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July 14, 2008

The Dim Glow

[From the Drawing Board of Leland Purvis]

A visual trope in comics graphics is the ‘glow, or ‘halo’. Some artists I know simply like the effect. Many aspiring comics artists seem to use it, and over-use it, simply because they never thought not to.

This thoughtlessness, however, has caused a great deal of trouble and distress to the nefarious historical figure Bill Rattlecane. This is Bill.


Bill had been a playwright and actor in 17th century London until a scandal forced him to change his name to Rattlecane and flee to the high seas for the more respectable life of a pirate.

For a better look at Bill, obviously he should be inked. (Actually, Bill is not blind in his left eye, the patch is simply part of his disguise, and part of this illustration, as you will see.)



Following Bill onto the deck of the pirate ship Desdemona, we come upon the scene of his first night watch. We realize the background would be black.



As you see, the thick-to-thin lines that gave Bill’s head such definition and weight are gone. Also, with his black scarf and eyepatch, he seems to have been carved into floating pieces. To avoid this, artists often use what is called the glow, or more affectionately, the halo.



The problem for Rattlecane was that both the readers and the pirates may become either confused or fearful. In the fantastical worlds of heroes and magic, among auras, spells, pipesmoke, and crimson bands of sikoryak, it’s not always easy for the uninitiated to recognize the halo as simply a studio solution. The pirates may be fearful that Bill has magical powers, or worse, that he is cursed. They may knife him in his sleep and throw him overboard. 

To avoid this evenuality it behooves the artist, for the sake of the readers and Bill’s own lifeblood, to devise a different solution. If we return now to the initial drawing, one possibility is that as Bill comes on deck for the late shift, we ink the night sky first. Only when darkness has fully embraced him do we apply inks to the figure without crossing into the night . . .




With this solution we find that nefarious Bill Rattlecane, who was far from deservng a halo in any case, has neither been decapitated by thoughtless brush and ink, nor fenestrated by his fellow scallywags.


In fact, it was the glow than had given him away one night while leaving a certain courtier’s apartments and initiated the scandal which forced him into a life of piracy. If a cartoonist had helped Bill early enough, the course of English history and the high seas might have been changed forever.



I avoid the halo effect whenever possible. In fact, I like what happens when bouys of black melee with a sea of black. Quite noir. However, I've never filled in the black blackground first to avoid crunching the foreground art. Thanks for the lesson.

By the Hoary Hosts of Huizenga, I love the Dr. Strange pun! Nice tutorial, thanks.

Your Illustrations are , as ever, illuminating.

That's a great technique, thanks.

But that said, I rely on the halo effect to represent z-depth and as such i can never give it up.

Very good, spot-on post explaining a very common mistake!

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