Whether you admire or admonish webcomics, there is a massive amount of talent in that field. Many artists turn to producing webcomics in order to help create a fanbase and launch a concept that would be hard to pitch to a studio. Especially with so many of the major studios trapped in the purgatory of retconing the same concept time and time again. Whereas online, an artist can make a webcomic for anything from a story of a guy who’s face gets ripped off in a terrible printer accident and he becomes the best anti-hero, to a story about movie/videogame ultra men trying to reintegrate into society. Kelly… Kelly worked on the latter.
I started following her webcomic back in… 2008 or 2009. In fact, she had one of the first major Webcomics. At one point, her website was one of the top 10000 sites on the internet. That is a massive deal considering the hundreds of thousands of sites that exist now. It was my introduction into the world of webcomics, and was one of the first artists to help bridge the gap to the rest of the art community and art world. I am extremely grateful for this.
Her webcomic was a perfect cacophony of references to action heroes, videogame characters, a scatter few super heroes, and her main star… Commander Badass. The story centers around Commander Badass, a spacefighter from the future scientifically engineered to be the ultimate badass and given an awesome name, to be awesome. He is working in a temp agency that specializes in getting other badasses into jobs and re-ingratiate into society. The story is pitched perfectly in the first comic.
For those of you not familiar, Kratos is the main character of the God of War series. He spends most of the series yelling and screaming at greek gods while ripping the wings off harpies, stabbing cyclops in the eyes, and just murder. So much murder. it was also one of the first games to capitalize on quick time events involving you smashing keys. To me, it was a thing of beauty that had me grabbing the stitch in my side laughing so intensely. Every comic to follow has managed to come along and follow up the jokes. Her references are incredibly spot on and manage to mock the absurdity of those worlds.
Something can also be said about the way she made each of the main characters truly fit into their roles. Commander Badass, who to my knowledge is almost always smoking a cigar, talks with a thick accent and his words can be muddled together. She illustrates this really well. His arch nemesis is Canadian Man. That character is a joke off a mix of her dad and her being from Canada, knowing full well some of the ridiculous stuff that goes on up there. It has had me laughing intensely because they are injected expertly. Next comes Commander Badass’s kids which she has managed to turn into something believable. It sounds unreal to think that a couple of little kids would be okay in a story along side Duke Nukem and the basement of Snakes (MGS joke…,) yet she based most of Commander Badass’s parental skills on those she grew up experiencing. Then there is Jared and Mr. Fish. An injoke at Pokemon and a normal person in with this patheon of movie gods and videogame demigods. Well, Mr. Fish is…. yeah….
The series has been going on for quite sometime and continues to improve in minor ways throughout time. I really love this comic and it introduced me to more. Surprisingly, Kelly has been in two bad accidents during this time and it never really stopped her from working on this project. Often times she injects some snippets of what is affecting her style. Whether it is a piece of animation with particulars or something going on that inspired her to try out a new tool.
After a few years of following her online, I found out that she had an additional project that she had been wanting to work on. A quick breakdown for those on the outside of this… Getting into the mainstream comic world is tough. The mainstream world is really tough to pitch to on any front, especially for 1-off ideas and concepts that could be tough to market. The reason why there seems to be a lack of originality in the system, is due to major production companies being unsure of whether or not they can turn a certain profit on a piece. Ultimately, nothing can be worse than working on a project and investing the necessary funds into it, then having it tank horribly. That is something most webcomic artists who produce slice of life stories or even more intense stories that would be tough to convey properly.
Kelly talked about her one dream project that she had been hoping to work on like this. For quite sometime she was working on drawings and illustrations of her characters. They were beautifully detailed and with nuanced characters that would take some serious time to build into the story. It is a story involving boxing, monsters aplenty, and a world that you would want to explore all of the background characters because they all seem to have a story to tell.
In ended up becoming a joint project with an additional artist. Kelly did the flat drawing and line art and referred colouring to an additional artist. If this is something that some may refer to as cheating, in the world of comic books you often have a writer, a colourist, an illustrator, and an editor. In fact, in an issue of a Firefly graphic novel, there is a bit in the background where it says “fill in black with stars” in regards to the background. It was a note for the colourist that somehow slipped past the editor. If Darkhorse comics can use a team to produce their works, the idea of a webcomic being worked on by 2 artists is not absurd. If anything, it gives them the ability to accomplish more more often.
The overall story follows a human boxer living on an island filled with other human level intelligent creatures. The boxer is like the shiest guy out there, like it is so bad he often goes out and becomes a hermit off on some remote area of island. His best friend and guide on the island is a form of shapeshifter. The shapeshifters are often taken out somewhere remote, and harvested for their organs. They will regenerate and often forget the trauma that they endured. It is considered illegal on the island but within about 20 pages or so, it is driven home how little anyone cares for the laws on this island.
If anything, I can’t do the comic justice in a short synopsis. The shortest version would be “3 guys, into boxing, on an island full of monsters.”
However, she spent the better part of 3 years going into detail on what she wanted. Kelly had questions into everything from individual characters and how they met, to complicated discussions of trade agreements and currency on the island. She always had answers for the people asking and it helped inform and shape the comic as she worked to get it into production, all the while continuing Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. I think one of my favorite bits of side information that she interjected into some of the revealed preplanning was talks of the ghosts that inhabit the area. It was one of the coolest versions of a story with ghosts I had heard.
More or less, the ghosts of the dead are useful. Because they wander to and fro, the people on the island will purposely leave bodies out to rot and corrode into exposed skeletons. This way the ghosts can inhabit the bodies and float about. Often times, the ghosts would be put partially to work on moving materials back and forth. The ghosts had returned to serve the living and living know to intern their skeletons to the dead. That struck me as a more beautiful concept to have in a story. In this case, it is just a bit of random background noise in a sea of interesting ideas that are coming to fruition. If you are still on the fence, it is worth peering into.
Who is Kelly Turnbull though?
From what I know, she is a Canadian citizen that moved out to LA in order to work in animation. There are two words that can describe her, BAD ASS. Honestly, she is who I tend to look to in terms of self acceptance because she can pull off some amazing looks. I mean, she has a huge nose ring, often times a Pompadour meets mow hawk haircut, and desires to dress like she is a raider in Post Apocolypitica. I mean, she went so far to design and make a jacket that matched Kurgan from The Highlander and she would not look out of place on the set of Mad Max. She would probably be an enforcer. Hell, one of the first pictures I saw of her, was her having shaved her head to pull off being Kratos from God of War for Halloween one year.
Her Canadianness often rears its head and her jokes are often filled with comments about the way things are there versus here. Often her jokes talk about the influence her father had on her. Her father sounds like quite the character who is into some elements of taxidermy and creating ringmail. To the point, where recently her brother adopted a puppy and he created a ringmail outfit for the puppy that fit him perfectly.
She actually has a story about her and her father (he really is a constant source of inspiration for her,) in which she talks about his beard. Apparently, he is this big viking of a man. A true Canadian of a man and was known for having this great bushy beard. At one point, early on in her life, he shaved it off for some reason. This seem to scar Kelly. I think she said she was 4 at the time and she burst into tears because her father had always had this beard. That was all she knew. Suddenly having this non-bearded man that looked like her dad scared her. She actually wrote a whole comic about it, however it was rather entertaining having her share that story.
She has worked on animation in the show Ugly Americans, an animated short for Parker, and typically the start up sequences in movies and shows where the credits roll in. She has become a story boarder from what she has commented on most recently. Kelly is busting her ass in the field she is in, to where she was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured the nerves in her dominant arm. Quite a few people wanted to treat her like a horse no longer fit to race, yet she has found a way to continue working and nearly the same level using her left hand (I couldn’t do it,) and get some of the additional detail in with her right hand as she waits for that to heal up entirely. She is working as a board artist for Cartoon Network.
Now her style is something that needs a few words on. Every artist ends up typically developing their own quirks and ways to create their projects. Manga styles tend to stay consistent and are unique with in a production house. However, that seems to be that way due manga typically being treated as kabuki masks to tell the stories. However, that is a story for another time. Kelly has talked about how certain animation projects have affected her to draw hands and fingers slightly differently for one reason or another. However, with the way she draws, her style is inspired by Disney, comics, and a touch of manga. Her style also has some of the realism influenced by Andrew Loomis and his words on how to create caricatures of a person based on landmarks. The idea being, know which rules you can bend to get the results you want. Regardless, it is one of my more favorite art styles and her idea of velociraptors is quite enjoyable.
Materials and Tools:
From what I remember, Kelly uses a combination of Photoshop and a couple of Corel’s products designed for comicbooking. You can refer to the previous Spotlight Saturday concerning what my recommendations are there. However, she does have a couple of unique tools at her disposal. Also, she totally wins some points in my book for actually illustrating her examples and teaching as she creates. Often times, she will have some bit of education to go along with it. It really assists in figuring out what she means exactly.
Frenden custom brushes is a set of custom brushes and tools for drawing and illustrated. I picked them up for around 5 bucks online and they made a massive difference. The pencils actually responded so much like pencils that I often times treated them exactly like them. To the point where I had manage to shave down the tips on my Intous pen tips. I was digging into the surface of the tablet as well which became problematic rapidly. However, it was an ideal tool that worked wonders. It comes with a non-photo blue preset, 3 different standard pencil presets, a grease pencils, a couple of pen/inking presets. All of them are worth it, especially if you are serious about wanting to create webcomics.
The other tool, Peltmade is a fill tool. I know, shocking. What this does, is autofill the backgrounds intelligently. For digital webcomics, smart autofill gives you the ability to create the forms and background colours. The last thing you want is for the colour to leech out from behind the lines or have weird artifacting around some of the art because the fill isn’t capable of sitting exactly where you want it. This tool takes the work out of it and does a full autofill of all white in the piece. I would imagine the tool has some presets and adjustability to get it to do exactly what you want, but she uses it to rapidly fill a piece and prep it for final colour. Because her pieces are detailed and her style is quite different, a tool like this saves a lot of time and gives her the ability to finish piece and be done with it to meet her weekly deadlines.
If you wish to find her works, I recommend the following:
I do hope that you give her art a browse and I am going to include a few of her random comics. I recommend running a bath, ziplocking your tablet or phone, and light some candles. Take a couple of hours and read though her comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. It really is hysterical.
As always, thanks for your time, and I hope you all enjoy.