“The iPad is a revelation, it’s an almost perfect delivery system for traditional comics” Hellboy artist Duncan Fegredo discusses digital comics and drawing the devil’s son.

Hellboy convention sketch by Duncan FegredoIt’s always great to see the fantastic artwork people can create on the iPad using just their fingers and a generous dose of creative flair. But it’s even better to see what comic professionals can rustle up when not working on their latest masterpiece. Last month I found this brilliant iPad painting by Hellboy artist Duncan Fegredo on the WhatNot blog and was just blown away. I’ve been a huge fan of Duncan’s for as long as he has been drawing Hellboy for Dark Horse and so knew I had to get in touch with him to ask him more about his experience of painting on the iPad and also, his thoughts on drawing the devil’s son.

I saw on the What Not Ism blog that you posted a painting of Louise Brooks that you did on an iPad. How do you find the process of creating art on an iPad and which apps have you tried out and like? Could you ever see yourself working solely on a tablet?
DF: I have a ton of art apps on my iPad but I’ve barely scratched the surface of them. The one I tend to use is called Brushes. It’s pretty instinctive  to use and you can pay back your saved image at higher resolution on your Mac. I prefer to use a stylus rather than my finger, it isn’t necessary but it feels more like a traditional tool that way. The accuracy isn’t great for really precise drawing but it feels right for painting, start out with broader marks and refine as you go.

I painted a page for the Thought Bubble Anthology, each panel was done separately although that resulted in some disparity in mark making from panel to panel. I started with a traditional sketch on paper and then imported that to Brushes on the iPad, from there I worked in layers over each drawing, a panel at a time. The Louise Brooks painting was pretty much the same process.

It was fun although I doubt I’d do it again, the process wasn’t exactly time efficient! I like original art too much to consider going totally digital but who knows, technology might convince me otherwise.

You have a very naturalistic style, do you still prefer pen and ink work over digital? Do you have any digital elements to your work flow at all or does it depend the job in question?
You can take just as naturalistic approach digitally, it really isn’t a matter of the tools you use, more about your approach to drawing. All drawing and painting is artifice anyway, its about trying to capture a moment, an emotion. These things are subtle so it comes down to how well you can manipulate the viewers eye through composition, point of view and how you juxtapose panels on the page.

I do pretty much use traditional tools, I pencil with a pencil, ink with pens and a brush pen. I scan my initial thumbnail drawings and page layouts, tweaking and recomposing where necessary in Photoshop, converting them to a blue line. I print the results out out onto paper and refine in blue pencil, finally inking them with pen and brush. The page is scanned, the blue removed digitally and generally cleaned up. Finally I’ll add the panel borders and thats it, finished.

How do you feel about the growth of digital comics on the iPad and iPhone? Are you yourself a fan/user of such devices and how do you think it is affecting the way people produce and consume comics?
I had no interest in looking at comics on a computer screen until the iPad arrived. I knew how good the images could look on my iPod Touch but that screen is far too small to read traditional comics on. You could do excellent stuff designed to be read on a small screen of course but that is a different experience to reading a traditional comics page. Theres more to composing a page consisting of smaller images than merely slotting them together, it is not just a stacking system for images… or at least it shouldn’t be.

The iPad is a revelation, it’s an almost perfect delivery system for traditional comics. I say almost as the screen is just very slightly too small for a one to one translation, pinching and zooming is great but it can be a bit tiresome. The real problem is double page spreads, they suffer badly. Trying to find specific comics or artists isn’t as easy as it could be and I don’t want to buy a ton of individual comics when there should be a cheaper single volume.

The upside? The art looks great! They free up shelf space!

The installed user base for the iPad is huge, potentially a huge new audience for comics if they can be made to appeal to the non comic reader, people who would never ordinarily step into a comic store now have access at their fingertips… Just as long as they don’t get scared away by a crap load of bland and impenetrable superhero crap!

You were one of the first artists to regularly draw Hellboy, other than Mike Mignola, what influence do you think you have had on the character’s development and what extra touches do you think you have helped add to the character and his legacy?
DF: I think essentially I allowed Mike to explore stuff that he wouldn’t have felt quite so comfortable doing himself, at least not quite so explicitly. I may have done the whole army of skeletons thing but Mike is more than cable of doing that himself, more effectively at that. It’s the small character moments with Hellboy and Alice. I think I sold that relationship pretty well, it doesn’t feel forced. Mike maintains he couldn’t have done it as well, I think it would have been just different, maybe more at a distance. I allowed Mike to get us in close, feel a little of what Hellboy is going through directly through Alice. She’s a conduit to a side of Hellboy we haven’t seen until now, at least not to this degree.

What aims and goals do you still have left to achieve in the world of comics? Do you have ambitions to create your own title and characters or are there any characters or writers you would like to work with and where will we see your work next?
I suppose coming up with my own characters is the only answer, I’ve said it before and I will eventually. I hope. Be nice to work in film for a bit too, I had a small taste recently and want more. I’m fortunate to have worked with Mike Mignola on Hellboy, that pretty much trounces anything else out there for me. That works out nicely as I currently have a Hellboy graphic novel on my desk… That’s enough to be going on with right now!

You can see more of Duncan’s work on Hellboy via the Dark Horse app or you can follow him on Twitter @duncanfegredo