Dark Tower Villain Improvements

I haven’t discussed the series in a while, but if you came across this blog any time in early 2018, you were probably greeted with a barrage of posts about the Dark Tower. Even outside of this specific series, I’m a huge Stephen King fan, but the Dark Tower books are probably my favorite in the fantasy genre. As I’ve mentioned before, I would put it right up there with A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings. It’s very strange in hindsight that I hadn’t read the series prior to 2018, but I guess it was a case of “saving the best for last” of the Stephen King catalog. In some ways, it was actually nice to have already been familiar with most of King’s novels, since the Dark Tower ties so many of his worlds together. Anyhow, before I go on, here’s a refresher on other posts I’ve written about the series (warning: spoilers everywhere):

  • Reflections on the series, written just after having finished it. Detailed thoughts on the ending, character deaths, and some of my favorite quotes from the series. Reading this post again makes me want to dive back into book #1!
  • Campfire sketch. I was on book 4 at this point. I also hadn’t started working with color yet. It’s a pretty rough drawing.
  • Villain portraits. Randall Flagg, Mia Daughter of None, Tick Tock Man, and the Crimson King. Not great artwork (early in my exploration of color), but some decent ideas I think.
  • Susannah, Jake, and Oy revisited. This was a re-do of a previous drawing about a year later. It was a pretty vast improvement in my opinion.

In a lot of ways, this post is similar to the re-do of the above Susannah, Jake, and Oy piece. Around the time I finished the Dark Tower series, I was trying to transition from black and white graphite to using color. I was still pretty bad at it, which really shows in the villain portrait post. In all honesty, it’s almost as if I was scared to really use the pencils; color lay-downs are light and hesitant, with no bright colors. The heavy layering and blending style I’ve moved towards is more satisfying, at least from my perspective now.

Recently, during an artwork spring cleaning, I was going through a lot of older drawings. I came across those Dark Tower villains and couldn’t shake the feeling that they were a missed opportunity. The rough idea for two of them (Randall Flagg and Mia) really resonated with how I always pictured the characters. I thought about previous re-do and wondered if I should try that again. Another idea popped into my brain though, and it’s one I thought I had learned not to do…and that was to work directly from the old piece. I have previously ruined at least two drawings by doing exactly that, so I’m not sure what possessed me here.

But, I did it anyway. I thought perhaps the colors were light enough that I could just bulldoze over them with fresh color. I actually went into it with the assumption I was going to ruin them. Pretty reckless in hindsight, but hey I guess that’s what pandemic quarantine boredom will do to you! To my great shock, this actually worked. I really like how the portraits were transformed.

Left: Originals from January 2018. Right: The updated versions from April 2020.

First, I’ll talk about the Randall Flagg/Walter Padick drawing. Even going back to The Stand, I always pictured Flagg as sort of a young, maniacal Jack Nicholson. I guess I was heavily influenced by his version of the Joker from the first Batman movie when I was a kid. I just couldn’t help but imagine his antics as that character when I was reading both The Stand and The Dark Tower. So, my version of Randall Flagg became sort of a mash up of Nicholson’s Joker and Jamey Sheridan’s Flagg from The Stand miniseries.

I really liked the original design, but my color choices were just not good. I leaned on a very beige color palette. To correct it this time around, I counterbalanced the beige skin with heavy doses of peach and blush pink. I layered in some shadows and then blended thoroughly with white. I may have gone a little overboard darkening the sides of his mouth, but otherwise I’m pretty satisfied with this update.

Randall Flagg is one of my favorite novel antagonist; really an iconic bad guy. As I mentioned in one of the other posts, although I loved the end of the Dark Tower, I was a bit disappointed with how Flagg exited the story. Based on The Stand though, death doesn’t seem to stick to him very well…maybe we’ll see him again in a future King novel? Here’s a larger version of the updated portrait:

Next, let’s discuss Mia Daughter of None. In the series, she is basically a spirit who invades Susannah and eventually takes over her body to have a baby. It’s a very strange part of the plot that, although central to driving things forward, didn’t really click with me. Maybe because I just couldn’t wrap my brain around certain aspects, like how she went from spirit to separate physical being, the baby, and all that. The upshot of her story though is that when she finally gets her own body and has her baby, the baby is basically a spider creature who eats her.

But how do you draw a spirit who becomes a person? For some reason, despite the fact that she is part of Susannah (I think), Mia’s ethnicity is white instead of black. I remember King described Susannah’s legs changing color, and I also think he mentioned her black hair. Much of the rest was sort of at my discretion on this drawing. So, originally back in 2018, I went for a dark haired creepy woman. In this re-do, I took the same approach as I did with Flagg, applying heavy doses of fresh brighter colors. But this time, I decided to modify the design a bit and emphasize the creepiness a bit more. I added dark circles under her eyes, tilted her brows, and tried to make the smile more sinister.

As I was writing this post, I had a thought that it would be sort of funny to add a spider somewhere on the Mia portrait. A bit of a nod to how everything ended up for her. I actually paused from writing so I could add one on her shoulder. Here’s the final version:

Unfortunately, I don’t have any progression images to make a .gif from. This was too much of an experiment, and I really didn’t think it was going to produce something worthwhile. Like I said above, I’m just about as surprised as I could be that this worked. I’m happy with how the final products look now, and it finally feels like the concept matches the output.

The bad part about all of this, though, is that it will probably encourage me to do this again to more old art. I guess I should just go wherever my impulse takes me hobby-wise, but the idea of moving forward with new things seems important somehow. Regardless, this was a pretty satisfying return to the Dark Tower! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that someday, Stephen King returns to some of these characters, The Tower, or other aspects of these Mid-World adventures.


6 comments

  • What a difference! Much more drama and life in these now – the benefit of 2 more years of practice and experience. The dress in particular has so much movement in it.

    • Thanks Claire! It’s so wild to think about how much artwork can change over the course of a year or two.

      After posting this update, I was thinking about how I could show progression on a larger scale – comparing two pieces isn’t too hard, but I wonder if there’s some tool I could use to visualize like 10+ drawings and how they change. Maybe there’s a plugin or widget out there?

  • Nice! I always find it hard to retry drawings—the reason why I don’t think I could be an illustrator; the character would vastly differ on each page. You’ve managed to make improvements while maintaining the features of the original drawing. Have you heard of the colored pencil trick of layering Dark Umber and Indigo Blue to create a more natural-looking black? At least I think there were the shades 🙂 I’ve had some success with trying it (regarding your comment about the sides of the guy’s mouth)

    • Oh me too, I totally get that. I put together a little kid’s book a few weeks ago, that’s what I kept running into. It’s about a family of robots, and I kept making the dad robot’s body change drastically from page to page. Like in one page he’d be super wide, in another his head would be bigger, etc. Illustrators who can maintain consistency have a really underrated skill! I hadn’t even really consider it much before.

      Also, thank you for that tip. I had never heard it before, but I just tried some experiments with blended indigo and dark umber. It looks really good! Like you said, a natural shade of black. It’s almost like just regular Prismacolor black is slightly shiny or has a “brightness” to it (maybe that’s not the right word). But this blend seems more muted, like it wouldn’t distract next to other colors. Thanks!

  • This is excellent! you have made such an improvement in that short space of time! Dark Tower is also my favourite series. I’ve just received delivery this morning of Dark Tower: Beginnings graphic novel. My own art is improving, but not as fast as yours. Nice one!

    • I appreciate it, Steve! How is that graphic novel? I could always go for some more Dark Tower content. In fact, maybe it’s time for another series read through for me – maybe Roland finally figured out the right path this time!

      Do you ever share any artwork to your site? It would be cool to check it out – I love seeing people’s varied interpretations of the Dark Tower characters. It’s always interesting to see how different they can be

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