The list of legendary series Vertigo has published is long. Sandman, 100 Bullets, Hellblazer, Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Scalped, Fables, Y The Last man…I could go on and on and on. At this past July’s Comic-Con in San Diego, DC’s creator-driven imprint announced twelve new titles they hope to add to that illustrious list. Today we’ll focus on just one, Red Thorn, as we interview artist Meghan Hetrick.
So how did this project come about? Who pitched the initial idea?
It came about after another project failed to get off the ground; Shelly Bond, the Vertigo EiC, wanted to keep the team that had been formed on that project together, and after finding some footholds with writer David Baillie, Red Thorn was born.
Did you have to “audition” for the gig? Or were you being the artist on the project part of the initial pitch?
Nope, I was the artist planned from the get go.
This is a new series, but based on Scottish mythology. Did you design the characters from the ground up, or are there established designs for these mythological characters you needed to respect? How did you handle this character design process?
All the characters have been designed from scratch, however, I’ve incorporated a lot of Celtic motifs into things. Thorn’s tattoos are based on Pict and Ogham artwork. Other characters have very specific design elements, which, if you know the mythology, will make a lot more sense.
As for starting off with the design process, I believe in the concept of a strong, unique silhouette for important characters. You need to be able to identify a character by it’s shadow. From there I just kind of play around with different feels and elements, until something just clicks.
The series takes place in Glasgow. How accurate (or not) do you need to portray the city? How does that affect your storytelling?
I personally strive for a lot of accuracy in my art, especially when it takes place in an actual location. I know there’s a lot that has to be hidden due to licensing and such, but overall, the locations are real. I do take some liberties when it make sense for a visual or storytelling standpoint though. Artists, don’t ever draw yourself into an unnecessary corner, heh.
You have the script in hand and 32 pages to draw. How do you start? Talk us through your process of breaking down the script and deciding your page layouts.
Peter Gross has been handling breaks, since I’m doing both pencils and inks on the book. I tend to make a lot of changes if they’re needed for storytelling continuity, but overall, he’s been the master behind a lot of this.
Do you mean Peter is breaking the script down into pages or is he giving you loose breakdown/layouts of each page with basic panels, figures, etc. (similar to the method Miller/Janson employed in their later issues of Daredevil)
Peter gives me loose layouts of the panels and figures, upon which I basically modify if needed for things such as expressions, continuity, and etc.
Since you ink your own work, how detailed do you get in the penciling stage? Does is vary from page to page, panel to panel? Or is all the heavy lifting done with ink?
It depends. Backgrounds I tend to do very loosely, especially if it’s an organic background (think forests, vines, etc). Generally I just get the structure necessary for composition down, and just freehand most of my lines in. On figures, it’s a different story. I do tight pencils for all expressions: facial, body, and hands. Clothes, if they have big, wonky elements, I’ll needle in on that too. Most of the work is done in the inking stage though.
It’s been said that penciling is more about storytelling, whereas the inking is where the real drawing takes place. Agree? Disagree? Would you ever considered just penciling or just inking a book? Or are the two tasks too much a part of your process to break them apart?
It’s hard for me to answer this, because since I do both duties I can’t really separate one from the other. I would agree to the idea though, but inking has a lot of storytelling as well, since it plays a huge role in establishing lighting and such.
I spoke with Gene Colan about handing over his pencils for another artist to ink. He said it was hard at first. He knew his tonal pencils were not easy to ink. Some inkers he admired what they did with his pencils more than others, but realized he just had to hand them over and hope for the best. With the huge advances in digital coloring I’d have to think it’s now that way at the coloring stage. How does knowing the final work will be colored affect your art? That is, do you draw something that will be colored differently than you would something that would remain a black and white ink image? Do you give the colorist notes? Is it a collaborative process or do you hand them off and hope for the best?
If something’s going to be colored, I generally take a much more open approach to my line work than not, which requires an extremely talented colorist to be able to handle, as my line work tends to not give much direction by itself for form, lighting, etc. I do, however, tend to create and offer lighting guides when there’s an especially obnoxious or confusing sequence coming about.
Paolo Rivera has a regular feature on his blog showing off his “wacky” reference images and how they become part of a final comic page, often beginning as photographs of himself in odd poses and capes. Do you use reference images and/or models in your work? Do you ever photograph shots/scenes?
In regards to figure work, I rarely use reference at this point, unless I’m super stuck. Reason being is that, for me, it tends to deaden the image. There’s also a high chance of creating a reliance upon using reference to draw much of anything. To me, it’d become a crutch, rather than a resource. Hats off to those who can avoid that pitfall, but for me, it’s not really a safe option. That being said, if there’s a super specific gesture or expression, I’ll just take a quick shot with my phone, and use it as reference.
What question are you tired of answering?
Overall, just the “what tools do you use?” one that pops up all the time. The skill is with the artist, folks, not the pencil they use.
Ha! I was going to ask that! I don’t think anyone doubts the talent is in the artist. No one who buys a Wilson tennis racket is expecting they’ll go out on court and start playing like Roger Federer. People like to know what tools you use because they respect your talent. It’s assumed someone as good as you must be using quality products. So tiresome as it may be – it’s actually a sign of respect for your work.
So, I won’t ask any specifics about your tools, but I will ask how much of a role digital plays in your work. Can you ever see a time when you have a 100% digital workflow?
Never. Art is such a tactile thing to me, and you lose a huge portion of that when you work digitally (for me at least, I’m sure other artists don’t have that issue).
So glad to hear that. As a collector of art I can assure you there’s a world of difference in holding a hand drawn piece of art and a digital print as well!
What’s been your favorite part of Red Thorn?
Having an excuse to pander to those who enjoy the male figure? Oh, wait, you want a serious answer? Working with Dave and the rest of the crew. The folks on this book are freaking legendary.
You do draw mighty fine looking men! Thanks for taking the time to talk about your work and best of luck on Red Thorn!