Mike Stock // Digital Editor & Letterer // Interview
Can you talk us through your process, and any tools you use?
I could, but then I’d have to kill you … nah, all the dialogue, balloons etc. are created in Illustrator. I created my own blank templates in the software that are the US and UK page sizes and have bleed, trim and live area guides. I have separate layers for artwork, balloons, text, and SFX.
This set-up means I can drop in the artwork and scale it down to the page size so I am always lettering over the same size canvas. This also means I can just drop in updated art files as amendments come in – often I’ll start lettering over pencils and then the inks and colours come gradually as they are signed off. I like to involve the SFX in the artwork as much possible so they are made in Illustrator but then imported into Photoshop where I can manipulate them and the original image to blend them in in whatever way suits the style. The style is different for each story; it is dependent on that of the writing and the artwork. Sometimes it is quite simple but occasionally there is a bit more work involved like in Swan Song, for instance.
In Swan Song there is an immediate pace change to, say, ‘Eponymous’ and ‘Day and Night’, which are both full of action and are often very dark. Instead we are set in a geriatric ward of a robot-run hospital so the pace is quite thoughtful and the colour palette is very clean. There are several characters straight from the off: three humans, one of whom speaks solely through video screen; two robots, both with their own personalities; and a sort of mainframe computer who calls the shots. After reading the script and looking at the art I set about creating a sort of style guide, which outlined the dialogue for each of these characters.
The humans have normal white balloons, which I tweak slightly for the video character, and I chose a dialogue font that I felt had lots of personality. For Sadie and Stevie I gave their balloons’ corners and a pattern to emphasise their robotic-ness and a casual sans serif font (like what this is written in now) that contrasts the font used for the human dialogue. I coloured the pattern in relation to the speaker to help distinguish the dialogue and personalise it further. For the computer I squared up the balloons further and took the kink/bend out of the tails, sort of removing as much personality as I could. In cases where I make a style guide like this I’ll include it on a new layer in the Illustrator file and keep it locked and hidden so it is always close to hand, should I need it.
Logos and titles will often follow the same process as SFX but usually involve a lot more sketchbook (random scrap paper) work, I usually find it much easier to adapt and rework a typeface by hand. Photoshop gives me a lot more flexibility to have the element interact with the artwork should I need it to. Quite often I will also be entrusted with the production of the finished comic, either in a print-ready PDF or a digital format. For compiling these files I use InDesign; it links all the artwork files which means the original art is amended or changed and then I can just refresh the InDesign file and hey presto.
What are you working on outside of VS – Tell us about it.
Jon Lock has just got Afterlife Inc. #3 successfully ‘Kickstarted’ so I can look forward to that over the coming year, lots more Dead Roots too as that’s released quarterly. Also in the works: The Six should have popped up on your radars during LSCC (2013); Destiny’s Fate #3 is well on its way and has been really good fun; The GeeBees is shaping up fantastically and is due out this spring; I’ve just finished one issue of The Pride and there already 6 more in the pipeline; and something really funky called Raygun Roads with Owen Michael Johnson.
What inspires you?
Creativity; it sounds like a cop-out but, creativity is contagious. If I’m having one of those days where I’m not feeling creative I go hunting for other people’s. I collect images that make me think, make me laugh, or feel sad, happy, confused; anything, basically, that makes me stop and look at it again. I don’t leave them on my computer or share them on Pinterest or something weird, I print them out and stick them in a big ol’ scrapbook; which I can flick through.
Where do you see yourself in five/ten years time?
Well I’m new to comics as far as I’m concerned but I look forward to burrowing further and further in. I’ve not really been lettering for that long either so I’ll keep learning for now. Maybe in 5 years time I can be living off of comics … I think I’d like that.
And there you have it. It was really fun to read through this again and, retrospectively, see where it has taken me; particularly the bit about what I was working on at the time. Jon Lock’s Afterlife Inc. rolled straight off of the success of #3 and into a MASSIVE collected edition called the ‘Book of Life’ which was also a huge Kickstarter success! The Six preview (available for download still) went down very well too. Destiny’s Fate led to an awesome anthology by it’s writer Devin L. Michaels called ‘Capitalism and Other Stories‘ which I lettered and did a lot of design work for. We finished all 6 issues of The Gee Bees which now exist in a hardback collected edition. I drew the cover art for that, a bit out of my normal comfort zone but I enjoyed it none-the-less. The Pride is going strong, we just released #4 of the main series and #2 of The Pride Adventures which are made up of shorter stories following the same team, filling out some of history of the Pride’s universe. And finally Raygun Roads was just nominated for ‘Best Comic’ at the British Comic Awards we lost out to Image’s The Wicked and the Divine but it was an honour to be recognised for what is a strong, and truly unique, comic book.