I have a new story in SpongeBob Comics #22 (in stores now!) and it's camping-themed. Around this time last summer, comics editor Chris Duffy asked me if I'd be interested in doing a comic with a poster spread in the middle—basically, a giant illustration. I'd just gone camping with some friends out on the Harbor Islands in Boston, so this is what I came up with. Below are a bunch of images which you can click to view larger, including the camping spread, which works as a pin-up poster.
I'll talk about color first, and then get into some of the sketches. Color has become increasingly important to me, which is sort of weird to say because it's always been important to me. But it's become an even bigger focus. I put a lot of energy into drawing, but I labor—probably over-labor—on color. I made a lot of specific choices going into this illustration. One may not seem like a 'color choice', but I decided early to stick with as much black line as possible—notable exceptions being the constellations in the sky and the blue line around the glow-jellies. I tried to balance bright yellows, blues, and pinks with neutral purples, browns, and greens. Some of these decisions may be at odds with official SpongeBob color branding (most characters use a colored line, and we're all familiar with flowery blue sky), but I always strive to stay true to the character designs and Bikini Bottom universe, which is full of campfire underwater-type gags. Not sure what to call it, but I had this image in my head of old Boy's Life and National Parks artwork, without any particular references in mind.
Here's my first sketch comp. A few interesting things to note—the 'claw' shadow in the lower left was originally supposed to be the enlarged claw of a little crab. But all sea animals in SpongeBob (besides the jelly-fish) usually take on humanoid forms. Besides that edit, everything else got in, which is great. I went with the Plankton bug-spray gag because it was more funny than the hammock. Staging it at night also meant I could use pockets of light to direct the flow—highlighting the individual gags.
Even though I've been doing most of my inking on the computer, I feel strongly about working the pencils on paper. I stuck two sheets of 11x17 copy paper together with tape, where I planned the whole composition, scanned it, and inked it in Manga Studio. You can see below, after talking with numerous folks including pals Chris Houghton and Dustin Harbin, that aliased bitmap lines are the way to go. I've made the switch 100%—and Manga Studio is perfect for inking directly in this mode. So much cleaner. This is also the first illustration I properly trapped and prepared for CMYK press, and it totally paid off. The comic printed beautify. Nice and sharp, and the colors are as close as I would ever expect.
This issue (#22!) features the likes of Maris Wicks, James Kochalka, Stephen DeStefano, and Joey Weiser to name a few. There’s more to my comic than what I'm sharing here (it has a beginning and an end), so pick up a copy if you see one at your local comics shop. My spread is smack in the middle.