In the world of Bill Willingham’s Vertigo flagship “Fables,” fairy tales regularly undergo a fair amount of revision. And while twists from a heroic Big Bad Wolf to a scummy Prince Charming may stand out in a pop culture sense, one of the biggest signatures for the series has always been the depth and determination of its women characters. Enter Phil Jimenez and “Fairest.”
The artist behind lengthy runs on female-centric mainstream titles like “Wonder Woman” and Vertigo epics like “The Invisibles” was perhaps the only choice to expand the world of “Fables” into a title full of mysterious, magnificent ladies. And with “Fairest” #1 on sale now, CBR News invited Jimenez to peel back the layers of his debut issue’s variant cover with an in-depth process piece.
Below, the artist explains how he conceived of his own cover highlighting two of the more contrasting ladies in Willingham’s expansive fairy tale world, why it had to be different from Adam Hughes’ all-out cast shot for the same book, how many changes both subtle and significant he made on his way to the final product and what his take on Briar Rose and the Snow Queen says about those characters.
Phil Jimenez: “Process” is something I’m infinitely interested in because I’m fascinated by the way artists think — on both conscious and subconscious levels — about the imagery they create and what resources they use. Here’s a quick run down of my own process for the variant cover of “Fairest” #1, the new “Fables” spin off from DC/Vertigo.
My initial sketch for the cover was a simple thumbnail I drew in the office of my editors Shelly Bond and Gregory Lockard. I knew that I wanted to focus on Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and the Snow Queen, and I wanted the image to be simple and grand. I also knew I couldn’t compete with the insane beauty of Adam Hughes’ multi-character launch cover, so I figured I’d narrow my focus on the two characters I found the most visually appealing and the two that would provide the highest contrast in terms of color and theme (red, blue, warmth, cold, etc). Thus, this thumbnail:
Note the tiny scribbles of Ali Baba and the castle in the background, behind the Snow Queen.
After gathering plenty of reference, particularly for Rose and some of the background elements, I began laying in the initial pencils:
As you can see, the composition changed pretty dramatically as I started pencilling; I made Briar’s head much larger, so I could focus primarily on her face; I also eliminated the little Ali Baba figure and the castle, and added more elements around the Snow Queen — the snow leopard and the owl — and the thicket of roses behind each, which I thought was a nice touch and nod to Sleeping Beauty’s fabled background. Initially, I intended to a snow wolf and some ice fairies around the Queen, too.
I also drew this knowing I’d be doing a lot of “technique” on Rose’s face, while leaving the Snow Queen open and white — which is why Rose’s face is relatively finished, and the Snow Queen is not.
I began inking soon after I figured out the final composition. As you can see here, there was lots of cross hatching and white paint used to “etch” Briar’s features. You’ll also note I started experimenting with her smile. While I loved the pencils and the elegance in Briar’s face and that stage, I also felt she looked just a touch sinister, which was not my intent. I played with the curl of Briar’s smile a lot while I was inking, as well as the weight of her eye lids and the mass of her eyelashes. She was my focus in the initial stage of inks; I barely touched the Snow Queen until I was content with Briar’s face.
Almost there. Rose is inked and she’s got just enough of a grin to counter some of her royal severity, which borders on haughtiness. Briar’s hair will become part of the background, which is why I let the lines “trail off” into the white of the board. The ink style itself is inspired by old prints from the 18th and 19th century (which seems appropriate for a “Fables” book, somehow), as well as some of the great masters of printmaking, like Albrecht Durer, and one I’ve used at DC/Vertigo before, on the covers for “Otherworld.” By this stage, I’m still figuring out the Owl and the wolf next to the Snow Queen — the shape of the bird’s wings in relationship to the Queen’s outstretched arm, and the composition of the wolf, which just wasn’t working. Ultimately, I pencil in another leopard, thinking the duo will add a nice symmetry and an intriguingly ferocious detail to the image.
Also note, I was still figuring out the icicles beneath the Snow Queen’s fur coat.
The final. I think I adjusted Rose’s smile one more time. Instead of another crouching leopard I raised it to its feet, to give it a touch more menace. I tried to keep any extraneous lines of the Snow Queen, and keep the various textures (pen, ink, white paint) on Briar, the animals, and the the thicket of roses. Fearing time constraints and my tendency to overwork imagery, I turned in the finished product to my editors for it to be colored.
I chose Romulo Fajardo, Jr., a wonderful colorist who’d done fabulous work on my “Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes” covers, to bring this black and white piece to life. And boy, did he ever!
The initial round of color. Romulo is fabulous, and fast, and he turned this piece over quite quickly. Note the life his palette and Photoshop brings to the black and white base. This is an amazing example of the changes color can bring to work; I truly wish more comic readers (and some creators) understood just how vital ink and color are to the way they consume/receive what they read. Good or bad inking and coloring can change everything, including the way they take in the story.
We had Romulo make a couple of changes — less severe modeling on Rose’s face; sleepier eyes; more highlights on the lips; less interior modeling on the Snow Queen; more “magic” around the owl as it alights on the Snow Queen’s wrist; a change in the color of the rose thicket (suggested by Shelly Bond); and a brighter white on the leopards, who felt like they got lost with the darker fur.
And Voila! The final piece!
Hope y’all found this interesting. The beautiful thing about the people I work with is that they all care as much as I do, and were integral to the success of what I think ended up being a really strong, rather beautiful piece. It couldn’t have been completed without them. That’s the wonderful part of our business, when it works well — it really is utterly collaborative, and I could not do what I do without the support of a strong editorial team and a strong “back end” team, like Romulo (and Andy Lanning on the interiors), to make my stuff look as stellar as possible (and most importantly, worth your $3.00 investment!)
Hope all of you enjoy “Fairest!” It’s really clever, remarkably female reader-friendly — something I think is incredibly important in this business — and it’s the most fun I’ve had working on a comic series in years!
Stay tuned to CBR for more on “Fairest.”