"An Inter-Dimensional Time Travelling Brewer" - How a character was bo – YellowBelly Beer

"An Inter-Dimensional Time Travelling Brewer" - How a character was born by Paul Reck

Hello YellowBellies, Paul here. I'd like to talk to you about art and its relationship to YellowBelly. I first started working for YellowBelly in 2015 when I was commissioned to design the character who graces our logo. This character would be known only as "YellowBelly". The YellowBelly we know and love is an inter-dimensional time travelling brewer, but he had pretty humble beginnings. He started life as an amalgamation of all of the Brewery founders, combining their traits under the umbrella of a top hat and a handlebar moustache. He has since gone on and grown with us, becoming a character in his own right, taking on a life of his own and sharing his adventures through our beer labels and the ever-expanding "YellowBelly Tales" comic universe. 

First of all, I would like to talk about the inspirations for the character himself. Aside from trying to emulate elements of the personalities and characteristics of the YellowBelly Crew, several visual touchstones were referenced in the creative process. Everything from "Gangs Of New York" to the Wexford landmark statue of "The Pikeman" was mined for inspiration for our character, and after a series of iteration and sketches, he started to come to life. Soon, we had a good handle on the basic appearance of the aloof character, and then it was time to settle on a suitable pose to grace our logo, something timeless but also authoritative. Once the man on the logo was greenlit, YellowBelly began the first steps on the journey from obscurity to international recognition. 

The next steps for the YellowBelly character came with our first bottle releases. At this time, I was still working as a freelance designer and illustrator, and was asked to create unique illustrative labels with the YellowBelly character. The first labels I created were for "The Wexican" Chilli Porter, "Duality" Pale Stout, and the first brew of "It's Not Vodka" Russian Imperial Stout. These labels were our first attempt at exploring the character and his adaptable nature. In the initial discussions around the character's design, we always wanted to create something of a blank canvas - a character who we could project onto and who could be easily modified to fit into any theme or situation.   

At first, the themes and environments we explored were nested in a 'Steampunk' aesthetic. We imagined the character as a worldly globe-trotter, an adventurer who would get into scrapes and crazy situations, all framed within a gothic, pseudo-victorian universe. The steampunk world is still heavily referenced in the world of YellowBelly to this day. I'm personally a massive fan of the style, so I don't think it will be going anywhere soon. However, recently I have begun to explore more futuristic "Cyberpunk" styling as YellowBelly's multiverse begins to open up more and more possibilities - inter-dimensional time travel has no limits after all. 

YellowBelly's universe would be heavily inspired by my own interest in history. I really enjoyed including props and backdrops that were inspired by extant historical artefacts or locations of historical significance. Even if nobody else got the reference, I felt that adding an extra level of detail could add some credibility to the world and a more lived-in feeling. At their time, the look of YellowBelly himself was quite different to how he appears today. Being new to creating beer labels and the reproduction processes being used to print them, I was forced to keep the illustrations as simple as possible. To aid in this approach, the character of YellowBelly would appear exactly as he did in the logo, with exaggerated proportions, a heavy line, and most notably, entirely black eyes.  

It was around this time that the first of the "YellowBelly Tales" was developed. These early comic strips were the first full comics I had ever produced, and there was quite a learning curve in their creation. With help from the team at the Brewery, storylines were created, but it was up to me to flesh them out as I saw fit. I really enjoyed the challenge of writing and drawing those short comics, and now creating comics and storylines is one of my favourite parts of working for YellowBelly. The early comics referenced the art style of the labels at the time and were quite stylised, although I was keen to begin refining the look in the future and building a more realised world. The early YellowBelly Tales were designed to emulate Victorian era magazine entries, with images accompanied by passages of text. 

As production increased and we got access to new printing technologies, I had the opportunity to push the envelope even further. These pushes came gradually, our brand was new, and our audience was slowly becoming accustomed to our unique style, so changes were small, to begin with. The first step was the introduction of more colours to the labels themselves. Our early labels were rendered in shades of grey and yellow, but soon I started to add colour. Our massive output of keg-only specials gave me the perfect platform to experiment with colour and style variations, first adding simple colour accents, then changing the inking style, and trying painterly techniques - the list goes on. YellowBelly evolved a little more with each new label, and the universe he inhabited got a little bigger and a little richer. The comic strips started to reflect this, becoming more elaborate and detailed, also featuring a bigger cast of supporting characters. 

BlueBelly Trilogy Artwork

In 2018, I created "The BlueBelly trilogy" based on one of our most prominent supporting characters - BlueBelly, alter-ego and arch-nemesis to YellowBelly. This storyline introduced the concept of inter-dimensional time travel, opening up limitless possibilities and worlds to explore. YellowBelly could now visit different timelines, countries and entire new realities. This comic also marked a sea change for the YellowBelly Tales art style that would resonate through the labels to this day. I moved to a more traditional comic art style, with characters who were more realistically rendered and anatomically accurate and using traditional voice bubbles and caption boxes familiar to comic readers. 

 

In every aspect of my work, my process has largely stayed the same. The first step to creating a new beer label is usually coming up with a name (often the hardest bit). After a name has been chosen, and sometimes even when it hasn't, a theme will usually come to mind, and I will start sketching. Sometimes I sketch on paper, but mostly I go straight to work digitally. I use a Wacom Cintiq graphic tablet to paint and draw in software like Adobe Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint. I love to sketch in Clip Studio but prefer Photoshop for painting and colour correction. 

Throughout the development of the YellowBelly Tales series, there was a focus on the creation of animations based on the comic books and associated artworks. As I had no previous experience in the field, the first animations were quite crude and simplistic. Still, with practice and technology, these animations became a new avenue to explore and transform the comic books into motion graphics. We literally took YellowBelly to a new dimension with these new movies, so now you can enjoy our beers and our brand with all of your senses! 

 

I hope my rambling has given you a better insight into the creative process here at YellowBelly, and I hope you guys enjoy the labels and comics as much as you enjoy the beer

 

Paul 

 

You can read our comics here: https://yellowbellybeer.ie/pages/comics 

And view our animations here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2Gt-GA5UgI8dQEeKaIV0VA/videos 

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