On black ink: This page is a good example of why I love black india ink. It’s great for shadows, and any time you have shadows in a comic, you have drama, volume and a better chance at art that still reads from across the room.
That’s just what I’m doing with the black shadows on this page, the characters and trees don’t exist, but they to in your mind… perhaps even to your soul. When the eye sees something dark on the left side of a shape, and light or white on the right side of a shape, it recalls where it has seen that before…on everything it has ever seen! We only see due to light sculpting and clarifying things before our eyes, so shadow and light are a powerful tool we story-tellers have to draw an audience into our stories.
You’ll notice I don’t put shadows on every character in every frame of my comic. You might ask, “But does not the sun cast a shadow down someone’s face in daylight?” It’s true that we cartoonists lay off the shadows during day scenes, sometimes even during night scenes. That’s because drawing shadows has two jobs, and only one is really necessary for the story.
1. A shadow grounds the character into the setting of the panel. It tells you where the character is standing compared to the ground. It shows the character has volume. This shadow is must! You’ll see this in Calvin and Hobbes, Bone, Pogo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts, they have a little blotch of shadow at their feet to show where they are standing and maybe a spot of black just under the head, cast on the neck to show the fact that the head has volume. But there aren’t shadows in the concavity of the eyes, under the nose (which every artist knows that casting a shadow under the knows makes all of your characters look like Hitler), which is because these shadows are here to tell you the character is real in this world, not that he is realistically depicted with proper, full light and shadow. Go minimal or your cartoon characters will look more like they exist within a film noir comic.
2. Shadow can have the job of actually setting your character with “mood lighting”. Long, harsh shadows are moody. That’s why great mystery and horror artists tend to use more shadows on the face and figure of the characters. Take a look at The Spirit (or anything by Eisner), Hellboy, anything by Bernie Wrightson, some Howard the Duck, Powers, Sin City, and any detective, crime or noir comic. It’s got heavy shadows sculpting the character and they look solid. It’s automatically dramatic. It’s not an appropriate setting for a cartoon character, even most cartoon characters poking around at night.
Most comics use the first instance of shadow in comic, and more realistic or dramatic ones use the latter. I use both because I just like throwing ink everywhere! Today’s episode is supposed to be a little haunting, so the light and shadow are tools to help me out with that.