The Mercenary: Building a Better Crossbow

Enjoy some behind the scenes process development of The Mercenary V.2.
For previous posts, click HERE.

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The medieval crossbow was a weapon that successfully competed against the large bow and was used along with portable firearms for a long time. A good crossbow could throw 6 oz. arrows at a 1300 ft. distance with great precision and huge penetration power, especially if the impact was perpendicular to the target.

Its biggest problem was its slowness and difficulty to load, which most of the time required special mechanisms.

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To the Mercenary’s surprise, at the Crater, he finds weapons he had never seen and that were unknown in his homeland. He distrusts anything new, which is to be expected considering the weird weapon carried by the guardian of the monastery.

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I added some protrusions to the blades of the arrowhead that unfold when the arrow is shot, due to the aerodynamic resistance caused by the high speed of the projectile.

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With a simple look, the Mercenary understands the mechanism of the artifact but his attention is caught by the weird way the weapon is mounted in the dragon’s saddle. Nan-Tay’s crossbow is very powerful without a doubt. The bow is formed by a steel sheet with several smaller support sheets like the suspension springs of a truck. It incorporates a large crank handle on the right for the difficult task of loading. Plus, the weapon moves vertically a little to adjust aim according to the distance of the target. The projectile shown here is not my invention: this system was already in use in the 17th century by the naval artillery to cut the riggings and anything else that stood in its way during maritime battles.

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Armored Up: Inside ‘The Mercenary V.2’

Enjoy some behind the scenes process development of The Mercenary V.2.
For previous posts, click HERE.

HIS ARMOR, BARGAINING CHIP
LOOKING FOR TROUBLE

merc1The Mercenary’s adventures take place around 1,000 A.C. but the armor he acquires is not typical of that era, besides being of European design. Let’s just say the tools contributed by the monks of the Crater had placed the people of the Land of Eternal Clouds several centuries ahead.

Actually, full armors did not exist at the time in western civilization; at most, coats of mail and iron helmets were used. Armors like the one used by the warrior shown to the left would not appear until the end of the 13th century. This is an Italian armor from 1400, an age when apparently the trunk pieces were covered with fabric or leather to identify oneself on the field or protect iron from rusting.

Armors were always very expensive, an elaborate handcraft work. Nowadays, tons of steel sheets can be manufactured by huge machines at low cost, but back in those days armors were made with hammer and anvil. They were custom-made suits for people with large financial resources. No wonder the Mercenary accepts Claust’s conditions without much hesitation…

The Mercenary will use this armor, which almost cost his life, through all the series with some slight modifications suggested by the master armorer of the Monastery of the Crater.

I need to tell you that when the Mercenary went to the armory to buy his new armor, Claust’s presence at the store was no coincidence.

The Mercenary had been followed by order of the alchemist, who had him already in his sight for his next trip to the Crater.

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Claust’s relationship with the Monastery of the Crater went back a long way. Ten years before, when the alchemist made a living swindling people with snake-oil formulas, he watched some merchants exchanging manufactured products for food. The quality of their merchandise caught his attention and he decided to discreetly follow them to find out where they came from and whether he could somehow benefit himself. To his amazement, he watched a string of flying dragons enter the pass into a bleak zone of freezing cold. He had to give up because he was not prepared to get inside that labyrinth, but soon he found them again and this time, better prepared, followed them, steadily reaching the Great Frozen Plains. Stunned, he saw from a distance how they disappeared into a steaming crater. That was so mysterious and promising that it deserved to be explored in depth. Always alone, so he wouldn’t share anything he found with anyone, he managed to leave the merchants behind and, well camouflaged at the edge of the crater, he spied the string passing through the waterfall at the precise moment he was detected.

What he never knew was that the monks considered two options: one, make him disappear and the other one, obtain his silence rewarding him with gifts he could not refuse. It was a mistake to choose the second one. The alchemist became rich, powerful and more and more demanding.

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I bought this armor replica to check what it was like to be inside one, and it was an interesting experience. It is made from a 1/32” iron sheet and it’s very heavy, slightly less than the real ones which weighted about 65 pounds though later some reached 220 lbs. This armor’s design is not correct: the shoulder pieces are not properly jointed which does not allow raising the arms adequately. Besides I found the chest and back pieces too rigid, so I did the right thing putting two pieces for the chest and back in the Mercenary’s armor.

 

The Process: Inside ‘The Mercenary V.2’

Enjoy some behind the scenes process development of The Mercenary V.2.
For previous posts, click HERE.

GUNPOWDER, THE IDEAL “FORMULA” TO START A SERIES

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For this second volume of The Mercenary, the way I worked was more reasonable. With this I mean I wrote the full story, a script up in the air but a script anyway, and from the very beginning I already knew how it was going to end. Considering how I made the first volume, this was a great leap forward.

The central theme was gunpowder. It turned out to be a good choice, because this explosive would make regular appearances in the following volumes of the series and play a relevant role. To be clear to our readers, the monks of the Crater secretly wandered all over the world on their mission to gather all human knowledge to later share with other countries as they saw fit.

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These trips included China, where gunpowder was already known by that time. Actually the Chinese knew gunpowder way before 1,000 A.C., but used it for pyrotechnics and fireworks. Apparently there were some fireworks used for military purposes. Somehow, the formula reached the West and circulated through the small guild of alchemists and a select group of people, many of them monks who knew how to read and write.

Gunpowder is much more dangerous than it looks. It has lots of power. Just to give you an idea, the small amount inside a Mauser cartridge (smokeless gunpowder) creates a pressure of 3500 kg/cm2 inside the chamber. Pressure is relieved through the weakest part of the chamber where the bullet is located, but we need to understand the bullet is wider than the cannon’s bore and pressure needs to deform it to adapt it to the grooves, and the bullet is still capable to travel 1 ¼ miles with enough power to pierce armor. The old Mauser I used in the army shot bullets more than twice the speed of sound, which meant the bullet always reached the target before the sound of the shot.

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So having the exclusivity of the formula and knowing how to use it, was holding absolute power.

 

The Formula: Inside ‘The Mercenary V.2’

In this gallery, I will tell you first hand how I was about to quit The Mercenary after the first volume due to the large amount of effort it required, but gunpowder lit the fuse of the series. I will also include some interesting information on gunpowder power, the world of aviation and crossbows and how I created the main characters.

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BEGINNING THE HARD WORK

I had finished volume one of The Mercenary, and it was time to measure things up. Regarding work, with my slow oil painting technique, I need more than a year and a half to finish it and, to be honest, what I was being paid was not worth it. Each page took me on average ten days of work while, in the same amount of time, any other illustrator made at least four pages, and the price per page was the same for everyone. But there was something that, despite everything, made me go on: the good response from fans and critics. There were some specific moments that cheered me up, like the enthusiastic comments from movie maker Federico Fellini, big fan of comics who even called me at home to congratulate me.

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With that said, if I wanted to continue the comic, the only logical option seemed to be move on with the character and make a series, which I was told was the sound thing to do economically speaking. So that’s what I chose. I went back to my ideas reservoir making sure they were original and unreleased. I wrote the script for a second story, which continued from the previous book without necessarily being a sequel, and drew it in a very simple way to fit the 48 pages for the episode. That was the real beginning of The Mercenary. That was the moment to create and shape the characters.

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From the very first page, I had to face an important decision: to dress up the warrior, who had lost his armor, with what would be his distinctive attire for the rest of the series. When it came to armor, I was very knowledgeable thanks to some previous works, like the helmet from the previous page which is an illustration I did in Indian ink for THE UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF WEAPONS, plus the endless magazine covers on medieval subjects.

To be continued…

A Visit to The Land of Eternal Clouds

This excerpt shares behind the scenes material from NBM’s The Mercenary remastered editions, available now.  To see all posts, click HERE.

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Here you can see two unpublished panoramas of the Land of Eternal Clouds. They are taken from an illustrated story version of this volume, published in France.

Look closely at the one above because it says many things. To start, it summarizes the first part of the volume that you have just read, but it also reveals, in some way, the size and way of life of this strange country. You can see that it is large and mountainous but has wide plateaus that allow for food to be grown. There are large cities and there is the lighthouse, necessary for nocturnal navigation in a valley full of cliffs and jagged outcroppings. Or the dragon bones that the Mercenary used to construct his glider: strong but hollow to lighten the load of the flying animals.

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Regarding the women of the Cult of the Sacred Fire, we will go a long time without knowing more about them.

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Only in the twelfth volume of the series will we discover that they ran out of gas and fell into a frozen land outside of the Land of Eternal Clouds. They will be near death, but will be able to save themselves at the last minute thanks to the monks from a mysterious underground monastery.

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THE MERCENARY The Definitive Editions Vol.1: The Cult of the Sacred Fire is available now.

Everything But The Story

This excerpt shares behind the scenes material from NBM’s The Mercenary remastered editions, available now.  To see all posts, click HERE.

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And the day came. It was 1979, there sat the six finished pages. It was a different comic, revolutionary to a certain extent at that time, since it was painted entirely in oils. So my agent took the samples to an Italian book fair to see the reactions of the other editors. It could be a success or could also be completely rejected, especially by the most orthodox who liked line drawings and, if possible, black and white. I had used all of my resources to make sure the samples would call attention, but it would not be the first time that my hopes in search for work would be dashed. But no, my agent came back excited: the samples had been such a success that he brought a half dozen signed pre-contracts.

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After the initial excitement, I realized that I had a new problem: I had to continue the story. I had always liked to write but had never written a script. What’s more, I didn’t even know where to start. But maybe due to this, and due to being new in the world of comics, I had many new ideas taking root in my passions that could be used. So I started to think about how to extend the story. The ideas, I don’t know why, would occur to me in the middle of the night and I can’t count how many times since then I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to jot down something interesting because I know that in the morning I won’t remember.

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In this first issue of The Mercenary everything was chaotic because, in addition to having to alternate that with working on covers, there was no pre-set script. I was adding ideas as I went along, and in fact you can see that there are three different stories: the initial rescue of the girl, giving her back to her husband, and the adventure that happens under the clouds with the appearance of the hot air balloon. But the first thing I had to do in order to continue with the story was find a suitable setting to justify the presence of these flying animals.

 

Daring to Include The Full Nude

This excerpt shares behind the scenes material from NBM’s The Mercenary remastered editions, available now.  To see all posts, click HERE.

Just as a well-proportioned young horse with good musculature, a tiger, or a peacock are instinctively beautiful to us, so too is the human body. This, intensified by sensuality, acquires extraordinary dimensions and for this reason a well-constructed, nude human body has always been a point of reference in art. To me, as a painter, it is fascinating to paint female nudes.

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As an illustrator I have done many covers including partial nudes. On very few occasions were they fully nude and much less on covers for the USA where censorship did not allow it. Here, in Spain, with the advent of democracy, we went from an opaque, ecclesiastic censorship of everything, to the wildest and most widespread openness.

Given these circumstances, and as I had to call attention, if I wanted my samples to have a future, I dared to include a full nude.