Welcome Back To The Zone… Again


Longtime readers will remember that I began to post revised pages of my 1995 graphic novel Welcome To The Zone on my Patreon page during the election campaign of 2016. This 21-year-old story was newly relevant because of the character Ronald Duck, a thinly-disguised waterfowl caricature of real estate developer Donald Trump, who had become a presidential candidate that year. I set aside the reboot to work on other things for a while, but now I have come back to it, with Ronald Duck more relevant than ever in the age of President Trump. Apart from minor details I have not altered the story or dialogue in the slightest, but the art is getting a major overhaul. My friend and sometime assistant Jacob Mercy likens this to George Lucas going back in and inserting CG effects in the original Star Wars trilogy– fortunately for me, there does not seem to be a contingent of diehard Welcome To The Zone fans to object.

David Chelsea is listening to: 3:47 Est
by Klaatu

First page of WELCOME TO THE ZONE as originally published, 1995.
First page of WELCOME TO THE ZONE as originally published, 1995.
Page one of Patreon version.
Page one of Patreon version.

There are a couple of reasons for me to want to revise the art. To begin with, I originally chose a square format for the book because– well, it just looked cool to me. This was a commercially disastrous decision, since the standard format of comics was and remains 7 x 10 inches, and books which depart from that format are hard for retailers to display. Since I am hoping that the new version will eventually be published in book form, I have re-formatted the pages into the vertical format (This has led to a reduction in the overall number of pages from 90-something to 60-something).

Also, in 1995 I chose to do the art in a stippled line art style somewhat reminiscent of the work Drew Friedman was doing at the time. A large part of the reason for this was that I distrusted the quality of halftone reproduction, and figured that I would have more control over the final result if I submitted line art to my publisher. I drew most of the book in pencil on coquille board, a paper with a mezzotint texture. Drawings done on coquille board can be photographed as line art, and the paper texture will give the finished result a stippled appearance. As a further measure of control, I xeroxed the pencil art at high contrast, adding details in ink over the photocopies, and used that rather than the original pencil drawings as the finished art.

Panel by Drew Friedman
Panel by Drew Friedman

Now, decades later I have my own scanner, and software programs like Photoshop and InDesign to give me more control over the appearance of the final art, and no publisher’s production department to intervene- the art I post to my Patreon page looks exactly as it does on my monitor. I have gone back to my original pencil drawings, rescanned them, and am adding gray tonal effects in Photoshop. The new, gray-toned version looks less like the stippled Drew Friedman style and more like the noirish art of French bande dessinée artist Jean-Claude Claeys.

Panel by Jean-Claude Claeys
Panel by Jean-Claude Claeys

This sequence of panels should show you what I am talking about. Below is a panel as it appeared in the original book, a coquille board drawing xeroxed and finished in ink:


Here is my original pencil drawing:


Here it is with layer of gray tones added in Photoshop:


I add a top layer of pencil texture to introduce some diffusion and visual noise:


Lastly, I put the drawing into a panel frame and add the dialogue balloon in InDesign, and I have the final art:


This Ronald Duck panel shows the difference:


My plan is to drop two pages a week until I finish the book- at this point I’m at page 15, about a quarter of the way through. I will decide then if I want to follow up with a story about President Ronald Duck- cartoons about Trump are hot right now, but that may not be true by the time I finish up. Here are links to the pages posted so far:

Pages 1-9

Pages 10-11

Pages 12-13

Pages 14-15

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