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A little late with this one, but we figured you wouldn’t mind, after all – it’s Leonardo Manco’s stunning cover for 2000 AD Prog 2228 and the finale of Sláine: Dragontamer! Leo sends his apologies for the delay, but we know there’s no need!
So… over to Leonardo Manco to talk about that fabulous Sláine cover! Think of it as a love letter to a character this artist has obviously loved working on.
LEONARDO MANCO: When Tharg asked me to do a cover for this Sláine series finale, there were a few things that made it a big thing – it was the last cover for the Sláine. It was my first cover for 2000 AD. And, as always, time was pressing!
It was this last factor that led me to discard dozens of ideas that I did not even put on paper, and so I only focused on a small handful of those ideas to get to the final idea, and because time was pressing and because everything takes me extra time, I was trying to be specific and detailed but, at the same time, as minimalist as possible in terms of composition and details!
So here we go with the ideas that I was working on and some of my previous sketches.
Stage 1 – At first, all the ideas that came to mind were pretty classic: Sláine posing with his axe. Sláine running with his axe. Sláine in a defensive stance with his axe. Sláine with his arms covered in thick veins… with his axe.
More of the same. Something that has been seen over and over again and I really wanted to get away from all of these things for this last cover.
Stage 2 – Another idea that came to my head was that of Sláine holding his axe towards the reader, and on this one, written in blood we read “kiss my axe” with Ukko doing a kind of F#$% You.
It was not bad, but previously I had already done something similar, so it was not worth repeating, also it looked like Sláine challenging the reader, something more for the cover in the middles of a series, and it was not the case. (Also, I think that, at that time they did not speak in English, much less write.)
On the other hand, I had already written this famous phrase in a hidden way between the pages of this book and, without a doubt, you haven’t seen it yet! HO HO HO!
And yes, he also posed with his axe.
Stage 3 – Then, I came up with the idea of putting Ukko in the foreground looking back, as though to the past, with a sad expression while his notes fly into a whirlpool of time where Sláine is waiting to cross the threshold.
It didn’t seem like a bad idea to me, but in the end I discarded it, because the final product would have a lot of fairy tale stuff and without the tone of irony that most 2000 AD covers have.
Stage 4 – So, lacking ideas and with time against me, as usual, I began to investigate all the Sláine covers that had been made, until I reached his first cover, where he is in the middle of a battle. So, I thought, if a fight begins on his first cover, then, on his last cover, that battle should be already concluded.
I dedicated myself to go in that direction and decide which visual elements I would use and which not, for this final cover.
And since, in the first cover of Sláine, the perspective is from below, then the last one should be from above.
The idea of including Ukko on the cover still seemed appropriate to me, since he was always an important character in the book, but I didn’t want to place him there, posing for the photo, or being an accomplice of Sláine as in the previous sketches, this would give a sense of continuity, that the party continues, and it was not the idea.
It seemed better to me to play with the relationship between them during all these years, and since that childish and tender bulling had always existed between them, I thought it would be interesting that on this last cover, Ukko gave him back some of it.
The tips of the spears and other elements, they were put there for two important reasons: first, to ‘nail’ the main figure in the centre and, second, with all of them pointing upwards, it gives greater emphasis to Ukko’s finger, which in the center of the image, points downwards.
I decided that the detail of the mucus trickling from Ukko’s finger must have been long and stretched, this would give a feeling of time and calculated childish evil. The time it takes you to figure it out, maybe that’s the time it has been falling from Ukko’s fingertip to Sláine’s forehead.
Also, in the image composition, I took special care that the gaze between both is on the same straight line, to create a central axis of attention.
At first, I thought about adding blood and guts everywhere (it was a massacre after all), but those details would be distracting elements that would not add anything to the main idea, which was to focus the view on the central part of the image, so all those gory elements were discarded.
The triskelion is the supreme symbol of the Druids, according to Celtic culture, and they were the only ones who could carry this sacred and magical symbol that, for them, represented learning and the past, present and future – so it seemed appropriate to place it on this last cover.
Additionally, it would symbolise the evolutionary process of the character and, as we’re used to reading from left to right, it seemed strategic to place this element on the left, while the papyri of the stories of Sláine written by Ukko are carried by the wind to the right to lose themselves outside the margin of the cover.
I did not want Sláine’s posture to look tense or combative as it’s the last cover and there is nothing more to show or prove, so I thought of several possibilities, but the most appropriate was to somehow emulate the posture of Michelangelo’s David.
For a moment I thought about adding some emblematic characters from some of his sagas, scattered on the stage, as I had thought in the previous sketches but then I discarded that idea, because this was about Sláine and his end, and nothing else.
Once the image was composed in a blue pencil sketch and using the Golden Triangle and the Fibonacci Spiral to create a more symmetrical harmony composition, I started to work on it directly with a more precise sketch made with pen.
Later, I would use this preliminary sketch to trace on the final pencil.
My pencils were never overworked since I solve everything with the inks in the final process and the pencils are always subject to last-minute changes and modifications.
It is in the inks, and not in the pencils, where I work with all kinds of details and finishes.
Then, the steps of rigour – the base of flat colors, then some layers of the same tones to give lights and shadows, and all that.
The colour palette is in shades of ochre, to create the feeling of something old, and there are only colors coming out of that palette in the places that I want to create a focus of attention.
Once the cover was finished, I added some small details that occurred to me at the last moment which, at first glance, are hidden… but you’ll discover them if you’re paying due attention! – Some small drawings made by Ukko, on the papyri that he tells the adventures of Sláine, small drawings made through narcissistic and childish anger (so typical of immature people!) in a love and hate loop, where Ukko kills Sláine, then cries for him, then Sláine revives, and then they love each other again, and so on and so on – more or less the relationship that existed between them for almost four decades!
So, at the end, here we had a final cover with the druidic symbols of the past, present and future representing all these years of adventures, the relationship between Sláine and Ukko, a tribute to that first cover…and some dead soldiers over there, because they could not be missed!.
And that´s it.
I gonna miss you Sláine. Bye bloke.
Cheers, Leo Manco.
Well, I told you it was going to be impressive, didn’t I? And it so was. And you can tell, just from the way Leo speaks, that this one was a real love letter to a classic character.
Now, some extras, as Leo sent the images along in huge files, perfect for pulling out some magnificent details…