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    Try to Contain Yourself

    Here it is: Proof that you can achieve success pitching your work to a major publisher. Artist Nick Stakal got his break working with horror guru Steve Niles on a one-shot comic for IDW Publishing, and now he’s paired with screenwriter-turned-comic-scribe Eric Red for Containment, a zombie miniseries set in outer space. Nick gives CF the lowdown on his methods, his style and his streak of good luck.

    What sort art direction (if any) did you get from Eric Red for Containment?
    Eric gave me somewhat detailed descriptions of the crew members and some of the environmental props like the ship, the containment pods and some elements within the ship that play into the story. He also wanted it to feel very claustrophobic. That was the groundwork, from there I was able to design stuff as I pleased, provided I stuck to some of those key elements.

    Did you make any specific stylistic decisions for Containment based on the script and overall feel of the book?
    Part of Eric’s initial art direction was that he didn’t want a shiny chrome space rig, so I did my best to make it feel like a boiler room running on old Atari equipment. Instead of flat-panel widescreen holographic plasma screens, they use 15-inch tube monitors, and they hang everywhere and are stacked up, making it feel cluttered. There are a lot of tubes, wires and ventilation shafts everywhere … everything is exposed. It wasn’t a clean passenger ship designed for luxury, it’s an industrial tool used by a handful of specialists on a job. I tried to make the space suits they wore have that feel too. I wanted them to feel kinda classic, but not be actual replicas of any existing suits. So they sorta came off looking like these old-timey deep-sea diving suits.

    I noticed there’s no separate credit for penciling and inking, just “Art by Nick Stakal” on the inside cover. Do you execute all the art steps yourself?
    Yes, all the art is done by me. I pencil it out, ink it, scan it into a computer and color it.

    IDW seems like a really keen publisher for showcasing new talent. How did you get started working for them initially?
    I was actually approached by them to do a book with writer Steve Niles. I had been a fan of his writing, and he has a nice Web forum where people will chat about comics and post art to get critiques and meet other artists. I posted some pieces there and Steve asked me if I’d like to do a book with him. Of course I wanted to, so I think he forwarded IDW my Web site and soon after that they asked me to draw the HYDE one-shot he wrote. After that I think they were pleased with my work because they’ve continued to offer me jobs. I thank Steve Niles for getting me in there. Basically, without his interest in my stuff, who knows how long I would have had to do all that fun stuff new artists have to do to get noticed? I got kinda lucky and managed to bypass having to repeatedly go to portfolio reviews or send samples of my stuff out to publishers.

    Walk us through the process for producing a page (or group of pages, however you submit your work) from start to submission. Please feel free to include as much detail as you want remember, most of the people reading this won’t really have much of an idea how to produce finished art for a comic publisher, so every step will be new for them.
    I do my pages fairly traditionally. I use standard 11-by-17 Bristol board … sometimes the pre-lined comic ones, sometimes just out of a Bristol board pad that I get at any art supply store. For Containment I used a bunch of photo reference, something I didn’t do at all with HYDE, but I think it’s become an integral part of my work. I basically read through the script and highlight all the panels and shots that I’d like a reference for. I get some of my pals together and have them model for me. Sometimes I’ll shoot really dynamic shots that I use almost verbatim on the finished page, and sometimes I just take more generic reference shots. I use a digital camera for this and upload it all to my computer. From there I’ll pull up images on the screen to draw from, or sometimes I’ll print them out. In the end, I may not even use the reference I initially thought I would have liked for a specific panel or scene, and I just pull everything out of my head for it. Using models and photo references for Containment has been sort of the backbone for the feel of it. I really wanted the people to have a realistic vibe; I’m influenced by artists like Kent Williams and George Pratt who manage to pull off realistic, yet still very stylistic, figures in their work.

    From there I lightly pencil out the page and ink it. I ink using a dipped ink pen and a brush. I like to ink with a painterly approach – my pencils tend to be sort of loose and that leaves room for improvisation when I ink. It’s a lot more enjoyable for me to work this way than if I were to pencil really tightly and then just kinda redraw it over in ink. Even though I use plenty of references I don’t want the work to feel photographic or static; I like it to stay fresh and dynamic as much as possible.

    After I ink it, I scan it into the computer and color it. My colors are a mixture of textures I’ve made that I stack up into layers and manipulate to get some desired effects. I use a watercolor approach to coloring that looks a bit washy and textured. It works well in horror comics I think. It’s a similar approach to Ashley Wood’s Hellspawn stuff, or Ben Templesmith’s stuff … which has all kinda descended from guys like Dave McKean, who’s a master at digital collaging and manipulation.

    Then it’s done. I upload all the finished artwork to the publisher, where the lettering is added and it’s off to print.

    What sort of schedule do you operate on? How far ahead of your deadlines do you try to stay?
    I sometimes work for long stints, drawing and inking anywhere from two to five pages at a time. I drink a lot of Jolt, lots of caffeine, to stay up all night or often for a few days. That’s probably unhealthy, I wouldn’t recommend it. It will probably give me some unpleasant digestive cancer if I keep it up. My pacing is fairly quick, I think, compared to some artists, but it all depends on the page and the task at hand. I’m fairly new to this game so sometimes I’ll get tripped up on a specific drawing. Ask me to draw a zombie biting someone’s face, no problem, I can whip it up. But ask me to draw a schoolyard full of children playing, then I gotta get some reference. So in the end I will do maybe eight pages a week … sometimes a lot more if there’s a deadline approaching quickly.

    Staying ahead of deadline is pretty important … it makes everybody happy. That way if there are any changes or bumps long the way, you’ve got some wiggle room. When I did HYDE it was a nice light workload so I had everything in to IDW on time weekly. Now I’ve been doing Containment along with pieces of a Silent Hill graphic novel simultaneously. It’s been a heavier load so I’ve been having to turn some art in at the last minute.

    Any other helpful hints and tips you’d like to share with up-and-coming artists?
    Get a Web site, it’s super useful. That way you can easily refer people to your work online. From where I stand the Internet has been the single most useful tool I’ve used so far to generate interest in my work. Having my Web site, lurking on art and comic book forums online to meet other artists and writers … it’s a huge resource.

    Speaking of sites, visit Nick’s at

    —Interview by Patrick Rollens

    Posted by Tim Leong on March 28th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |

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