Graeme Neil Reid recently joined the star studded list of cover artists for DC Thomson’s anthology – a list that includes Ian Kennedy, Neil Roberts and many, many more.
Here, he outlines how he created his most recent cover for Commando 5193 – Cold Steel – on sake now in all good newsagents…
The Making of Commando Comic cover No. 5193 – ‘Cold Steel’
On Commando, I went straight from one cover commission and onto the next which made me feel like I was hopefully getting to grips with what the editorial team where after. “Cold Steel” was another cover with a cold theme (three winter paintings in a row!) but this time we were travelling much further back in time to the Napoleonic Wars.
The brief arrived mostly though a telephone conversation with the office and a large pile of reference indicating that they were… “looking for a movie poster feel with a big heroic stance to the fore and pure evil in the background.”
There was a lot going on in the script and rather than concentrating on one exact moment we wanted to create a cover that grasped many elements from the comic and summed up the overall story.
I’ll not spoil the story for any potential readers but essentially you have a French Napoleonic Officer who torments and kills many of the people under his command leaving you set up for a classic revenge story.
So first things first was for a quick beginner’s crash course internet search on Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armee, the outfits (many and varied) – and the burning of Moscow, which is featured in the story.
Even if I don’t need to know a great deal about an historical event to be able to illustrate something from it, it still helps to get the basic idea and potentially stop yourself from making a huge inaccurate, anachronistic mistake. I’m no military historian and certainly no expert on outfits of any time period (modern day included) so I have to balance what I can find online and in books I own with the art reference I am given by the client. I’m looking to complement the work done by the interior artist and while I want to be as accurate as I can with the detail of an outfit I want it to look good and not be the deciding factor for the piece.
Referencing done, decisions made about what to have where and what to show from the story I settled down to create the rough layout for the cover.
With the front cover being about the collection of characters I knew I had room to play with more background elements that would be appearing to the left hand side and on the back of the comic. The burning of Moscow and the winter theme were too hard to ignore and I had already envisaged a destroyed canon left in the snow. After pencilling the layout I scanned it in and quickly worked up a coloured version in Photoshop. As always, this helps me get my initial colour scheme decided and helps the client get a better idea of how I’m going to paint the final image.
With the rough approved I moved onto pencilling the art, tidying up some loose elements and adding in some detail to the costume and outfits of the characters. As always I pencilled this reversed on tracing paper to help spot any balancing issues and to then transfer the work onto my art board of choice ready for painting.
Normally a section of a painting will stand out to me as the obvious starting point. Often this will be the main figure especially if there is a likeness or portrait involved. More often than not though I’ll find one section that I want to ‘nail down’ in order to feel like I’ll be fine for the rest of the painting. This cover was slightly different in that I could easily break up the overall painting into smaller sections like the main and support characters, the evil officer, burning Moscow, the canon etc and work on them pretty much separately from the overall whole. So that is how I approached it, tackling each section while being mindful of the desired effect I wanted from the finished painting.
With Clement and Jakob being shown in full body and therefore quite small overall my main concern for them was making sure that I still gave their faces and appearance a lot of character. It is obviously easier to paint a face with some amount of detail and expression at a larger size so I knew I wanted to spend as much time as I needed to get them right. Painting tiny hands holding intricate handled swords was also high on my ‘get it right Graeme’ list!
From there I moved onto painting their two comrades in arms Denis and Albert. I wanted them to be seen as separate from the current actions of Clement and Jakob and as they where involved in the past events link them into the background colour scheme of the burning of Moscow.
Speaking of fire what is not to enjoy about letting watercolour paint do its trick and paint some glorious vibrant flames below a smoked filled sky. Again, internet searches of what Moscow would actually look like in that time period brought forth lots of paintings from the Napoleonic War and that era that helped me base the skyline on at least the right kind of buildings. With flames still in mind it was time to paint the bad guy Lussier into the image. Finally I added the ice beneath their feet and enjoyed adding the quiet little scene of the broken canon frozen in the snow. I think I enjoyed adding the snow and the stark blades of grass poking through the build up of snow just as much as painting the violent flames above.
With the painting finished I scanned in the piece and tidied up the image removing any dirty marks in Photoshop. I colour corrected some elements and took the time to smooth out the transition from Moscow to the canon removing some watermarking that had occurred. I also wanted the blades of the sabres to look a lot sharper, crisp and clean so I repainted the blades.
The work was supplied to the client and approved, another cover completed and now out in the shops to buy! Here’s the press release:
Commando 5193: Action and Adventure: Cold Steel
A coward and a bully, Colonel Jules Lussier seemed determined to break his own men in his quest for self gain.
Privates Clement, Albert, and Denis of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armee would not only need to fight the enemy to make it through the war, but also endure relentless attacks and betrayal from their own leader. With the odds stacked against them, can the honourable comrades survive and claim victory over the dishonourable Colonel?
Will old scores be settled or will they suffer the icy bite of… COLD STEEL
Story: Jim and David Turner | Art: Muller & Klacik | Cover: Graeme Neil Reid
• Commando 5193 – Cold Steel is on sale now in all good newsagents
• Graeme Neil Reid is an artist and illustrator who you can support on Patreon and find online at gnreid.co.uk or at graemeneilreid.tumblr.com, and can follow on Instagram or Facebook – and you can even go watch me painting over on his YouTube channel
Commando © DC Thomson