
His head is tilted slightly, in an inquisitive gesture. It’s not a gesture that I usually use on Jesse, but it felt right here. Typically, Jesse is either trying to keep his chin up and his eyes level like a dignified princess, or he’s regrouping with his head down. But… he also doesn’t usually go for such an obvious attack of character. I imagine he’s reaching for his impression of what people look like when they’re being jerks and imitating that.
This choice cost me an extra hour of work. I had a hell of a time getting his face the right shape with that extra small shift in angle. A larger change might have been easier: my brain just kept wanting it to be a normal three-quarters angle, so I was misaligning things left and right.
His facial expression has most of the marks of disdain: we’ve got those harsh pointy shadows around the nostrils, and a squaring of the upper lip. Classic signs of a sneer. Once again, his eyebrows and eyes are telling a kinda different story. The strong triangular shadows directly above his eyes, combined with the slight increase in whites above the irises indicates fear. (I think I could add a pixel more whites, to be honest, I lost some in the shading.) The eyebrows again have that upward tilt in the middle, but there’s more muscle action between the brows here. That downward pull is a sign of anger/aggression, or concentration, and has the general effect here of changing fear to something closer to “concern”, or perhaps “confusion”. All of which would be accurate descriptions of what he’s feeling.
So there you go. A small sample of what goes into every page. Let me know if this was entertaining for you. This took a while to write up, so it’d be nice to know if it’s worth doing, or if there’s something you’d like to see more.