Let’s show a new “making of” for a page of “The Stringer”. As I said in a previous entry, I start by doing a fast schematic scketch directly on the margins of the script sent by Ted.
As you can see, there were initially only 4 panels, but I added three more in order to feel more confortable and give the reader all the information. Lucky me, Ted is a very detailed writer, but also very flexible and open to change if it makes my life easier. So you can see the final 7-panels structure under the text.
Ok, first drawing on the new panel structure:
For the central panel background, supposedly showing a street in Amsterdam, I mixed two photos from a trip I made some time ago. It’s actually not Amsterdam, or even Holland, but Ghent and (I think) Bruges, in Belgium.
And voilà, a beautiful fake view of Amsterdam!
Now let’s move to the inking, adding some extra details: the beard for the first character, the 500-Euro banknotes and the bank statement:
Then I add the plain colors:
Some shadows, the only text balloon, and it’s done! Ready to receive one of those wads of cash in payment for all the hard work! 😁
I hope you liked it! More interesting stuff to come!!
I always loved drawing cars, motorcycles and anything with wheels.
My sister-in-law Helena keeps some of my first drawings that I made (aged 3-4 years) in the letters my older brother sent her when they were still sweethearts . Those drawings were invariably of cars, crazy racing stories, influenced by the cartoons “Wacky Races” and “Mach GoGoGo” (she jealously guards those letters in the absurd hope that someday they will have some value, poor little thing!).
Therefore, for someone like me it is a pleasure to illustrate a story written by Ted Rall, in which his characters are always running from one side to the other using all kinds of means of transportation, which he often describes in detail.
If we add that the story takes place in different countries and at different times, as in “The Stringer”, the pleasure of researching, documenting and drawing the appropriate vehicles, borders on lust for me, a maniac of documentation and accuracy.
So, let’s take a look at what we can find in “The Stringer” (in order of appearance in the book):
In the cover, I draw a Land Rover Defender with a lot of life behind it and certainly more than one interesting story to tell. Choosing this model is poetic license, because the quintessential all-terrain vehicle of the Middle East foreign reporters is the Toyota, as we will see later. But I find the Land Rover more beautiful, and it is a kind of tribute to its end of production after 67 years of faithful service.
Let’s go into the story: back in the early 70’s, Mark’s father drives a beautiful, massive, stylish Pontiac Grand Prix.
I would like to think it was the 455 cu in (7.5 L) rated at 310 HP, but I don’t see Mark senior as the wheel-burning type, more of a quiet cruiser. It must have been a pleasure to drive that liner with the V8 purring like a cat.
Fast forward in time: it’s the late 70s – early 80s. Mark enters the paradise of citizens allowed to drive. His girlfriend Patricia drives a white Camaro Z28 with red stripes to break hearts of everyone she comes across (at least mine, if I had crossed paths with her at that time). Mark, meanwhile, rides a fabulous badass Chevy Nova SS.
Anecdote: the Nova was Ted Rall’s first car, as you can see in this photo from his youth, in which Ted tries to convert a sports coupe into a station wagon.
Second anecdote: my first car was my father’s Simca 1200, a French shell rated at astounding 52 hp. It’s certainly not the same…
Patricia’s Camaro did not have a very good life; here it is a few years later, showing its scars, limping through heavy traffic on the freeway.
Ok, cut to the 21st century. In the middle East countries, modern Toyota Hilux from news agencies and NGOs and old Soviet UAZ trucks coexist seamlessly.
The Hilux was also, unfortunately, the preferred car of ISIS, to the point that in 2015 the U.S. government opened an investigation (with the collaboration of Toyota) to discover the origin of the hundreds of Hilux that ISIS used for its movements and attacks. Different explanations: jumps to dealerships in countries in conflict, “disappearances” of shipments in Australian ports, unscrupulous intermediaries…
Further north, bus travel in the former Soviet republics is a catalog of jalopies with millions of kilometers on their backs. Here we can see a LIAZ on a road in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan.
Roads where you can have the most unexpected encounters: for example, a MAZ 537, a prodigious monster from the heyday of Soviet military engineering, towing an old nuclear missile on its way to dismantling.
But it’s not all transportation hardship for Mark. Sometimes he gets around in style, for example in this Mercedes S500, with which he visits a business partner at a former Soviet factory. His partner still drives around in an old UAZ van that we can see parked in the alley.
Mark’s other partners have more budget and move around in better vehicles. And nothing better for a picnic in the dunes than a huge, massive Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6. And if it´s two of them, much better!!
A Lincoln Navigator is not bad either, and is somewhat more discreet, although it requires certain security precautions depending on the country you are in.
But luxury goes out the window when you have to resort to public transport in northern Pakistan. Although the cheerful and extravagant decoration of its buses is quite a spectacle
Anyway, when things get serious nothing like an old and reliable Toyota Land Cruiser, the king of the tough off-roaders ex-aequo with the Land Rover.
A brief parenthesis to better-known places: a Fiat 500, Vespas… which city could it be?
Too bad the Dolce Vita does not last long. Back to the rough roads of northern Afghanistan, where the ditches are overflowing with reminders that the situation is complicated. The ubiquitous Toyota also dominates the cab market in the Middle East, in this case we see a Hiace minivan.
The bandits in these parts have changed the horses for motorcycles. In the foreground, we have a Kawasaki KLE 500 from the first half of the 1990s.
The second one could be a Honda from about the same era. In any case, tough as nails, virtually indestructible and with minimal maintenance, ideal for ISIS blitzkrieg actions.
And this is the end of the automotive review of “The Stringer”, I hope you liked it!
Since I was a reader in my childhood -One Million Years B.C.- I was curious about how the cartoonists worked. In the age before the Internet, it was hard for a small-town-boy to get this information. So, I searched here and there, digging into magazines and books.
Not too successfully, I must say. The first story I sent to a fanzine -two pages- was drawn in just one paper sheet. I mean, I draw page 1 in the front side, and page 2 in the reverse, just as I see them printed in the magazines.
Ok, enough about embarrassing moments. Just in case you’re curious about the creative process, here you’ve got how I make a page starting from the script sent by Ted Rall.
As you can see, my first sketch is on the same page of the script. Almost illegible. It is just a reference; the page is already in my head.
Then, let’s start with the real page (I work mainly digitally, trying to advance a bit faster than my usual slow pace): don´t forget to put the texts on a separate layer before drawing, you will save a lot of time and headaches.
Here I clean the preliminary drawing, without text:
Then inking, again on a separate layer:
Here is the ink layer after hiding the underlying scketch:
Then I add the plain color. The middle panels are in grayscale and with diffuse borders, we´re supposedly into Mark´s thoughts:
… and ready for texts and balloons.
Ok, page finished. I send it to Ted (what patience you have!!) to try to look as if I am making some progress and to disguise the fact that there are still 120 more like this one to go. Yay!
“I have an idea for a new graphic novel (…). Any interest?”
And with these two simple questions, Ted put the poison back in me.
After publishing “The Year of Loving Dangerously” with Ted Rall in 2009, I fell in my usual state of “feeling-void-after-finishing-a-book”. “YOLD” had been a colossal effort -although a rewarding one- in terms of searching references and creating an appropriate graphic atmosphere. Being myself a maniac of documentation and historical coherence in the silliest details – a car seen in such and such a scene, a magazine cover, the inside of a subway car of NYC in 1984… – and with the level of detail with which Ted elaborates his scripts, the work was simply exhausting.
This “I have lost all my energies and skills” lasts usually for some months for me. But in this case, aggravated by personal trouble, it took around three years until, in February 2013, I received a message from Ted that rang a bell in my brain.
“I have an idea for a new graphic novel.
The book is about a washed up reporter/war correspondent who is largely out of work because newspapers and magazines are all going under and slashing their budgets and closing their foreign bureaus. (…) A wicked take on the state of the media, the collapse of the economy, the Internet, the nature of warfare, etc.
Of course I was interested!!! So I climbed aboard, never imagining that I was embarking on a 6-year-152-pages-task.
First discussions were about what style would match better the story. I am always experimenting with new things, changes of style, attempts at evolution. At that time I was trying out a style that was not as realistic as “The Year of Loving Dangerously”…
… nor as dark as “Bluesman”.
I was looking for something more schematic, that synthesised reality in order to, without losing realism, give it a more “cartoonish” touch that would fit better with Ted’s satirical-cynical writing.
Ok, so we have the style… What about the main character? How should Mark look? He was a guy in his late 40s/early 50s, a little rattled by life but still in the mood, a bit cynical but still confident in himself and his ability. Someone just like Robert Redford in “All the President’s Men” or maybe Nick Nolte in “Under Fire”.
But there was something that didn’t fit the “schematic” style I was looking for. Also, it was necessary to reflect the passage of time – decades – as we told Mark’s story. An obvious recourse would be to make the protagonist’s hair greyer, so he needed to be dark-haired.
So I switched to a most modern look, dark hair and gray temples. Got it!
Discussing with Ted a cast if “The Stringer” were a movie, I see Ben Affleck as Mark. Ted’s betting more on George Clooney, who’s not bad either.
Anyway, Ben or George: if you’re reading this, know that we’re counting on you for the role of a lifetime 🙂
Thank you for reading. More to come on the creative process of “The Stringer” in the next days.