Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Introduction, Influences and Interests

Greetings follow denizens of the Internet! Last week we got class back in session, so no we have the chance to get to know each other a little better.

My name is Erik Allan Johnson, a freelance illustrator currently living in Michigan. I attended the Columbus College of Art and Design were I received my Bachelor's degree in Illustration with a minor in art history.

My exceptionally tidy studio space.

There has been long standing speculation to where my artistic talent originated. My family has a long history of people with a strong urge to understand how things work. My contribution to this legacy is my fascination with the unique and personal nature of telling stories. When I read a comic or watch a movie, I'm always trying to identify the mechanics of the narrative and recognize how we communicate ideas.

My favorite subjects to draw are human figures and faces. I find portraits fun because they can be so loose and expressive and yet at the same time be chiseled with distinct and often geometric features.

Comics were my initial introduction to the wide world of commercial art. While I have spent years gaining inspiration from dozens of other artists, illustrators, and even drawing directly from life, that kind of style is still a major influence on the look of my work. I tend to gravitate towards crisp lines and play with contrast between black and white forms likely in inspired by comics like Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes or Will Eisner's The Spirit.


That's not to say I don't work in color or with non human subjects on occasion.

More about me and my work can be seen on these other sites:
* To see my full portfolio, check out my official website
* To keep up with my latest work, either follow this blog, my Facebook Fan Page or my DeviantArt Gallery.
* To see the kind of stuff that inspires me, check out my Pinterest

Friday, August 23, 2013

Summer Bummer

This past Sunday I was mingling around the local Target when I saw a giant inflatable pencil hanging from the ceiling, a harbinger of "Back to School" sales for school children the same way that a hanging sword was a reminder of close doom for Damocles

Juxtaposed between that odd encounter and this week's theme of "Back to School" inspired this new illustration. Though I felt like I was the one under the threat of a hanging deadline. Turning something around from concept to completion was a real challenge but I'm grateful for the experience as it gave me quite the shot in the arm during a creative dry spell.

Originally I was going to spoof the famous ending of "Planet of the Apes" with two children walking done the beach only to come across an enormous pencil, but didn't think that would get the idea of "impending" doom across. Other ideas I thought of included a giant pencil erasing the word "Summer" while two children ran in terror, or another involving a big pencil sneaking up on unsuspecting swimmers ala "Jaws". Eventually I opted to just "drop the bombshell" on these two kids that summer vacation was over as that notion presented a good opportunity to see their shocked faces. I made sure to include an inscription on the sign of the pencil to indicate what it meant like you might see in an editorial cartoon and also serve as a subtle homage to the "Hi There!" bomb from "Dr. Strangelove", though sadly lacking Slim Pickens. (Have I talked about how much I love movies yet?)

Like I said the short deadline was  a great learning experience for me. Far too often I can get caught up in the little details and miss sight of the big picture. Tightening my leash meant producing things not only more quickly but also more broadly so that the image is more legible.

It reminds me of the something Nicholas Meyer said about directing William Shatner on "Star Trek II"; The takes you did with his lines, the more he lost his bravado and it let the character of Kirk shine through. That's kind of what I'm looking to do here. With a weekly turnaround I can increase my output, polish out my rough spots through the constant steam of new projects as well as develop greater spontaneity.

Other returning students from the League:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Four Daughters of the Apocalypse

This character design project was actually the brainchild of Cecil Trachenberg, who runs the amusing named "Good Bad Flicks", a web series dedicated to celebrating underrated or otherwise forgotten B-Movies. Its a very funny and entertaining show, after you've read and commented on every single one of my posts, you should definitely check it out.

Last summer, Cecil pitched an idea for a comic/animated series about how the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse came to Earth in the '80s believing that the Cold War would be the end of the world, only to discover that they'd jumped the gun. Stuck on Earth, they settled down and produced a quartet of daughters who have inherited their supernatural powers and the responsibility to destroy the planet.

I designed the girls to have contemporary clothes and attributes that would fit into easily identifiable cliches. To the untrained eye they might appear like normal girls, but on closer examination you might notice that their appearances have symbolic significance to their supernatural heritage.

The Leader/ The Army Brat. Choleric Temperament. An extraverted thrill-seeker with a hair trigger temper who is always pulling the others into trouble. She is always chewing gum, but every attempt to blow a bubble blows up in her face, not unlike the many crazy antics that she cooks up. 

It was hard not to think of "Kim Possible" during the design process as fiery red hair and baggy camo pants feel like natural traits for a hot blooded action girl.

The Lancer / The Party Girl. Sanguine Temperament. She's everywhere, and hangs out with everybody. You might say she's "contagious". 

She has a snarky sense of humor and a grunge scene exterior. She'll often wear T-Shirts that have the names of various diseases made up to look like band logos. Said shirts are long and stretch below the hip not unlike a hospital gown. She also wears a woolen cap not too dissimilar from something a chemo patient would wear. Her wrists are adorned with multiple hospital admission bracelets, and on her legs are a pair of gaudy tights with multiple tears in them, meant to resemble open sores without being gory. 

The Shy, Smart One. Melancholic Temperament. I wanted to avoid designing an anorexic girl as I didn't think that'd be very fun. Then I remembered that passage about the famine in the end times were "a loaf of bread could buy a bag of gold" and figured that you'd need to be good with numbers to calculate that kind of currency conversion and hit on the idea of making Famine into a nerdy schoolgirl type.

Her pigtails are meant to resemble measuring scales, but it may take a few more drafts to make that evident.

The Strong One/ The Only Sane One. Phlegmatic Temperament. I pictured her as someone who was very laid back, having a "seen it all before" attitude and would know better than the get involved with the other three's zany schemes, often burying herself in some other solitary activity, only to come and save their bacon every time they got in over their heads.

Death's daughter was the most difficult design as I deliberately wanted to avoid something like Neil Gaiman's "Death", the pale skinned perky Goth type. Instead a tried aiming in the opposite direction, giving her a more plump figure, not unlike a bloated corpse (you might say she's larger than life) and dressing her in ghastly green rather than in the typical black. She doesn't wear any sort of skull jewelry or clothing because it thought could it could be more interesting if she was the most unassuming of the bunch and yet was the most dangerous in terms of power.

The League has other highlights from apocalypse:

* Nerdy Life provides a History of the End of the World

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Superhero Sketches

In between projects I like to cook up ideas for original superheroes often with goofy puns names in that classic Silver Age style. Just to give an inkling of my process I thought I'd showcase some of my sketches.

Admiral Atlantis

I never liked the idea of characters like Aquaman and Namor being both King of the Seven Seas and part time surface superheroes, being a ruler is a full time responsibility. Instead our aquatic actioneer is a former Atlantean war hero and master strategist. I wanted something that emulated a old style of naval uniform with some decorative nouveau shapes of underwater animals like the manta chest emblem which is meant to resemble an "A".


Billionaire Biff Powell’s parents were tragically murdered by ninjas. Now he has dedicated his life to avenge their deaths by battling the ninja underworld by studying the ancient art of Onomatopoeia; the ability to manifest sound into a physical form. 

"Criminals are a sneaky, silent lot. The sound of an alarm or siren will send them fleeing. I must become something that shatters the silence!" Hours later after surfing the Internet for inspiration, Biff stumbles across the famed "Sneezing Panda" video. "GASP! A simple sound that strikes suddenly! It's Perfect!"

I loved the old Adam West Batman show as a kid and was disappointed to discover that creating sound effects with his fists was not an actual superhero and wanted to create a tongue-in-cheek type of hero that would reconstruct that fun feeling I had with the character when I was young.

Battle Butler

Geoffrey Grieves is a servant themed superhero, one of a long legacy of Battle Butlers. Tall and slim, with heightened reflexes and agility, ninja level stealth and precision. Armed with a serving tray and silverware that act as discus and shirken. Being clean and meticulous has helped to hone his keen observational and detective skills.

Crown Jewel

She's probably the one superhero I've spent the most time trying to visually develop, and yet her eponymous headgear still remains ill defined. 

Film Buff

Golden Guardian of the Silver Screen! Film Buff's powers mostly include deducing the obvious.

Pocket Protector

A pint-sized powerhouse in the vein of tiny titans like The Atom or Ant-Man. He's also a bit of a super nerd as emphasized by his costume designed to resemble a quilted sweater and suspenders. 

The Scarf

For whatever reason, the letter "S" was really popular with pulp heroes of the '30s and '40s. The Shadow, The Spider, The Spirit, The Scarab, The Saint, The Shield, The Spectre and more. To that impressive list I'd like present my own entry; "The Scarf", the Silky Scourge of Crime! Starting out as a Golden Age coat, hat and aviator goggles style of crimefighter-adventerer before moving into the Silver Age with bright tights and an atomic powered utility belt.

Snow Angel

Giant snowflakes for wings. Thats all I've got so far. Did I mention how much I love puns?

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