Nestled in a fifth floor suite of a historic building in downtown Portland, Ore., is Periscope Studio, a freelance collective of 24 of the world's top comic artists. Their work spans the gamut of contemporary comic art, from underground comics and graphic novels to more mainstream Marvel and DC titles. Along the way, the artists also find time to collaborate on a steady stream of bigger projects from corporate clients.
Founded in 2002 by eight illustrators, Periscope is a compelling alternative to the usual isolation of freelance work. It gives the artists ample opportunity to exchange ideas and technical tips while enjoying the camaraderie. Their work areas are designed to express the artists' individuality and fit their workflow, and amid superhero figurines and stuffed frogs, almost every artist has a Wacom interactive drawing tool in their space.
Steve Lieber, one of Periscope's founders, uses a Wacom Cintiq 21UX display, which he says "has saved me time and time again." Best known as the artist of the graphic novel Whiteout (now a Warner movie), Lieber's work has been published by DC Comics, Marvel, Scholastic, Dark Horse, Image, Carus Publishing, Dupuis, and many others.
Like most artists, Lieber began with pen and paper. Now, drawing directly on the Cintiq's 21-in. screen with the pressure-sensitive pen, he has the best of both traditional and modern approaches with a digital workflow that enables him to be much more productive. Like nearly all the artists at Periscope, his principal application is Adobe Photoshop, which interacts intuitively with the Cintiq.
"You cannot beat the Cintiq 21UX as an artistic tool," he says. "The interactive pen provides the same feel and feedback as traditional media, with the added benefit that you never have to worry about making a mistake. You can simply erase something and try again."
As far as return on investment, Lieber adds, the Cintiq is a slam-dunk. "It pays for itself in one freelance gig with astounding efficiency and productivity gains," he says.
Among these efficiencies is much faster sharing of concepts and storyboards with clients. Not only does this save valuable time and money, it greatly improves communication throughout the production pipeline.
"The Cintiq is especially handy when 'concepting' with clients," explains artist David Hahn, whose work includes Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, The Fantastic Four, Bite Club and Red Herring, as well as his own comic series, Private Beach.
"Our trips to Kinko's and FedEx to copy and ship original art have virtually disappeared," Hahn continues. "Revisions are much faster as a result, which streamlines the client approval process."
Also drawing praise from Periscope artists are the Cintiq's built-in ergonomic features, such as the adjustable stand, non-dominant hand shortcut keys and intuitive interactive pen response.
"The Cintiq plays a huge role in reducing body fatigue as you work," notes Dylan Meconis, creator of the graphic novels Bite Me! and
Family Man. "The workflow is neat and uncluttered, and I can work for hours and hours with no pain."
The Cintiq's ergonomic flexibility is highlighted by the way different users set up their work areas. Some of the artists use the included Cintiq stand -- which allows the display to be rotated 180 degrees in either direction for natural movement -- while others have made their own "Cinteasel" (Cintiq + easel).
Periscope bills itself as "the grandest collection of comics creators in the Western World," and it is hard to argue with that characterization. The collective concept fosters creativity and collaboration, and the Cintiq's artist-friendly approach fits right into this environment. As Steve Lieber says, "The Cintiq is my secret collaborator."
Note: For a look at the outstanding work by Periscope's artists, go here and click on the individual names on the right hand side of the page:
Also, for a video tour of Periscope, watch this segment from Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Art Beat" program: