Royal Nonesuch concludes his talk with TURF artist Tommy Lee Edwards!
In part 1 of our interview with TURF artist Tommy Lee Edwards, we heard about how the Image limited series came together. In part 2 of our conversation, Edwards talks about his career, his creative process, and his influences.
Note: this interview was conducted before Image announced that TURF #1 had sold out at the distributor level.
Switching gears to you specifically, and your style: I first discovered your work on THE QUESTION limited series with Rick Veitch, and your style was something I had never seen in American comics before. After that I started following your career, and was reading up about you. You draw with a brush, is that correct?
It depends what the project is. THE QUESTION is all pens and nibs and markers, so that was a more line-driven approach to the job. On TURF it's all brush and ink on paper and scanned in and I do the color in Photoshop, then John Workman letters it all by hand on the board too.
I work with John on everything, like THE QUESTION and GEMINI BLOOD, BATMAN stuff, all kinds of stuff for WildStorm and DC and Marvel and everybody. John's lettering is such an integral part of my drawings and layouts and everything, you really can't separate them.
That's what's funny about the more ignorant reviews of books that I'll do, where readers complain about the lettering covering up the artwork, and there's no art there to cover up! [laughs] It's actually there, it's actually part of the art, It's designed to be that way. John letters it before I even draw any finished art at all. He just works from my layouts. I lay the book out, rough in where the balloons go, and give it to him, and he gets to work, and by the time I get the pages back, I've done research and I've figured out what the cars look like, or buildings or anything I need to do, and then I just finish the stuff up. Actually the PRINCE OF PERSIA job, I drew it all on the Cintiq Tablet in Photoshop. It kina depends on the project. When I was the concept artist on the Book of Eli movie for the Hughes Brothers, I started out doing it all in charcoal, and paintings, and over time I was doing more and more drawing on the computer so I could have more and more layers and stuff.
So John letters everything by hand? I didn't know that was still done.
No, it's generally not! I just hate, just despise computer lettering. It just looks so cold and static, especially with my art. Even when it was drawn digitally, it was still drawn by hand, just on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper. Every font looks the same [with computer lettering], it's so cold and lifeless. And unfortunately, that's when we get people not understanding that the art [in my comics] isn't just willy nilly covered up and an afterthought because in most comics, it is. It's just placed in a layer, and it's done really small and not meant to be seen [laughs]. It's really weird. It's a comic book! You read it! You spend time in those balloons!
When I first saw you guys, one of the first things that jumped out at me is that the lettering is integral to the flow and pacing of the story, in a way that it isn't in other comic books.
Even in THE QUESTION where we came up with ways to do stuff that were very unique...Rick Veitch was the writer and an artist, so the three of us could come up with all kinds of really cool ideas.
That was another one that was pretty collaborative. We were going to do THE QUESTION series, and then DC came to us and said well, we need it to take place in Metropolis, and we went "What?" So all of a sudden we had to figure out why was The Question going to be in Metropolis, and why would we even need a superhero there, and then we went "oh wait a minute, there's our story." I came up with the idea that the bad guys were working underground, and hidden from Superman and Rick basically was like "Oh that's great," and then came up with the idea of them being called the Subterraneans and they would be doing all this stuff when Superman was busy, and the only person who could stop them was the person who was so objective that he could see everything that no one else was noticing, and that was The Question.
I'm really proud of that book. It was a few years ago now, and I always feel like I've grown and I probably could do better on the art now, for the most part but, I really wish DC would collect that, because most people don't even know that book exists. What I've seen of what they're doing with The Question now is very strange, very odd. It's not really The Question I recognize from the Ditko days. It's not even a man anymore!
How did you arrive at this style? Did you have this type of style in mind, or did it evolve on its own?
A little of both. Like I was saying, it depends on the project. I associate The Question with 1960's illustration, and guys that wear hats, and very Steve Dikto. That made me think of my influence of 60's American illustration like Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs and Al Parker and all these guys who most comic readers may not know, but guys I learned a lot more from than comics in terms of drawing and they all drew in a very linear way, so that felt right for The Question. Then, on Marvel 1985, I got a little more naturalistic, realistic sort of feel since it was supposed to take place in the real world, and then I could do things differently when the main character goes to the Marvel Universe. I drew that stuff digitally, and it felt a little more open and colorful, and didn't have as much of a human feel to it.
But TURF, we kind of wanted to be almost a nod to some of the things that Jonathan and I loved of the past, the comics we read as kids, the movies we liked, and it's a good, old-fashioned kind of timeless feel also. Even though we're using modern technology for scanning and printing, and everything else, I decided it really had to be drawn with a brush because there are things you can do with ink and paper that you can't do on a computer. Also, there's no bleed, it's all contained on the page with gutters, it all has a classic feel to it. I initially imagined drawing it simpler, but then that was the part of it that evolved. I couldn't simplify as much as I wanted to, just because there was so much story to tell and there's so much to establish. Storytelling is the most important thing in comics. I always follow rules where we have at least one establishing shot on a page where we see where everybody is in relation to each other, what location, what time of day, everything, and that takes a lot of work, which is why a lot of comics don't have backgrounds. There's a lot of stuff in it that just for storytelling's sake I couldn't simplify the way I initially planned on. Then there are some pages, as you could tell even towards the end of the first issue, where more and more action starts to happen and we have less set up. There are actually several pages I'm working on now where there's a two-panel page, or four panel page--it depends on the action and what we're trying to do--and there are some with no lettering, and we're getting into more action and more different kinds of things.
I've noticed a different approach, for example when you introduce Dragonmir Mansion, which in a lot of comics would be a full page, but you just have it as one panel, and the story directly takes you into it and introduces it that way. It makes for a denser read.
Sometimes, I don't know why we spend so much time on certain things. My son's been reading Joe the Barbarian, and I love the artwork. It's a beautiful looking book., but the writing is weird, because there'd be a splash page of a house, and then a double page spread of the inside of the house and I just wonder why. Sometimes it's kinda cool, but sometimes I feel like "wow, we could have a lot more here." In TURF, we have that double page spread in the beginning of this whole mob family killed in this big meeting room, and right there it has an impact. We were looking at the old Kirby stuff like THE DEMON, where the first page you have some story stuff, then you turn the page and then there's this double page spread and maybe some credits, and it has a real impact. If on every page you have a splash or a double page spread, you lose the impact of that tool. In issue #2, there's this huge battle, where there's a lot of build up, and all of a sudden, you turn the page, and there's this big huge one-panel shot of all these vampires coming in to fight Eddie's crew. There's just so much to look at there. There's no lettering there, so hopefully the reader will slow down to look at all of this stuff I spent so much time drawing in there [laughs]. There are just more of those moments as the story progresses. There's going to be more room for that kind of stuff to be in it.
Do you find yourself borrowing from other media, or vice versa, where you apply things from comics elsewhere.
It goes both ways. There was some stuff that I was doing on the Book of Eli movie digitally that I had never done before--certain things with textures, or pulling focus on things and certain kinds of tools that I have now incorporated into THE PRINCE OF PERSIA book and I had just done a bunch of covers for this Top Cow series, BROKEN TRINITY: PANDORA'S BOX. I drew those in a way that I definitely wouldn't have if I hadn't done all that stuff for the Eli movie. I'm working with Albert Hughes now on their next movie, and there's stuff there that I'm doing that is totally from understanding how to tell a story visually that really comes from comics. Where I went to school, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, it was a very traditional illustration education, but then I ended up changing my major to film, and that ended up giving me a lot of the storytelling techniques that I have, like having an establishing shot on each page and how to set up your camera--lots of times I'll end up adding panels to scripts like on 1985 or especially on BULLET POINTS with Straczynski, there was stuff that I thought with his writing had to be paced out a little better, and a lot of that comes from my influence in the film stuff. When we're doing animatics, there's a game for EA that I did a lot of animatics, like rough storyboard ideas that would be moving, and we'd be figuring out timing and stuff, like COMMAND AND CONQUER and that stuff. They all influence each other. It helps--I feel like I'm still growing a bit, and hopefully will continue to do that.
So the growing process has been helped along by working in more than one medium at the same time?
Oh yeah, yeah. Definitely. There are some guys that all they've really done is comics, and they've grown and grown, and they're great at it. Look at Walter Simonson or John Romita Jr., who primarily just stuck to doing even a certain kind of comics, and they're some of my favorite artists. But personally, I feel like I'm not progressing, and also I get really bored. I find that if I have something else to turn to once in a while then I feel like I can kind of stretch my brain a bit and maybe try out some new ideas, and then come back to comics or whatever the other thing is I'm doing. I was saying how these 1960's magazine illustrators influenced THE QUESTION, and, in the 1980's I first learned about those guys in junior high, because I was really into Bill Seinkiewicz in junior high, and he was doing THE NEW MUTANTS, and I looked at that, and I had an art teacher when I was a kid and had private art classes outside of Detroit where I grew up, and he was showing me "well if you like this you might like these other illustrators of this time," which Bill was influenced by. It opened up a whole new world to me. I would encourage anyone in comcis to look outside of comics as much as possible. That's another the reason why so many comics kind of look the same.
Is there anything else you'd like to get out there?
Watch out for TURF, we're 5 issues now, instead of 4 like we originally thought, because we just couldn't fit it all [laughs]. We've got a website for the book, it's turfcomic.com, so I'm just plugging away at it and hopefully it'll be something that'll be really special. Next week I'll be in England doing a signing with Jonathan Ross at Forbidden Planet in London. Then I'm off to a convention in France. All that for TURF, and I'm juggling the new Hughes Brothers movie so it's been really stressful, but a lot of fun, and it's a good problem to have. With so many people out of work, I feel really happy [to be working so much].