How I Drew Tuckered, My First Gay Sex-Positive Romance Comic

Posted by May 31, 2015 Comment

by Janos Janecki (artist, designer and web developer).Tuckered-gay-character-based-sex-positive-mini-comic-by-dale-lazarov-and-janos-janecki

Recently I had the opportunity to work on a mini-comic titled “Tuckered”, originally written by Dale Lazarov in 2006. Dale Lazarov and I first worked together when I colored PEACOCK PUNKS, a graphic novel drawn by Mauro Mariotti and written and art directed by Dale. Being a reckless mercenary person, I asked Dale to send me a try-out script shortly after the project was finished; we both were curious to see if I was able to draw a comic from scratch. After I laid out the second page of “Tuckered”, he offered to publish it and sent me a contract.

ready-to-draw-anatomyEven though “Tuckered” is a 10-page gay erotic and romantic mini-comic, it wasn’t easy to draw and I took the process of making it very seriously. When I play fantasy games or watch fantasy movies, I often see details such as characters wearing chain armor over bare skin. Chain armor will rip your skin off, if you wear it like that; that’s why it’s a big problem. When you know something isn’t right, it looks fake and takes you out of the experience. I am very fortunate to have friends whose hobby is the historical reconstruction of Early Medieval Period, so they offered help and shared their knowledge.

The primary challenge of this project was to illustrate a believable environment for a story set in a mythical Sherwood Forest setting. I researched every aspect of its design: clothing, weaponry, tableware, vehicles, and even the topography and plants of the forest setting. I began my process with the design of Friar Tuck and Little John, the protagonists of “Tuckered”. I watched classic Robin Hood movies and researched narratives about Tuck and John. I asked friends about what they would wear as clothes, accessories and jewelry, and what the color palette of these would be because the number of natural dyes was limited at that point in history.

Tuckered-John-Little-concept-art-by-Janos-Janecki-for-Dale-LazarovLittle John, for example, wouldn’t be likely to wear a piece of apparel without a practical purpose so the leather sleeve on his arm isn’t decorative — it’s an expression of his need for protection when he uses a bow and arrow. In my opinion, this attention to realistic detail illustrates or enhances the  experience of the story as a work of narrative and an expression of gay culture. That the leather sleeve is reminiscent of the cuffs worn by gay leathermen as an expression of their masculinity is not a coincidence, but it’s also not a disruption of the “reality” of the setting.

After Dale approved the nude and clothed character design sheets I drew to make sure they lined up with his script descriptions, we moved on to the next step of production: concept art for each comics page. Even though Dale called them “page thumbnails” or “layouts”, the primary page designs were more like “concept art”: black and white, rough and blocky, with only what was required for establishing the visual composition and storytelling design of the pages as sequential art. We paid most attention to “character acting” — facial expressions and body language — and less attention to the fine details we’d focus on the next draft of the art.

It was completely different from all my other experiences as a graphic designer and illustrator of single-image or non-narrative work. When you draw sequential art, you are like a movie director of a comics page: you have to first imagine the story visually and then represent what you visualize with your tools for illustration. I read the script and then I closed my eyes until I started to visualize the comics panels in my head. As Morpheus said in The Matrix, “You have to let it all go, Neo: fear, doubt and disbelief. Free your mind.”

The-Matrix-Jump-programWhere is the light coming from in this scene? Where is the “camera eye” positioned in this panel? Is it the best way to show the characters? Is it dynamic enough? Those are all questions you’re constantly asking yourself each time you create a panel. You also can’t forget about the overall layout design for the pages so they’re both exciting and individual while still consistent and unified as a story.

Tuckered-page-01-previewAfter “Tuckered” was published digitally at https://dalelazarov.selz.com/, Dale Lazarov asked how I decided to show that the young man in panel 4 of Page 1 is asking Friar Tuck to kiss his hand in the same way Robin Hood kisses the hand of his mother on panel 3.  He says he laughs every time he sees it. The script isn’t that specific about the gesture; it only says “[they] clearly cruise each other.” In all honesty, I didn’t illustrate that parallel gesture intentionally — it’s just coincidence. In my mind, he’s just leaning on the edge of the cart to flirt with Tuck but I can see why Dale interprets the gesture in this manner. It’s neat that the comic is open to interpretation that way.

After the concept art for all the pages was completed, the next step was developing the concept art into line art by producing detail-oriented inks for each page. This step wasn’t that challenging as I already knew what style of inking I wanted to use for the story based on the character design art and the adventure-style comic strips and comics I researched, like Prince Valiant by Hal Foster, Korak, Son of Tarzan by Robert Kanigher and Murphy Anderson, and classic illustrations by Frederic Remington, Arthur William Brown and others. I know how ink on paper looks and feels, so it was a natural choice to mimic the style of the classic adventure comic strips that inspired Dale’s script.

When illustrative or narrative art looks too computer-generated, without the feel of something hand-made or human-made, it doesn’t feel right to me.

The coloring stage that followed the inks went considerably faster and was finished in about three days. As with the inks, I worked to maintain the look and feel of classic adventure art in the coloring although I produced it digitally. It’s meant to resemble the limited color palette of old comics and the watercolor textures of adventure pulp magazine cover art. Combining these two influences led me to use a calm and soft coloring style that’s quite pleasing to my eyes.

Once the interior art was completed, I offered Dale two concept art pieces for the cover art for “Tuckered”. We decided to combine elements of both proposals in the final cover.Tuckered-cover-sketches-by-Janos-Janecki

Overall, the process for drawing “Tuckered” took two months from start to finish. Some of you may be wondering what it was to draw sequential art about gay sex as I hadn’t done it before, either. I thought it would be tricky to draw action-oriented comics, because sex is a highly interactive and dynamic activity such as fighting or dancing. Of course, when you collaborate with Dale Lazarov, you can’t draw stiff bodies just laying in missionary poses. He provides artists with as much visual reference material as they need and the scripts make the emotional cues and sexual choreography of the story explicit. Dale Lazarov’s scripts set you up to illustrate a story in a way that’s specific enough to challenge you creatively while at the same time giving you the flexibility required to achieve those goals.

To bring Dale’s scripts to life, you need to understand human emotions as well as have compositional skills in order to illustrate them. It’s not just about understanding anatomy and how it works on a purely material level. Observing human behavior gets you in touch with what you need to represent when humans interact as people whose sexuality is integrated into their relationship.

After “Tuckered” was finished and published, I was granted the exciting opportunity, by one of my medievalist friends, to join a reenactment group and recreate a military campaign of the period. I was surprised and happy to see that most of what was drawn in the comic based on my research was fairly similar to the historical recreation. I also experienced first-hand how it was a tough and dangerous time to live in; I hope the people who lived in medieval times had enough sex in their life!

medieval-military-campaign-reconstructionIf you liked this account of the process of drawing “Tuckered”, please support our work by purchasing it at https://dalelazarov.selz.com. If you’re not into gay character-based, sex-positive wordless comics but liked this story, please share it with friends who do; we’d appreciate it.

(Last Updated May 31, 2015 4:28 am )

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