Guy Davis, whose acclaimed shadowy, atmospheric art has graced the pages of comics such as “Sandman: Mystery Theatre” and “The Zombies that Ate the World,” has in recent years built his own little horror empire at Dark Horse as the regular artist of “B.P.R.D.” and will soon be continuing his creator-owned of “Marquis” graphic novel series with the publisher.
Beyond the infernal beasties he concocts for these series, Davis has also become Dark Horse’s go-to guy for monster designs for other comics, including creating the title villains for “Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders,” written by Scott Allie and illustrated by Mario Guevara and which released its first issue this week. Another series featuring Davis’ monster designs illustrated by the artist himself is the latest “B.P.R.D.” series, “King of Fear,” which began earlier this month, written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. CBR News spoke with Davis about the process behind designing monsters and how the needs of the story influence the baddy’s appearance.
CBR News: Guy, let’s start off with what the appeal of monsters is for you.
Guy Davis: I guess it just boils down to liking the grotesque. You know, some people like painting landscapes or pinup girls but I always have the most fun drawing some sort of bizarre creature, warts and all. Aside from thinking up how they look, it’s just a subject I find fun to be actually drawing.
Monsters are also part of a genre I’m a fan of. As a kid, I wasn’t reading superhero comics – I was reading “Famous Monsters.” I grew up watching lots of old sci-fi and monster movies and spent most of the time drawing creatures just to entertain myself.
So, in your mind, what makes a good monster?
For me, I’d say a monster has to be something that stirs the viewer’s imagination, whether they think it’s cool or creepy or just question what it is they are actually trying to see. If they want to see more of it, then it’s a good monster; if they’re disappointed by it when they get a look, then it’s a bad monster.
What would you say is an example of a great monster design, other than your own, in any medium?
It would be hard to narrow down. It varies for the monster. I like classic monsters, old rubber-suit ’50s drive-in monsters, and surreal stuff like the paintings by the late [ZdzisÅ‚aw] Beksinski, [which,] while not really monsters, are some of the most haunting figures and images you can find. The same can be said of Bosch and Bruegel. And artists like Wolverton, Giger, McQuarrie, Barlowe, Froud, and of course, Mike Mignola all have some of the best design sense – it’s artists like that who take nothing and come up with something you haven’t seen before that I find really inspiring.
Does your process of designing monsters differ for series you’ll end up illustrating, like “B.P.R.D.,” and those you’re designing for someone else, as with the “Solomon Kane” creatures?
The designs differ for each project. I try to fit the look of the creatures into the world of each book, so the monsters I draw in something like “B.P.R.D.” won’t be as grotesque or obscene as something I’d design for “The Marquis.” With “Kane” I try to keep the look more mythic and incorporate skulls into the motif a lot.
But the actual process of sketching up ideas, starts out the same: lots of scribbles of whatever pops into my head from reading what’s needed. For Death’s Black Riders in the new “Solomon Kane” series, I did cleaner model sheets for the Riders than I did for the angel in the first series. And that was to make the form and details clearer for artist Mario Guevara to go by and then interpret in his own style. On something like “B.P.R.D.” and “The Marquis” where I’m drawing the finished pages, the designs are looser since I can work it up and fill in the details on the actual page.
How much do you usually have to work with from the writer when deciding what a monster should look like, how it should move, and so on?
On “B.P.R.D.” everything goes by Mike, John, and Scott [Allie, editor] – and by just Scott with “Kane.” With “B.P.R.D.,” pretty much everything is a design collaboration with Mike where I’ll send him sketches and he’ll send back variations. It goes back and forth like that until we finalize a design that works – sometimes it goes through a lot, like with the Victorian Cyborgs in “Garden of Souls,” and other times it will click with my first sketch, like on the Wendigo. But most of the collaboration is just on the look, I don’t think we usually discuss how it will move, and that’s just left for me to interpret with the action during the layouts of each page.
But I remember, back during “B.P.R.D.: The Dead,” for the “Gunter-Fly” angel at the end I worked out a lot of the details of how it would move, eat, and fight early on, but when it came time to draw it from a script, a lot of those actions never really came into play – but I think it’s still a good exercise to think it fully through. It helps flesh out the creature more realistically.
Some monsters, such as the wendigo, have a bit of mythology and folklore around them. How do you go about when developing your own interpretation of monsters with such a history?
You know, I didn’t look too much into the mythology of it because I didn’t want to get bogged down into any restrictions of folklore, whether I needed him to have horns or certain types of hoofs. I never wanted to worry about that. I wanted the “B.P.R.D.” Wendigo to be unique to the book.
As I remember, John [Arcudi]’s only note in the script was not to make it look like the Marvel Comics’ Wendigo, which I had no clue about to begin with. He also wanted it to be spooky, like the drawing from Roy Krenkel, and I was familar with that, but I didn’t really want it to look like a man. I think going into the Wendigo design, I was thinking it would have the feel of a “snowman” with the rounded head shape and dot eyes. And since the Wendigo had a human personality of Daryl the former human hunter, the simplified face made it easier to get across some range of emotion.
When I sketched him out, the dot eyes also made me then think of a shark, which I carried over to his angry mouth design, especially in the big splash of “Killing Ground.” Also, keeping with the original “snowman” motif made me imagine the arms would be spindly like stick arms, and I worked up that idea into its odd arms/legs. It’s that sort of basic idea that will sort of feed into other ideas while I’m sketching.
The first issue of “Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders” was released this week. You’ve already talked a bit about the process behind their design, but what else can you tell us about creating the titular monsters? Was there much in Robert E. Howard’s fragment to work from, and how much did Scott Allie tell you about what he was looking for?
I remember Scott and Mike came up with the basic outline of a look early on, the idea of a sort of bizarre centaur where the man’s head was a horse head but the man’s chest was the actual face, but later on, before I started, I think they asked me to get away from the centaur look.
So I took that basic idea of the face on the chest and worked it up into being the entire front of the Rider was its long face, the top of the head was the eyes and the mouth was the actual chest of the horse. So the horse’s neck was just the middle of the face, and that made it seem more unearthly to me – you didn’t have something that was pieced together from two different forms, a man’s chest stuck on a horse, but you had the the horse’s front forming this huge face that was out of scale to the rest of its body. It had its own proportions. That’s also something I like to do with any design, is make its anatomy somewhat unique to itself, not just human anatomy with spikes or wings stuck onto it. So arms will be longer, thinner or bend in ways human arms shouldn’t bend.
After figuring out the head/face, I worked out a couple different basic designs. Since they were demons, I didn’t want them to look like a species of animal where all the parts were in the same place, but they all should have a similar feel [to each other].
In August, Dark Horse released a collection of your early “Marquis” stories, a series you have plans to return to and continue on with. When designing for a series you’re also writing, does the story ever change based on the way your monsters come out? Is there a sort of feedback between story and art, or does one tend to dictate the other?
Sometimes it really does. I’ve designed characters one way early on and then get the itch to rework them, and that reworking will sometimes bring in whole new ideas for the character. With the next Marquis graphic novel, “The Marquis and the Midwife,” a few of the devil designs changed along the way, and those changes brought in different character traits and also changed some scenes in the book. I guess it’s just wanting to flesh out a creature and make it as fully realized as possible, and when it’s to that stage, it takes on a life of its own in the story. It’s not just throwing in a design where there’s an empty spot.