DRAWN & QUARTERED
This illustration of two "Ancient Warriors" is actually the same "Manga Clip Art" file with different layers chosen to create different characters.
‘Manga Clip Art’ instantly fills gaps in art ability
Some people are good at sketching. Others are good at drawing, inking and coloring. And others are good at story, dialogue and editing. That's why most comic books have a whole bullpen of talent listed. It's a team effort. Of course, you can do everything yourself, but that takes forever.
And now there's the added distraction of digitizing your images, either for reproduction or for Web use. It's a whole other layer of hassle, but it provides the best possible compromise of comic art production.
For those who just want to get on with the business of telling a story, there's "Manga Clip Art," by artist Hayden Scott-Baron and a host of collaborators. The book also comes with a CD-ROM of digitized images that can be manipulated to create your own manga.
In case you forgot, manga means, pretty much, "irresponsible images," a term the great woodblock artist Hokusai coined to describe the doodles he drew for his own amusement. These days, manga has become a kind of stylized, street-savvy comic-book style with fairly broad illustrations that border on the cartoony. "Manga Clip Art" provides a brief introduction, but it is primarily a catalog of the images on the disc.
The disc also provides a temporary license-free version of PhotoShop Elements, a kind of stripped-down edition of the classic bit-editing computer program, but Elements does everything you need it to here. The book contains basic instructions on image-editing and PhotoShop ins-n-outs.
It all works by layers. Each character has multiple editions of limbs, heads, outfits, guitars, monsters, robots, accessories and such. You click on the layers that best suit the character you're "drawing," make fine-tuning adjustments, then "flatten" the visible layers into a single image. This is then exported for coloring -- several pages are devoted to the art of coloring with digital tools -- and then the image is plopped into a background and dialogue added.
For beginners this is a gas, rather like playing with paper dolls. But the book also provides a refresher course for professionals in the digital-art realm. It can also be used to create storyboards for video production, and it goes without saying that the art here can be changed to suit your own characters, and the techniques used here will also work when you're starting from scratch. Oops, I actually did just say that!
On the downside, no word balloons are included, nor is there even any discussion of word balloons. To run it successfully, you need a Mac or Windows machine with a fair amount of horsepower under the hood. I had to use one of the artist's machines at the Star-Bulletin to accomplish this illustration, which took less than an hour from startup to save. Your plain-vanilla G3 iMac will chug.
I noticed that the illustrations are cleverly rendered so that the Paintbucket tool, used to fill areas, works without interruption. Shading and highlighting are easiest done with the Dodge/Burn tool. You'll also spend a fair amount of time worrying about color and textures more than anything else, but that's good for you.
I wonder if this is how "Garfield" is drawn.
"Manga Clip Art" is listed at $19.95 and likely provides more hours of fun than a $200 video game. PhotoShop Elements as provided on the disc is good for 30 days. The program is about $90 new from Adobe but was likely bundled with your digital camera for free. EBay prices averaged $20 for the program.