The Kirby crackles (AKA: Kirby "dots") have become a staple technique for rendering energy in superhero comics. The trick of it is the negative space between the dots. If done successfully, the negative space should have a sort of lightning-like look and feel, and the results will be a powerful explosion of energy. Below is a quick tutorial showing how to construct the Kirby crackles. Here's the image, followed by my brief "step-by-step":
FIGURE 1. Let's start this tutorial with my hero, Stoopidman, getting blasted by a villain off-panel. I figure out the exact area of Stoopidman's body the energy blast is going to hit. I've indicated the area with a gray "X" to depict just that (see A.). Since I want to show Stoopidman really frying from the energy's effects, I light the figure to show that the energy he's getting bombarded with is intense, bright, and hot. The energy (see B.) will be coming from the right hand side of my panel, as indicated by the gray arrow. Now, I'll move on and let my hero feel the burn...
FIGURE 2. Now I'll have to figure out the rough shape of the energy. I decide what the actually source of the blast will look like (see C.), and aftwards, I'll figure out how the blast will radiate off Stoopidman's body and fan outwards as it is deflected.
What I have done is to divide the energy that's splashing away from the impact into areas that will be positive space and negative space. It is in the positive space (see D.) that I fill with Kirby dots. I will try to keep the negative space areas (see E.) devoid of dots for the most part, but the marking off of positive and negative areas is only a guideline, and indeed, to get the desired effect, I'll want to have some Kirby dots spill over into the negative space areas. Okay, I have marked off the blast, now comes the fun...
Figure 3. I now begin filling in the positive spaces with Kirby dot patterns. The first step is to draw in masses of cloud-like shapes that resemble black dots shoved tightly together in a clump. I make sure that the clumping of dots is fairly solid, and that I use different sized dots.
Figure 4. Once all of the radiating positive spaces have been filled with these black cloud masses, I begin to add in free floating dots and dot clumps to add in the random element that will give us the lightning effect within the negative space. I'm careful to both vary the size of the dots and to not place too many dots over in the negative space areas (though a few added there should work out nicely). You might notice that I generally taper the effect, making the dots smaller nearer the negative space areas. The number of dots to be added is entirely up to the artist.
I hope this tutorial is helpful, but like most artistic endeavors, there's no one way to do anything, and a lot of trial and error may be necessary. Good luck!
Last edited by Bruce Lee; 01-07-2004 at 02:21 AM.
Cool tutorial, thanks Loston.
"I've got a fever, and the only prescription... is more cowbell!"
jgmcomics,Originally posted by jgmcomics
Great tutorial. Many people get this wrong by concentrating on the bubbles and not the energy signature.
Yeah, I've seen a lot of artists working today who don't seem to understand how to utilize Kirby's crackle technique, and it's a big part of why I did this tutorial. It's not like the Kirby crackle is a well-guarded secret or anything, but it's not something an artist is likely to see discussed in "how-to" guides--at least, not the one's I've seen available. The sad thing is, there's a lot of big name artists who have been around for decades that utilize the crackle, and haven't a clue as to how to properly do the technique.
Other than Kirby, the artists that I feel really have a good grasp of the technique include fellas like Bruce Timm, Neal Adams, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott (no brainer there, he may actually be partial responsible to the technique!), and Mike Mignola.