Before I could actually do any big work, I had to send them a pinup of Red Sonja to show them what I was capable of. It took forever, and it wasn’t my favorite picture of her, but I think that given the hours I put into it vs. how much I had to re-learn and re-codify into muscle memory, I did okay. The editor said I needed to tone down the ‘thicc legs,’ which I’m also fine with. Given complete freedom, I like to see big muscle ladies with jacked bodies because they’re barbarians, but I also understand that there is a certain level of “selling the meat” that has to go on to get better reviews in a comic, and therefore, a better chance at getting hired again.
As a somewhat-of-an-aside, there’s a lot of beauty in the world when you find out that you don’t have to give up the thing that you love doing the most. The rain of the last few days were the cleansing showers before clear skies full of bright, white, cotton candy clouds. I was in a parking lot when I went through the official job description for the story and made sure I had the name of the editor for the project, as well as a clear understanding of the importance of deadlines. To this day, the most ease I’ve ever felt in a professional project was just hearing Phil be real about the situation of comic artists: “If you must, you can be late; But you can’t disappear.” I didn’t realize that was an issue with modern comics artists and the various publishing houses. I don’t know if its a life lived with self-deprication as a coping mechanism or what, but the idea of getting to do the thing I always wanted to do had to be the thing other artists always wanted to do, right? That would be like if Kobe never showed up to half his games; People would be more worried about his emotional-mental health than his raw talent.
Either way, Deadlines were already going to be sort of hard since my life has completely changed with the Fibro, but deadlines don’t scare me as much as leaving my Editor & my Mentor out to dry for some shitty mistake I did. Come hell or highwater, I was going to do this project on time and I was going to do my damnedest to make it work.
The original deadline was the beginning of December so that it could go to print by the end of the month, I believe. I had around 30-ish days to sketch, pencil, ink, and tone a really marvelous script by Phil. I went over a few times, and started doing very simplified sketches of the main characters. With Sonja I had to spend time really figuring out her figure in a way that wasn’t too sexualizing but also not too ‘intimidating’, and that was hard. The kinds of eyes she had, the facial structure, how long her torso was in comparison to her legs… I had put maybe a few hours into messing around slowly with sketches while looking for references (something new i’m forcing myself to do!), and my hands started hurting. Bad. Think ‘hand caught in sausage grinder up to the second knuckle‘ kind of Bad.
I should have done everything digitally, but I did not. I was hoping that the full pages would be worthwhile to put up for sale, but after a few pages were pencilled and inked I realized that I’d still have so many mistakes to fix that they wouldn’t look like the comic pages, and/or they’d be patched up beyond recognition. (I eventually ended up saving them for my Brother, who I will give them to when I see him next.) I went “full traditional”, printing off the pages in blue-line that I’d sketched in CSPaint. I thought it would look better to do it that way, not realizing that my 11×17 scanner is still in storage down in the states, and I certainly wouldn’t be getting it up here in time to be able to use it. Each page was scanned in one half at a time, stitching them together very carefully in PS5.0. It works in a pinch, but the results were chunkier-looking lines in a 10-page story that was already having some style-variation issues in it due to how long I hadn’t drawn ANYTHING, let alone worked on a project of this size & finish it on time. In the reviews, multiple people mention it looks like different artists drew the issue, and to that I still must apologize. I was learning to walk again with this comic, and it shows. Next time I will know better to go full-digital and have more sketching/process art to nail down the design specifics instead of pushing myself to make the deadline on time.
Throughout the pencils’ process, I would work my buns off for a day or so to get them looking good, and then submit them for the OK from the editor. The problem was that the first few pages were already coming in a bit late because my hands were going numb, trembling a lot, and eventually spasming enough that I couldn’t use my tablet. On top of this, the stress I was not dealing with in the background caused me to get bed-stuck for at least a week and a half total, so I was going on less and less time. Eventually it became clear I was not going to make the deadline, so I got a small 20 day extension in which I was able to finish up all of the pages.
In a lot of ways, I was (and still am) in denial about the Fibromyalgia. I couldn’t understand why everything hurt, and things move much slower for me due to the accompanying CFS/ME. This project was an eye-opener in “you are going to want to go back to old habits, but unless you want to end up with non-functional hands within the next 5 years, you’re going to have to switch around your workflow, Lady!” The biggest tip-off was that for weeks after finishing the comic, my hands were throbbing in pain. At one point my index and middle finger on my right hand swole up like a sausage, and bending it felt like the skin would tear. After the pain went away, I found working while wearing compression gloves was helpful for keeping me from gripping as hard as I normally do, as well as keeping my tendon-tunnel in both wrists a bit more protected.
The inking process was probably my favorite part. Having these big A3 boards to work on while I watched documentaries or whatever I could find for free was the kind of work stage I enjoy. Fill in the blacks/betas, start inking in background details, work forward in the scene with a 1.0mm fine-liner going all the way down to a 0.05mm fine-liner. I went to scan the pages, and as stated above, everything came out looking a wee bit chonky. I have this wonderful tabloid scanner in my storage unit of stuff in the states, but not only do I not know where it is in the mess of that all, I’m not even sure it would work with my current computer. That, and with Canada’s insane tariffs on EVERYTHING, I’d probably pay more in import fees than the scanner is even worth. To try and course-correct, we went out of our way to buy a tabloid-format printer for printing the pencil bluelines, and then the scanner that came with it is this shitty little “all in one printer”, 11.5 x 9.5 type scanner with terrible B&W pickup, so anything 0.1mm and below was basically either gone completely, or dotted in like eraser dust. The amount of anger I had scanning in the pages made me a combination of frightening and hilarious to my partner, who consoled my artistic tantrums like a champ.
The assignment was black and white art with spot reds. I didn’t have the time I would want to put into doing my normal coloring which takes a while even in greyscale, so I went with tones. If it were a perfect world the editor would have seen my note about sending the original PSD files to them so that the linework (true-black) and the tones (K-black) would work with the reds (M + Y = Red).
They did not see the memo.
I would not find this out until I went to my local store to buy an issue since the editor also did not send me a comp issue to preview.
Before I get to the final reveal where I bought a few copies of my comic issue, I finished the last 2 pages just before Christmas, if I remember. I ended up having to rest for weeks afterwards to keep down off-and-on swelling that kept happening in my hands and wrists, but I had finished it all and sent it in, and was able to finally show Phil that I was good for my word. That was the best feeling of this, that I finished what I set out to start on a very short time limit and with rust and cogs forming a cloud around me like Pigsty from Schultzs’ Peanuts. It isnt my best work, but I had to go through INCREDIBLE odds to get it all finished, and in the end I finally had my wish come true. It’s fair to say that my wish came true in the worst way possible, by going through an amazing amount of trauma from 2A, my multiple medical diagnoses, and lack of practice/resources to do the job in a way that would have best reflected what I could do… but even if it came through at the expense of a lot of bullshit, it still came true. You don’t get to choose how the journey goes most of the time, but you can definitely control how you respond to the quality of the road under your feet.
The Big Reveal!
I kept waiting for my comp issue to come in the mail, before I settled into the situation that it wasn’t coming. Phil was stumped, I was stumped, and every other comic artist who had worked for similar publishers that I asked about it said “eh, it happens sometimes. You’re new and unheard of, and they have tons to juggle.” Fair enough.
I believe it came out in late January of 2022, and I ordered all of the variant covers so I could have a copy for myself and then some other copies for friends/family*. I opened it up, and for the most part it was really nice! My stuff was in print, glaring issues and all, but it had made it to print. What ended up being the point to which I will never again do tones unless i know for SURE the editor is grabbing the right files from me is that they printed the flat B&W images I sent in one layer, which got doubled-up on itself to make it all a kind of falsetto ‘true-black’. What does this mean? Well, it means that everything looks like it has a 1~2 pixel stroke around it, and with art that was already scanned in on a crappy scanner that wanted to turn everything into chonky-line territory, it does not look as crisp or clean as I would have wanted it.
There’s so much more I want to say and reflect on, but I’ll have lots of time to do that as I keep working on getting myself back to where I was before christmas 2016 happened. I’m happy to say that 2A is getting the help they need and starting to come to terms with how much it affected everyone in our family, let alone my Brother and I specifically. What’s important is that I fell off the bike, I rolled down into a ravine, and I climbed my way back out. Things will be different — and much, much slower-paced than they were – but they will be better.
All will be well.
BONUS: Enjoy the original pencil files I used for the issue! There are a few pages where i had to make changes from what you see here vs. what printed in the comic. Can you find them all? 🤣👍
-Heidi / D*H
*- WHICH I STILL NEED TO SEND. FORGIVE MY SLOW ASS.