Chasing the Rainbow

The final chapter of Universe Gun #1: Mars is out now. A whole 21 pages plus cover!

This chapter was originally going to be entitled Rainbow Parties. I'd heard of Skittles Parties, where kids get together with whatever prescription medicines they could find, and took them recreationally. For a while I had an idea for a small gag cartoon strip where a group of superhero sidekicks (Robin, maybe Gwyneth Paltrow?) got together with whatever equipment or power items they could scrounge off their mentors and combined them in an irresponsible and dangerous manner. They'd chant "Taste the Rainbow of Fruit Flavours!" before putting the pedal to the Batmobile's metal with Iron Man's boot or whatever stupid combo. Then it occurred to me how well the idea of recreational use of superpowers would fit Universe Gun. I Googled "Rainbow Parties" and found out that it's an existing term, for an oral-sex-fest where each girl wears a different coloured lipstick. Always Google phrases you make up! So I switched to "Chasing the Rainbow".
I can't look at this first page without remembering the way in which it was drawn back in June. I was in the swing of things by then, knocking out a page every week. I produced this one on a Sunday in six hours, from layouts to finished inks and colouring. This was six hours of sitting cross-legged in my lounge room with the graphics tablet on my lap, and my head looking down to the horizontal surface. By the end of it, my left bicep ached from lightly supporting the weight of the tablet. Throughout the following week I developed a nasty twitch under my shoulder blade when I moved my head, which I put down to a combination of this bad drawing posture and some over-enthusiastic pilates sessions. The human head is massive like a bowling ball, and letting it lean forwards for prolonged periods of time puts all sorts of undue stress on the neck and spine. I ended up seeing a physiotherapist to sort out this problem.

This also prompted me to build a little drawing board from an old TV cabinet that was stored in our shed, so I could try working like every single book on drawing said I should. Even Scott McCloud makes mention of the ergonomic importance of a tilted drawing board for artists in "Understanding Comics". Having finally learned this lesson for myself, I haven't looked back. Three simple pieces of wood screwed and nailed together have made for a much more comfortable experience since then.

On the left, Leo models my current drawing setup. He may look a bit familiar to Universe Gun readers, he's also modelled for Agni on more than one occasion.

There are a couple of pages in this issue which I drew in the one week. Page 17 with the 6 panel grid was one, I think page 18 was the other one. The whole police station scene felt very much like a stage play, with three characters barely moving and talking for several pages. It was a great chance to work on facial expressions. I caved for one of Simon Kew's closeups and took a self portrait using my phone and traced it, just to see how it turned out. You'd think this was a great shortcut, but I've often found it to be unreliable and slower than just drawing a character freehand. It worked really well here though.

I also adopted a standard 3x4 panel layout with this chapter, which has become the basis for most pages since then. Panels merge, bleed and overlap in interesting ways, but they typically start off with this grid from this chapter onwards, whereas before each page was laid out entirely from scratch. I hope that I'm breaking it up enough to not look like I'm trying to mimic Frank Miller, because that's what regular grids of talking heads definitely brings to mind for me.

This chapter was a good example of using colour schemes. The drab police station contrasts really well with the royal colours of purple and gold, and glowing white in the cyberspace sequence for the final two pages. I can't look at those two pages without thinking of Kevin Smith's "Fatman on Batman" podcasts, because I was listening to them at the time as I drew these and wrapped up the first issue whilst on holiday from work.

The splash page/establishing shot got me into the habit of accompanying each chapter name with an object of some kind. I have to wear a keycard/ID badge at work, and based Simon's one off my own. I liked the way the object and title looked on the page, and went back and added the Red Orgone dispenser to page 1. I've been doing the same with each chapter now. The title page always has an object sitting in front of the panels to accompany the title.

After getting this first issue out with monthly chapters, I'll be dropping back to bi-monthly chapters for issue 2 in order to keep up with producing pages on time. So Issue 2 : The Life Star will kick off with its first chapter Monsters of the Heroic Age in mid-May. I'll be blogging away and posting sketches until then.

See you in seven, super-powered scum!

Dr Mike 2000, 15 Mar 2014