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Kieron Dwyer has taken on zombies and Starbucks, and now he’s trying to tackle your dreams. Rick Remender and Dwyer’s newest book from IDW, Night Mary, follows a young girl who traverses the world of other people’s dreams and nightmares. Dwyer talked with Comic Foundry about how he created the striking art for Night Mary and his Eisner award-nominated work on Remains.
Congrats, you were nominated for an Eisner award for Best Cover for Remains. What did you do differently on Remains than on other titles you’ve worked on?
On the covers, I tried for a real unified feel to all five covers, in terms of technique and color scheme, etc. I also tried to keep the drawings themselves very simple and simply done, then do all the real work in the color phase, in Photoshop.
What’s the objective of a cover?
I think of them as movie posters, and try to communicate the essence of a particular story. At the very least, I try to convey a feeling as much as an idea, and I try for a strong graphic quality, so it’s an image that holds up on its own, independent of the story it represents. On Remains, in particular, I felt like I achieved that.
How did you made color choices on the Remains covers?
Pretty simple. Due to the graphic nature of the series, I wanted to have strong, striking, simple images, and the unifying color had to be red, like blood, meat, entrails. I also wanted white space to help define and set off the images, with each cover becoming more claustrophobic, so less white space on each successive cover. There’s none on issue No. 5, which is a tight shot on a guy’s face.
What do you differently on a cover than you do on the interior pages?
A cover is more of a singular graphic image that needs to communicate an overall idea, versus interior pages which communicate a linear series of ideas or images. As far as the art on Remains, I only colored the covers. My buddy Harper Jaten colored the interior pages and did a stellar job. Unbelievably, he did all five issues using only a mouse. He doesn’t have a tablet, which to me is indispensable.
There are a lot of zombie books and films already rooted in our minds - how did you sidestep that to ensure visual originality?
I didn’t look at any other zombie comics when doing Remains. I did watch Dawn of the Dead (the original and the remake, both of which are excellent, although I have a soft spot in my heart for the original) and some other zombie flicks just to get into the mind set.
In the same vein, there are also a lot of zombie stereotypes - how did you use these to your advantage visually?
What’s cool about zombies, unlike, say, superheroes, is that the more f-ed up they are, the better. As an artist, I love having that kind of freedom. Also, for me, one thing I’ve tried to get to in my work is a place where the finished product has the energy and immediacy of my sketchbook work.
You do a lot of horror books. What are the visual elements and artistic techniques that are more prominent in the horror genre?
It’s harder to creep people out with comics than it is with film, for instance. But with horror you can certainly go very extreme with the imagery. Maybe more so than film can. You have no constraints on your “effects budget” with comics. But gore is not the same as creating a feeling of terror. I try to let the art have a cumulative impact, rather than just being explicit. I try to choose when and where I lay it on thick, so it has more weight.
In working within the horror genre, how do you work on so many books and not have your art be repetitive?
I try not to be repetitive with any of my work, horror or otherwise. For me, everything is tailored to the specific project. I switch my art style on each project, to keep myself interested, and to keep the different projects feeling fresh.
Looking at the art for Night Mary and Remains, you’ve got two different styles going on. What was the decision behind that?
Part of that is a function of Harper doing the coloring on Remains, and me knowing that he would be when I did the line art. With Night Mary, my goal was to do everything myself, so beyond switching things up for my own reasons, the finished art was going to be different than on Remains.
In Night Mary there’s a lot of dream and reality crossover - how did that play to your advantage from a visual standpoint?
I knew I would do the dream sequences in different styles for each dream. That was one reason I wanted to do the book when Rick and I first started talking it out. I also wanted to have the reality sequences distinctly different from the dreams, so I settled on a separate palette for that stuff.
Technically, how did you create the Night Mary art?
I do a lot of the art on this gray paper from a sketchbook. It has texture as well as the gray color. I do all the reality stuff on that paper using ball point pen and white colored pencil for highlights. Then I scan it and use Photoshop to mess with it and add color, etc. The dream art differs from story to story, so it’s harder to say. Basically, I draw everything on paper first then scan and doctor stuff in Photoshop. However, in issue No. 1, the dream sequence was from scanned pencils on white paper, with coloring done in Painter.
A while back you were involved in a well-publicized legal dispute with Starbucks over the use of their logo. From your experience, what legal advice would you offer to amateur artists?
Do your homework, know your rights, talk with a lawyer anytime your are unsure about what you are doing and the legal ramifications. The law is skewed to protect the big guy, and certainly the people with the money have huge advantages over the rest of us.
You’ve done animation and storyboarding before - how did those experiences help you as a cover artist?
I don’t feel there’s much connection there. Covers are single standalone images that communicate more than one thing when they are successful. Animation and storyboarding are all about continuing action and story telling through multiple images. Very different disciplines.
—Interview by Tim Leong
For more information on Kieron Dwyer and Night Mary, visit www.kierondwyer.com.