It occurs to me that maybe not all of my readers are so immersed in online right-wing culture that they’re familiar with the word “sheeple.” So, just in case: Merriam-Webster defines sheeple as “people who are docile, compliant, or easily influenced: people likened to sheep.”
I’ve got a treat for you today: Writer, artist, and comics scholar Frank M. Young, who colors around one-fourth of these cartoons (this one included) agreed to write a few words about his coloring process. And heeeeeere’s Frank!
Not-so-Brief Thoughts on Coloring, by Frank M. Young
I have been coloring Barry’s cartoons since the middle of 2020. I think I’ve done two dozen or so by now. Working with color is something that’s compelled me since my Crayola days and I do much observation of real life and how color always seems to fit together in manmade and natural settings.
My first coloring work in comics was in 2001, when artist David Lasky and I did our first sample pages for our graphic novel “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song,” which we worked on for five years and Abrams ComicArts published in 2012. I fell in love with the process, which is fortunate, because it’s painstaking and demanding. It’s not a good fit for impatient temperaments. The devil is in the details and in how to balance all the graphic elements. I often do microscopic work that I know few people will ever notice–but it’s got to be there.
I have also colored the work of classic cartoonist Rube Goldberg, “New Yorker” cartoonist Harry Bliss, alt-comics creator Carol Lay and author-artist Cindy Copeland.
Barry’s cartoons are always a joy to color. Barry will often have ideas about the approach he’d like, and will give me information about the characters that’s never stated in the cartoons but helps me get a handle on who they are. I sometimes do the colors with a limited palette rather than representational hues. The content and setting of each cartoon suggests the approach I might take.
I sometimes start by choosing the colors for all characters, settings and backgrounds. Other times I’ll just wing it and see what happens. In either case, I make a new layer in Adobe Photoshop and get going. To place the colors, I use a “magic wand” selection tool, among other Photoshop tools, to traverse the area and fill it in. I color much brighter than the final versions you see. It helps me to better see how the colors contrast. A lot of coloring comes down to warm colors versus cooler tones. The color scheme for eash character has to harmonize. They also must stand out from the often-elaborate backgrounds so the reader gets what’s happening with ease.
The characters share their own layer; there’s a middle layer that is a mix of foreground and background images and then a final background base. On top of it all are layers of shadows and highlights. Those have become my favorite part of the coloring process. For the shadows, a layer of transparent gray is used, and I choose areas, based on Barry’s artwork, to give the images a sense of volume. It’s like magic to see those grey tones come into the image. These contours are complex and there’s some trial and error until I know they’re working right. It’s the same routine with the highlights. These elements support the drawings and complement what is already there.
Sometimes a character’s demeanor suggests colors. In today’s cartoon, the opinionated guy at the bar has a provocative nature, so I gave him red hair. He reminded me of a red-headed fellow from high school who was outspoken and opinionated. The reds and yellows seemed natural for his personality.
The biggest challenge was the bar setting. I kept trying color combinations and none of them felt right. I finally decided to visit a seedy lounge near my house. I walked in, scoped out the color combinations in the place and got a bunch of surprised stares from the habitues of this suburban den. I noticed that the decor was brightly colored to offset the general gloom of the place. I made mental notes and zipped back home. Another decision was the time of day. I first tried a night-time look with dark windows. This was too murky. Mid-afternoon light gave me the look I wanted–everything in the room reads much better. When the images in the panels feel like a real place to me, I know I’ve got it.
When I think I’m done, I double-check everything. Sometimes I’ll catch things I missed, like shadows going in the wrong direction or uncolored parts of bodies or scenery. Or there might be a sloppy bit of digital painting I don’t like. Then I mute the colors, take a last look and if it feels right, I send it to Barry. He will sometimes ask for modifications–the goal is to get each cartoon looking its best and for my colors to support the hard work Barry has done in writing and drawing each piece.
I always enjoy getting a new cartoon and going through this process. I try to set challenges for myself and to learn something new each time. In this cartoon, the framed pictures of Muppets are painted in a 1970s-style of loose, scratchy color. I sampled a dozen different digital brushes before I found the right texture and did those colors in transparent tones that suggested a hasty watercolor painting. Those were fun to do and I hope anyone who notices the background stuff will enjoy seeing it. The message of each cartoon is most important and I enjoy the variety of places and faces that inhabit the point of them all.
A public thanks to Frank – both for writing that up for us, and for all the work he does on these cartoons.
For which, of course, Frank is paid. So thanks as well to all of you who are supporting my Patreon – I’m really proud that I can pay my collaborators the professional rates they deserve for their skills, and the reason I can do that is your support.
Extra thanks on the sidebar go to my mom, Toby Deutsch, who has been supporting these cartoons from the beginning (and honestly, since I first began drawing). Thanks mom!
Edited to add: Todd Elner pointed out this hilarious XKCD comic with a similar theme.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels. The setting is a bar; there’s a bar counter, patrons, framed pictures on the wall, a big window with the word “BAR” painted on it (it looks backwards, because we’re seeing it from the inside). For those who look closely at the little details, we can see that the people in the framed pictures are characters from The Muppet Show: Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, and the Swedish Chef.
A red-headed man holding a beer is sitting at the bar ranting to a woman at the bar on his right. He’s dressed casually, in a ringer t-shirt. He doesn’t see that behind him, a man is walking up. The man is an anthropomorphic sheep, wearing a collared shirt and necktie with the collar unbuttoned and the necktie pulled down a bit, The Sheep speaks angrily, holding up an objecting forefinger.
REDHEAD: SHEEPLE! Liberals are SHEEPLE! They’re AFRAID to think for themselves!
The redheaded man has turned to face the sheeple, and pulls back in total surprise. The sheeple continues to chew him out angrily.
REDHEAD: Oh! Um…
SHEEPLE: Stop spreading STEREOTYPES about SHEEPLE! I think whatever I want.
In a close-up shot of the sheeple, which was ridiculously fun for me to draw, abnd Frank told me it was fun for him to color too, the sheeple looks soulful and sad, rubbing his head with one palm.
SHEEPLE: It’s so EXHAUSTING, hearing the same bigoted NONSENSE about sheeple every day…
The redheaded man is frantically apologizing. The Sheeple seems less mad – he’s no longer yelling – but he still looks angry, crossing his arms as he talks to the man.
The sheeple doesn’t see that, behind him, a chicken woman has approached. She’s wearing a dress with a pattern of eggs on it, and looks angry, with her arms akimbo.
REDHEAD: I didn’t MEAN–
SHEEPLE: Just because I’m a SHEEPLE doesn’t make me a CHICKEN!
CHICKEN: HEY NOW!
1) The chicken is so very Calvin & Hobbes!
2) Who doesn’t love a bar with framed pics of muppets on the walls?
Ooooh! I love being compared to Calvin and Hobbes, it means I’m doing something right.
The muppets were fun to draw!
I love how Bunsen changes into Beaker between panels 1 and 4.
If I was the chicken, though, I’d be concerned not only about the stereotyping by the sheeple, but also by the fact that the bar chooses to display a picture of The Swedish Chef, who has been caught on tape violently assaulting multiple chickens.
She should boycott that bar until they agree to replace the Swedish Chef with certified chicken-lover Gonzo the Great.
I’m still not accustomed to reactionaries using “sheeple.” IME it’s at base from the LEO expression that there are sheep and wolves, and then there are the guard dogs (LEOs) that protect the sheep from the wolves. Being a sheep is a good thing, it’s being a wolf that’s bad.