First off - a quick apology! I was out most of last week with a nasty virus (thankfully not COVID). I'll spare you the details, but that's why you didn't see an email update. This week you'll not only get this news roundup and feature, but we'll also have some The Awakened pages for our paid subscribers. So, if you've been on the fence - sign up now! It's only a few bucks a month and you get a ton of cool content.
Now, before I pass the mic to Dean, I want to give you a little insight into why Dean is the perfect artist for this gig. Not only does his style blend the dynamic vibe one needs for a superhero comic, but he has a stark, noir vibe that felt so essential to a story that, at its heart, is a murder mystery. Michael, Chantelle, and I talked about a lot of different people to fill this key role - but once we saw Dean's samples, we knew he was our artist. Thankfully, he was into it, too. Here's the image that really cemented to me, at least, that Dean would be perfect for The Awakened - it's a pinup of Archie superhero, The Shield, from Dean's Insta:
The reason I love the pinup is because it shows a love for classic superheroes - which is at the core of The Awakened - but it also adds a bit of grit and dirt and mystery, too. That's what our book is about - exploring what being a hero means through a realistic lens while still showing our love for the genre. I hope we're keeping you entertained so far!
Anyway, on to Dean!
What's the most difficult genre of comics to draw? Is it Romance or Slice of Life with their countless sedentary scenes and motionless talking heads? Maybe Historical or Pulp Fiction that requires exhaustive (and exhausting) reference? Or, is it Science Fiction with all its tedious technical gadgets, spaceships, and backgrounds?
Nope, none of those. There's a genre that combines all of the above drawing challenges while adding even more things to worry about. A genre that requires characters be both beautiful and dynamic. Action that needs to be explosive and kinetic. That theoretically impossible elements need to LOOK probable. And, all the while, the artist has to draw everything in a setting that resembles our everyday world. Or, as Stan Lee would say, “the world outside your window.”
Yep, the hardest genre to draw is Superheroes.
And Superhero TEAM books? They're even trickier.
Lets take a look at some of my rough sketches and the evolution of a single page from The Awakened #1.
Here's Alex and Mike's script for Page 12:
PAGE 12: ( 5 panels)
Panel 1: CUT TO: This is an Alex Ross-style splash or anchor shot, as we see The Freedom Alliance in action. They’re (FUERZA, MADAM FRIGHT, RAGE, and SWIFT - with LANA looking on from the safety of a helipad-type ship, something fancy that doesn’t just look like a helicopter, basically) closing in on a large ship docked just outside of DC, the area is not crowded - but a group of homegrown militia men are trying to hijack a ship loaded with high-grade military weaponry. You might want to include some Army men, but they’re clearly outmatched by the militia members. The men battling the Freedom Alliance are human, but they’re soldiers and they know how to fight and shoot, so they’re keeping the heroes on their toes. This should very much be an easy win for the team, but from this panel (might be cool to do an overhead shot, definitely zoomed out to give the scope of what’s happening) we get the sense that the Freedom Alliance are in over their heads. In terms of placement, I’d put RAGE in the thick of it, MADAM FRIGHT around the periphery casting some kind of spell, SWIFT zipping around trying to disable the men and FUERZA hoisting up a pair of gun-toting militia men, almost as if she were posing for the press.
JIM, for the LANA captions, they should resemble a memo/report she’s filing to Ted.
Post-Encounter Report - Lana Cortez, Director of Operations to Ted Riley, Paragon, Freedom Alliance Field Leader
Intel alerted us to a homegrown militia group trying to hijack some high-grade weapons from a military ship. Simple stop and detain.
Simple if you’re capable and listening.
The Freedom Alliance doesn’t seem to be either.
MAIN MILITIA MAN: We ain’t goin’ down that easy, you government drones!
MAIN MILITIA MAN (cont): The Pledge Preservers don’t fold!
Panel 2: Over the shoulder shot of Lana, looking on from her ship. She’s relaying orders to the team - and not everyone is listening all that well.
My first problem, as usual, is Rage. You know his background, Ted - Ex-football star. Super-strong farmboy from the Midwest. Even stronger when he’s pissed off.
But that poses its own problems.
Rage, just take them down! Quick and easy. Stop...savoring it.
Panel 3: Close on RAGE, yanking a gun out of a militia man’s hands. He’s enjoying himself. He loves brawling. But he doesn’t exactly agree with his own team’s tactics. Doesn’t particularly like having this lady in his head.
RAGE (to LANA):
Get outta my head, Cortez.
Bad enough I have to scrum with these guys who’re just fighting for their freedoms.
LANA (from headset):
I said pull back, Rage.
Panel 4: RAGE cuts loose, slamming the militia man he was brawling with through a wall or glass. It should be clear that this could easily kill the human, but RAGE doesn’t seem to care. It should look brutal.
SFX (Rage slamming militia man): KRSSH!
Pull back? Not in my playbook, lady.
And your whiny boyfriend ain’t here to tell me otherwise.
Panel 5: Reaction shot as LANA looks on, the camera on her shocked face.
RAGE (via Lana’s headset)
Put that in your post-mortem, Cortez.
There's A LOT going on in this page. A lot of action and a lot of balloons and captions to fit in. My first step is figuring out where everything goes. I usually do layouts at print size (7”x10”) on a piece of 11”x17” tabloid copy paper. Two pages per sheet.
Here's my first rough sketch. Mostly scribbles. Trying to figure out panel layout, which direction the action is moving, and where dialogue and captions will go. How close to move the “camera” and some basic light sources.
I throw another piece of copy paper on top, turn on my lightbox, and tighten things up some.
The scene is in a Navy shipyard, so I'll need to start researching some ship and crane reference when I move on to pencils. At this stage I'm mostly struggling to fit the action in panel one in a clear, dynamic way. Crowd scenes are always tough, especially when multiple points of interest are required. Some of the characters are going to be pretty tiny. In this case, I definitely need to make sure the main bad guy stands out (he's got prominent dialogue) and Lana's helicopter needs to be obvious (she's narrating).
Shipyards are pretty flat places except for the cranes. With only one of our characters flying (Fright), everything is all on the same, low level. Not very exciting. We need to be somewhat in the action but still far enough back to clearly see the setting (the ships, cranes, and containers) and have room for the characters to use their powers.
I use Clip Studio to paste in temporary balloons and caption boxes to double check the page design/balance and reading flow. This is probably the most important step. Comics are WORDS and PICTURES. Neither one should crowd out the other. I send the roughs to Brian (Cunningham, editor), Alex, and Mike for approval.
I take that print size rough and blow it up to 10.5” x 15”, throw it on my lightbox, and start on the pencils. I draw on Strathmore 300 smooth bristol (from those handy “sequential” pads already cut down to 11”x17”) and draw with various mechanical pencils (.3mm and .5mm) loaded with a harder lead: H or 2H.
When finished, the pencils are sent to the team to make sure everything looks ok. After that, with all the thinking work done, inking is usually the fun stage.
But, not this time. While I'm inking it, I'm feeling more and more unhappy with Panel One. It looks FLAT and not very dynamic. The figures are all too similar in size and some of the main characters are WAY too tiny. This is our first shot of the team in action. It needs way more OOMPH.
I know I can't move the camera much closer and fit everything in. Maybe if I rearrange some of the elements? What if I put the main bad guy on top of a shipping crate so we have more levels? I take out a piece of tabloid copy paper and sketch the page again.
Much better. I tighten it up in a penciling stage and then ink away. For inking I use Tombow fudenosuke brush pens, various size Sakura Microns, and a Pentel Pocket Brush that I refill with Rapidograph Ultradraw ink (the ink in the Pocket Brush refill cartridges is lousy).
Finally, the inks are done. Still not perfect, but I can live with it. The finished page is sent off to Jim (Campbell) for lettering and Jason (Wordie) for colors.
Moving on to the next page, I'm left scratching my head. How do wizards like George Perez and Stuart Immonen make drawing a superhero team book look SO darn easy?
I dunno, Dean! You made that look pretty darn easy yourself! Thanks for coming by and sharing that. So cool to see.
Before I sign off, here's some news you can use!
Secret Identity got a lot of nice love, even as I was shaking off that fever! Daneet Steffens at The Boston Globe included my comic book noir novel in the Globe's Best Summer Reads roundup, alongside some amazing books! Here's what they had to say:
The folks at Goodreads also included Secret Identity in this list of timely historical mysteries, which was nice to see!
In comics news, I was really excited to finally talk about The Black Ghost Season 2, which is launching digitally from ComiXology on 8/30 (preorder here!) and in print from Dark Horse Comics early next year. We've been sitting on this for a bit, and I can't wait for everyone to read Lara's new adventures by the same team that brought you Season One. Here's the cover to the trade/graphic novel collection:
Last week also saw the release of Star Wars: Stories of the Jedi & Sith, featuring stories from both Michael and me, and some other amazing writers. You can order your copy here. I had a blast writing a Qui-Gon Jinn story that I hope you also dig! Check out the stunning main cover by the talented Jake Bartok, who also did interior illustrations for each story:
On the interviews front, I had a fun time chatting about the Moon Knight Disney+ series with the Scary Stuff Podcast. Great bunch of guys. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts.
Michael and I also sat down with Sergio Pereira at CBR.com to discuss The Awakened and why we decided to go with Zestworld as our digital home. Speaking of Michael - today's your last chance to let your comic shop retailer know you want a copy of the Barbaric one-shot, The Harvest Blades! Get on that!
And I got back on my feet just in time to do some awesome events:
I've got a few fun events this week - on Wednesday, I'll be on a great panel at Boston's Belmont Books (virtually). Look at that lineup! You can register here!
The next night, I'll be in conversation with one of my favorite writers ever/good friend, Ed Brubaker. We'll be talking about his latest Reckless graphic novel, The Ghost In You, with Sean Phillips on art and Jacob Phillips on colors, and my own Secret Identity. These books are pure candy for crime fiction fans, especially if you love PI series in the mold of Pat and Angie or Tess Monaghan. We'll be talking virtually at Vroman's in Cali - register here. Check out this lovely Secret Identity display at the Pasadena store in advance of the conversation! ALSO! When you buy a book from Vroman's please use the promo code TEAMEVIE, to ensure that a portion of your purchase goes toward helping the Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation. Click on the link to learn more about this important cause.
That's all for now! Keep your eyes peeled on your inboxes on Wednesday for another dose of The Awakened as we close out issue 1! If you're not a paid subscriber, please consider joining us so you don't miss out.