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INTERVIEW: Jon Davis-Hunt Engineers The Wild Storm with Warren Ellis

by  in Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Jon Davis-Hunt Engineers The Wild Storm with Warren Ellis

With a career that includes nearly a decade in the comics industry, Jon Davis-Hunt has worked predominantly for 2000AD on titles like “Judge Dredd,” “Age of the Wolf” and “Dandridge.” Davis-Hunt’s high quality craftsmanship was recognized by comics writer Kieron Gillen and shared with Warren Ellis, who was shopping for an artist for his relaunch of “The Wild Storm” for DC Entertainment.

RELATED: In The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis Takes Hold of an Entire Universe

Ellis, who co-created “The Authority” and “Planetary” for WildStorm in the late 1990s, loved Davis-Hunt’s clean line and modern feeling, so the award winning writer and series editor Marie Javins offered him the biggest comic book job of his life.

With “The Wild Storm” #2 now on sale, CBR connected with Davis-Hunt, who shared insight into his career to date and inspirations for the 24-issue series, including the work of manga artists like Katsuhiro Otomo of “Akira” fame, as well as European artists Frank Quitely, Alan Davis and Moebius. Hunt also provided specific details about two of the series primary characters, The Engineer and Grifter, and discussed the importance of his wife, who assists him with research and reference materials.

CBR: I read on your personal website that when you’re not designing video games or drawing comics… you like to read comics and play video games. Prior to landing this assignment, were you familiar with Jim Lee’s original “WildC.A.T.S.” and “Stormwatch” titles?

Jon Davis-Hunt: Yeah, I was a huge Jim Lee fan. “Uncanny X-Men” was the first book I collected on a regular basis, so I encountered him there. Then, when Image [Comics] started, I’d try and buy as many of those books as I could.

What is it about Jim Lee’s world building that you find most inspiring?

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Well first off, his character design is always fantastic. He has that knack of always making stuff look cool, and he also creates really diverse characters. From a world building perspective, I think what WildStorm did very well was create a really expansive universe, that was at its core, very connected. Everything essentially builds from the conflict between these warring alien races. There is a deep and rich mythology there that had been established from the start, so although you have a huge cast of characters, they all interconnect. To set that out, before you even start telling the first story is so important.

I am no expert but I would say that you have a dissimilar style of art than Jim Lee. What did you take from his creations and concepts that you could harvest and make your own in “The Wild Storm”?

Well, right from the off, Warren [Ellis] was very clear that he wanted this iteration of the WildStorm universe to stand apart from the original. He wanted it to have a clear visual identity, so that readers would pick up on the themes in the story, but not see this as any kind of direct sequel to the original. Costumes were out – functional, contemporary – but still hopefully iconic – clothing was in. Therefore, I didn’t even try and replicate Jim – which was helpful, because frankly, he’s a much better artist than me. [Laughs] Instead, I tried very hard to recreate these characters from scratch, just draw them in my own style, but then blend in certain forms, or iconic elements that might pay homage to the originals.

You mentioned the incomparable Warren Ellis. Prior to landing this assignment, were you familiar with his run on “Stormwatch” and his other groundbreaking WildStorm titles “The Authority” and “Planetary”?

Massively. I’d caught the end of “Stormwatch,” when the Aliens kill most of the original team and that had blown my mind, so I was completely psyched for “The Authority.” I was at university when it started, and then went travelling afterwards with my then girlfriend, who is now my wife. Wherever we went, I would make a point of finding the nearest local comic shop and making certain I was up to date, with both “The Authority” and “Planetary.”

In fact, we literally carried the middle issues of both those books right the way round the world. I actually had to buy a small extra rucksack in the end, just to carry the ever-increasing stack of books. [Laughs]

Bryan Hitch and Frank Quitely are two of the other big name artists that have worked in the WildStorm Universe before with Warren. Have you looked to their characterizations and visual tendencies, as well, for acclimatizing yourself to this world?

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Again, as with Jim, I tried to avoid replicating any of their visual styles to make sure the book has it’s own aesthetic – and again, as with Jim, it’s a blessing, because they are also both much better artists than me. I did re-read Hitch’s “Authority” run in preparation, and [Frank] Quitely’s too, in fact, just because I’m such a big fan of both of those guys. It was a little intimidating however, especially with Hitch and that first four-issue run. I was like, “How the hell did he find the time to draw so many people in every panel?”

Are you enjoying the process of working with Warren and what is it about him that makes you better as an artist?

Working with Warren is incredible. Of course, for me, there is a huge fanboy element. I have tried very hard, not to simply write gushing emails telling him how much I enjoyed this, or that etcetera. But mainly, from a creative point of view, it’s been amazing. It’s a huge project to undertake, but Warren’s scripts are a joy to draw from. They include a lot of very specific detail, not just about the design of certain characters, but often, the actual structure and layout of the page. Wherever that occurs in the script, I always try to take the time to run with any ideas, concept and research them as much as possible and amplify them where I can.

It was Warren’s idea to use rigid 9 or 6-panel grids, which I think has also really helped give the book its own ‘feel’ and works with the story we’re telling. The project has been really challenging and incredibly creatively rewarding. I’ve just tried really hard to push myself as much as I can with each scene.

From the Q&A with Warren Ellis at the end of “The Wild Storm” #1, we’ve learned that it was actually Kieron Gillen that originally showed him your work. Do you owe Kieron a few pints at the pub now?

I know right!? I think I owe Kieron a whole entire pub. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him, though I’m a big fan of “The Wicked and The Divine” and also “Uber,” but yes, most definitely, when I do get the chance, I will buy him dozens and dozens of pints.

In the same Q&A, Warren also shared that he really liked your ‘clean line’ and its modern feeling. Can you talk about your style and what you try to deliver on the page as an artist?

I have I guess, what many would say is quite a European style. My go to all-time favorite artist is Katsuhiro Otomo, but I also love Frank Quitely, Alan Davis, Arthur Adams and of course, Moebius. I’m a sucker for detail. I worked in video games as an artist for a while, before moving on to become a designer. You don’t really get to draw as a designer, apart from the odd sketch on a whiteboard, it’s a primarily written and vocal discipline. But I do get to lead concept teams and seeing how digital concept artists work has also really influenced my style too. I love a lot of the modern concept artists. People like Simon Stalenhag, Victor Antonov and Calum Alexander Watt are amazing artists. I like things to look contemporary and I enjoy adding in details or environmental elements that maybe don’t usually appear in comics. I also work very closely with my wife, who does a tremendous amount of the research and referencing for the books I work on. She is incredible at honing in on certain design elements and suggesting alteration or concepts that really make certain characters work on the page.

After just two issues, I can say I love your take on The Engineer. Can you talk about your process with her as a character and what opportunities and perhaps challenges that she presents to you as an artist?

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She was actually the very first character I designed. I was on holiday at the time, when I first got the call from [editor] Marie [Javins], asking if I wanted to try out for the book.

Warren’s initial description was clear. He wanted her to look like the prototype for the version we saw in the original “Authority.” Rather than smooth chrome, this suit was to be bulky and mech-like. I took that and then ran with it, concentrating on function, over form. My first thoughts were to go slightly steam-punk, but that quickly evolved to looking at modern exo-skeleton design – a lot of DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] stuff and hi-tech military vehicles. The suit began to take on a slight avian quality, which I began to explore and at that point, Warren mentioned that crows were often referred to as the ‘engineers of the avian world.’ From there, everything kind of clicked into place and I quickly landed on her current design. I also worked in certain elements from her original form like the hair/cables that trail out behind her.

Of course, once I had designed her, I then had to make sure I could draw her from any angle, so I worked a lot on making certain I knew exactly what forms her suit is made from. The head piece, in particular, is a bit tricky to draw from certain angles. I did think about simplifying it, but I was so happy with the way it looked, I just thought, ‘Oh, sod it.’

Out of her suit, Angie’s character really comes out through her body language. I try to make her quite expressive. She changes pose a lot, she expresses with her hands and breaks eye contact often, so that’s always something to remember when I draw her into any scene.

Your Grifter is also killer. He’s a very different character than The Engineer. What do you like about drawing him?

Warren wanted Grifter to look ‘rangy’ and disheveled, so I took that approach and ran with it. I wanted him to look like he had basically, walked into an army surplus store and bought his ‘costume’ off the peg. I gave him a parka as I thought it would be functional and a nice nod to his original trench coat. Good thermal protection, nice big hood for blending in. Plus, with the hood up he looks cool as they’re so big, that you get plenty of room for head movement and shadow, which gives you loads of options when you ink him. I also suggested that he could have a range of different colored parkas based on his environment – white for Arctic, dust for desert, etcetera. I imagine he just walks into a store once a year and bulk buys his clothes. [Laughs]

Without the mask, I try to draw him as relatively chilled and relaxed. He’s always slouching. His hair is grown out. He’s just chilled. Then the mask goes on and he becomes a whirling bullet typhoon.

He’s a great character to draw as his clothes are so wrinkled and textured and with the coat with its exaggerated length, he always looks cool. He’s definitely my favorite character to sketch.

Are there any other characters that you have enjoyed illustrating thus far – maybe you can even tease one that we haven’t seen yet in the first two issues?

Well “The Wild Storm” #4 has a lot more of Bendix, who you meet, very briefly, in #2. He is great fun to draw as he’s such a cantankerous old bastard. He kind of switches between public Bendix and private Bendix. The two have very differing mannerisms, so getting that across is huge fun.

Finally, this series has been solicited as a 24-issue series but broken into four books. I know you are also busy with video games, so will you be doing all 24 issues or just the first book?

I’m on this for the long run – providing I don’t mess it up – which is incredibly exciting!

“The Wild Storm” #2 is available now.

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