“East of West” artist Nick Dragotta stopped by the CBR Tiki Room at New York Comic Con 2013 to discuss his acclaimed Image Comics series with Jonathan Hickman, “East of West.” Dragotta shed some light on the overarching plot of the dense sci-fi/western series, the fan reaction to the combination of writing and art and what the future holds for the series’ planned 35-50 issue epic story.
On how much “East of West” plot he knows before drawing the scripts: Jonathan always sold it to me as a love story. He said, “This is going to be a love story that people aren’t going to know they’re reading a love story until we get to five.” Whenever I have questions, I’ll ask him and he’ll explain it and complete my understanding. … It was really in the beginning, building the world, setting the stage. It was a love story from the beginning and now we’re going to watch that all play out.
On what “East of West” is: I think of it as a sci-fi with the attitude of a Sergio Leone western. I wouldn’t call it a western, because I want to draw spaceships and megacities — I want to draw whatever I want, and Jonathan gives me that leeway. Sometimes when Jonathan wants to move the story forward, he’ll write really tight scripts and give me all the dialogue, and sometimes if it’s a fight scene he says, “Nick, go to town. Here’s five pages. Do your thing, get us from point A to point B.” For me, it’s just creative freedom and we’re owning it and it’s an indy comic. We’re finding ourselves and the story, but Jonathan has it all worked out and it’s just big. That’s the way I want to explain it. I don’t want to give away too much of what’s coming up, but for me it’s science fiction and it’s world building. All these characters are setting a stage and all hell’s going to break loose.
On fan reaction to “East of West”: It’s really popular and a lot of people are coming up to us and bringing all their own interpretations to it. They all sound legitimate and all something I’m proud to be like, “Yeah, if that’s what you’re reading into it, that’s great.” That’s what I think we want. Aside from where Jonathan’s taking it, it’s rad to hear people reading into it and seeing all these different things.
On the long-term goals of the series: Jonathan has it mapped out, he said at least 35 possibly 50 [issues] for just this storyline, this love story, how it’s all going to play out, the large war and everything that’s going to happen. Beyond that, we don’t know where it’s going to go. We’ll do new stories. I might write and draw an issue here or there. I’m totally in for the long haul. I told Jonathan, “I’ll give you five years. Let’s do this, let’s get out 50 issues and let’s try doing something big and epic. Let’s see how it goes and grows.” … I think Jonathan writes real dense, and my goal was to make the storytelling as clear as possible; not be too vague. … There’s a cool juxtaposition of Jonathan’s dense writing and cryptic stuff and my very point A to point B storytelling. I think a lot of people treat Jonathan like illustrated manuals — these really widescreen shots, four panels a page. I’ve done 18 panels a page. I really want to get in between the panels of what Jonathan’s trying to say and really bring more to the page.