When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter, no one could imagine the changes to come. Certainly, no one could have predicted that someone would have said “hey, the fall of the USSR: THAT would be a great comic book!”
Christian Gossett thought it would, and this month, comic readers can see if he was right.
“Comics, like any other art form, has to evolve into stronger and stronger versions of itself as time goes on,” Gossett told the Comic Wire on Thursday. “Audiences become tired of seeing the same thing over and over. In the world of entertainment today, there is amazing competition. We’re all fighting for the attention of the people that pay good money to receive our latest offerings. In this climate, with such amazing work being done in the fields of animation, video games etc., I feel that it’s time for a major revolution as far as the way comics look visually. I’m a fan of Scott McCloud’s theories on comics storytelling, and one of the observations he made in ‘Understanding Comics’ is that we can’t settle for the status quo. We need to grow; find new ways to prove that comics is a medium unlike any other. The world is moving on. To participate in this movement, I assembled a team of artists that believe in the unlimited power of comics visuals. Every member of my team has worked in animation, film, comics and video games. We have brought all of that experience to the comics page in a way that is very bold, very new. The power of the computer offers today’s comics artists amazing choices. Image used the computer to change the way comics are colored. Richard Starkings’ Comicraft used the computer to change the way comics are lettered. Now my team, with Allen Coulter in charge of our 3D environments and models, and our colorist, Snakebite, along with myself, are using our command of computer technology in the hopes that we can change the way that comics visuals are created.
“The story premise I chose, as different as it seems, is really inspired by my favorite comics: Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight Returns’ and Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen.’ These were stories that reached out beyond what was thought possible and proved to everyone just how far the range of comics can go if the artists have the courage. The story of the Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union is something that is still affecting almost every human being on the planet. This is not an overstatement at all. For those of us who lived under the pressure of the Cold War years, no explanation is necessary as to the importance of this historical epoch. For those young people that don’t remember the Soviet Union, I hope to introduce them to this incredibly influential era in a way that is as dramatically powerful as it is visually captivating. Both Dark Knight and Watchmen involved the nightmare of Nuclear Holocaust. In the late ’80s, it was definitely on everyone’s mind in some respect. The ironic thing is that now, with Russia struggling to keep itself from becoming 11 time-zones of chaos and bloodshed, and with more and more small countries becoming nuclear powers, we are less safe than we were then. ‘The Red Star’ is my attempt at translating powerful history into dramatic fiction.”
But don’t look for a straightforward retelling of Soviet history. “The Red Star” uses symbolism and allegory to tell its tale.
“Basically, most fictional worlds today have no backbone. There’s always some bad guy with a superfortress trying to use his superplan to take over the world. There’s always some superguy with his supergun and superchick trying to use their superpowers to stop him. This is some tired stuff compared to the amazing true story of the Soviet Union. The secret, I believe, is to translate their history into a world of symbolic characters who will be visually fascinating to a comics audience. The pages of ‘The Red Star’ will reveal a world of sorceresses and ghosts; of ancient blood-feuds and epic battlefields. It is a world in which the human soul is bought and sold like any other resource by men blinded with greed. It is a story of empires that have the power to destroy the world; the entire history of humankind, with the turn of a key.
“I took this tack because truth is stranger than fiction. Truth is a treasure-horde of dramatic power. Why does ‘Sandman’ work so well? Because everyone dreams. This is a truth of human existence. We all go to sleep and enter a world of mystery that has meanings we can’t always understand. Why did ‘Dark Knight’ change comics? Because it brought the truth of sweat and grit and pain into the world of a superhero. Fiction is meaningless unless it is a mask worn on the face of truth.”
It’s also a truth that for many comic fans, the best story in the world still has to be sold with strong art. If nothing else, “The Red Star” doesn’t look like other comics out there. The book’s look owes more to animated films than it does standard comic books.
“Standard comic art would indeed be simpler,” Gossett said. “But we’re crazy, we’re experimenters; and we were willing to sacrifice simplicity for what we believed would be more powerful visuals. Besides, for all of its virtues, simplicity is what everyone else is doing, and we had to take a chance and do it our way. Here’s what we came up with as far as new process:
“Standard comic art would indeed be simpler, but we’re crazy, we’re experimenters; and we were willing to sacrifice simplicity for what we believed would be more powerful visuals.”
– Christian Gossett
“OK, Red Star Process 101:
“First, I lay out the issue to actual comics ratio. Almost all of our panels are composited with separate elements (the backgrounds, vehicles and even the characters are drawn individually!) not unlike an animated feature or sci-fi movie. In this phase, I also design the vehicles and 3D environments on paper for Allen. I then have a meeting with Allen and Snakebite and we discuss what will be 3D, what will be 2D, choose color-schemes, and adjust the page layouts so as to make sure our storytelling is clear. This is pretty much our Pre-Production phase.
“Second, as Snakebite and Allen build and color the 3D environments, I am drawing all the figures. At this stage, Allen is actually building ‘virtual sets.’ Once these ‘sets’ are built, we can render them at any angle, in any lighting situation, with any characters we want as large or as small as we need. We can blow the sets up, change their environment, etc. etc. Imagine it this way: If DC wanted, we could actually ‘build’ Gotham City, and once it’s built, we could make it night, day, cover it in snow or soak it in rain, fill the streets with alien invaders or burn the whole damned thing to the ground over as many issues as they’d like. We have that kind of control over our environments. Instead of having some artist miss his deadline drawing city backgrounds, once we’ve built ‘Gotham,’ it’s ours to use any way we want, from any camera angle. The same is true of any comics background you can imagine. Fortress of Solitude, the X-Men’s danger room, etc. etc. No limits.
“Finally, the nightmare world of POST-PRODUCTION! Just kidding, this is the fun part. All the sets are built, all the characters are drawn, and in Post, we assemble, composite and color all of the elements together, and do final adjustments on lighting and special effects (laser blasts, explosions, etc.) Then we ship them the pages off to those awfully nice chaps at Comicraft for lettering, ship them back to those other nice chaps at Creative Visions Graphic Design to Quark the pages together for final Pre-Press arrangement, and then it’s the long voyage to Quebec to print the final product. Whew!
“Yeah, we’re madmen. But we love comics, and we want to see them prove that when it comes down to it, the only thing keeping comics from being as great as they can be is the effort of the creators. We’ve come up with a totally new way of doing it, but one that offers us almost limitless choices as far as making the most dramatic and powerful story possible.”