Root Redwing 8

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

And that’s it for our story of young Root! Did that mermaid make her forget that she saw her, but not the octopus? Maybe — or maybe she has her own reasons!

Root Redwing 7

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

Those eyes! Even grumpy Root can’t resist.

Technical note: the texture on the octopus’s skin and the bubbles were created by using the brush setting (in the brushes panel) for “spattering”. If you’re learning Photoshop (as I still am and probably will always be), play with the brush settings on a blank canvas—it’s really fun and you’ll discover stuff like this!

Root Redwing 6

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

Who is this young merkid? And why is she hanging around with this ne’er-do-well of an octopus? Aha! They’re a team! I wonder what Chirikik would think of this?

Root Redwing 5

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

This is probably my favourite panel of the whole story! I decided to use a kind of all-over, abstract design for the sequence rather than panels, to reflect the chaos of what probably only took a minute or two in story time, but had a lot of action to convey. Octopuses are really fun to draw, especially if one can anthropomorphize them a bit and give them expressions. And there’s a bit of a nod to Tin-Tin’s Captain Haddock’s inventive curses with the alliteration here. I think I’m going to have to work on Root’s colourful vocabulary for her future appearances in Mermaid Music!

Root Redwing 4

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

Night has fallen and this is getting spooky! What has Root found in her boat? Did she forget and leave the microwave on while cooking up some marshmallows for s’mores?

Another technical Photoshop note, for those who may be interested: you might have noticed those soft fuzzy edges to the panels. It’s easy-peasy; just select the white area around the panels; if you already have outlines, head up to the Select menu and find Modify>Expand, and set the pixels to enough to cover up your lines.

Then go back to (or if you don’t have outlines, just start at) the Select menu and find Modify>Feather and set the pixels for the feathering to your own taste; I think I used 10 here. Then Edit>Fill with white, and you’ll have these lovely soft edges!

Root Redwing 3

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

I really enjoyed doing this full-bleed page, and challenged myself with some extra perspective stuff. Dig the shadows and light on the ceiling! It was also a lot of fun writing the dialogue for this, and placing it to simulate the hubbub that goes on in a crowded café. And of course I had to mention the kraken, since it was for the Kraken Komiks anthology!

Root Redwing 2

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Root Redwing and the Thieves of Kettle Bay

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it will be full of good things, resolutions realized, and creativity for you!

Speaking of creativity, you may have noticed by now that this comic has quite a different look to the main story. Whenever I do a short project like this, I like to challenge myself to try something I haven’t done before. In this case, it was to use digital greyscale (but wait! it isn’t grey—don’t worry, I’ll get to that later). I also used digital lettering, which I’ve done before, but not for a while, so it’s good to keep those skills up.

The comic was drawn somewhat larger than I usually work for Mermaid Music, and inked with a brush-pen (sort of like a cartridge writing pen, but with a brush instead of a pen nib), which was the reason I drew it larger—it takes a lot of control to work small with that tool, and I figured I’d give myself all the advantage I could. Still, when I initially finished the inks, I hated them! But going back and looking at the originals now, I’m much happier. Sometimes you have to get a little distance from your own work, and forgive yourself for the imperfections.

I scanned the inks (as tiffs) to Photoshop, cleaned them up a bit (there is always paper tone to get rid of, and, oh my, there’s an ink splotch, and arg, a fingerprint!), and settled down to figure out how to add the tones. I set the mode to greyscale, added a layer to do the “colouring” on, and then started selecting areas to drop in the major tones and gradients. I used several different methods to select for this, which I won’t bore you with here (if you’re learning Photoshop, and want to know more of the gory details, ask me in the comments, I’m happy to answer if anyone is actually interested).

A note about layers—if you’re not familiar with Photoshop or other image-editing programs, visualize a bunch of transparent sheets of acetate (which is how we used to do it in the bad old days), which can be re-ordered, made more or less opaque, and made to affect the other layers in different ways.

Then I added another layer, and sometimes two, and proceeded to do some brushwork, adding shadows and highlights. This gave it a more natural look than if I’d just stuck with the flat colours.

I added the lettering right in Photoshop. Usually I do it in Indesign, but I wanted to test out Photoshop’s capabilities. It involved a lot of layers, which got confusing rather fast, (though I did figure out why one would want to group layers)—I think next time I’ll stick to Indesign for a longer project; however, the convenience of just doing it all in one program makes using the Photoshop tools worthwhile for only a page or two.

For the final image, I made a copy and flattened all the layers, made sure to delete any channels that were still lingering from saved selections (these can play havoc with trying to view the file in anything but Photoshop), and the final tiff was then ready for publication in Cephalopods, the first Kraken Komiks anthology.

I wanted a bit more colour for online, though, so back to Photoshop—first, I changed the mode back to RGB. Then I made an extra layer and set it to “overlay”, then filled that layer with the colours I wanted. Overlay is cool, because the colour you use affects the main layer in proportion to the lightness or darkness of each area. So if an area is white it doesn’t show up at all, and if it’s dark, it makes it a dark version of the selected colour. I’ve only tried this with greyscale (I used it to “sepia-ize” a whole book’s worth of pencil drawings), and I just realized that I don’t know what this would do to a colour image. I’ll put that on the list for future experimentation.

Why not just colour the whole comic? Well, several reasons. First, I really liked the look of the greyscale, and wanted to keep a limited-palette feel; second, the sepia (and soon blue tones) echo the flashback and night/underwater sequences of the main comic; and third, fully colouring it would have been every bit as fiddly as doing the greyscale in the first place, and would have taken ages, and this is supposed to be giving me a vacation!

Well, that’s enough about me and my comic—if you’ve gotten this far, and want to know more, please ask me a question and I’ll do my best to answer!

Root Redwing 1

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Hello Merfolks! Happy Boxing Day! Today begins an eight-page story about Root Redwing, Sami’s enigmatic auntie. This flashback tale takes place in Root’s younger days, when she was a trader roaming through the islands, one of the many who stitched together these far-flung and sometimes isolated communities with news and goods. I hope you enjoy it!

Our main story line will resume in late February, with a look at what Aunt Root and Domnik are up to, before we get back to Sami on the Mermaid and the Fins and Hands.