And Now the News - Part 2

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October saw the debut of new comic creator Jonathan Hickman’s book The Nightly News.  He stopped by to discuss that book, how he has been learning the industry ins and outs, and to let people know once and for all that he isn’t an angry guy.

Part One

BROKEN FRONTIER: Could you take me through the process of creating the book?  Do you pencil it out then scan it onto the computer?  Is it straight computer generated?

JONATHAN HICKMAN: The whole book is obviously photo referenced.  I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m using that visceral, real imagery.  I know a lot of people say that style tends to make a book look too flat or too static, but I think for this story it works because I wanted the people to be real.  And of course, I’m using movie lighting and the like. 

I just happen to have a big bank of photography that I shot before I even began to draw issue one, since I hadn’t really started to plan it out until after the proposal was approved.  So I had all that and I’m looking at it and decided to light-boxed some of it.  And some of the time I’m straight penciling, but I try to work very, very quickly through the art portions.  I rough it out with a pencil very quickly and then I use a brush and a mirror.  It takes about 5 or 6 days for the art for the entire book.

I work steady doing the art for the whole book.  I don’t do very typical panel layouts, where I put 6 panels on a page.  I just put together one panel on the page, this way I don’t have to worry about page composition and can figure that out later.

Once that is all done I scan it all in, convert it to digital format, and then go into laying it out.  Before I color it I letter it (this way I know what I can get away with not coloring and can cheat on [Laughs]) and then I color the book and get it ready for press.

That’s pretty much the process.

BF: Do you script it out first or do you start with the artwork and go from there?

JH: The book is plotted out in such that I know what is happening on every page for the rest of the series.  So if you had to classify it you could say that I’m working in the “old Marvel style” – working from a dense plot, but scripted while drawing.

BF: One of the things that is very evident with the artwork was that it matches your story idea almost perfectly.  Did you know that going in, that the story and art would mesh so well together and that it would be a good match for you coming from your background in graphic and web design?

JH: I knew what I wanted the end product to look like as soon as I got the idea.  I didn’t see the color palette, I had an idea of what it would be, but I knew I wanted it to be really realistic art with moody lighting and the kind of layout and storytelling techniques that I’m using.  And I knew all of that right from the beginning.

I don’t know whether or not that will be my pattern going forward, working on my next project.  I really have no idea because everything has been a real learning process with this one.  But on The Nightly News all that stuff was instantaneous.

BF: One of the things that I really liked, and it goes back to your idea of “slamming information”, was your technique of the overlays (sorry if that word isn’t totally correct).  Things like footnoting a portion of the art with “This sign says…” and “The Brotherhood of the Voice can be contacted at…”  Was that an intended effect initially and was there anytime when you were creating the book where you thought it might have been too much?

JH: All of that stuff in the first issue: talking about video gamers becoming snipers in the military and all the other tertiary, third level information; it’s all mostly filler data.  Data that is mostly a design element.

And it’s really going to be up the community whether it’s acceptable or not.  I’ve got no real way of knowing [laughs].  Most of the people who have seen it, I end up getting a lot of the same comments that I’m hearing from you: at first it was difficult to read but I was drawn into it. 

I think it’s really one of those things that because this is a comic and we’ve read comics for so long that once you kind of figure out how it works you know how to read the comic.  I’m sure that someone who has never read comics before would really struggle with it.  But because I’m actually using techniques that we have had for years (because we’ve read comics for so long) and playing off of them I don’t think it’s a detriment. 

It is too much information, but that’s really the point.

BF: One of the artists that your work almost immediately reminded me of in terms of page composition and use of panels was Ashley Wood.  Who are some of the artists and graphic designers that you look to for inspiration and who influenced you?

JH: Well, I do like Ashley Wood a lot, he’s very good.  As far as classic guys – the ones who I read growing up, there’s Gil Kane, Barry Windsor Smith, Bill Sienkiewicz, Walt Simonson, all guys who definitely had their own style.

Click to enlargeAs far as modern people, Ashley Wood’s a pretty big deal.  There’s actually a Philippine artist named Alex Nino.  I picked up a sketch magazine and saw his work in there.  And this guy is doing full page collage work.  A lot of people see what I’m doing and I’m certainly going to get a Steranko reference (and while I don’t mind being compared to him), I don’t see that.  But this guy (Nino) I do see that comparison.  Along with him there’s an Italian artist, Sergio Tapi, who does exactly the kind of stuff I’m doing except he does these beautiful painted collages.

I tend to really like guys who are pushing the boundaries – guys like David Mack, Dave McKean.  I try to pick up anything that is really visually stimulating like their work.  There’s also those really talented guys that everyone loves – Travis Charest, Leinil Yu… guys that have a real visual style and are in their own house.  Interesting stuff.  I know he only does covers usually, but James Jean is really, really amazing.

As far as graphic designers I really enjoy the work of guys that are big on the web – Miek Zean and Mike Young, Bradley Grosh, there’s like a thousand Swedish and Scandinavian people who are really good, Josh Davis, Amy Francescoli, mostly people that you have to search online for.  Do you recognize any of these names?

Click to enlarge BF: Actually, I had a friend who went to Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and we used to discuss art and comics all the time, so some of the names you are throwing out I do know.

JH: Mike Zean and Mike Young are the biggest names on there but all their work is really amazing.

BF: You spoke a little bit about pushing the boundaries of comic art and looking over your own list of influences, I’m wondering, are you going to try and get more into the mainstream work or will you stay as more of a creator owned guy?

JH: Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that, because I’m sure there is an economic aspect to that that I am totally unfamiliar with.

BF: [Laughs] I was just about to preface that statement about whether or not you got a huge offer that you just couldn’t pass on.

JH: [Laughs] Well, to answer your question, I’m not a “comic snob” or anything like that.  I don’t think that DC and Marvel are the “great Satans of the comic book business.”  The reality is that they are the cornerstones of the American market and none of us would be producing stuff if they weren’t around.  Not that there wouldn’t be comics because we definitely wouldn’t have a vacuum, but there wouldn’t be any economic strength if it wasn’t for them – we’d all be wishing we could go work for Japanese companies.

Click to enlargeI’m a comic book fan, I like Marvel and DC, but the reality is that I’ve been waiting to do this for a very long time and if I can even continue to just do creator owned stuff then that’s what I’ll do… and enjoy.  I’ve got a lot of stuff I’d like to do.  I already know what my next two projects will be.  Hopefully they’ll be at Image but I really don’t know the business [Laughs] so we’ll just have to see.

I wish I had a more intelligent, wise business answer but in reality I just don’t have a clue.

BF: To be honest, that answer is much more fun.

JH: I did see that Brian Wood got an exclusive contract from DC recently and that’s good because he’s very talented and pushes the boundaries.

BF: He does add that very photorealistic feel to his artwork.  You read all of his stuff?

JH: Oh yeah, I try to grab all of it.  I’ve spoken to him on the internet sometimes because his background is also in graphic design.  That’s what he did too.  The Image guys say my work reminds them a lot of his; I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.  I think maybe because he’s doing DMZ, which is about a journalist and I’m doing The Nightly News, which is about the news.  So maybe people think that therefore they must be similar.  I don’t necessarily agree with that, but you know what, he’s a great guy to be compared to because he’s so talented.

BF: Another comparison that you could make to DMZ is that you have a very urban setting.  Do you think that provides better opportunities for design and story?

JH: That’s certainly a story driven thing.  Environment is what you make of it and I could probably have fit that in anyway even if they were in the desert.  But I’m not exaggerating when I say that New York City is the news capitol of the world, because it is.  This is going to touch on politics to so Washington, DC is going to be part of the book too.

Those are pretty much the two locales where the book will be taking place.  And it is appropriate for the work.

But there’s also the fact that I have an architecture degree so I don’t struggle at all with structures. [Laughs]

BF: Finally, you mentioned that the book deals a lot with news and politics, is there any worry on your part that readers and critics will say that you’re trying to push your beliefs and politics in the book or is that really the point?

JH: I don’t have a cause and I don’t have an agenda. [Laughs]  All of that stuff stems out of the story.  There are thematic things that are going on that will be played out over the 6 issues.

It’s funny though; there were 3 interviews in a row where the first question I got was, “Why are you so angry?” [Laughs]  If this were a Marvel or DC comic they would be asking me something like “Why is Thor so angry?”  This is a character thing.  You have a main character that has had their life ruined by the recklessness of the media and the whole organization (Brotherhood of the Voice) is made up of people who that has happened to.  So they are all very angry and they all want revenge.  They are all very driven and really have nothing else to live for.  And they all behave accordingly. 

I’m not preaching.  That’s probably my worst fear about the book is because I don’t want it to come across as didactic.  I don’t want to do preachy work and I think that’s a fine line.  I think I’ve skirted it so far and it will get easier as the story unfolds for people to see realize that I’m not pushing any beliefs.  All I want to do is show two systems and how they compare to each other.

So, my only goal is to tell a story.  There’s a little blurb in the back of the first issue where I say that this isn’t a “two party political book.”  I don’t care who you voted for in the last election.  That stuff is boring to me.  I’m only trying to tell a cool story.

I’m really excited about the book being out and for the opportunity to finally work in comics.  I hope that my enthusiasm comes out in the work.  But other than that I’m really appreciative of Image publishing the book and giving me a shot, because what I’ve learned so far about the industry – those people who are self publishing, I have no idea how they do it.




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