Batman in Black and White (and Gray)

Monday, January 20, 2014

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors — An Illustration Collective

Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

When I was first invited to contribute to Muddy Colors, part of my role was to be the designated "comic book guy." As it turned out, that was roughly the same time that I stopped making comics altogether. I was still very much in the business, but I was really only a cover artist for most of last year. The only exception was a an 8-page story for Batman: Black & White #5, written by Ivan Brandon, which just recently came out.

Doing just a handful of pages reminded me not only of how difficult it is to make comics, but also how fulfilling the challenge can be. My goal for 2014 is to get back to doing what I love.

inks by my Dad, Joe Rivera

If you've seen my previous posts, you'll probably recognize the familiar steps I take to create a piece of art. As with my covers, I work with my Dad, Joe Rivera, to help speed up the process. Pictured above are his inks, which are done over blue-line prints of my pencils, pictured below. I create the borders digitally, along with other technical elements — such as the road sign — and leave those to be printed in black.

If you cycle between the finished page and the original inks, you'll see that I sometimes go back in and "ink" digitally. I've gotten better at "spotting blacks" without actually putting ink on the page, but it can be tough to make those compositional choices without seeing the results in front of me. In particular, you can see that I blacked out the right rear fender in the 1st panel and most of the steering wheel in the 3rd. I'm always looking to get away with the least information necessary, so if I ever see a way to take detail out of a composition without losing the subject matter, I go for it.

blue-line print of pencils

The pencils are drawn on 11 × 17″ bristol board over a print of my digital sketch. The Xs indicate where I want solid black, whereas a squiggly line crossing another line (like on the Batmobile's hood) indicates a softer, dry-brush effect. Everything else is pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

pencils over digital sketch

Even the simplest panels can benefit from perspective guidelines, and so I use them whenever I can. These are done in Photoshop using Smart Objects and various patterns that I made myself. In the top panel, the right vanishing point is on the horizon, but the left one is set below to suggest a slight incline to the road. (I've been promising for years to release this template to the world, but it's still a ways off. I recently sent it to friends for beta testing, but most had a tough time with it. An instructional video is the only way to learn how to use it and I haven't had the time to make one).

digital sketch with perspective grids superimposed

Down below, you can see where it all starts. I do all my layouts digitally now — have been since I got my first Cintiq — and I don't think I'll ever go back. This was done in Photoshop with each panel on its own layer, plus a grayscale layer on top of everything (and set to Multiply, same as I would for color). I just copy and paste Ivan's script into the file and move things around as I see fit. 

Half the job is graphic design — making sure that each caption or balloon is read in the correct order and has the appropriate impact. Often there are several pieces of text in one panel, but some are meant to be read more quickly and/or separately. For instance, if you want the reader to see the artwork before reading a certain line, be sure to put it in the bottom right corner.

While I'm not the one who ultimately letters the piece, it's still my job as the penciler to leave an appropriate amount of space. I always share these sketches with the letterer just in case my intentions are not immediately apparent.

digital sketch

Things like that may seem like common sense, but it can be easy to forget while balancing so many variables. The other half of the job is just keeping things logical and consistent. Are Batman's bandages in the right place? Would we be able to see Gotham City from Wayne Manor? Did he grab his cape with the right hand (I made this mistake on page 3 and had to redraw a couple arms).

Batman Study. 2013. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

All that being said... it's just plain fun drawing Batman. It was a dream of mine since I was a little kid, so I've had nearly 30 years to think of what my take on the Dark Knight would be. He doesn't wear a cape — it's a parachute. Those aren't undies outside of his pants — it's a harness. His Batmobile is built like a low-slung race car, but with a hydraulic lifts for off-roading.

Basically, I got to nerd out for 8 pages. I hope others can too. For a look at another page from the story (as well as some Wacky Reference Wednesday action) check out this previous post.


  1. Neat idea for the hydraulic lifts when off-roading or for jumping (ala Dukes of Hazzard). Were there any design references for your Batmobile or are there guidelines set up by DC as far as that goes?

    1. Nope, the nice thing about the Black & White series is that writers and artists have free reign, something that's pretty much unheard of with established superheroes. I based my take heavily on a particular race car, but hopefully I changed enough things as to make it something different.

  2. Does this mean we'll get more sequential art in 2014?

    1. That's the plan. I'll be doing a Captain Nemo one-page tribute for an anthology, and hopefully an issue for each of the big two (both of those are tentative, though). The rest of the year will be devoted to my own book, which I hope to start drawing by summer.

  3. Amazing artwork!

    And it´s good to know your own book is on the schedule!


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