Ancient Olympics Comic

THE MAKING OF THE ANCIENT GREEK OLYMPICS COMIC BOOK | By Nassos Vakalis

26 Mar 2014
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I was approached by a Greek publisher, Lefteris Ntouranidis in order to illustrate a script written by Tassos Apostolides about the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. Lefteris wanted to produce the scripts in a form of a colored comic book or a graphic novel. This was not an easy task.

Drawn from my experience with animation production and the historical accuracy that is needed even in less demanding subjects than this I knew that before any single page was drawn, a great amount of work had to be spend visually researching the period, the original locations as well as the people and their lifestyle in detail. I traveled to ancient Olympia and the local museum. With the help of my wife Katerina, who is a Greek archaeologist, I took hundreds of pictures and reviewed numerous recreations, stories and notes taken by other artists, writers and scholars.

Lefteris had been an animation enthusiast with great respect of the work done by the Dreamworks studios in Los Angeles, where I had spend several years working in biblical stories, westerns and other subjects. Looking back to that experience, we decided to approach the design style of the characters and sets of the ancient Olympic Games comic in a similar way. We took the decision to design everything like an animation movie but produce a comic book, avoiding this way the dull super-realistic renderings that usually lucks in character emotion and motion in place of a more cartoony but still solid drawing.

First, I designed the main characters and I produced a sample first page to make sure things were working out and send it to Lefteris for approval. I remember he found that Kallias, one of the main characters looked too young and after adjusting him to a more adolescent age I continued working on the remaining main characters as well as a number of secondary characters whose faces and body types were used throughout the ancient Olympic Games comic book where needed.

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At this point, we faced one of our first big obstacles and a decision had to be taken before we can even move an inch further along. Tassos Apostolides felt that after all the research we have done we owed to remain consisted with the historical accuracy which requires the athletes of the ancient Olympic Games to be naked. Though he also understood we can't do that and hope for a marketable product for kids at the same time, we had to decide if we will force ourselves to either compose or frame the athletes in such a way to avoid showing any nudity or we will simply lightly dress them as they have done in so many other ancient Olympics movies or depictions in the recent past. I fought for the second solution since I argued that limiting our design and composition options will only hurt the marketability of the product and make the staging poor and uninteresting. Lefteris and Tasos were convinced and we moved ahead.

Along with the characters, I used a 3D software to build the most important buildings as 3D models and used angles from those models in order to trace them for my compositions. At the same time, I started working together with the writer to adapt the script of the ancient Olympic Games comic to the needs of visual storytelling. Some minor adjustments were done on the story and I was ready to start drawing my pages. Each page was divided into two parts and was drawn on paper with a soft pencil, a technique used at the time to draw storyboards and comics. Then I re-divided the page into smaller and simple rectangular panels according to my storytelling needs and drew my characters and subject inside the panels. I left out the speech bubbles with the character dialogue though I did design the composition so the necessary space was left clear for the speech bubbles to be added later. When a page was done, instead of inking it I digitized it and digitally retouched the lines making them strong and solid.

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Besides the normal pages, in the ancient Olympic Games comic there were also a few single and double page spreads in the story. I chose to add these so the timing of the panels had more interest and the reader could stop and enjoy something more complex with additional detail due to the size of it. I remember Lefteris was very impressed with the page of the gold and ivory statue of Zeus in Olympia though my favorite one is the chariot race wreck which spans on a two page spread towards the end of the comic book. These larger format drawings were done as one single drawing on even larger paper.

The digitized files of the ancient Olympic Games comic were then sent to Lefteris’ studio in Thessaloniki for adding the speech bubbles, lettering and coloring. The Thessaloniki team did some character color tests and explored the possible methods of coloring the panels digitally and efficiently. We ended up doing all color work with Photoshop layers and the lead artist was really good on adding not only the colors but the tones that described the characters muscles, the shadows and everything else that we wanted but was not drawn by me in pencil. At the same time, they received from me the color models for the locations and lighting as many sequences needed a special color mood or treatment.

I managed to finish all 82 pages of the ancient Olympic Games comic including my research and 3D modeling in about 100 days after I accepted the assignment. About a month or two later the color team also finished its work and the final product was able to reach the various bookstores and book stands.

 

Written by Nasos Vakalis

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