A great comic series is as much a product of the breathtaking artwork as it a product of stellar writing. When the two blend together into a seamless story, the story carries much more weight than if only one factor carried the series. Fans of Lazarus know that the partnership between Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have created something special. Lark was able to give some insight into the artistic storytelling of Lazarus, particularly the seventh issue of the series. Check back next week for the second half of this interview.
David: I wanted to start by talking about the cover. I love the cover – I’ve loved all the covers so far – but this one seems a little different to the ones that have come before. Previously we’ve seen characters highlighted in dynamic poses – here we see dead shadowed trees, figures in silhouette, the only colours in the grey endless road and the blood. It’s the least “personal” cover in a lot of ways. It’s kind of artistically ominous. Is this deliberately different from the covers that have come before?
Michael: Well, y’know, some of the things that you mentioned were definitely intentional, like the ominousness of it. You said “impersonal”, mentioned the silhouettes. I have to do these covers well in advance, long before I’ve read the issue. I had not even gotten the script for Issue #5 yet, when I had to do this cover, so I had no idea who these people were.
Robert: Oh, wow.
Michael: So this cover kind of created the characters in a lot of ways. There’s a few subtle differences to what I ended up doing, but I’m just sitting here looking at it now, and I think in a lot of ways I guess I got it. I mean, I didn’t know where the location was going to be, but it works. This was actually the easiest cover of the series so far. When Greg described it to me I immediately knew what I wanted to do, so it was then just a matter of finding out who these people were so I could get the attitudes and everything right in the silhouettes. If I could do everything in silhouette I would! I like it, y’know. It’s nice – I wish I was Alex Toth and could get away with doing it more often. I was really proud of how much the image conveyed. The minute I did the first sketch, it looks pretty much like this cover does, except not in colour. In as far as being different from the other covers, that’s interesting for me, because I feel like I’m really learning how to do these. I’ve never really done covers before, except for Gotham Central, I’ve never done it on a long running. Gotham Central was really hard to do covers for, because it didn’t have a lot of those sort of “iconic” images. This one, thankfully, I think has more, but I still feel like I’m getting the handle on what the visual approach is and Greg just recently pointed out to me that my art, and the covers that I like and that we both feel succeed are almost documentarian. He used that to describe my art in general, said: “you’re like a documentary photographer” or something. And it’s true! I do struggle to do the kind of dynamic, iconic imagery that a lot of comic artists, particularly a lot of cover artists do. It’s really hard! So Greg said “try and think of it more like a Newsweek cover or something.”
David: I think those sort of iconic covers possibly would even have a negative effect with Lazarus in that you already have a kind of “bionic superwoman”, and if you lean too heavily into that, it might undercut the power of what your art does – which is humanise all the characters in the story, and the environment itself.
Michael: <laughs> Well, I’m learning! And it’s nice to get good feedback, to hear what’s working with my stuff. I’ve never found it very helpful to be told what’s not working. I’ll pick out all the stuff that’s not working myself. I’ll pick out a hundred times as many things than anybody else will, but when somebody gives me feedback about something and I can see that it works it definitely helps me. I’ve done one and a half covers under this overall understanding. The first one was really easy, but the second one I’m kind of having struggles with. We’ll see how that goes. But this one is one I’m really proud of. I’m not a painter, I’m not a colourist. I’m just using filters and stuff and manipulating patterns for the background.
Robert: How much of the reflection on the road is you, versus stuff that Santi’s done with the colouring.
Michael: Oh, I coloured this cover.
Robert: Oh, right! Sorry! I had no idea.
Michael: The reflection the road is digital. It’s me, it’s just photoshop tricks.
Robert: I love that the puddle on the far left breaks the completeness of the reflected silhouettes beneath – I wouldn’t have thought necessarily to do that in illustration, but when you talk in terms of photojournalism, those little breaks really create the sense of it being a photograph, the feeling of being a Time cover or a Newsweek cover.
Michael: Yeah, I guess! I mean, I was just having some fun – just black and white art, and then I flip it upside down, and just playing with different layers and different colouring.
Robert: I think it’s something that looks more like magic to people like us, who can’t draw. The thing about photojournalism and photorealism – and we’ll come back to this later on – I was looking at the abandoned gas station where they camp overnight, and the reality of it blew my mind. Was that taken from a strict photoreference, or did you just kind of freehand that in?
Michael: Okay, we can move ahead –
Robert: Oh, maybe you’re right, we can come to it in due time –
Michael: No, let’s immediately digress! This is great!
David: Jumping to the middle.
Michael: Great. Well, I reference everything I do, and I have for a long time. As time goes on I find more tools and techniques to incorporate into that, and my favourite has been Google Sketch-Up. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it –
David and Robert: Nope.
Michael: — it’s freeware. It’s 3D software. It’s really good for building buildings and things like that, which are basically triangles and squares. There are some people though, who have pushed it really hard. Pushed the boundaries of what you can do with it. What I used to do was scour first the library and then the internet for any kind of imagery that I could find that I could use for reference, but now, using my computer, I can just build it. So, for example, the squad room in Gotham Central, I had an overhead schematic of that room, and then I did drawings from each major perspective in the room just to have them for reference, so I can see where everything was in that room. It was all done by hand though – the entire thing done on flat sheets of paper! The whole time I was doing that I was thinking “God, I wish I could just build this room in my computer, build it from any angle I wanted to”, and now, lo and behold, I can do that!
Michael: So the thing with the gas station, I find photographs online, and I think that I like the roof on a particular one, and the way the bay looks on another one, and so on. Then I kind of make some sketches and notes and then just build it in Sketch-Up! Either I build it, or I get someone I pay to build it for me based on my sketches. Then I can just kind of move around in the space. As soon as Greg told me what this location was going to be, I could immediately see it in my head. It just became a matter of getting it down. I know that, for me, if I have to draw a place like that over and over and over again, I struggle to keep it accurate. And I want it to be accurate! I struggle to do that, and this is just a great way to do it. I have digital pencils made from my models that I can ink from. It’s great.
David: Have you done that for every major location?
Michael: Every major location, absolutely. Going through this issue, yeah, the first page, I did models for four out of the five panels on there. Things are mixed and matched really easily – I had cafeteria tables already, and the windows are the same in that room and the gym (which is fine, they’re the same building) – but because I had all that stuff that model took all of thirty seconds to put together. The shooting gallery model was really easy, there were targets I could find, otherwise using a bunch of rectangles, easy. The gun table was really hard, because I had to find reference for all the different parts on the guns.
Robert: We’ve got gun related questions later, which is an interesting foreshadow. But speaking of putting these details together, is Sketch-Up a relatively new technology?
Michael: Oh, I’ve been using it since I was doing Daredevil, so a while now.
Robert: Oh, forever! Well, not forever, obviously, but a long time. So – and I should preface this by saying that Gotham Central is one of my favourite books of all time, I pretty much think Soft Targets is the ideal Joker story, I don’t think it’s ever been beaten –
David: –yeah, we should be careful here or we could spend three hours just on the minutiae of that story alone –
Robert: — I was a little nonplussed when you said “I don’t know how to do iconic covers” because the Joker mugshot cover from that issue is pretty iconic to me.
Michael: <laughs> You know, the Joker mugshot cover was Mark Chiarello’s idea, he just mentioned it to me offhandedly and I just – it was easy all of a sudden – the idea flies at you really quickly. It’s funny, Robert Plant, talking about Led Zeppelin, said that some of Jimmy’s songs he would spend weeks on, and others would come out in one ten minute session. And the ones like that, the really strong ones, they just come out like <clicks his fingers> that!
Robert: A moment of epiphany.
Robert: Looking at page one and two, we sort of have a repeating motif like bars or cages – the black vertical lines of the sparse trees; black vertical lines in the windows behind the cafeteria; grout lines depicted in the floor from an angle where they’re behind the characters, looking vertical again; long black lines going into the background of the shooting gallery – creating to my mind that sense of restriction, of imprisonment. At the same time, with the mountains behind the window, the sky above the trees, it creates this effect of Eve’s isolation: she’s stuck here, her Dad’s not turning up, Marisol is her only connection in the world. It speaks to that sense of restriction and that sense of isolation. There’s a lot of attention given to technical points at the edges, too, away from the big panoramas, the intricacy of the guns on the table, the activity of the medical equipment. Is that intentional in conveying that isolation?
Michael: I’m definitely trying to convey a sense of isolation. I don’t know if I’m doing it in exactly the way you’re describing. Some of it yes, some of it no. Like the details that you’re talking about, that’s just me being me. In as far as the stuff about the bars, that’s kinda cool, but I tend to think more in terms of how I move the eye around the page rather than trying to convey an overall sense, or emotions via the way I design a panel. Other than, absolutely, yes, the isolation is intentional. But how I convey that, okay, look at the first page. It’s not something I do consciously so much, as much as it is that I look at it later and notice it, as you look across the first panel, you run into the treadmill and that kind of points down to Marisol and Forever running along their path, and that goes on to Marisol and Eve reading their books. Forever’s eyes in panel three follow the grout lines, and they move to Marisol and Forever below, and that points to their guns, which leads you back to the characters shooting below that in the last panel.
Robert: Space and sequence before symbolism then, if I’m following you correctly.
Michael: Yeah, there’s not really visual symbolism in anything I do, intentionally. Greg may ask me to draw something in a certain way, and he may have something in mind that I didn’t even know about. That happens a lot. He’s way smarter than I am.
Robert: Oh, well, let’s not draw comparisons. I mean, he’s a really sharp guy. You spend ten minutes talking to Greg and you can just tell.
Michael: It’s like talking to the internet. <laughter>
Robert: Can I ask a bit about the process? I find it flabbergasting that you do the covers months in advance.
Michael: Well, we have to! Previews come out about three months before, so we have to get them in before that. It’s very advanced, I’m doing the covers for #11 this weekend.
Robert: That’s completely logical, and when you say it, my brain tells me that of course it’s true, but looking at the cover in terms of the issue, I almost wanted to ask you if you did the cover last, because it conveys the emotions that are contained within the issue.
Michael: Oh, I wish I could. I wish I could do the covers last.
Robert: How do you start then? Do you start with page one, panel one and work through sequentially? Do you start with the big scenes?
Michael: I tend to start with one of two things. I either start with either the scene that requires the least amount of new characters or new locations, anything like that, so I can ease my way into it, get comfortable, get my groove back. There’s usually a week between issues where I don’t get a whole lot done, where I’ve got to take care of the stuff I neglected whilst I was meeting my deadline, gotta do the covers, things like that. There’s a lot of time spent gathering what I need for the issue in terms of reference material, too. I’ve got two assistants who help me out, one is the model guy who helps me build the models, and then I have another assistant who helps me with all the little production things that have to be done. Like, when Greg sends his scripts to me, he works in a slightly different format to my preferred format. I prefer to work in a format by which each page of script is a page of comic, so I work from a script that is 22 pages long. I keep the page so I can do sketches and lay it out. I’ve got the script on one side, and my sketches on the other. I have an assistant who does that for me, gets it set up, copy-pastes our lettering. So I start with that stuff in that week and then it’s a matter of what jumps out. It’s usually the scene with the smallest amount of reinventing the wheel. Just this first page, I love this first page! I love the locations, the little story it tells, but I need to have something to work from. I don’t just make it up out of my head, I don’t know how people do that. They must have incredible visual memories. I need to see something to be able to draw it. Then it starts out pretty slow and picks up pace as it goes along. By the last week I’m doing a third of the book, but it all comes together.
Robert: It’s just an escalating process.
Michael: I was once lucky enough to sit next to Walt Simonson at a convention. Nicest guy you’ll ever want to meet. He was fantastic, but one time, I had just started working on Gotham Central and I was going through my routine to him. He’d been doing monthlies for years! And I asked him how he did it, and he laughed. I thought that was how everybody did it!
David: Time in this book is very much controlled by the art. We’re never given years or a timestamp on everything. Even the decade, the age of the characters, it comes from visual cues in the art. It obviously forces you to pay a lot of attention to how you age – or don’t age – your characters.
Michael: Yeah, this is the first time I’ve ever had to do that, and I love it. I love drawing young Forever. She’s a little badass! She’s cool. Greg has created such a great character in Forever. She’s such a joy to draw. Everything she does I just love drawing her. I like drawing her when she’s a kid. I like drawing her when she’s mad and she’s kicking ass. I like drawing her when she’s feeling her when she’s isolated and alone. I’m just in love with her. I love that we get to see her growing up. I love it. I draw the young Forever stuff whenever I can. We had to draw a bookplate for the Forbidden Planet limited edition of the second trade, and I did little Forever – because I could. I think little Forever gets…wow…I don’t think adult Forever gets a cover in this story arc. She doesn’t.
Robert: We obviously spend a lot of time with her. I haven’t done a proper accounting or anything but we’ve spent a great deal of time with her, particularly compared to the other minor characters. We’ve spent more page time with her than a bunch of Carlyles, certainly. I mean, this is not an objection —
Michael: Oh, no, of course not. But just explaining, I mean, it is her story. She’s starting out on a journey and we need to see how she came to set out on this journey.
Robert: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. We spent some time on a previous write-up talking about how we’re seeing, with Lift, the start of Forever moving out of her status quo, out of the accepted facts she’d come to understand about the world around her, and about the stuff that had been indoctrinated in her and I think there’s a very distinct and real value spending some time showing and showcasing what is explicitly that conditioning. The kind of thing that drives that conflict between who she’s been told she is and who she’s starting to suspect she might be.
Michael: Yeah. <pause> Yeah.
Robert: That wasn’t a very good question, I guess. More of a statement.
Michael: <laughs> An observation. Well, Greg’s my favourite writer. This is really good stuff. I’m so lucky to be working on it and we’re both so proud of what we’re doing on it. I love this stuff. I love seeing her as a kid – right now, for this story arc, I feel like I’m working on three different stories, running side-by-side. I’ve got the Barrets story, I’ve got Forever as an adult and I’ve got the young Forever story. Young Forever may be my favourite of the three right now.
David: Certainly one of my favourites.
Michael: You asked about the process before, and I’ve certainly found that I do each of the three stories by themselves, even if the three stories are broken up. I’m working on the adult Forever story in the issue I’m working on right now, and I’ll finish that up before I move on to the young Forever stuff, and then I’m going to do the Barrets. And that tends to be the order they go in.
David: I noticed though that there are visual links between them. Say, Page One and Page Ten in this issue have very strong structural as well as thematic similarities. Both are a set of long panels showing events over time, almost like a montage scene.
Michael: Whenever I get a montage like that, when Greg asks me to do something like that, for me…I tend to start with four rows on pretty much all of my pages. I like those horizontal panels and if I start having to break the pages up, into more than just the four rows, one of these panels would be halved, and have to my mind half the weight. So, that’s why I do a montage like this, I don’t want any of the images to carry more or less weight than any of the others. It’s more of a similarity of necessity than me trying to say “hey, this is the same thing happening here!” Again, you’re not going to see much of that metaphor or symbolic linking in my side of the work.
David: This isn’t so much a question as to metaphor so much as structure. In both cases they’re the first page of that section of the narrative this time around.
Michael: Oh, are they? Huh, you’re right, I hadn’t even thought about that! Adult Forever doesn’t get that, we’re just straight off. We go straight from that heartbreaking panel of the young Forever into her story. The scenes really are like units, I work on the entire scene at one time. I do say “I’ll do page 5, I’ll do page 6”, but I have them all in my head before I ever put them together.
David: (Still) on that first scene then – I really like Marisol, but it’s interesting, you’ve never once shown her smiling or laughing. You exclusive give her a pallette of very sad expressions.
Michael: Do I? Yeah, again, you’re right. Well, Marisol has…do either of you have kids?
Michael: For all intents and purposes this is her child. She’s been handed this child to raise. And her skill is a fighter. You’re going to see more later of the Daggers. I don’t know how much Greg has spoken to you about the Dagger Squad —
Robert: –we spent a little time on the Dagger Squad during our interview with him.
Michael: If you look at her, you can see it best on the last page of the scene–
Robert: — the insignia patch, on the chest.
Michael: Right! So Marisol was one of the Daggers, and she’s not necessarily this mother figure. She’s in a very tough place. This scene to me is as much about Marisol as it is about Forever, maybe moreso. You talked before about the sense of isolation. If you go back to Page One though, Forever does have somebody with her all the time. It’s just about how connected they are. You’ll see that the two people who are always with her are Marisol and James. These two people have basically been given this child to raise. It’s a really heartbreaking scene to me, because Marisol has to raise this child and then as part of training her has to inflict pain on her.
Robert: Let’s get into that then, because what I wanted to spend some time on in terms of this specific section of the story is that last page, the fifth panel. Marisol’s face, as she just says “Yes.” Now, in the context of answering that question about whether or not she’d kill Forever, does she mean that? Is she lying to Forever to ensure she does what she’s supposed to do? Does she even know herself?
Michael: I can’t say one way or the other. I know the answer to that question, but I don’t know if I should give it away. The ambiguity is a big part of it.
Robert: Oh, we’re not trying to hold your feet over the fire for a definite answer. It was more a question of whether or not you were conscious of the answer (which you clearly are) and if so, if you were trying to maintain that ambiguity for us, or subtly convey the answer as you knew it. Whether you had directions in the script about whether or not she means that, or whether you’re extemporising that from your knowledge of the character.
Michael: Oh, I’m being intentionally reserved. She’s not being ambiguous, I suppose, as much as she is cold as ice in that shot. I almost feel like she’s void of emotion as she says that.
Robert: See, that really surprises me. I’m not trying to contradict you obviously, and her face is certainly stony, but you do her eyes in a way that’s so sad to me.
Michael: Oh, yeah. Well, whether she’s lying to her or telling her the truth, either way is sad.
Robert: It’s horrible either way! <laughs> The other reason I ask about that is that it really strongly feels like there’s a pause between Eve asking the question and Marisol answering, without relying on some of the more obvious tricks used to convey time delay, like an identical panel without speech interposed between the two.
Michael: There’s soooooo many ways you can manipulate time as a comics artist though. There’s three reasons you feel that pause which were all intentional. One is that there is a row break there, you end the second row and go to the third row. The second is that Forever’s balloon is on the top left corner, Marisol’s balloon is on the bottom right. Third, it’s so small. It’s just that little tiny “yeah” isolated against the background. You can play around with time so much. Everyone who draws comics should read Will Eisner’s Sequential Storytelling where he talks about that. A comic panel isn’t a single isolated moment in time. A comic panel can be as long or short a moment in time as I wanted it to be, and part of my job is to learn how to control that as much as I can. If I had put those panels side by side and flipped them, you wouldn’t have any sense of time at all.
Robert: I’m being a very bad interviewer here, because I’m just pausing and digesting the process insights.
Michael: You’ve got to remember that a lot of it is subconscious. I drew this page and the page before on the same day. I’m going really quickly, and I’m not stopping to think about it so much as just hoping I get something across. And sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. When we get to some of the later parts of the book, I’ll be able to point out some of the places where I think I majorly failed I believe. I just happened not to drop the ball this time.<laughs>
David: Let’s leave this scene then by talking about the transition. Obviously the big thing that links these scenes is the image of a girl, huddled in a ball, looking scared and victimised. One being Eve and one being Emma. How much did you work on deliberately matching their poses?
Michael: Well, they’re not exactly matching, they’re close, but yes. I believe Greg even said in the script that we don’t know what Forever’s thinking about but she may well be thinking of the scenes before, given what’s going on with Emma now.
David: How much do you see the young Forever stuff taking place in the Eve of today’s head, as memories or flashbacks as opposed to the omniscient audience look into the past?
Michael: This is the only time that I’m aware of that there was something delineated about that. If there were other times they probably weren’t intentional. I know, in the last issue, she couldn’t have been dreaming about stuff she didn’t witness between Mann and Marisol, which at least seem to me to be more omniscient. In this case I think you can go either way.
David: The theory we were pushing in the last write up was that they were kind of “parallel”. They weren’t exactly memories but they give us viewers to the sorts of things Eve’s thinking about broadly.
Michael: Definitely that.
Robert: Can I talk about colour, briefly? I appreciate it’s not entirely under your purview, but I’m interested in your take on it as a visual storyteller. There seemed to us to be a divide between these very red panels and very blue panels – so you get a panel that’s mainly red, then mainly blue, and so on and so on. I don’t just mean in the sense that they contrast so well – they talk about the teal and orange blend to make things pop in terms of movies, I know – but do you think there’s something more in terms of a visual cue intending to give a sense of back and forth.
Michael: That’s more Santi than me. The reds on this were not what I expected, but I love ’em. And the contrast he’s created there is very distinct, but I don’t know if it was supposed to signify anything.
Robert: So the colours aren’t scripted in any respect?
Michael: If you go to the next page, Greg did say “it’s a barren, cold room” and we knew its not where you wanted to spend any length of time. It’s very Carlyle: cold, sterile.
David: Could be uglier, but not bleaker.
Michael: Exactly. The colour is often a joint decision between me and Santi, I’ll sometimes tell him the kind of palette I want if I have something in mind, particularly if I find a photo that has inspired me, I’ll send it to him and tell him it’s kind of how I want the palette to be for the scene. The big orange desert/purple sky fight scene from Issue 4, I sent Santi a photo and said how much I loved the colours. I wasn’t expecting such a vivid purple to come back, but it was perfect.
David: Are you the one with the thing about purple skies and fight scenes?
Michael: <laughs> No, I didn’t know that the fight scene in this issue was going to be under a similar purple sky.
David: See, we noticed the red and the blue as a pattern like two sides, and then the purple appearing when two sides came into conflict.
Robert: Let’s come back to it when we get to the fight. Forever in the doorway, when she’s coming into interrogate Emma…let me pick my words carefully here: Forever is drawn very realistically, and very differently compared to many comic book characters, particularly female comic book characters. Looking at things like her shoulders, how she’s posed, and the like. Here, though, you’ve chosen to site her at the back of the frame, obscuring her features. She comes across as, if not inhuman, at least strongly authoritarian. Is that deliberate?
Michael: Yeah. <pause>
Robert: <laughs> Well, that was easy.
Michael:<laughs> In the second panel I wanted to focus on Emma for a second, get her reaction. She doesn’t want to be here, she’s got her back up. She’s scared, but she’s also willing to fight, not unlike little Forever. I wanted to have that kind of impersonal frame – she has the gun and she’s huge, and Emma’s in trouble. You’re in trouble little girl!
Robert: That’s exactly it, though. From the amount of time we’ve spent with her and everything we know about her life we’re very sympathetic to Eve, but this is one of those things where you can very much see her as the bad guy. In this scene you’ve got Emma, and she’s kind of huddled down and she’s starving and she’s got these big eyes – she’s angry and she’s upset, but there’s the real sense of worry in her eyes. And you’ve got Eve, who’s big and powerful and in control. Is it fair to say that there’s an attempt to skew a certain degree of sympathy away from Eve, for whom we’re used to having it, towards Emma?
Michael: As an artist and working on her I never felt unsympathetic to Eve, so I don’t know if I could convey that if I wasn’t feeling it myself. Especially because what I like about this scene, at the end of the scene, who is in control here? Emma’s moment at the end, after Forever has told her that the Carlyles know she’s got something to make a bomb. She’s kind of leaning into her in that panel there, and insisting that Emma’s going to tell her…and there’s this moment of transformation in Emma and you just realise that while we’re going to sympathise with Eve, the subjects of the Carlyles are not in a good way. They have every reason to be pissed off and every reason to be pissed off at Forever.
Robert: That, I think was what I was trying to drive at: that this feels much more like a hero moment for Emma, that the interrogation was a bad thing, that she was being driven to extremes by extreme circumstances in resisting. As opposed to that kind of 24/CSI, technocratic vibe of “breaking criminals who deserve it to protect the public trust, through advanced techniques” which can often be included in scenes where the protagonist is the interrogator rather than the prisoner. I mean, that’s not the politics of the book at all, but obviously there’s a set of techniques that are used to put Eve in the driver’s seat most of the time, and a set that take her out of that role, that let us step outside her perspective and see her differently. Emma’s a victim resisting a very dictatorial state.
Michael: Greg and I talked about this. It’s funny – you guys have heard the story that when Greg sent the first draft of the first script of the first story, I hated it. I was like “Greg, I hate these people!” There was a lot of Jonah and Johanna in it, the whole first scene in Issue 1 wasn’t there. I said “I hate these people. I loathe them! Why would I want to come back for another issue of these people? They seem vile and…evil!” Even Hitler, evil as he was, thought he had his reasons for doing what he was doing, and that’s true for the Carlyles. They’re not trying to abuse the Waste, they for some reason think that what they’re doing is right. So, I think there’s sympathy for all the characters here. That’s one of Greg’s strengths – these people are very three dimensional individuals, and they’re complicated. I don’t think you can point the finger at any body in this book as just being a bad guy. Maybe the dudes later on in the issue, but certainly nobody here. These people are both struggling with things, and by the time we get to the end of our time with Emma in this issue she goes right back to being a victim voluntarily. She has her moment here where she thinks she’s going to be a hero and she stands up, and she means it – but there are things that sometimes we can’t resist. I think it’s a really complicated set of interactions and it’s a pleasure as an artist to draw that.
David: We’ll come back to this a bit when we catch up to the final scene of Emma, because it’s sparked a lot to think about, but the book itself transitions from the end of the interrogation to the montage of travel that brings us back to the Barrets. Bobbie Barret looking particularly bad-ass in that very post-apocalyptic The Road kind of way.
Michael: I’m a fan of Casey with her Clint Eastwood poncho!
Robert: And Man With No Name hat!
Michael: We’ll have to talk about Casey in a minute.
David: One of the things I like about this sequence is that we go from the very clean white interrogation room, this kind of featureless faceless location, to something very dirty and lived in that’s all dust and dirt and broken down and rusty. Very organic. A visual shift from something resembling a dystopian autocracy to a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Michael: For me, the stuff with the Waste definitely feels much more organic. I like the coldness of the Carlyle stuff. Even their lived in spaces are kind of cold. Whereas this page – I really love this page – this page did a really good job of establishing what the world outside the Carlyle circle looks like. I like that Greg gave me a little town to draw. I like the moment where they’re stopped by the guards. I like the little story on the page. I felt like the characters were so small on it, but Santi’s so great at colouring, he made all the characters stand out.
Robert: We know you’re down in Texas, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been down here to Australia —
Michael: No, I have not.
Robert: Well, I’ve never been to Wyoming–
Michael: Neither have I!
Robert: –but the scenes that you’re drawing in terms of big, wide open country, are very familiar. As in, you can drive down the country highways in Australia and you can go through these little towns very like the one you drew here, perhaps only slightly less ruined.
Michael: Wow. Ow.
Robert: No, it’s true. There are these little ghost towns. We’ve got some major problems here related to drought, and that has meant some smaller farming communities have needed to shut up shop, so there are little abandoned towns like this.
David: They’re not so run-down necessarily, but they are boarded up and you do see abandoned cars along the highway. I think it’s something you’ve managed to capture very authentically.
Robert: The service station, which we talked about the photorealism of, struck me so heavily because I lived out in the country for about a year and there was, immediately off the highway, an abandoned gas station that looked exactly like that. <laughs> So it freaked me out a bit. Dallas is obviously a big city, but are images like this stuff taken from life and things you kind of move through? Are you out there with an easel doing landscapes?
Michael: I think there was a time when for artists that was the only way they could get visual information, to go out and see as many places as possible, but now we’ve got the internet, and movies and TV. To me this is the modern equivalent of the opening scene in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The killers are coming to kill Tuco, and you can hear the wind rattling through the town. You can imagine the wind rattling the sign on that gas station too. And, yeah, I live in Texas, and Dallas is a big city, but you only need to drive a little way out of town and it looks a lot like this. Except for the mountains. In fact, the last panel on that page, where Casey and Michael are holding hands, that could be the highway between here and Austin very easily.
Robert: Can I ask about clothing design and costuming? You were talking about Casey’s having that poncho and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the clothing design trends towards the very intricate, the very lived in. It’s much less stripped down to iconic essentials than you often see in comics.
Michael: That’s true. The reason you so often see things stripped down in the medium is when you create a comic book character you create an immediate visual icon that you can use to tell the story. It’s easy and it’s good and it’s the best at what it does. It’s a lot harder with something like this. But as the characters grow and develop they kind of develop their own visual iconography with me like that, so I can start to communicate who they are in little tiny drawings like this. It takes a lot of work, and it’s really hard for me, but once I find something that works with the character I tend to stick with it.
Robert: How do you start that process? Do you a do a bunch of sketches and think “I think this hat would be cool”? Or do you start with the characters and try and choose what they’re likely to wear as themselves?
Michael: It’s funny. When we first started dealing with them I got an email from Greg about Joe Barret, and he said “I want him to look like Viggo Mortensen in The Road”.
Robert: The hair! I was going to bring that up!
Michael: Yeah! And I was going to put him in the puffy coat, but he just had that kind of look to me of a kind of Vietnam army vet, and he ended up wearing the old army jacket. Whereas Casey, we go back to that cover – I wanted to have something that would make her stand out, and Greg was trying to describe the character to me. She was raised on a ranch, and little things about who she was going to be, and it just seemed to me like it’d be this cool little joke to have someone like that in a poncho and cowboy hat like a cool Western thing. But it ended up working really well on that cover to make her silhouette stand out. So it kind of stuck. It works really well if you know who the character’s going to end up becoming, which I do <laughs>, it ends up working perfectly. I don’t know if Greg was kind of leaning into the character design in his writing, or the poncho was a lucky coincidence, but it worked kind of perfectly.
Robert: Well, we’ll come back to this, because there’s something you’ve kind of hinted towards there that we’ll deal with in a little bit.
David: How about outfitting? Everyone’s got their own guns. We were talking about the gun table in the young Forever opening scenes before, and they were quite uniform, but here there seems to be a mix of older weapons and they’re all quite eclectic. How much is that researched, or does someone have an encyclopaedic knowledge of weapons, is it script dictated?
Michael: <laughs> Yeah, that’s Greg and Eric. They’re the gun buffs, police buffs, military buffs of the crew. I don’t want to get too much into this, but I’ll just say there was one weapon that I had one member of the Barret group carrying, and there was a series of phone calls and emails flying back and forth around one o’clock in the morning between Greg and I, where I had picked a particular gun because I thought it looked cool, and Greg came back to me with “no, no, no you can’t do that gun!” We’re currently working on the Dagger squad, and they’re all individual characters even though we haven’t seen any of them with their helmets off except one. There’s a whole history of the unit – Trautmann did this – and it’s crazy, and I have to rely on them to tell me this stuff, because I don’t know. I did the Dagger armour, and Eric was like “why’d you do that?” Because I thought it’d look cool!
Robert: Greg talked to us about that design document for the Daggers Eric did, and apparently he did that over the course of five and a half hours whilst Greg was driving back from hanging out and talking with him.
Michael: Oh, man. That’s funny. Each of the Daggers has like their own little armour design flairs and things like that, and that’s totally Eric’s ball of wax. He loves that stuff. And I love it – but I don’t have time when drawing the book to do it right. So we threw it over to Eric, and he did another document, twenty to thirty pages, dealing with the history of the Daggers. Their kill count, their history with the unit, he’s designed each individual customised helmet, it’s everything. It’s so fun, it’s like getting to play with action figures that Trautmann has designed.
Be sure to check back in next week for the rest of this interview!