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Archive for April, 2006
Exclusive Interview with the Ex Machina Art Team
by Tim Leong
THERE’S AN “EX” IN “TEAM”
There’s more to Ex Machina than the plots and dialogue from award-winning writer Brian K. Vaughan. There’s three things, actually: Tony Harris, penciller, Tom Feister, inker, and JD Mettler, colorist. Comic Foundry presents a cumulative interview with each to understand what makes Machina tick.
How did you guys first meet?
METTLER: (Chuckles). I met Tony about 10 years ago when I was still trying to break into the business. He’d been doing some things by then but he’d just landed “Starman.” That was his first monthly and was just becoming entrenched in the business. My dad met him at a mutual friend’s dinner party. I was living in Florida at the time, out in Key West, and it was here in Macon when they met. So my dad tried to set up a meeting when I was in town visiting them. And I’d never heard of Tony or “Starman” but I figured any contact was better than nothing, so I better go meet this guy. So we met and we hit it off and I instantly saw his talent. I was more into X-Men-type stuff and Spawn – I’d just gotten back into comics from not reading them in a long time. He’s definitely most responsible for opening my eyes to the different styles because “Starman” was a different animal than what were around at the time. Little by little over the years when I would come back and I’d show him my portfolio, he’d give me reviews on what I needed work on, we became better and better friends. I guess in 2000 I moved back to Macon and started hanging out with him a lot and within that year I joined the studio and he’s become my mentor and one of my best friends.
FEISTER: Well, like I said, I’d been a fan of Tony’s for a long time. Actually, I’d met Wade Von Grawbadger at a DragonCon. I was showing off samples – I was in college. Wade had a promotional copy of “Starman” #0. It was one of those promotional copies, black and white, and basically all photocopies. He handed it to me and as I was flipping through it I thought, “Wow, this is fantastic!” – I still have it today. That was my first exposure to Tony. I thought it was a great, great book and I picked up every copy of it. Years later I finally met Tony at Heroes Con and I was in the process of buying a page from him and the page I had picked out was just pencils. I was giving him my money and he looked at it and said, “Oh, shit! I can’t sell this to you, I haven’t sent it off yet.” He was hung over from the night before and wasn’t paying attention and these were pages that needed to be sent to Wade to go into the book. He was about to sell these to me and I was about to walk off with the page. He excused himself to go to the bathroom, I don’t know if he was going to throw up or what, but he excused himself and I was going to buy a page from him when he got back and I never saw him again. To this day I still don’t have a “Starman” page from him.
HARRIS: Yeah, I completely forgot about that.
FEISTER: Years later I was hanging out with some friends and they said they were going down to Jolly Roger and were seeing if I wanted to go. So, I lived in Atlanta and Jolly Roger was based out of Macon so I hung out with those guys for a day. Tony was on his way out, I think he had to go pick up his daughter. I met him very briefly but we didn’t hit it off.
HARRIS: I thought Tom was an asshole. I’ve told him that, too.
FEISTER: I thought he was a dick, frankly. There was just that instant dislike. Which is funny because some of my closest friends were people I didn’t like at first. So anyway, I hung out for the day with the guys at Jolly Roger and then they came up for a show in Atlanta and I invited them over to the animation house I was working at and we all just hung out and had a good time, Tony included. We definitely had a better time the second time we met.
HARRIS: First impressions don’t mean a damn thing. They really don’t. But JD, I thought he was a cool guy. I could tell from the get-go that he was very passionate like Tom was. Definitely serious about wanting to get into the business.
FEISTER: And I just kept in touch with those guys and I’d say two months later there was a guy leaving the studio, Andrew Robinson, and they invited me down to a birthday party and while I was down there they said, “So, what do you want to do? Do you want to come down and join us or what?” I thought it was pretty neat.
METTLER: I first met Tom in 2001 when he was working as an animator for Cartoon Network. We all really liked Tom and he was just burning to get into comic books and out of animation. He wasn’t satisfied with animation. He just started working with us more and more. He was actually commuting to Macon from Atlanta almost every day. And he had this energy about him to break into comics and for the studio to do something more as a team that we hadn’t been focused on before we met him. He was really responsible for coming in and invigorating everybody to doing something new. His coming into the studio was the time period that some of the other guys took off. And then he and Tony and I decided that what we really wanted to do is a monthly project together. That’s when we really started looking for something to do and then not too long after “Ex Machina” came along.
What was that studio environment like?
FEISTER: I commuted for a year and a half from Atlanta to Macon. It was a haul. Normally it’s about an hour and fifteen minute drive but there was always construction so some days it took me four hours to get there, one way. It was without a doubt, the best time in my life. One thing about being a comic book geek, is that I’ve always felt like the odd man out. Like you didn’t belong. Going to Jolly Roger, you’re instantly in a room with people that feel the same way. We very quickly became a brotherhood. Especially for me, I was sitting in the blast zone. JD and Tony would get there early in the morning and would get these sausage bagels and right about the time I’d get there, the sausage bagels had done their job in their intestines and the two of them would sit there on either side of me, cutting loose. There was a little background and I was basically Switzerland. It’s stupid shit like that, but I’d take a bullet for either one of those guys. And they would for me. It goes back to working together as well as we do. We’ve been together as a group for a long, long time now. I don’t think you can quantify what that means to the way out work looks. Definitely Tony is the biggest factor in how things look, but I think the contributions that JD and I make to Tony’s stuff – a large part of that is through the time we’ve gotten to spend together.
HARRIS: It was basically just a big ball game. We didn’t get a whole lot of work done. There are a lot of us, it wasn’t just JD and Tom and I, it was Ray Snyder, Drew Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Jim Royal and Dan Jolley – there were a lot of people there. The roster rotated and changed throughout the years. I worked in a studio outside my home for 10-12-plus years before I moved back and JD and Tom came in at the tail end of that experience. And we just stuck together after the studio disbanded. It was great as far as feeding off each other creatively, because you’re getting a lot of ideas off guys. Someone would be doing something really cool and it’d shame you into doing your best stuff. Very similar to when I was with guys in Atlanta. Great creative breeding ground. But at the same time, it’s also a pitfall because there’s a lot of horseplay going on and bullshitting going on, it’s not real good for getting your work done. I’m actually a whole lot more productive since I’ve moved to home.
METTLER: It was a lot of fun on the days we were getting along. When you put six or seven guys in a room together every day, all the time, tempers ran every now and then too. It’d get frustrating some days when you get mad, but then other days we’d just have a great time – and that was part of the problem too. It was kind of hard to get work done when we’re all goofing off.
HARRIS: The bad part was we had a pool hall right next door with a full bar, so, we were counting the minutes to 5 o’clock.
What changed over time?
FEISTER: When my wife got pregnant, I continued to work with Tony and JD in Macon. I think she was seven months pregnant when I stopped commuting. I didn’t feel comfortable being that far away if she needed me at home and if I was sitting in traffic, I’d had been a raging lunatic. We’re all on Macs and I use instant messaging to stay in touch with JD because JD and I work at night, Tony works during the day. JD and I are still in constant contact with each other.
HARRIS: JD moved away and moved back, so we lost touch for a while and then got back in touch again when he moved back to Georgia. At that point he’d gotten into computers while he was away and was savvy with them. And our studio had not yet gotten into the computer realm. We were still old school on everything. JD was really the linchpin in launching us into the digital stuff. I have a feeling that he had not come in when he had, along with our new guy, Jim Clark, we would’ve been left behind and lost a lot of opportunities.
You used to be a graphic designer. How did that help?
METTLER: I already knew Photoshop fluidly. When Tony and I sat down and really started working together every day, he basically didn’t know how to turn a computer on. I was really fluid in Photoshop, the program used for comics coloring, but I just used it other things. In comics we really use 1/1000th of what PhotoShop is capable of. So I was using it for different things but I knew how to get around in the program well. So Tony and I, each day we were teaching each other. I taught him PhotoShop while he was teaching me color theory and how to work in the field of comic books. Over the course of a year, he was doing all his covers digitally and I was working in comic books. It really worked out well for the both of us.
You’re a good teacher, I guess.
METTLER: I wouldn’t say he was natural to it. He definitely fought with the technical end of using PhotoShop. There is a lot of technical stuff to it and he would pull his hair out over it. But he definitely has it down now. He’s doing stuff now, like these “Conan” covers, that I swear if you didn’t know it, they look painted. He’s really, really gotten good in PhotoShop. Now instead of asking me how to do different things, we’re swapping out different things that he and I have both figured out.
How did you guys conceive the art plan?
METTLER: When we first started the book we really worked a lot closer on it because we weren’t sure, to tell you the truth. We knew wanted to do something different on all stages, from pencils to inks to colors. We weren’t 100 percent sure how we wanted to do it or what the end result would be. Those first couple books we worked really close together and even worked in the same room a lot until we came up with the final product. And even that has changed a lot since the first few issues. The book now doesn’t look like it did then, it’s definitely changed some. Now we don’t necessarily meet every week to go over what we’re or anything like that, we definitely have a better handle on it.
HARRIS: I dropped a lot of the blacks – I used to use a lot of heavy, heavy blacks – and I still do on some sequences or the cover. I kinda let the job dictate to me what the art needs to look like. Previous to “Ex Machina,” heavy blacks were indicative to Tony Harris’ style. You can look at my stuff and recognize it from that. I brought JD into our studio, previous to The Liberty File sequel, The Unholy Three, and we were training him as a colorist and did it where I could trust to work with him on anything I did and not second guess anything. The only other colorist I’ve worked with that has been inside my head and reading my mind is Matt Hollingsworth. JD came in after him, and basically I got a colorist that I work with so closely that I can just go to sleep and not ever worry about a single thing. So I said, you know what? Let’s let the color do the talking. I decided to use a more open approach with the art and do really illustrative stuff and focus on the storytelling and the facial expressions. I knew it was going to be a very dialogue-heavy book, i.e. politics and all that stuff. Less action, more personal interaction, so having the kind of colorist that JD is on this book is absolutely integral.
METTLER: As far as color-wise goes, I knew from the off-set that we wanted to a lot more line art holds than are typically done. I knew there were going to be less blacks and more painted line art. The figuring of the way to do that definitely took awhile with the quicker ways and shortcuts to getting that done on a monthly basis because it definitely adds a lot of work to leave the line art black and instead paint every little bit a different color. Like with the skin tones, every piece of line art in the skin tones get painted as skin tones, line art in pants get the color of pants, etc. It really took a few issues to figure out how to make that work quickly so we could still make the monthly deadline.
FEISTER: There were so many gynormous changes going on at one time that it all seemed like a blur. For me, it was one of those things where I didn’t have a chance to stop and think about it and just get it done. I knew I had the ability to do some stuff, but there was a learning curve. And I talked to Tony about it and I said, “Look man, you need to know going into this what my abilities are what I can and can’t do.” So I just tried to make the best I could out of it. I still feel like I have a lot to learn. I look at guys like Alex Raymond and Al Williamson and artists who have been able to pencil and ink and do all sorts of other things and I thought, “Well, I’ll take some time and try to focus on this one element of the craft.”
And obviously Tony, because he’s been around longer and done more, it’s easier to see the wealth of influences outside comics and how it affects Tony’s work. For myself, it was just go and get it done and do the best you can. When I got that first page I was sweating because I started off as a fan of Tony’s stuff long before I actually met him. I was thinking, “This is the first page I’m ever going to do and it’s Tony friggin’ Harris. I better not screw this up.”
METTLER: One of the other things that we really worked different with is that we knew we wanted a different palette than typical comic books – that very saturated, bright colors that are typical on a Superman book or something like that. We’ll use saturated colors in some places if it works, but in a lot of other places we took ideas from movies moreseo than comic books and took a washed-out palette like they were using in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or “Minority Report,” where the film was getting the bleached byprocess. Tony was really looking for a cinematic approach for this book, so there were definitely movies we were taking influence from.
What other stuff were you looking at?
HARRIS: Well, JD and I share the same love as far as painters go and artistic influences. Most of the people I dig, and again, he does to, are American illustrators from the turn of the century. John Singer Sargent and (Norman) Rockwell, and (JC) Leyendecker. My absolute favorite of all time is Howard Pyle. And one of his students, NC Wyeth, is amazing. There’s so much you can garner and cultivate and farm from those guys’ bodies of work. The amount of inspiration is never lacking. If you ever find a day where you can’t get your head straight, just crack a book on any one of those names and you’re good to go.
Pulling Their Weight
What do you bring to the table?
METTLER: I push the color button. Everything’s done by hand. I get the file from the final inked page from Tom – he scans it and sends it to me. Then I format it as far as the dpi and sizing that the different publishers need for printing. Then I send it off to an assistant, usually, for deadline purposes, who flats out the pages in for me so that I can go in and wand different selections and do the rendering, highlighting, the shadows.
And what do you mean by when the assistant flats out the pages?
METTLER: They go in and, when it’s just black and white, I’ll give them a palette to work with and they will fill in Ñ if a guy is wearing a jacket, he’ll make the jacket blue or make a skin a flesh tone so I don’t have to spend the time doing that because it’s more technical doing that. The real artistry comes in after that. I can go in and select the skin tones that he’s put in and paint in all the shadows and the highlights. Just because the constraints Ñ the colorist is the last guy to get the pages and if everybody is a little bit late, then oftentimes my two weeks turns into two days.
After that, I’ll go in and do the special effects if there’s explosions or textures or glows, or anything like that. The last thing that gets done is, what I do a lot of on “Ex Machina,” are the actual line art holds. Instead of just leaving the line art that Tony and Tom have inked as black, I will go in and actually select that line art and paint it a color as well so it’s not left black. It gives it more of a painted look than just illustrated.
How would your job be different if Tony or Tom weren’t doing the previous two steps?
METTLER: Well, I do work on other books a lot. It just depends on who you’re working with. Some artists that I work with I’ve never talked to or met, they don’t really give me any kind of input on what they’re looking for – they just let you run with it and do your own thing. Other artists are very particular in what they’d like to see. It really depends.
What do you think you bring to Tony’s pencils?
FEISTER: I’ve tried to streamline it. I looked back at the other guys that have inked Tony and what I like about them. I always loved “Starman” and Wade always did really cool stuff over Tony and even back then, everything back then looked like it was drawn with a ruler. It looked cool but every now and then you’d see something that was more organic and it didn’t really read as being organic. Then he worked with Ray Schneider for a while and I used to talk to Ray and say how I loved that he dirtied up Tony’s work. Because Tony had a tendency, and less so in the past couple years, to be a little too clean with his angular lines. I thought his stuff should be a little more organic. I try to bring some dirt and grit to Tony’s stuff.
How does that happen?
FEISTER: By being a bad inker, basically. I don’t try to be as precise with his lines. I try to be more organic. I try to keep some of the action of Tony’s pencils. You can see the different strokes he’ll make with the pencil and you can see it’s something he’s done in a matter of seconds – like a field of grass. And he hasn’t tried to pencil out each blade of glass because the grass doesn’t have to read as every blade of glass. A lot of pencillers will try to over-render the shit out of everything and it just slows down the story. What I want to get across is a feeling of what a bunch of blades of grass is going to look like, not so much here is every single blade of grass beautifully rendered.
What do you think Tom brings to the table with “Ex Machina”?
HARRIS: Well, first and foremost, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, he has a healthy respect for the source material. He knows how much of a control freak I am with my pencils. I’m a very accomplished inker in my own right – most of my covers I ink myself. And I’ve inked some of my own interiors as well. I can pretty much do the job, I just don’t have the time to do, so I know exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to inks. I’m very, very cognizant of that and brings a very nice, solid completion to the work. A lot of inkers will come in and go, “Oh, I’m going to do this,” or, “It’ll be cool if I do that.” As an inker it’s important to realize that the penciller’s work is very rarely seen. The only thing that counts in comic books, when you get down to it, is the printed page. As a fan you very rarely get to see the pencils, moreso now with the Internet. But as far as the printed comic book goes, you get the wrong people working with you, and they’ve got a different idea than you’ve got, and you don’t have a lot of control, it could turn into a whole different animal than you want it to be.
Is it the same way with JD?
HARRIS: It actually goes a little bit further with JD because JD’s doing the color stage and I was doing a lot of painting for the first 10 or 15 years of my career, so color is my second thing next to penciling. I absolutely love to paint. His stage of the process I’m probably more involved with than the inking. Again, I’m a control freak and I want it to look the way I want it to look. JD is very accommodating on that end and sends the stuff to me before we go to press. Again, sometimes that fluctuates with the amount of time and deadlines and stuff like that. I’ve found over the last couple years that the more I work with JD the less input I give him, aside from, “Oh, God that looks great.” Early on we had to have many, many discussion with the book and we decided right off the bat that we wanted to do a very painted look with the book, so you’ve got really delineated shadow areas. The book almost has an animation cel look to it. We’re replacing a lot of blacks with color. Basically we took hours and hours and weeks and months looking at different painters and different palettes and decided what kind of look we wanted for the book. We decided early on to delineate scene changes with color shifts. If you look through Machina it’s evident. I mean, that’s the easiest way to me, and we kinda ripped that from film, specifically guys like David Fincher where you’ve got a really predominant color in one scene and you shift to another scene or time of day there’s another really dominant color scene that really helps change the mood of the book or help pace the storytelling in a way. We actually had Brian come in, on more than one occasion, that his palette and color choice shifts, key points in the story are really intuitive and help push the story along.
How does that scene shift work?
METTLER: Well, when we shift from scene to scene, I’ll use a predominant color or two to really show difference in the setting. Like they just moved from a flashback to current time or from night to day or even the mood of the characters to what they’re feeling. I’ll definitely use color to try and separate it from the page that came before or the page that came after, once the scene changes and to try to move the story along as it shifts throughout the book. And just by flipping through, you can definitely tell they’re in a different time here or a different mood than the page before.
How many pages a day are you finishing?
METTLER: It depends. On average I’d say I do four or five. Sometimes six. But I’ve done a book in two days, so we’re looking at 11 pages a day. It’s certainly not my best work. But every working colorist out there has had to do it. But I’d say that we probably all do four pages a day. You have to be able to work at least that fast to have editors call you back. If you can’t keep it on time, no matter how good it looks, they’re not going to hire you. They may keep you around for a mini-series or something that has an easier deadline, but a monthly colorist needs to at least do four or more pages. It can be tough. I know that when Crossgen was still out there, their policy for colorists was one page a day, just like the artist. We want it to look really good. If you’re done halfway through the day, put more time into the page. That’d be great. I’d love to work on one page a day and have stuff look a lot better than I do. But it doesn’t work that way. They tanked. I just don’t think the comic business is set up for colorists to take that kind of time on pages. Speed is definitely a big factor. If I did my job correctly, the editor, artist and writer are happy and the book ships on time and people like the book, then I guess you’re doing your job. I can’t really say that I’m happy with anything I’ve done. I look back and say, “Oh, I wish I’d done that or this or had more time to go back.” You kinda need that because if you get complacent your stuff starts to get boring.
FEISTER: I try to do a page a day, at least. It’s hard to gauge, though, because I like to bounce around over a bunch of pages at a time. If I know I have a bunch of hair to ink – stuff I’d use a brush on – I’ll go through and just ink all the hair at the same time. One thing it does is maintain a consistency over how things look. Say it’s two characters in a room talking, I want to make sure to keep that same kind of line going through each one of those pages in the same scene. And plus for me it makes it more interesting. Some days I’ll pick up the brush and it’s like I’m trying to ink with my nose or something. On days with that, I’ll pick up my pen and do all the tech stuff and borders and things I need a tech pen for. But the days when I’m feeling the brush, I can just motor through a whole bunch of stuff.
What’s the hardest thing to capture in Tony’s pencils?
FEISTER: There’s nothing really harder than everything else. The hardest parts to ink are when the Great Machine is in his costume.
Why is that?
FEISTER: Detail. There are so many zippers and buckles and clasps and clips and his helmet has three different pieces, there’s so much going on there. You look at Superman, it’s essentially a body with an “S” on it. Hell, even Batman doesn’t have nearly the amount of shit on him as the Great Machine does. There’s just so much stuff there that every time I get a page with the Great Machine and tree shots, this is going to take me, easily, twice as long as any other page. But that said, those are typically the most fun to do. I’m a superhero geek and he’s a close as I get to work on a superhero now and then. And he is a superhero, or was.
You mentioned no small amount of detail – is that something you try to focus on?
FEISTER: I want to get it right. I want the pages to look as good as I possibly can. I can tell you that with the first 12 pages of “Ex Machina,” Tony has drastically changed the way he’s drawing it. There’s a ton of more detail now than in the first 12 issues. He is just killing himself and in turn, killing JD and I with how much he’s putting on every page. He’s doing the best work of his career. He really is. It’s fun to watch. I’ve been a fan of his stuff for years and we’ve been friends for a while too so it’s fun to watch him go through these changes. When I first met him he was starting to come out of his “Starman” style and he was doing “Obergeist.” He was starting to play with the more cartoony style. And his styles are continuing to change, which is neat too. Definitely on “Ex Machina” he’s bringing a lot more in than he has before.
If you look at coloring 15 years ago compared to now, print and color have much more impact in the equation. Knowing that, how does that affect the way you work?
FEISTER: A lot of what I learned about prepping stuff for color is what I learned from animation – closing off lines, trying to make things more simple for the colorist when they go to grab things. There’s only so much control I have, as an inker, for what’s on the page, but there’s a lot of fine detail that I pay attention to.
One thing I learned about animation was speed. You’re getting stacks due each day. I was freelance and there was only so much animation to go around. And the faster you finished your stack the sooner you got to go on another stack. And if you didn’t move very fast, the work was quickly gone and you might not have anything else to go on to. It taught me work ethic, work fast, be precise.
METTLER: The paper quality has made a huge difference. I think even DC makes a few books on the newsprint type paper. The stuff is like toilet paper – it really is in terms of getting your stuff to print right. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do if you’re printing on paper like opposed to if you’re printing on a book with nice, glossy paper. You need to know that going in. With the combination of the paper getting better and the inks getting better, and what we’re capable of doing in Photoshop with computers, has basically made it that the limit is how good you are in your imagination. If you can think and you can do it and you get good enough print quality, it can happen now – and not even five years ago that was pretty rare. I know it’s made comics more expensive to be printed on this nice paper, but the quality of what can be achieved – not necessarily what is being achieved – if you have the right team doing their best work, is unprecedented. It’s never been available before.
What’s your goal when you start your covers?
HARRIS: Above everything else, probably if you’re in a comic book shop and you walk in the door and you walk past the new books of the week, that our cover will just jump right off the stand and go, “BAM! Look at me!” That’s why I try to do some of the covers and go a lot more designy than illustrative. As far as color choices and graphic elements. Those covers, a lot of times, will just leap off among a sea of covers that are very detailed. And I’ve done covers like that too, but for instance, the “Censored” cover to issue 2 with the skeleton Lincoln – that was just red and black and a skeleton with the big word “censored” across the front. If you’re a reader and you walk into a shop and you see the word “Censored” across the front of it, I’m going to go over and pick it up.
Tom, do you miss penciling?
FEISTER: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But, I’m working on a hugely successful book and I still get to do pencils and inks on other stuff with cards for Marvel and DC. But it’s something that after Machina runs its course I’m definitely going to pick it up and persue it again. But really, how many other guys get to spend their time getting pages from a guy like Tony, who really is a master storyteller. I get to sit down every day and really pore over his pages and really study how he tells a story, the way he’s drawing these pages and if nothing else, being able to look at the level of quality that goes into drawing this book. I’m in a really fortunate position of being able to see this stuff and being able to learn from it every day. There’s a lot of pencilers that don’t get to spend that time.
Tony, you’re a self-taught artist as well. Was there one real moment that you just got it?
HARRIS: No, I still don’t have it. I’ve been lucky enough to be around other people that have been very, very inspiring to me as far as their abilities and talent. To name a few: Adam Hughes, I shared a studio with for a while. Andrew Robinson was part of Jolly Roger for a while. I think he’s an amazingly talented guy. It’s a striving thing.
HARRIS: I cannot tell you how passionate I am about the fact that if you’re a creative person, whether it be art or music or whatever, don’t ever, ever just settle. Because if you’re constantly trying to improve and be a better artist, not only are you going to be more happy – personally and professionally – but the people that love your work and follow your stuff, they’re going to be rewarded just as you are. You’ll make friends and fans for life. A lot of the people that have been my fans over the years are dear friends. A lot of the people on the con circuit, just for that very reason. Look at my body of work and it speaks for itself. I’m constantly changing my style and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But at least I’m trying. At least I’m not getting stagnant and stale and doing the same old thing over and over.
How does the group’s familiarity play into the process?
HARRIS: Well we know each other. All three of us know each other really well. All three of us were in a studio environment. Actually in the same building and in the same room with each other for a couple of years before “Ex Machina” ever happened. Since then we’ve all moved back to our respective studios. But all of us were good friends and went through a lot of heavy, heavy, dark shit. Trial and tribulation makes for a good, solid friendships. When you go through the heavy crap you find out who your buddies are. That is a great groundwork for creativity. You know your guys well. Nothing can be said for creativity than working with guys who know you and you know them. That’s why you have filmmakers like the Coen brothers and the Wachowski brothers, you name it. Any good filmmaker reuses the same crew over and over again. Whether it be actors or cameramen or whoever – because they trust them. That’s exactly where I’m at.
FEISTER: It’s a mental shorthand. Me and JD can get something from Tony now and we don’t have to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, what did you mean by this?” We’ve done it before and we all know each other well enough to go, “Oh, this is what he wants to do, I’m going to go with that.” It’s essentially like reading each others’ minds. It’s nice to be in that place you can feel comfortable and feel secure that the guy at the next step has your back and knows what you’re thinking. Sometimes Tony will forget to draw something and I’ll draw it. Sometimes I’ll forget to ink something and JD will catch it and fill it in. It’s like this little commune of people trying to make each other look good. Hopefully it pays off. I can’t imagine how other pencilers and inkers work without knowing each other or having to pick up the phone and bullshit for 20 minutes about what’s going on with the pages. Tony and I don’t have to do that because we’ve known each other for so long. These guys are more like brothers than anything else.
METTLER: When I work with Tony, I’ve been working with him for so long now that I really don’t have to call him and ask what he’s looking for. I already know. We just know each other’s minds so well. If there’s a particular something that he really wants we’ll have a conversation about it. But as far as the difference on working with teams, it really depends on who you’re working with and what they’re looking for for each project.
The Reality of the Situation
“Ex Machina” is a drawn in a very realistic style – how does that affect the way you work?
FESITER: I think that’s where dirtying Tony’s stuff up comes into play. If you go look outside and you look at the real world, there are no right angles in buildings. There is spots and dirt on the ground all around us. You look at a guy like Ed McGuiness and his world has a very animated look to it. I just don’t think that kind of stuff would work well with Tony, especially not with “Ex Machina.” He worked on a project called “Down” (Image Comics) that Dexter Vines is inking him on now. Dexter does that super-clean, animated style really well and on a project like Down, it looks great because Tony is drawing in a much more animated style.
There’s a lot of talking heads and less POW! BAM! What differences did that make, color-wise?
METTLER: Well, we were looking for more of a realistic look. I used more K-tones than in a lot of other comic books, which lends to it not being as saturated but also makes it look more like the way things look in real life.
What about in storytelling when it lacks that big action sequence?
METTLER: Yeah, I definitely try to use color as a means for storytelling on top of Tony’s means for using pencils as storytelling.
FEISTER: I think it makes it that more important how Tony draws his faces and how I ink those faces because so much is being told through facial expressions – subtle, subtle facial expressions. I think it’s so much a part of a story – those little tiny details, that’s so important for them to read and they work the way they’re supposed to work.
How do you capture all that emotion and information in the faces?
HARRIS: Well I’m lucky enough to have a really great group of models that I shoot. Everybody’s very much aware of who their character is and very into it. We actually block everything out like a scene like a play. Everybody knows their dialogue and if they don’t I read it aloud as we shoot. Everybody knows the emotion that I’m looking for and a lot of times I’ll have to reshoot shots again and again and again until I can get somebody to do what I want them to do. But again, there’s a lot of elaboration that I have to do beyond that. I always have to tell everyone when we’re shooting to over do it. Overexaggerate every emotion that I’m telling you to do. If you’re yelling, or crying or whatever. Get campy with it. What happens is that it’s going to go from photo reference to penciling to inking to coloring. And then in every stage of that process it’s going to get a little diluted every time. So by the time it gets to the printed page, it’s going to be right where it needs to be it it’s overdone in the photo reference stage.
Yeah, and I’m lucky that I’m working with people, as far as my models go, that really dig what they’re doing. I’m not paying them. They’re my friends and they donate their time and their effort. But they’re interested in the end result and a lot of times in the middle of a shoot I’ll say, “I want to do this.” And then my model for Mitchell will say, “Why don’t we try this? If I were Mitchell, I wouldn’t do that,” because these guys actually know their characters at this point, they’ve played them for so long. So I’m getting input from my guys just through springboarding and the back and forth. A lot of times we’ll come up with ideas that make the work so much better.
Because you know some of this stuff is coming from photo ref, does it change the way you color something?
METTLER: Definitely. I try to color more realistically with a photo realistic project than something that’s more cartoony. With each project, the line art that comes to me dictates how I approach the color. And not only the rendering, but the palette as well.
There’s a lot of criticism about using photo reference – what is your take?
FEISTER: I look at it this way: Point to any artist who didn’t use a model and I’ll show you a very shitty artist. As far as using photo reference goes, and if you look at Tony’s work and you look at someone else who’s name I won’t mention, who obviously uses photo reference, there’s a way to use photo reference right and a way to use it wrong. You end up with stiff, awkward-looking things, you get hand that are misshapen because the camera lens lies. Tony understands how to use photo reference and what its limitations are. And personally, I don’t have a problem with it because he knows how to use it. I’ve seen him take a photo that looks lunky and strange and crazy and by the time it’s on the board it’s a beautiful drawing. I don’t see a problem with it, as long as it’s used correctly. At the same time, I’ve sat with Tony at a con and seen him do 20 con sketches and not use a piece of photo reference and do 20 beautiful drawings. Tony can sit down and draw three pages a day. If using reference gives him the ability to draw that kind of stuff – there’s no small amount of detail in “Ex Machina” and he’s been able to maintain a monthly schedule on the book and doing I don’t know how many covers for Marvel and other side projects and doing the movie stuff, and he’s able to keep a monthly schedule – if that’s what photo reference allows him to do, more power to him. I think there’s a lot of misinformation about using photo reference, and I think there’s a lot of jealousy.
METTLER: Photo reference can definitely be a crutch for a lot of people. I think it shows in a lot of the stuff that’s really popular right now. Some of these guys are tracing a photo right out of a magazine and relying on it far too heavily. It can definitely be a crutch if you’re not careful with it. If you know Tony, you know that he doesn’t need it. He can sit down and draw anything and some of his projects like “Down” or “Obergeist” have no photo ref. He can make things look photographic without light-boxing at all. He does use it in “Ex Machina.” For one thing, he wanted likenesses. He wanted people to look very different from each other, not because of the costume that they’re wearing but because of their specific face or their expressions. It also depends on the project you’re working on too. I think it works well with “Ex Machina” – I don’t think the book would work if it were really cartoony because of the realism of the storyline and in some books it’s definitely a mistake.
They can kiss my ass in the crack.
HARRIS: They can kiss my ass in the crack. If you know your art history, you know who’s been doing it for eons and who hasn’t. I’ll just say one name: Norman Rockwell.
You Say You Want an Evolution
How do you know if you’re doing you’re job right?
METTLER: I don’t. There’s a lot of doubt in this business. It’s cutthroat. There’s 10,000 guys who want the job and will do it for less. A big part of it is getting it in on time, especially for the colorist. Like I said before, a lot of times it’ll be late but the book still has that deadline. You can still get a couple days squeezed in sometimes, but really, a big part of the colorist’s job is to keep things on time. When I was first starting out in the business, I was looking at the stuff that was coming out and was thinking, “Man, I’d really like to see that colorist do more.” Now, looking back, I realize that he didn’t have time to do more. He really did the job that he could with the time that was allotted. Quite often, the editor, who has people breathing down his neck as well, would rather have a competent book in on time rather than fine art a month late. For the colorist, that’s a big part of the job so it ships right. That can be really stressful because there are days where you don’t get any sleep because you have to finish a job.
FESITER: I try not to look at old stuff for a while, at least not for two or three months. Then I’ll pull it out and say, “OK, well, I’m better now because I’m looking at this and it’s not quite where I want it to be. Everyone’s their worst critic. I look at where I want to be and I look at guys like Al Williamson, I look at Alex Raymond and guys like Dexter and Karl – the brush for them is just an extension of their arm. That’s my goal where I want to get with my inking ability. I think that the day that I’m happy with what I’m doing is the day I need to walk away.
The book really doesn’t look the same when it first launched.
HARRIS: Thank god, yeah.
Do you think that’s an evolution in everyone’s work, or the group as a whole?
METTLER: Both, I’d say. All of us, if you’re not getting better with each book, something’s wrong. As a team, too. We’ve been doing it long enough now that when Tony lays down those lines on page, he has more of an idea of how it’s going to end up on the final page with regards to what I or Tom is going to do than on the first issue. The metamorphosis is just seeing it in print over the past couple of years and saying, “I don’t like how this turned out” and adjusting accordingly. And also just how we changed over the past year and a half. Whatever doesn’t change, stagnates. I don’t think it’s completely different, I just think it’s evolved a bit. I like it better now than when it started and hopefully I can say the same thing a year and half from now as well.
You talked about improving, but how did that evolution happen?
HARRIS: You know what? That is nothing more than just getting comfortable and slipping into the “Ex Machina” world. When we first started out, me and Tom talked a lot about how we wanted to approach the line art. JD and I talked about how we wanted to approach the color. When we did the first arc, we were still stumbling around trying to figure out what the look for “Ex Machina” is. And, I think if you look at those first few issues, you can see us going, “Oh, we’re trying this, we’re trying that.” But after the first arc, when we got into the second arc in the Tag volume, that’s when we really started figuring out the jive. Here’s that musical arc that we’re riding on. I think we slipped into a really comfortable feel visually with the book. And, we know the characters better. Tom is more confident with his lines. JD has fewer questions for me when it comes to color. I know the characters and how they emote better than I did on issue 2 now that I’m working on issue 20. It’s like making new friends. You don’t really know them that well. You don’t really know how far you can push them, you don’t know what’s appropriate to say in front of them. Then over time you get to know them better and before you know it you’re tearing each other’s heads off and calling each other names. Whatever. You’re always the shittiest to the people you’re closest to.
How do you think you’ve evolved since?
FEISTER: I’m a lot more confident. I never used a brush to ink before and the last several issues I’ve largely used it. It’s been a lot of fun. And the reason I started picking up the brush was that seeing where “Ex Machina” was going with Tony stylistically, I wanted to be able to do more than what I’d been doing. I wanted a wider range of tools to express what Tony’s trying to get through with his lines. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m getting more and more confident every day. Man, it really is a craft. It really is. Having not been an inker before, my appreciation for other people’s talent and my admiration for their skill has grown by leaps and bounds.
METTLER: A lot of it is learning the crapshoot of printing. Even when you have your monitor calibrated for the way it’s supposed to print at the printer, it’s a little different and a lot of times it’s a little different each time. For me, I’ve learned a few tricks to make it print the way I want it to, even though it’s a little different on my monitor. That was a big issue for me that took along while to get a handle on it. I’m pretty happy with them now – they’re finally printing the way I want them to.
Was this a noticeable difference or is it just because you were the one that colored it?
METTLER: Yeah, I doubt anyone else would look at it and say, “That really got screwed up in the printing,” but I can look at it and say, “That’s not the way it was supposed to look when I sent it in.” It was a big consideration in those first few issues when it wasn’t coming out the way I wanted.
How’d you get that result?
METTLER: Just learning to adjust a few things. Little adjustments here and there. This is the way I want it to look on my monitor but I need to adjust this and that for it to actually print that way. It’s something I don’t really think about it any more, it’s just something I do. I’ve got my system pretty well calibrated. There are a few tricks you need to know. What type of paper you’re printing on makes a difference with the settings. And also just learning how to render better and how light works by studying painters. Hopefully with each issue I get a little bit better at it than a few years ago.
Where do you see the book going?
HARRIS: Hopefully to a whole bunch of goddamn Eisners. (laughs).
Well that’s funny – when it won the Eisner last year, did that changed anything in your mind about the book?
HARRIS: No, you know, we had a huge year. We were very fortunate. People just embraced the book and all the hard work we put into it. Folks were going, “Yeah, they’re busting ass, they’re doing some good shit.” So we all felt really blessed. And then we sold the film rights to New Line Cinema and all these big things are happening. Brian took the Eisner for writer and the book got one, so you can take all that stuff and go, “Wow, we are the shit.” Or you can take all that stuff and go, “Ok, how are we going to top that?” We got the awards and the accolades and the press and all that shit in year one of a four-year long book. I’m sorry, but that’s kind of putting the screws to you. You gotta put up or shutup at that point. It’s one thing to do a huge body of work over four years, or a series of films or novels and be posthumously awarded after you’re dead or a lifetime achievement award, but when it happens quick like that right out of the gate, and if it doesn’t and I’m talking to creators here. If it doesn’t push you to try to match that shit and blow it away and improve every book every page every year, then do something else.
How are you trying to top that?
HARRIS: This is a small for instance, but in my first year I realized that I was making a massive error when it comes to portraying New York City. A lot of fans have said that, “Oh, they really love the fact that they’re pushing the detail and the attention to small things to making New York look like New York. But I realized a glaring error in my art in year one and I’m trying to correct that as the year goes on by taking trips to New York and doing photo reference stuff. The level of people – I mean, that city is so friggin’ packed that you can’t go day or night – 2 o’clock in the morning, 10 a.m., without the sidewalks packed with people everywhere. So I tried to improve on that with city street scenes and the hustle and bustle of city hall and the mayor walking around the corridors and stuff like that. That’s one example of many that we’re trying to improve on. Just pushing the storytelling. When you’re doing a book that’s very dialogue-heavy, talking scenes can get boring if you don’t approach them with the same respect you do with an action scene. And an action scene is going to be exciting if you’re a decent storyteller just by definition of what it is – it’s action. So when I get to that stuff it’s always a great release because of all the dialogue and talking, but you still have to approach all of those scenes with the same respect and the same fond and glee that you do with an action sequence. What makes those scenes interesting to people in “Ex Machina” is because I am pushing the envelope with the expressions and the interaction. I just did a scene where, I don’t want to blow it, but Mitchell loses his cool talking to somebody and grabs a book and throws it up in the air and pages go flying everywhere. And that’s right in the middle of a dialogue sequence. Anything I can grab onto like that, any emotional little twist or jab I can get in there to amp it up a little bit, visually, I think it helps the work immensely.
Where are you weakest?
HARRIS: That’s a tough question. I’d really like to take another leap as far as how I’m using Photoshop and coloring as far as my covers go, because I color all my own covers. I stopped painting on boards about five years ago because the industry changed and I just kinda went with it. So I’d like to incorporate a lot more painting techniques in Photoshop and I’ve actually been playing with that now with the “Conan” covers I’m doing for Dark Horse. And if you look at those they have a very different look than what I’m doing for the Machina covers, because with the Machina covers I’m take a much more live-art approach with digital color. And with the “Conan” stuff I try to push the whole painted look with things a bit more. I’d like to mess with that and there’s a lot of things storytelling-wise that I’m not comfortable with in my work. I’m there in a lot of respects, but if you ever get to the point that you’re completely comfortable with what you’re doing, something’s wrong. You’re overconfident, you’ve got too much ego and you need to step back and say, “You know what? My shit’s still fucked up, I need to work on it.”
Do you think not working in the same office together has changed the outcome of the work?
FEISTER: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. One of the things that was really great about Jolly Roger was the spitballing of ideas. I remember when Tony was doing Liberty Files and we were doing reference shoots, Tony would say, “Do this.” And JD or I would say, “Well that’s cool, but what about this?” Things would morph and change into different images and different ideas would come about that weren’t there initially. There’s something to be said for a whole creative team working in the same room together. That said, his wife will be the first one to tell you that the amount of work Tony got done during the day because of the sausage farts and stuff like that, I don’t think his production is nearly what it was today. Maybe now what you’re seeing today is more singularly Tony’s than when he was in a studio and not bouncing ideas off other people. That’s not to say Tony doesn’t bounce ideas off of us, but we’re at a point now where time-wise we’re so under the gun. We have to get stuff out and get stuff done, there’s not time for those conversations any more. And as far as us getting together, I’m in Atlanta, those guys are in Macon, I see them maybe four times a year. These are guys I spent 14-15 hours a day with. That’s definitely a down side. But again, those relationships are still there and there’s a solid foundation. I don’t think the work has suffered, but I think that “Ex Machina” would be a different book if we were all in the same room together.
How different do you think the end result would be if Tom and JD weren’t working on it?
HARRIS: I have a certain level of faith in my own abilities as a storyteller and an artist. I’d still be brining my A game because I try to approach everything like that. I still think the book would be strong, but I think it’d be strong in a different way. Maybe weaker, I don’t know. Like I said, we’re all local to each other. Tom’s only an hour and a half up the road, and JD’s like 15 minutes from my house. So we spend a good amount of time with each other. I don’t know if I was working with an inker and a colorist from, say, California and New York, where everything had to be done via email and telephone, which we do a lot of Ñ we have our own lives outside of the work. I wouldn’t have the history I have with these guys with a Dave Stewart, Kevin Nowlan or who else might’ve been brought in to work. I don’t know if the jive would be there.
This story was compiled after separate interviews with Harris, Feister and Mettler.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
by Andrew Avery
When Frank Miller said that comics are getting too “gloomy” at this year’s New York City Comicon, you knew things must really be getting out of hand. The guy behind the noir-heavy “Sin City” and the apocalyptic “Dark Knight Returns” was asking for more smiles on his superheroes, and even if Millar isn’t the best spokesman for the jocular, he had a point.
If Miller is looking to lighten the mood, perhaps his next project should feature Super Melto, a hero who uses his heat-vision to blast away snow in order to locate wayward skiers. Super Melto is snow plow operator George Boring by day but becomes Super Melto when he is needed to save others from avalanches or battle his nemesis, rock drummer Evil Rocky.
Or maybe Miller can do a series with Ben, a superhero with a simple name but a complex list of powers that include the ability to eat anything, turn into a sea monster, shoot webs and see through solid objects. He gets this powers by eating spiros, a vegetable of his own creation.
Super Melto and Ben are superheroes created by students between the ages of 6 and 9 who took part in a weekend workshop with 826NYC, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit aimed at enriching and educating kids. But in terms of how to inject innocence into comics, think of it as market research.
The create-your-own-superhero class was the work of two 826NYC volunteers, Elaine Palucki and Lucas Anderson. The idea wasn’t much of a stretch – after all, the tutoring center is also a Superhero Supply Company. In an effort to make the tutoring center more enjoyable to visit, it also functions as one-stop shopping for local superheroes – offering everything from tights and capes to secret-identity kits.
Palucki and Anderson originally thought about creating a sidekick calendar to commemorate the necessary yet overlooked superhero accessory. As they continued to brainstorm, the project evolved into a build-your-own superhero project with the final creations compiled into an encyclopedia of superheroes.
First, the kids were asked for examples of superheroes. Instead of a comic book Mount Rushmore with some variation of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine, they named the Power Puff Girls, Captain Underpants, and the Incredibles. So it isn’t all superheroes who have become gloomy, just comic book heroes.
The students then filled out questionnaires to define their superheroes. What is your superhero’s name? What are his or her powers? Any secret identity? What about a motto?
Some characters were excessive. (The Shadow can transform into a dragon, a snake, a spider, a werewolf, a vampire, a sea monster or a ghost. Plus he has heat vision for good measure.) Some were excessively adorable (Princess Blossom with her ability to make flowers appear – aww). And some were nearly surreal. (Ever Boy’s headquarters are in the sun, which is why no one can see them – you can’t stare in the sun. Plus one of his powers allows him to turn into something so bad that Ever Boy’s creator couldn’t say what it was.)
None of the superheroes created that day deal with drug addictions, failing marriages or any of the other pressures facing more famous comic book heroes.
As a finishing touch the descriptions were given to Les Harper, Brian DeTagyos, Dustin Bolton and Emily Mann, animators from the Cartoon Network, who illustrated the superheroes.
The 2006 edition of the Encyclopedia of Superheroes is a good read for anyone skeptical of comic books. It’s a reminder of the real reason comic book characters are so appealing and will always be appealing: They offer a template for a limitless imagination. It also might give Frank Miller some ideas for superheroes with something to smile about.
For more information on upcoming events from 826NYC, check out www.826nyc.org.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
James Jean: Drawing Outside the Box
By Kevin Melrose
Whether it’s a comic book cover, a magazine illustration or an album jacket, James Jean’s style is unmistakable: fluid lines, a subtle energy, an almost ethereal palette. A 2001 graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, Jean has created work for the likes of Atlantic Records, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and Target. But it’s his covers for “Fables,” (DC/Vertigo) “Batgirl” (DC Comics) and “Green Arrow” (DC Comics) that have earned him the attention of comics readers – and the Eisner and Harvey award committees. (Jean received the Eisner for Best Cover Artist in 2004 and 2005, and the Harvey in 2005.) Plus, of course, there’s his own Process Recess: The Art of James Jean, from AdHouse Books, and his rare sequential-art contribution to “Project: SUPERIOR.”
Recently, Jean spoke with Comic Foundry about his cover work, process, challenges … and casting George W. Bush as a Green Arrow villain.
What makes a successful cover? Do you follow a certain philosophy?
I try to attempt something new with every cover. Other than that, there are no rules; I try follow my intuition. Naturally, there are patterns to my behavior, but I don’t have a standardized method for creating a picture.
Your style is distinctive. Obviously, that creates demand. Are there any drawbacks?
I’ve had to learn to say “no,” which saddens me a bit – ideally, I’d love to make art for everyone who asks, but there are only so many hours in a day.
Walk us through that cover process.
The whole process usually takes two to three weeks, but I’m usually juggling a bunch of assignments at the same time.
I will get a call or e-mail about a cover, and the editor will attach a script or short synopsis of the story. I’ll start drawing a bunch of thumbnails on a sheet of regular bond paper, and when I arrive on a solid composition, I’ll fold a letter-size sheet in half to start the final sketch in pencil. Sometimes I’ll comp up the cover with type and color to clarify my ideas to the editor. I used to send in multiple cover ideas, but I found that it’s much better for me to hone in on one strong cover concept, rather than spread myself thin with three or four mediocre sketches. The sketch is the bones for the final piece, and thus the underlying structure has to be strong. No matter how prettily the flesh is draped, all the Photoshop filters, paint textures, lens flares, halftone textures in existence will fail on a weak frame.
It usually takes a day or two for the sketch to be approved, and I’ll start by transferring the sketch to the surface for the final: blow up the sketch in Photoshop, print it out in sections, and transfer it on either a lightbox or with blue transfer paper. At this point, I’m almost a slave to the sketch, and I’m constantly frustrated by trying to replicate the same energy and nuance in the finish. Of course, the finish must work on its own, but this struggle usually ends well, and I’ll discover new ways of expressing the original idea in the final drawing/painting. The art is scanned into Photoshop, usually in sections, and I’ve become quite adept at stitching things together after years of practice. The digital file will usually measure 7 by 10.5 inches at 500 or 600 dpi.
It takes me a couple of days to finish the piece, and I’ll sit on it for a few more days before taking another look with fresh eyes. After a few final tweaks, I’ll send a lo-res JPEG for approval, and upload the file once everything is good to go.
When you’re creating a cover, are you conscious of how it will be shelved at comics shops?
In a practical sense, I’ve been told to keep the logo visible and recognizable. DC has vetoed a couple of attempts of mine to modify the logo.
I’ve read that, with Fables, you typically work from Bill Willingham’s full script, while with other titles you might only get a plot summary. How does that affect the final piece?
The “Fables” covers might have a bit more depth than a cover for a superhero book, which is all about flash. I try to make the superhero covers more graphic and kinetic, while the Fables covers are more subtle.
Do relatively straightforward superhero books like Green Arrow or Amazing Fantasy pose different challenges for you than “Fables”?
It’s more difficult in a way. I’m more free to be experimental with Fables and, for some reason, my experience with superhero books is that they are more conservative. Plus, the lack of story or script when I receive the assignment is a challenge in itself, since superhero books tend to be rushed a bit. However, I’m able to create something more simple and graphic despite my tendency to overly design and decorate a picture.
Do you find yourself looking back at covers and thinking, “That was too much”?
It’s certainly a struggle during the process of making a cover – many times I’ll audition certain elements in picture, only to discard them in the end. That’s the blessing and curse of Photoshop.
One of my favorite covers is the one to “Green Arrow” #48, which features the oddball ’80s villain the Duke of Oil. He’s an undeniably silly character that your cover transformed into a fierce, steampunk-like creation. There’s also a St. Sebastian aspect to the image, with the Duke stuck by countless arrows. How did you settle on a look for the character, and how did you approach this cover?
I was sent some sketches of the character by the interior artist, and that was the basis for my interpretation of the character. Ever since I started on “Green Arrow,” I wanted to evoke the ending of “Throne of Blood,” where Toshiro Mifune gets shot at with a thousand real arrows. This was the closest chance I could get, and sadly, I never got another one. I wanted to give the character a grit and weight that was missing in the initial sketch. When I thought of the Duke of Oil and his mechanical body, the most obvious thing to do was to evoke a dirty, rusty oil rig, which really creates a sense of heaviness and danger in the image. Also, he was based loosely on George W. Bush, and his initials are engraved in the boots.
Some of your covers are literal interpretations of the stories. Others, like those for “Batgirl” #46 or “Machine Teen” #1 (Marvel Comics), are more abstract. How do you decide which course to take?
It all depends on inspiration. I’m not a great conceptual illustrator like Guy Billout or Christoph Niemann. I suppose I’m more of a sensualist in terms of material, texture and form. For “Machine Teen,” the image of an exploded diagram immediately came to mind, and I used vector drawing to express the perfect surface of the mechanical elements. I’ll try to find one interesting aspect of the piece and exploit it to a degree that’s unusual and beautiful.
It wasn’t until Issues 6 and 7 of Fables that you hit upon the trademark look for the series. What brought about that evolution?
Originally, I was just signed on for five issues, and we didn’t know if Fables would do well enough to warrant a renewal in the contract. I felt a lot of pressure to do full-on paintings for the beginning of the series, but after the series was renewed, I knew I had to make some changes, since I wasn’t satisfied with what I had done. Firstly, I asked if Vertigo could send me the logo so I could design around it. Secondly, I started using Photoshop to enhance the images. I was just beginning to learn Photoshop at the time as well, so it was definitely a turning point for me.
You’ve made the Fables logo and trade dress an organic thing. That’s something we don’t see a lot of in mainstream comics. Was there resistance from Vertigo? How did that come about?
Vertigo was pretty open to the idea, especially since they favor covers that don’t look like typical comic books. That was one reason my homage to Sgt. Rock on the cover to “Fables” #28 got some flak from Vertigo: The word balloon was too reminiscent of “comics.” Dave McKean had done some really innovative things with “Sandman,” so I don’t think my request to work with the logo was that unusual. I had always felt that the logo was such an integral part of the composition – it shouldn’t float on top the picture, but sit within it.
In the version of Issue 35 that appears on your Web site, the logo is shortened to Fab!, which is fitting, given the Jack-in-Hollywood storyline. However, the final cover has “Fables” spelled out. What happened between submission and printing?
This was one of those instances where my suggested logotype was vetoed. DC has a cover design department that usually handles all the cover dress, and they act under the guidance of the editors. There are many practical considerations to selling a book, but in this example, the conceptual playfulness of the image was trimmed a bit.
In “Fables” #49, you utilize scale – the enormous wolf’s head in the foreground dwarfing Mowgli in the tree line – to tell help tell a story. The prey eclipses the hunter. But you also toy with the cover dress, thrusting the UPC box above the logo, and turning one side of the “A” in “Fables” into the handle of the knife. It’s a little unconventional, even for a Fables cover.
For 49, it was Bigby Wolf’s return to “Fables,” so I knew I had to do something dramatic. There was no script, so Bill Willingham told me to have Mowgli, shirtless with a big hunting knife, facing the Big Bad Wolf. After working out some tired, cliched ideas in some thumbnails – think of the many images you’ve seen of the hero confronting something larger than himself – I pushed the composition to the extreme, the strangeness of which attracted me. It was also a pleasure to paint the wolf’s head. Lately, I’ve been trying to use the physical properties of the paint to describe motion, weight and texture, rather than using paint to create the illusion of an object. The more personal obsessions I’m able to work out in the covers, the more interesting they become.
What are some of those obsessions?
How difficult is it to reinterpret the stories for the trade paperback covers? Is it tough to find new aspects of the plot to focus on, or to bring together pieces from the broader storyline?
Actually, I had initiated the idea of creating a wraparound cover to Vertigo, and it’s fortunate that “Fables” keeps doing well enough to commission one for each trade. However, it’s difficult to create an image that has to fulfill so many requirements: It has to show the ensemble cast, reflect different elements in the story, work as a single cover image as well as a wraparound, and accommodate lots of type. I look forward to the challenge whenever I get the call for each trade – it’s a rare chance to do something grand.
Of the six – soon to be seven – trade covers, which ones best meet those requirements, or just work well?
I’m still happy with the first one, “Legends in Exile.” I was able to use the subway car to indicate the modern/urban setting of the story, and contain the whole cast as well. I fear that the rest of the covers suffer from more of a traditional montage approach, though the “Animal Farm” cover seems to have set the standard for the rest of the Fables trade paperback covers.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
My job is to help sell books, but if I try to enlighten myself in the process, then everyone wins.
For more information on James Jean, check out his Web site here.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
Q and A with Ronée Garcia Bourgeois
Q and A with Ronée Garcia Bourgeois
By Patrick Rollens
The Friends of Lulu is a nationwide nonprofit organization designed “to promote and encourage female readership and participation in the comic book industry.” The organization boasts a local chapter in New York City that produced an anthology of comic strips by women titled “Broad Appeal.” Ronée Garcia Bourgeois is the vice president for public relations with the Friends of Lulu; she also writes the column “What a Girl Wants,” found on the Web at comiXtreme.com (a fantastic Web forum for comic creators and fans alike).
What’s the industry standard – even stereotype – regarding women in the hobby?
Just like it is unfair to lump all women in this industry together, I would hesitate to do the same to men. There will always be those of the boys’ club frame of mind, but I find that the men I have come across in this field are very enthusiastic about sharing the love of comics.
The average comic reader is male, white, age 18-35 and single. How can women integrate themselves into the hobby – and for that matter, why would they want to?
It’s funny to me to hear that the average comics reader is “male, white, age 18-35.”
In the early days, girls read just as much as the boys. It was not until Dr. Frederic Wertham (whose scare tactics led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority) started his crusade against comics that the number of female readers dwindled due to enormous outside pressures. Of course, the bad-girl phase in the early ’90s did not help either.
In Japan the number of female fans are staggering, and, thanks to the manga explosion here, our female readership is gaining in numbers and voice. A lot of us have been here the whole time, though. The key is getting all of these women to stand up and be counted.
Most comics from major publishers seem to be written by men, for men. Are there any major titles that have critical appeal to a broad base of female readers?
Well, of course, there is Wonder Woman; Greg Rucka did some awesome things with the Amazon Princess – one of the most iconic superheroes of any sex. Gail Simone’s “Birds Of Prey” (DC Comics) has a strong female fan base.
There are so many great titles that I know I will undoubtedly leave someone out if I attempted to list them. Depends on what you are into. The point is, there is no hard and fast rule or formula to acquire a female audience. We are diverse. We are not of one mind. Once the industry realizes that, things will just fall into place.
Comic writing has matured in the past 10 years, and we’ve come a long way from the damsel in distress. But mass-market superhero comics based on female characters have a lower readership. Conversely, books like Alias do quite well with a female lead.
I don’t agree that powerful female superhero comics have lower female readership. And if they do, then it is lower for any and all fans, and not just for the women. This can be due to a bad writer, or any of those reasons that may turn you off of it. Not to mention that as great as they all are, it is still all about superheroes and not everyone is into that.
I feel that independent publishers do tend to draw in more due in large part to the wide variety of stories out there. You can find anything for anybody in the indie books.
What’s the surest way to turn off a female reader to a series?
Be condescending or trying to “cater to girls.” Then there is the current trend by certain writers to include rape into story lines in mainstream comics. That’s a big turnoff.
How about the physical portrayal of females in superhero comic books?
Keep in mind that for every spandex-clad mega-babe in comics, there are three or four overmuscled male heroes that don’t seem to emasculate male readers.
For the most part I am OK with it. Like you said, men are also drawn with ideal proportions. You never see a male hero with love handles or a big gut. I do take offense when it is gratuitous and used as the main draw to get an audience. I have a beef with Avatar Press for doing this.
How are men working to make the hobby friendlier toward women?
I applaud any efforts made to include everyone in this hobby, though misguided efforts are out there. You take the good with the bad.
What could better engage women in comics, both as readers and creators?Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
The key is more about getting the existing female fans out there to speak up. I have learned that there are tons of us out there, but a lot of women feel intimidated and alone. Many just need the backing of a group like Friends of Lulu to help them find their voice.
How to Get Those Super-Bodies
by Patrick Rollens
BUILT LIKE BANE
Grab a standard superhero comic off the shelf and flip through it. There’s no surprise in what you’ll find: icons of physical prowess, bronzed gods made of flesh and bone; each hero and villain visually rendered at the peak of musculature. Attractive, yes, but almost unattainable for all but the most genetically potent among us. It’s no secret that comic book artists cater to our sense of hero worship with their lavish illustrations of costumed crime fighters.
And it’s not just the male characters. For every over-muscled hero dressed in form-fitting spandex, there’s a similarly-clad heroine standing shoulder to shoulder, proudly showing off her rectus abdominis for all the world to see. Many women, especially female comic creators, take exception to the historic portrayal of the female form in comics. Take Wonder Woman. “(She) was originally created by Dr. William Moulton Marston as a role model for girls, and girls loved it,” says pioneering comic creator Trina Robbins, who in 1986 became the first woman to draw Wonder Woman for DC Comics. “But with (Marston’s) death, the Amazon was taken over by a series of men who didn’t understand the character or know what to do with her. The book lost readership because it was neither fish nor fowl – they weren’t aiming at girls anymore, but boys didn’t want to read a girl’s title.”
But wait – if women are offended by the portrayal of females in superhero comics, shouldn’t men should be offended at the male form’s treatment in these same books? Think again. “Over-muscled guys is a male fantasy; the boys love it,” Robbins says. “Giant-breasted girls is also a male fantasy.” And as far as these male fantasies are concerned, Robbins says, girls just couldn’t care less.
Portrayal of females has changed over the years – moving from traditional damsel-in-distress characters to superpowered heroines every bit as capable as their male counterparts – although it still operates within the male-dominated fantasy paradigm Robbins described. But how far removed from reality is the female form in contemporary comics?
I gave Dr. Steven Henry, plastic surgeon at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, an assortment of comics from the past five years – crime, superhero, even a couple “bad-girl” comics from the 1990s. Dr. Cari Worley, a family physician and specialist in obstetrics, joined us to provide her take on the internal workings of these pen-and-ink femmes. Dr. Henry dissected each frame with a surgeon’s eye, on the lookout for conspicuous folds, rolls and flabs. Oh, and rectus abdominis: That’s just a fancy name for abs.
It took little persuasion to get Dr. Henry to jump into the stack of comics on the table. On top was “X-Men Unlimited” #1 (Marvel Comics) with a stunning Pat Lee cover showing White Queen cavorting beside Cyclops. Dr. Henry was drawn immediately to Lee’s portrayal of White Queen, pointing out that her hips and breasts are proportioned correctly; overall, he said, she’s “surprisingly attainable for a woman that has that biological disposition.”
Biological disposition … right. But what exactly does that mean? Well, according to Dr. Henry, the way she’s drawn, with full hips and breasts, suggests that Lee’s grasp of the female form is not far off the real thing. Take White Queen’s bust. “Her breast is actually reasonably natural in that she doesn’t have a tremendous amount of upper pull fullness,” Dr. Henry says. Upper pull fullness is a sort of faux cleavage some women seek through plastic surgery; it’s unnatural and the doctor was pleasantly surprised to see that White Queen didn’t sport such obvious augmentation.
Dr. Henry even went so far as to suggest that White Queen might even be a patient one day. “She’s got some trochanteric fatty deposition here,” he said, pointing to her upper thigh just below the right buttock. “I mean, if this person came to a plastic surgery clinic, she’d probably get signed up for a little liposuction.”
The short story inside “X-Men Unlimited” #1 stars Sage, a mnemonic mutant dressed like Trinity from The Matrix. Again, Dr. Henry was surprised by artist Tony Lee’s rendition of Sage. “I’m struck by the fact that this artist is using a fairly reasonable and consistent body habitus,” he said. “This woman would be fairly muscular and stocky; she doesn’t have enormous breasts and a tiny frame.” Surprisingly, Dr. Henry remained confident that her musculature could even be achieved without using enhancement drugs. The verdict: Sage may be a femme fatale, but she’s all natural and naturally cool.
The cover of “The Ultimates 2″ #6 (Marvel) by Bryan Hitch caught Dr. Henry’s attention next. Giant Man looms large in the background, and in the foreground Hellcat and Valkyrie strike sultry poses beside other members of the team. “This seems to be inspired by the whole Paris Hilton paradigm,” Dr. Henry said, indicating Hellcat. “(Women) are thin, they’re standing with a sloped stomach posture, their breasts aren’t excessively large,” he said. As a plastic surgeon, Dr. Henry has a keen grasp of what men and women find attractive. His cosmetic surgery patients frequently bring in pictures of attractive celebrities to show him exactly what they want from their plastic surgery. Ten years ago it was Pamela Anderson with her oversized breasts and tiny waist; now the paradigm has shifted and the lithe, waif-like Hilton body type is considered attractive.
Then Dr. Henry reached to the bottom of the pile and pulled out Darkchylde. Actually, it was “Dreams of the Darkchylde,” (Darkchylde) but the overall effect – a drastically out-of-proportion, sexually-suggestive main character – is the same: Brandon Peterson’s images of Randy Queen’s voluptuous demon-teen. “And that’s getting kind of ridiculous,” Dr. Henry said, flipping quickly through the book. “Her hips are incredibly thin compared to her shoulders, and she’s got that artificially augmented bust,” he said. “This looks like a person who would have had no breast tissue but then would have had excessively large implants.”
But what sort of real-world problems might this unnatural thinness cause on a person’s body? To begin with, being so thin is almost certainly a sign of some sort of eating disorder. “If you get this thin you can have trouble with your cycle becoming irregular,” Dr. Henry added. “That can have reproductive repercussions.”
Dr. Worley explained that fat cells produce estrogen, which regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle. Many women who are very thin, including athletes, frequently have irregular or nonexistent monthly menstrual cycles. This can lead to infertility, but the most common side effect is osteoporosis. Bones become weak when the body has minimal estrogen, she said.
As Dr. Henry flipped through each superhero book, he was continually (and pleasantly) surprised by the mature decisions artists in recent years have made when portraying female characters. Though many characters are still thin, artists seem to have a grasp of musculature and shape and are capable of rendering these female characters conceptually, if not necessarily biologically, accurate. In other words, these images still constitute physical ideals, but those ideals come a lot closer to the realm of attainability than ever.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
Interview with Patton Oswalt
by Tim Leong
Even if people can’t agree on comedian Patton Oswalt’s views of the world, they can at least agree he’s a funny guy. So, what does the comic writer and occasional comic book writer think about the comic industry? In 10 questions, we found out.
How does comedy translate differently from it being read, to it being heard?
Reading it doesn’t give you the comedian’s intent, inflection or emotion. Most of the time.
How do you approach that differently when writing for print?
You can write things that sound good when someone’s hearing it in their head, which is way different from things that sound natural when someone says them out loud. I keep that in mind when I’m doing either one.
Who’s the funniest writer in comic books?
Have comic books gotten darker and more adult-themed and less comedic? Is that a good thing?
I think they’ve gotten both darker and more comedic at a more or less even pace. There’s funny stuff out there if you want it, and there’s dark stuff. What I’m more excited about are writers like Robert Kirkman, Brian K. Vaughan and especially Reginald Hudlin, who simply love superheroes and solid storytelling. They’re both funny and dark. They’re themselves. And then, as always, above everything, there’s “The Goon.”
What comics do you read?
I’m at a point now where I read writers. Anything by (Brian) Bendis and (Mark) Millar and (Warren) Ellis and Kirkman and Vaughan and Hudlin. I’m sure I left some people out. Following writers gives you the chance to try out new stuff. I picked up “Hatter M,” (Desperado Publishing) which was great. “Hip Flask: Mystery City”(Active Images )and “Sea of Red” (Image Comics) and, surprisingly, “City Of Heroes” (Image) were also chances I took that paid off well.
You’ve traveled the country on your Comedians of Comedy tour. Which city had the best comic store that you visited along the way?
So far? Orlando, Fla. Shitty town. Great comic book store called Sci-Fi City.
I’d read you were getting something together for a monthly comic. How is that going?
Pretty well. I’m learning the discipline surprisingly fast.
Which is harder, writing comics or writing stand-up material?
For me, comics, because it’s still a relatively new medium (for me). Standup is just something I do pretty much all the time without thinking about it. 17 years doing something will do that for you.
Why do you think Hollywood finally realized the potential for comic books as source material?
Because something made money. Batman, right?
What’s your take on the comic book movies that have come out so far?
Some have been amazing (“Batman Begins,” “Sin City,” “Ghost World”), some have been OK (“Road to Perdition,” “Punisher,” “Hulk”), some have royally sucked (“Elektra,” “Catwoman,” “Daredevil”). It’s a huge field, so there you go. Plus, you’ve got the superlative, will-age-well-and-build-a-rabid-cult “Unbreakable,” so there’s always hope.
You wrote a story for Marvel’s “Wha … Huh?” that never made it in the issue because of legal concerns. When you found out it wasn’t going to run, was that feeling akin to bombing on stage?Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
Nah. I just wanted to see my stuff rendered by Jim Mahfood. The story’s still funny.
Oswalt’s new DVD, Patton Osawlt – No Reason to Complain, hits stores this April. For more information, check out www.pattonoswalt.com.
Buy the Numbers: Avengers and Power Pack Assemble
IN THE CROSSHAIRS: “AVENGERS AND POWER PACK ASSEMBLE” #1
Coming April 19 from Marvel Comics
Every month, I, Marc Mason, will put on my swami hat and attempt to determine what sort of sales numbers a particular comic will achieve. Our inaugural effort concerns the completely questionable publication and printing of “Avengers and Power Pack Assemble” #1.
APPA (as I’m going to call it) is written by Marc Sumarek and drawn by Guriharu. Let’s take a gander at some approximated sales numbers from ICV2 as pertains to the project:
Sales for “Ororo” #1 (Marvel), written by Sumarek: 26,372.
Chalk it up to the X-Men connection, I guess.
Sales for “Machine Teen” #1 (Marvel), written by Sumarek: 16,527.
James Jean sure draws pretty, though.
Sales for “Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius #1 (Marvel), co-written by Sumarek: 10,920.
Bueller? Frye? A solid funny book okay for kids to read? Of course no one bought it. Comic fans make Marc sad.
Sales for “Power Pack” #1 (Marvel), written by Sumarek and drawn by Guriharu: 14,221.
Not bad for reviving a cult favorite from twenty years ago, especially with the kid protagonists.
Sales for “X-Men/Power Pack” #1 (Marvel), written by Sumarek and drawn by Guriharu: 12,295.
On the other hand, sometimes the X-Men connection means fuck-all. Crushingly disappointing numbers, considering adding the merry mutants sees sales drop.
Sales for digest-sized trade paperbacks of the “Ororo,” “Machine Teen,” and “Power Pack” miniseries: who knows? None of those digests charted in the Top 100 in the month they were solicited, according to the ICV2 numbers. And since these series are supposedly published with the idea of getting good sales out of the digests, it makes you scratch your head. Like I need the added hair loss.
Sales for the January, 2006 issue of “New Avengers,” (Marvel) written by some Bald Guy and drawn by a random “superstar” who can’t meet a deadline at gunpoint: 121,758.
Yeah, because life is fair.
THE SWAMI SAYS: adding the X-Men only dropped the numbers on the second series, and there’s no chance the addition of the Avengers will do anything for sales but send them spiraling. 10,225 is the magic number I see in my crystal ball, which is fantastic if you’re a color comic from an independent publisher, but from Marvel? Reason for teeth-gnashing. Those digests had better sell well in the bookstores, where the ICV2 numbers don’t count. Otherwise, I see indentured servitude in the creative team’s future, and much shiner floors at the Marvel offices.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
The Best Comic Ever
by Ian Brill
FINDING THE BEST FROM THE REST
It was in September of 2005 that, for reasons too dark and mysterious to tell you here, I was on a quest for the Best Comic Ever. I had just moved to San Francisco and had a world of comic book culture just a $1.50 Muni fare away. I was ready to write something of a travel article interviewing people of all sorts about what they think the Best Comic Ever is. I had hoped that the variety of answers I would get and locales I would go to would teach me and perhaps you, dear reader, a little bit about what it is it be a comic book reader. It was to be quite the exciting article.
Then classes started getting hard, and my search for the BCE had to be put on indefinite hiatus.
I felt bad that I was going to let down the wise elder who sent me on this quest because he had been so nice to me and had this great idea. I had to make myself feel better, and that means what it always means: reading a bunch of comic books. It was there that I found what I was looking for. There were punches in the face, gods ripping up the streets of New York City and me amongst the bystanders watching the heavens crashing into themselves right above our heads. I knew this was something.
Before I left for Northern California, the manger of my local comic book store, a good man named Mike, loaded me up with plenty of good reading. Mike and I both have catholic tastes in comics with our conversations ranging from anticipation for the latest volume of “Acme Novelty Library” to why Mike Sekowsky’s work on “Justice League of America” works for us. But the comics I was looking for that day were of a certain breed.
Mike runs a store that’s been in business 25 years and has amassed quite the inventory of back issues. It was a wonderful thing to walk in and ask for a comic that had arrived on newsstand when my Dad was half my age and walk out two minutes later with it. In recent weeks I found myself coming in on a lazy Sunday and asking Mike to give me something cheap and stupid. I had found the perfect way to use both the store’s massive archives and Mike’s unending knowledge of funny books.
When I say cheap, I mean cheap. A dollar to $2 is preferable and anything over $6 is pushing it. When it comes to asking for something cheap I can assure you all meaning is on the surface. “Stupid” is something else, though. I’m using the word as a term of endearment, the way you can read a certain book, turn off the rational side of your brain and just have fun. When I say “stupid” I mean Zen stupid. There’s the small chance Mike could have taken what I was asking too literally and put a barrel full of unsellable Acclaim and Chaos! Comics in my hand, but I didn’t worry. Mike knew what I was saying. I walked away with an old superhero comic, usually something Mike read as a lad, that allowed me continue my lazy Sunday bliss. “Flash” #300 was the first comic I can remember buying on the “cheap/stupid” plan. It was a retrospective of a series I love in its 1960s incarnation, so I was won over by the return of Carmine Infantino, the co-creator of the series, to the book. I had found a way to always inject some fun into my comic book reading. I was going to find out how important that is.
The Sundays with Mike got more frequent, and so did my supply of back issues. Mike liked anniversary issues, so I’d read those oversized books with artist and writers saying why they think Batman or Superman is so important. Then there were the big stories in the little comics. Amongst the anonymous short boxes that rested behind Mike were stories of Spider-Man teaming up with a giant bald man who lived on the Moon or Superman teaming up with an older Superman from another dimension. These were my rewards for a week’s worth of community college done away with. When it came time to transfer to university, Mike and I knew the perfect way to say goodbye.
At first it was just one “cheap and stupid.” Then two, then four. We had dived into the pool of back issues and were swimming at a furious pace. I had never taken on this much before, but this was special. Mike and I looked at each other and knew that I wasn’t going to come back for a long time and probably would never live in the area again. If this was the ending to a chapter of my comic book fandom story, let’s go out in style.
Mike had gotten a stack of Marvel Treasury editions. I had heard of the books, but this was my first time seeing them up close. The idea of classic comic book art by John Romita Sr. and John Buscema blown up in size, these comics coming way before the deluxe hardcovers we have now, was something I was interested in. Going through the issues wasn’t like running your fingers through a short box. It was like shifting plates. Looking through them they all seemed too expensive, considering they contained material I could very well get elsewhere. Then, near the bottom, I saw a beauty shining through beat up newsprint. The third “Marvel Treasury Edition” had Thor flying right at me. It was Kirby. Right then I knew I had to make a little extra room in my suitcase.If you ever want to gauge the amount of crap you have lying around, move into a place much smaller than your current dwelling. Your pack-rat mentality will be deflated when you’re stepping over unread and half-read comics just to get to bed at night. I set myself up for hours of comic reading joy when I left with all the swag Mike sold me. Now most of my time was spent organizing it all – when I had time between school and writing assignments. One night I decided to give myself a break from dealing with comics, so I read some comics.
An oversized collection of Jack Kirby comics doesn’t do anybody a lot of good sitting in a drawer. I took it out and got ready to become cheap and stupid. I found more, though. I found the BCE.
I always enjoy the cosmic match up of Stan Lee’s Kerouac-meets-Madison Avenue scripting with all the power the King brought to his comics. I had already devoured his “Fantastic Four” (Marvel Comics) run as well as many of the “New Gods” (Marvel) books. Here was all that comic book joy in classic coloring and pages bigger than my head. Even the much (and fairly) maligned Vince Colletta showed talented with a fine inking style. There were panels where I could see ol’ Vince had erased work to make the job easier on himself (or his many underlings), but then there were moments where Kirby would close up on a pair of eyes and they’d be shadowed by some kind of weird spiderweb. These were gods, after all, so why not make them feel a bit less down to earth?
These powers combined into a sequence in a comic book I shall never forget. Roman and Norse gods mix it up as Thor and Hercules tear through the panels in the greatest fight of all. After the fight, there were scenes on a movie set that featured some of the best examples of Kirby’s take on design. His interpretation of the 1960s was like Andy Warhol’s New York City meeting Caligula. Any actual film production house would kill to have someone with the imagination and skill a person like Kirby has working for them. Almost everything Kirby does so well is in these pages. The poses, the characters in action, the destruction and the faces were all there. They were all taking me over. When Hercules throws an 18-wheeler at Thor I could hear the sound effect in my head before I read it on the page. I’d see Thor punch and for a millisecond the child side of me would worry I might get hit. The more mature and rational side of me would calm my worries but perhaps that depletes the enjoyment of a book like this. The point of opening up this comic was to get away from the decadence of an ever faster-approaching adult life. This comic reminded me of why I read comics.
That’s what makes “Marvel Treasury Edition” #3 the Best Comic Ever. Catch me on another day or another plane of existence and I might tell you Jamie Hernandez’s “The Death of Seedy” or Kevin Huzienga’s “Or Else” #2 is the Best Comic Ever. They do the same thing that Kirby did for me here. After dealing with all the bullshit of just trying to stay regular in life I remember why I enjoy art and absorbing other’s creations. It’s why we work so damn hard to get a steady paycheck and a roof over our head, so there are those few extra hours in the evening to enjoy another’s soulful storytelling. Any comic that does that for you is the Best Comic Ever.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive | 2 Comments »
Amusements: Becky Cloonan
QUEEN ON THE CASTLE
With her action-adventure book “East Coast Rising” (TokyoPop) about to debut, writer/artist Becky Cloonan shares her pop culture inspirations and why all bets are off when it comes to Castlevania.
RECENT MOVIES SHE’S SEEN
“The Occult History of the Third Reich (documentary)”
“The Ninth Gate”
MOVIES IN HER NETFLIX QUEUE
“Blue Planet (documentary)”
I used to watch a lot more movies; lately I’m a lot pickier about what I watch and how I spend my time. There’s nothing worse than spending a few hours watching a movie that afterward thinking, “I just took two hours of your life.” That doesn’t mean that every movie I watch has to be “Citizen Kane,” but there’s a lot of big-budget shit being made lately, not just movies but all over entertainment media. I find that I look backward to find good entertainment rather than try and keep up with the new stuff.
“HP Lovecraft: Tales”
“Turn of the Screw”
Brian Wood gave me “Angels and Demons” a long time ago and I’ve read through the first few chapters and just haven’t picked it up again. Sorry, Bri. I’ll get around to it, I promise.
“Castlevania: Harmony of Dissanance (Game Boy Advance)”
“Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance)”
I can’t play more than one game at a time, and even though I’ve been drooling over some more Nintendo DS games, I’ve vowed not to start anything new until I defeat Castlevania. If I do start a new game I’ll never finish the old one. Oh, the guilt.
SONGS ON HER PLAYLIST
” The Last In Line” – Dio
“The Splendour of aThousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire” – Bal-Sagoth
“Dance Commander” – Electric Six
“Less Than Zero” – Danzig
“Together in Electric Dreams” – Human League
I’ve been visiting a lot of antique shops lately. I love looking at old photographs, cameras and film equipment. That’s been inspiring me a lot more then the usual movies and music bit. The other day I found a stool made out of an elephant’s foot! You can’t get much cooler than that.
For more information on Becky Cloonan, check out her Web site here.Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |
TO DO SATURDAY NIGHT: COMIC BOOK RELEASE PARTY AT MOCCA
TO DO SATURDAY NIGHT: COMIC BOOK RELEASE PARTY AT MOCCA!
MoCCA regular Bill Roundy is debuting not one, but TWO mini comics at said event.
It’s a comic book release party for my two new mini-comics: “Man Enough: a queer romance” and the grandiosely-titled “The Amazing Adventures of Bill, vol. 6: Perfect Moment.”
For those of you who fear traveling to Brooklyn, it’s actually going to be in Manhattan! Here are the details:
What: Bill Roundy’s Comic Book Release Party
When: Saturday, April 29, 7pm to 11pm
Where: The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art
594 Broadway, Fourth Floor.
How much: Free!
There will be beer, and some snacks, and cocktails prepared according to Bill’s Bartending Guide.
I’ll be selling and signing books, and there will be a comic jam for everyone to draw on. And you can look around the Museum, which is showing a retrospective on Todd McFarlane (Spider-Man, Spawn), which should provide an interesting contrast to my sweet little story of gay romance
Directions: Take the F, D, or V train to Broadway-Lafeyette, the R or W train to Prince St., or the 6 train to Bleecker. MoCCA is at 594 Broadway, between Houston and Prince.Posted by Tim Leong on April 28th, 2006 filed in Party, Blog |
Warning: there is no sign outside, and the gallery is on the fourth floor, so you’ll have to look for the street number. If you get lost, call MoCCA at 212-254-3511.
LA TIMES: Great comic strips aren’t built on the backs of aging readers
LA TIMES: Great comic strips aren’t built on the backs of aging readers
Comic strips’ plight isn’t funny
Cartoonists fear that newspapers aren’t changing with the times to reach a print-averse younger generation.
By Alex Chun, Special to The Times
IN an upcoming “Opus” Sunday comic strip, Berkeley Breathed’s affable waterfowl Opus comes across an iPod-toting twentysomething who has no clue what a newspaper is. In the strip’s eight little boxes, Breathed succinctly sums up the plight of not only newspapers but also the comic strips contained therein: They “are trying to reach kids who literally have never picked up a newspaper before,” says Breathed, who burst on the national comics scene in 1980 with the cult-classic “Bloom County.”
“What can we offer them as 25-year-old new workers that might interest them enough to pick up sheets of paper and examine them for several minutes a day?”
That, Breathed says, is the million-dollar — or million-reader — question facing comic strip creators….Posted by Tim Leong on April 27th, 2006 filed in Blog |
COMIC FOUNDRY INTERVIEW WITH PAOLO RIVERA
COMIC FOUNDRY INTERVIEW WITH PAOLO RIVERA
You went to the Rhode Island School of Design, right? What did you learn there that made you a better artist?
Yes, class of 2003 (Go Nads!) Most of the things that I “learned” while there, I didn’t really come to understand or explore until later— I hear that’s fairly common (and not exclusive to art school). The most important thing is to be exposed to as many different things as possible, while maintaining a personal focus that grows out of your own interest and passion; that way you don’t limit yourself, but also have something to show for your four years at school. Oh yeah— and life drawing is the best practice.
What did you learn from having David Mazuchelli as a teacher?
He was the first adult (especially in the academic world) to formally recognize the importance and potential of comics. Completely disregarding my partiality for the subject matter, he was also the best teacher I had at the school. In fact, I was essentially ignorant of who he was until I was in his class. Although draughtsmanship was not a major component of the class, it was informed, like many aspects of image-making, by his careful, analytical approach to making comics. My decisions became more considered under his guidance, and my artwork, for the first time, became concerned with more than just perspective and anatomy.
You live with fellow comic artist R. Kikuo Johnson. How does that roommate dynamic work? In terms of feedback for each other?
Um… he doesn’t clean bathrooms. Besides that, he has become one of the biggest influences in my comics life. His passion for the medium is contagious (and so are his philosophies and tastes). In a more practical sense, he’s always there to bounce ideas off of, he has a vast library of comics that’s always at hand, and we tend to use each
other as models.
Your X-Men Mythos already hit stands and you’ve got a few more coming out as well. What was the biggest obstacle in painting so many characters?
It’s technically difficult, and quite time consuming, but most of these characters already exist in my mind in a particular way. When I’m given an assignment, I already have a sense of what, for instance, the Hulk should look and move like.
What’s the hardest part about painting for comics?
Wanting to do black and white art, but not being able to… for now.
Regarding your decision to give up oil painting, is this a financial move? A productivity move? A creative one?
There were actually several different reasons for the switch, but I’ll readily admit that the financial pressures made it a necessity. I had contemplated it many times, but was never really forced to before. The other reasons range from storage to health issues. For example, a 23-page comic takes up a lot of room in a Brooklyn apartment if they’re each 16″ x 24″ on hand prepared, heavy wood. And since I sleep where I paint, I’ve been breathing some pretty nasty vapors for the past 2 years.
What’s the time saved on switching painting styles?
Right now, I’d say it’s about half the time, but I’ll get even faster as I practice. This was another major reason for the switch. I worked pretty hard in 2005, but don’t feel like I have anything to show for it. I made one comic in all of last year and that’s not acceptable, creatively.
So then, what’s the process on your new style?
Once I’ve penciled a page out on 8″ x 12″ bristol board (Strathmore series 500 4-ply), I paint it using black and white Holbein’s Acryla Gouache (fancy name for matte acrylic) in a series of nine mixed gray values. Once finished, I scan it in and color it in Photoshop, using a separate layer set to “color” mode. This allows the brightness values to show through while changing the hue and saturation of the resultant colors. To get slightly technical, this means that I don’t use pure white since only a gray value, however light, will allow a color to replace it. For example, in a black and white photograph, the only pure white appears in overexposed areas and some highlights.
How does going to digital color affect your work? Did you have to learn anything new to achieve the desired result?
I think it will have the same general feel as the oil paint, but will reproduce better and, therefore, be much more legible. I’m actually using many of the same techniques that I utilized to bring my oil paintings to press. This was yet another reason for the switch: I was spending as much time at the computer (trying to get the paintings to look like faithful reproductions) as I did at the easel.
What will be your first book in this new style?
Would you rather be a cover artist? Or do you prefer to do interiors?
Cover work is attractive because it is less work (in comparison) and the rewards are often greater, but I actually prefer interiors. They’re ridiculously challenging and, ultimately, more fulfilling.
What’s the one thing/person that you’ve had the hardest time capturing in paint?
It’s all pretty darn hard. If I had to narrow it down to a particular subject matter, it might be “large, detailed, interior spaces.” I suppose that covers quite a range of things, but I think that’s precisely why it’s so difficult. A big part of this is solved, however, by switching my working methods. Keeping in mind the “big picture” with regard to color can be difficult when there are more objects in a composition. By coloring digitally, it’s much easier to make things work as a whole while still paying attention to detail, since it’s so easy to edit.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the comics industry?Posted by Tim Leong on April 27th, 2006 filed in Blog |
Personally, it’s that I shouldn’t paint comics in oil— a lesson from which I am already reaping the benefits. In a broader sense, I’ve learned that composition and gesture are becoming my most important tools for communication in the medium.