This is one is part of what I’ve called the ‘thank you commissions series’ as a token of appreciation to a group of friends who lent me a hand when I needed it the most a couple of years ago. The first one I made was for my carnal Joshua Cutchin, followed by Paul Kimball, Carlos Garza, and Tim Binnall.
After that I became too busy with a lot of different projects which forced me to postpone promised the commissions for the rest of those altruistic friends. But a few weeks ago, when I found myself with a free calendar, I decided enough was enough and that it was high time I should continue with the ‘thank you’ series. And this time it was the turn of Zach Pharr, whom I met along with his wife Ashley Byrd at the first ParaMania gathering in Dallas, Texas, in 2016. Zach has also been gracious enough to request a few other commissions of their beloved cats, as well as other graphic design work.
When I asked him back then what kind of fantasy portrait he wanted, Zach suggested him being characterized as Marvel’s Doctor Strange, but as a comical twist he should be shown doing something completely mundane, like eating noodles. I liked that visual image and suggested we could compliment it with him using his ‘portal powers’ in order to grab a beer from a refrigerator at another room or something, and Zach was down with the idea.
As I said, time went by (too long!) and by the time I decided to complete the portrait Zach and Ashley had adopted Linus, so I thought it would be a nice idea to add him into the illustration as a bonus.
Getting back to my original concept, I decided that the ‘grabbing a beer through magic portal’ gag was a bit too complicated, so instead it occurred me: what better way for Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme to display his power, than having some type of supernatural creature pour the beverage for him? Since I’d already decided to have Linus be part of the illustration, I first thought of showing him with some sort of demon wings –which would have made a cute reference to the old cryptozoological myth of winged cats, that has somehow fallen out of fashion in recent years.
But then I decided that a more interesting idea would be to have Linus resting at Zach’s shoulders, and to add some sort of Lovecraftian tentacled monster as the one acting as some sort of interdimensional waiter for my Doctor Strange.
My long collaboration with The Daily Grail has gained me knowledge on a rather wide variety of subjects, and I ended up remembering how in one of the Darklore anthologies which Greg Taylor published a few years ago, there was an essay by Dr. David Luke about psychedelically-induced encounters with horrifying creatures described as having octopus-like tentacles covered with multiple eyes. These descriptions, turns out, are intriguingly similar to some ancient folklores related to the Za, a Tibetan guardian of the gateway to the otherworld, and Azazel the angel of death.
As a lapsing Catholic, I must confess I find the biblical passages of encounters with angelic beings to be absolutely fascinating. Especially considering how, not unlike the fairy folklore, angels have been completely ‘decaffeinated’ by our modern culture. There is a reason why the very first words an angel tells a human being is “BE NOT AFRAID” and that is because angels were freaking terrifying!
Fully satisfied with my concept, It was time to go to work!
Initial hand-sketches. Notice how the proportion of the legs is COMPLETELY OFF, but luckily that was easily remedied once the scanned image was exported to Autodesk Sketchbook. As for the head, I first sketched many ‘preliminaries’ and toyed with the idea of going for a more ‘cartoony’ look, until I ended up with this –notice how in the final illustration I chose to give Zach the typical ‘Dr. Strange’ gray side hair, even though he is still too young for that IRL.
As for the technique, I mainly stuck to what I already know and master, even though I chose to be a bit more creative with the robes and cloak by adding a bit of texture using a variety of ‘rough’ brushes. I also chose to keep the line art, which I tend to erase nowadays in order to attain a ‘softer’ look, only instead of leaving the lines black I colored them with a darker tone than that of the darkest shade in the ‘volume process’ (sometimes that can be difficult, depending on whether you choose to blend the lines on ‘Multiply’ or ‘Normal’ mode. One thing I chose to keep always present, though, is not to ‘overwork’ the shadows too much, seeing how I decided to leave the background in a completely ‘blank’ form as a way to suggest our good Doctor chooses to chillax and have his lunch in an alternate dimension outside our normal space and time –hence why he doesn’t even cast a shadow on the floor… because there is none!
I sent the final work to Zach, and as luck would have it the commission coincided with his birthday, give or take a week or so –such is the way these things tend to work.
Is there favorite comics book hero you would like to impersonate? Contact me through social media or leave a comment below.