Insights and ideas from Brian Haberlin
Making magical comics
Brian Haberlin is passionate about comic creation, design, and storytelling—and is known for being involved in helping originate top characters and series, including Aria, Witchblade, Stone, Area 52, and M-Rex. He’s worked for all the big names: Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Image Comics. He’s even branched out into writing art tutorials and teaching at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Right now, he’s most engaged in creating graphic novels and children’s books with Anomaly Productions. Photoshop.com recently caught up with Brian, who shared the details of a career that has spanned many devotions, from comic book artist to writer, editor, and producer.
Photoshop.com: With the many varied roles you’ve had in your career, what is your first passion and why?
Brian Haberlin: Being an artist is my favorite role, because it’s the most fun. I just get to make things up. I have a master’s degree in screenwriting, but I always found it so daunting to drop 120 pages on somebody’s desk and expect them to read it. With art, it takes seconds to hook someone. Also, most of the time, I can be the boss or work directly beneath the decision-maker. There’s less talk and more action—it’s very liberating.
Photoshop.com: How would you describe your artistic approach?
Brian Haberlin: It’s really Faustian, meaning I will do anything it takes to get me to the final image. For example, I use both analog and digital techniques and go back and forth. I may print out my work, spray it with water, throw paint on it, scan it back in, or collage it with the original digital painting. I use anything from painting on a wet printout to using coffee as a paint source – whatever it takes to get there at the end of the day. I often have unexpected, yet happy accidents.
Photoshop.com: What role does Adobe® Photoshop® software play in your artistic process?
Brian Haberlin: Photoshop helps me with three important things: speed, variation, and modification. First, I can lay down color and shapes faster in Photoshop than in any other medium, so I really stay in the creative flow. Second, with Photoshop, I can get outside of my head as an artist by using variations, hue and saturation, levels, layers, and blending modes. I can slide around colors and values, and maybe come up with an image that was not my initial intention—but even better. And third, with the Puppet Tool or Warp Tool, my canvas becomes liquid and I can fix or exaggerate a figure or object on a piece. The best part is all these things are live, you can see the changes as you do them, and you are never totally committed. When you are a traditional artist, you can throw red on a canvas and it’s there unless you paint it out or try to paint over it. With Photoshop, after putting down paint on a canvas you can reduce the opacity of a layer, use a filter, and so on. It’s not just yes or no; instead, Photoshop offers limitless experimentation. I can blend that last stroke or use a 45% overlay, for instance. With Photoshop, you have control over the smallest nuances.
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in Photoshop CS6? Why?
Brian Haberlin: Auto Save has saved me more than once on work that would otherwise have been lost. After that, it would be the Oil Paint filter, but not used in the normal way. It is typically used to give images a painted look, but by changing a few settings, I can use it as a really easy way to clean up line drawings or scanned images. I have even heard people say they use the Oil Paint filter for rotoscoping. I also like Content-Aware Patch for whenever I need to pull characters out of flattened artwork and then patch them out so I can move them around.
Photoshop.com: Can you tell us more about your latest comic venture Anomaly?
Brian Haberlin: The story is an epic sci-fi fantasy that is 370 pages long and oversized. I like to call it the first “coffee table” graphic novel. What makes it really unique is that it also has more than 40 augmented reality points. When you get the book, you download a free app for iPad, iPhone, or Android. Then you can point your mobile device at the book and it comes to life with 3D characters and additional story content. You can visit Anomaly and really get a feel for it. I have a few tutorials on how to do anaglyph 3D that you can check out here.
Photoshop.com: How did you create the result for the front cover of Anomaly?
Brian Haberlin: For the front cover of the limited edition of my Anomaly graphic novel, I started in Photoshop by creating a series of thumbnail designs using a simple hard round brush with size and opacity set to pressure. At this point, I used various Photoshop features to grab parts and resize or clone them to shuffle different versions of the design. Once I settled on a design, I started lighting and posing the character art. Then, I painted over this foundation in Photoshop using a limited grayscale palette and worked at as high a resolution as possible (about 600 dpi or more) to add crispness.
With the grayscale as my base layer, I created a multiply layer to start selecting all the individual elements (horns, background, foreground, and so on) and filled the layer in with a base color. I created another layer and started applying textures using three different modes: multiply, overlay, and normal. Multiply works like washes in traditional media over the grayscale to build up colors. Overlay adds luminosity and lets me apply large swaths of color to help unify it. I used a burnt orange on the critter in back on the right and the effect was like bathing him in a warm light. Then I used a dark bluish-gray on the main character, Erebos. I reserved the uppermost layer for blending textures and modeling. The Smudge Tool and Mixer Brush tool helped me mimic the natural textures. Also, the new Content-Aware Patch was helpful in moving textures that I wanted to maintain. This is sort of the “happy accident” stage of the piece. The very last thing I did was create a vignette-like focus by applying an old painting I created as an overlay layer to add texture to the top and bottom bands of the piece.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite image or comic you’ve created and what grabs you about it.
Brian Haberlin: For the cover of our Anomaly collector’s edition, we put our bad guys on the front. (Hey, the good guys had their turn on the regular edition.) I actually did something here I almost never do. I centered the main character, but I changed the size of the character’s head to make it work. Erebos (the guy in front) has magical/telekinetic powers, so making that power a dominant light source was a no brainer. By having that cool color power, the warm colors in the background separate better. In the background, I took an old painting and applied it as an overlay to the background for textural interest.
Photoshop.com: What artists or comic illustrators do you admire most?
Brian Haberlin: Wow, you’re asking me to write a phone book here. A few of my current favorites are Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane, Bob Peak, Mike Mignola, Egon Shiele, Jean Giraud, Klimt, and many, many more! These artists don’t really have anything in particular in common but they all inspire me in different ways.
Photoshop.com: What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
Brian Haberlin: I would tell them to keep at it, but also make sure you can get a job. Acquire other skills so you can be an accountant by day and artist by night. Being a starving artist is overrated and really not much fun! Once your art is to a high enough level—trust me—you can dump the accounting gig. Part of this game is making sure you have as many times at bat as you can. While there are one-hit wonders, you really want to hit multiple times. It takes drive and the ability to stay inspired and motivated. Be your own coach, find the things that get you going in the morning—a song? A piece of art? The important thing is, don’t quit—just through the act of living, opportunities will present themselves.
Brian Haberlin’s Anaglyph action