There’s a little throwaway scene in Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes where Joe is invited to a royal story-telling competition. For this image I needed to design the royal messenger and the king’s coach.
The story isn’t set in any particular time or place—it just calls for a fairytale look. That allows me a pretty wide latitude regarding costume and setting. The messenger I dressed in something 16th century—slashed sleeves and short cape—with a sash to make him look official. The coach is something I found in Peter Newark’s Crimson Book of Highwaymen—a book about desperadoes who robbed the wealthy travelers of merrie olde England.
Here’s the thumbnail—we’re looking at the left page.
The tight sketch—
Throughout this project I used color to give clues about each character. Everything having to do with the king got colored purple.
Here’s Stella, from Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes.
Thumbnail sketch for pp 6/7. Stella the storyteller sees her rival, Joe Bright, in the back of her magic story-telling chair.
Tight sketch for page 6.
A close-up of my color map for the book. These are small color sketches of every spread, all next to each other. It’s easier to plan the palette, or color choices, for the entire project when I can see it all at once. The scenes with Joe Bright feature warm yellows; the ones with Stella are cold blues and purples. Stella tries to foil Joe with 3 different devices—these are acid green, so the reader can identify them easily.
Here’s the painting for page 6 in progress:
Here’s the model sheet I came up with for Henry. This was a few years ago. I was working along the lines of classic model sheets for say, a Disney character, with the proportion lines and head-height. Nowadays my model sheets are a lot looser, with many more poses scattered over the paper.
Stinker and the Onion Princess is an updated Grimm’s story set in Texas—but with a fairy tale quality. I didn’t want the characters to look too real, but they should be sort of modern-day. To get the kind of vibe I was looking for, I turned to Roy Rogers. Roy, Gene Autry and a host of singing cowboys wore some outlandish cowboy costumes in their movies. I found some books in the library about them, and faithfully rendered them in paint. This helps me to get a sense of color for my project.
I also looked at books about Western roadside attractions, cowboy kitsch, and Mexican festival costumes. I painted the examples I liked. Here they are:
Some more character designs from Stinker & The Onion Princess, the book that never got past the sketch stage.
Here’s the lovely Onion Princess, pictured here dressed for Big Daddy’s barbecue party. Big Daddy is hoping to get his son hitched.
She’s the heiress to an onion fortune. Her dress is light green with dark green scallions extending from her waist to the hem. The spiral decorations in her hair are ruby red/pale pink onion slices. I think I drew her calves too skinny.
Here are her rivals—heiresses to lumber, cotton and rose fortunes:
The Lumber Lass is sporting a buzz-saw blade in her hair and her dress is made out of wooden sticks.
The Onion Princess shows up again in the story, at another big party.
More of the red onion and scallion motif. The flowers in her hair are those light blue blossoms you see on garlic plants.
Some time ago, I got a fabulous manuscript to work on: Stinker and the Onion Princess. Set in Texas, is was a retelling of the Grimm tale King Thrushbeard, but this time the proud and beautiful princess was replaced with a proud and handsome heir to an oil fortune. The hapless king-suitor became a hapless daughter of an onion magnate.
This was to be the third in a trilogy of Texas stories by Kitty Griffin and Kathy Combs. Alas, after the sketches were done the publisher deemed the project unmarketable and called a halt to production.
Here is my character design for Stinker.
This project was a blast to design. Since every character is a Texan, they all wear cowboy boots, no matter what. We decided to make the book really wide, and I filled the image areas with Western vistas and Spanish-Moroccan architecture. I will try to scan some of the sketches for future posts. I only have an 8.5 x 11″ Playskool scanner, so I’ll need to figure out how to piece them together.
A few posts ago I zeroed in on a book cover from the fifties showing Santa Claus smoking tobacco from a hookah. Pretty unusual, right? Nothing like what you’d see Santa doing in a kids’ book nowadays. Well, not so long ago I illustrated A Soldiers’ Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford (both military moms), in which an army base in the MidEast is paid a visit on Christmas eve. Instead of Santa Claus, it’s grizzled old Sargent McClaus who swoops in on his flying jeep, accompanied by eight humvees and a red-nosed Blackhawk helicopter.
Clenched between the sargent’s teeth is a cigar!
The story calls for a cigar, so Sargent McClaus’ head can be wreathed in smoke just like Saint Nicholas. He brings the troops duffel bags full of goodies: letters from home, photos, phone cards, and crayon drawings. The story is set to (what else?) Clement C. Moore’s poem. As for how the army base is decorated for the season, I got lots of inside info from Trish and Christine.
Spare a thought (and a prayer) for our gallant troops who will be far from home on Christmas. God bless them.
John Manders Illustration
Caricatures, Comic Strips
School Assembly Visits