Yesterday, I reviewed the second “Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Edition” from Dark Horse. Today, I’m looking at the “Sin City: The Hard Goodbye Curator’s Collection” book. Again, this is publishing all the art from the original “Sin City” series, shot in full color and printed at its original size. It’s another beast of a book, and it’s available today for $175, if you can find it.
Again, I’m sort of assuming it’s a beast of a book. I only have a PDF to review, but for the purposes of this article, it’ll do.
First, a comparison between the two books:
If Stan Sakai is the cleanest cartoonist on planet earth, then Frank Miller is his balance. There’s nothing wrong with this, though. Original art is just a step in the production process. Whether it’s neat or not doesn’t matter. It just matters how it looks in final print. It goes the same for writers: some have notoriously misspelled scripts that would make my eyes burn. But it doesn’t matter. So long as the rest of the creative team knows what’s going on, it works.
Let’s look at a few specific panels and pages and see what Frank Miller did 25 years ago to create this wondrous graphic novel. (Remember, it was originally serialized in the pages of “Dark Horse Presents.” For a few weeks, it ran at the same time as “John Byrne’s Next Men.” Not a bad anthology right there.)
Frank Miller’s Lettering
Miller lettered his own pages. He’s not a great letterer, but his personal style fits well with this book. The lettering is extremely blocky. There are some serious spacing issues, both in kerning and leading. It doesn’t matter. It’s consistent, it’s readable, and it forms the “Sin City” style.
Here, we see Marv at a time of distress. You can tell because the word balloons have that jagged look. Also, Miller leans the letters enough to the right that it gives the impression of an italicized — and thus emphasized — font. It’s impressive to me that the lean to the right is as consistent as it is for someone who isn’t normally a letterer, but it’s still far from great.
You can still clearly see the pencils lines underneath from where he drew the guides with an Ames Guide. Judging by where some of that text wound up, it looks like Miller shifted all the words just to the left in the final inking stage. You can see some orphaned letters off to the right on a few lines.
His sound effects are also worth a special look. They’re fairly standard (though usually skinny) block letterers, usually with neighboring letterings butting up together. But they can also go the 3D route as they do in this panel. Letters are drawn over each to give the effect that the sound is coming towards you. Notice how they move from back to front, in the same direction as the cop car running down the street. And, of course, they get larger as they get closer.
Shades of Black
I’m not entirely sure how to interpret this, but look at how the solid black areas are filled in on this panel. The final look has a lighter black ink for the curves and outline of Marv’s body. The white areas on his longer leg are not made from white ink. He drew around them, from the looks of it. Maybe it was a Sharpie for that area for better control, and then a brush to cover the larger black area surrounding him?
Any artists here who have a better idea than me? Does that sound plausible?
Update: Frank Miller mixes his own inks. Sometimes, this results in inks that have different levels of blackness to them. That’s the likely explanation on a page like this. The different qualities of black probably indicate different work sessions Miller worked on the panel, or different batches of ink that Miller used in making this particular panel, and others like it.
There’s also the chance that harder erasing of the original pencil lines contributed to this.
Here’s Marv jumping out a window. It’s dramatic, it’s stark, it has a sound effect. So what do I notice when I look at this page? I see the way Miller went through the work to show the grooves between the bricks in the wall. Check this out:
He drew the tall vertical line for the outside of the wall, then has regularly spaced vertical lines to indicate each brick. He inks around those intersections to give you the profile of the brick wall. It’s a simple detail, but it helps to indicate that it’s the outside wall so well, particularly in light of the lack of detail everywhere else on the page.
Cleaner Than I Would Have Guessed
This panel is cleaner than I expected it to be. Looks like the bulk of the White Out was used on the top of Marv’s back. I guess Miller decided to get rid of some detail there to help make the jacket look like it’s stretched tighter across his back. There’s also a bit at the very bottom of the panel where it looks like he rethought where the bottom of that row of bricks belonged.I’m guessing that was eyeballed up, just because I don’t see any leftover perspective guidelines on the page.
I love the stippling work inside the tunnel there. No White Out there. It’s all dots. There’s a faint pencil line he used as a guide to make sure they lined up at the bottom, but that’s it.
My Favorite Panel of the Book
I remember this one blowing my mind when I first saw it nearly 25 years ago, and it still works for me today.
This is Marv climbing up the outside of the building, and Miller has effectively drawn everything in its negative. He accomplishes so much with the white space here. You can see the light pencils still barely there where he sketched in some windows in the middle, as well as some of the perspective grid he laid out for himself. The amazing thing is just how much your eye completes for him. You can see the edges of the buildings, even though they’re not drawn in at all.
I suppose it helps that not a single building in this shot has a plain rectangular roof. They have all sorts of interesting shapes and patterns.
The Power of White Out
The printed panel precedes the original art of the panel:
In the original art, you can see the right side of her face in this image. In the final comic, it’s completely white.
In the original art, you can still see all of the gun. In the final comic, it disappears in the starburst of the gun’s explosive firing.
Even the lightest white gets blown out to full white in the final comic.
Basically, you can see how they ramped up the contrast (up the exposure AND the black levels) in the production phase of the book to create something that’s pure black and white, without shades of gray. And this was done in the film days, so I’m sure I’m simplifying the process by discussing levels adjustments…
So Much More
This, to me, is the point of these books — being able to look at the original pages in bulk like this can teach us so many things about how an artist works and thinks. That’s invaluable. They’re good reminders that original art — expensive and often hard to store — can be used for more than just making pretty spots on the wall.
“Sin City: The Hard Goodbye Curator’s Collection” teaches plenty of lessons. In fact, it might be the book in this style that I’ve learned the most from.
Even better, there’s an interview with Miller in the back of the book where he talks a lot about his art process. From there, I learned that he uses “Pro White”, not “White Out” as I so frequently referred to it previously. I’m keeping “White Out” in the text above, though, because more people will understand what that means immediately.
1200 words later, you finally learned something useful from this article. 😉
Update: Also, it should be noted, there is no such thing as “White Out.” It’s actually “Wite-Out.”
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