Back when I was about 9 or 10 I would draw pencil sketches of fictional female characters in pop culture and then color them in with crayons. I eventually became more ‘sophisticated’ and switched to colored pencils, but the method for studying was the same: record the cartoon on VCR and then pause, draw for 10 minutes until the VCR automatically stopped, and then rewind the tape to the exact time position as before and repeat. (My X-Men animated series tape became quite worn). If it was a video game character, I had the luxury of the instruction manual and the not-quite-as-busty-as-they-are-now females of Mortal Kombat. (Sure you kids now have your fast, easily-accessible internet but you missed out on the glory age of the video game paperback manual). I can’t say these drawings were particularly good, but I was proud enough to put them in a plastic folder along with my other drawings of helicopters and cats. (I had a wide range of interests).
Suffice to say my drawings skills probably peaked at that age, and going against my career adviser’s wishes will flat out admit that I’m not that great at drawing things on paper. Honesty, right? But enter the vector drawing software on computer – and not to be immodest – but I think I become at least average. Knowing that I was going to attend Comic-Con this year for the first time ever, and seeing the categories for the Souvenir Book fan submissions included the 50th anniversary of the X-Men comics, I knew I had to do it. Knowing my limitations actually made my job a lot easier; if I were an amazing illustrator, I would have so many possible concepts that I’d become bogged down in deciding what to do and waste time. Eliminating the idea of superhero poses and bulging muscles, I decided to settle on the simplest and smallest idea of how to graphically represent the X-Men, and that was to take the iconic images of specific X-Men and turn them into square logos. No facial features, just symbols and colors.
Because it’s the 50th anniversary, I wanted to include most of the major characters, and the squares allowed me to take the smallest representation and to stitch all the images together into a larger mosaic. Deciding on which X-Men to include, based mostly on relevance and then on how easy it would be to identify that character through just a simple image, were the most important factors. Obviously there were characters that had to be included no matter what, such as Professor X, the original five, Wolverine and Magneto. The rest came from my experience first from The Dark Phoenix Saga and then the cartoon and comics during the early 90s.
I spent about a week planning and sketching out very roughly on paper the characters and images I wanted to use. The final is pretty close to what I had originally planned, although I couldn’t think of a good way to represent Kitty Pryde without showing a human partially through a wall (and beyond my drawing skills), so I had to settle on Jubilee – who I always found kind of annoying in the cartoon but perhaps some other fans appreciate her. Other major characters like Apocalypse or the Sentinels, I couldn’t think of a good way to draw them without showing off their faces so Banshee with his iconic yellow and green made the cut instead.
Once everything was planned, I spent the next week in Illustrator transferring my ideas digitally with a Wacom tablet. This was painfully slow-going at times; Illustrator makes smooth curves and shapes so easy and yet drawing irregular-shaped objects was really difficult. Other times I was frustrated because what I had pictured in my mind didn’t look right once drawn or I couldn’t get the colors right. I was hoping to get the bulk of the work done since this was my last free week before starting work, but some of the squares took over 2 hours each, and I was behind schedule. Finally there were some characters I had to arrange symbolically even if that threw off some of the “graphic design” rules I had in place originally, i.e. there is a reason why Cyclops, Jean Grey and Wolverine are arranged in a triangle. (See if you can spot all of them).
The last week I spent all my free time after work on this artwork. Forget invitations to celebrate the new job; I huddled down at my desktop, patiently filling in my grid once I got home. Once I had the majority of the squares filled in, and once the colors were right, it started to pop and come alive. The last night – a Friday night with probably the last day of gorgeous weather until the fall – was a frantic 6+ hour marathon of getting the artwork submitted on time. The last 2 hours were concerned with just getting the file in the right format and color profile. My ingenious idea to have 20+ separate artboards in one Illustrator file backfired when I needed to combine them into one piece. It was a combination of Illustrator, Photoshop and web searches but finally after midnight, I had this in the preferred CMYK pdf format and e-mailed.
The end result felt incredibly rewarding and I’m very proud of this piece. There were some errors I noticed after I submitted – lines that were the wrong color or shapes that should have been moved over 2 pixels – that I considered fixing afterwards just for my personal display. Sure I could go back and change colors and lines and continually find something to fix, but I decided to show this to you now as it was – a time capsule of my artistic endeavor and enthusiasm. I know the odds of getting this into the Souvenir Book are very slim because I’m competing with comic-book artists and talented fans, but I’m glad I committed myself to this because I haven’t been able to sit down and draw things just for the fun of it for a really long time. Maybe the things you did in your free time as a kid you should try to do again as an adult.