Artistic Process: Umbrella Academy's Gabriel Bá

Following up on the hugely popular and critically acclaimed "Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite" by writer Gerard Way (also frontman of My Chemical Romance) and artist Gabriel Bá ("Casanova"), this month sees the beginning of a second Umbrella Academy series from Dark Horse. The six-issue sequel, subtitled "Dallas," alternates between the team's early adventures as nameless child-heroes under the direction of Sir Reginald Hargreeves and their present-day trials as unwitting harbingers of the apocalypse. CBR News caught up with Brazilian illustrator Gabriel Bá to discuss his artistic process on "Umbrella Academy: Dallas," with an exclusive look at the first three pages of issue one as they progress from layouts to line art and colors.

"Gerard writes everything he thinks I need to know," Bá told CBR. "[His scripts] have panel description and division, usually he indicates when it's the biggest panel of the page or a full tier panel, three exact-looking panels, these kind of things He understands pacing and it's on the scripts. Sometimes we disagree on the composition, but usually it's a matter of pacing and Scott [Allie, series editor] and Gerard end up convincing me to do it their way. It's not my story, not the way I tell the story, so I have to understand what it is the writer wants.

"After I read the whole script, I go back and read each scene separately, to understand what's happening on each one," Bá continued. "Then I see how many panels there's on each page, which one is the most important one and only then I start to layout the page. I try to picture the whole scene in my head before I start, so I can plan better where I'll place the characters, the background elements and the 'camera.'"

Between the approval of layouts by Way and Allie and beginning his pencils, there is still a bit of work for Gabriel Bá to do. "I search for a lot of references in order to create a believable world, so I do that every time I'm about to draw something I don't want to end up 'generic'--buildings, cars, furniture, weapons, clothes," the artist said. "Gerard has very specific clothes descriptions for every character and it's the work halfway done for me. I just have to look for it and draw it. Sometimes, it takes hours to find the right pea coat that I think it's the best for drawing and for the page. I don't just pick any coat I find, I gotta find the right one that I have in my head when I read the descriptions on the script. So that can take a while."

One notable change seen above between Bá's layouts and the inked pages is the orientation of President Kennedy, in a panel that also ultimately breaks the grid and becomes integrated into the page's background. "On page 22 of issue #1 of 'Umbrella Academy' #1, I've done Pogo sitting on Hargreeves' chair, front view, very stiff, very static," Bá explained. "When it was time to do the pencils, I realized I didn't want to do that again."

Suggestions and comments from Way and Allie can also lead Bá to deviate from his original plan. "Like I said, we have different approaches on storytelling and rhythm. So they'll tell me 'move it a little up' or 'tilt the camera a bit,'" he said. "Sometimes I agree, sometimes I think my way is better. Working with other people has to inglobe this level of collaboration. And it feels good to think the editor really took a close look at what you did and your choices and took the time to think what's really best for the story."

On the grid-breaking aspect of the central panel, Bá explained, "I always try to see which is the most important image of the page and exploit it as much as I can. Initially, I was planning on doing Hargreeves bleeding out, but the president shot was the most important one. In order to show Kennedy, I'd need a clear, decent size shot of him, but I'm not the best on portraits--I have my cartoony style and I couldn't get so close, we needed an establishing shot here. So I wanted to put as much information on the background to help saying 'this is President Kennedy.' It was fun to learn that every president decorates the Oval office their own way, has their own carpets and chairs and curtains. So I needed more space to do that and that's why I've broken the borders of the panel there.

"I usually get it right on the layouts and it's just a matter of making it bigger on the page."

Ba's original layouts for pages 2-3 differed from the approved layouts seen above. "Scott and Gerard felt that [the first version] would not have the impact they wanted for the first double-splash-title-page of the series," the artist explained. "I tried to put everything they wanted on the panel, making a clean composition and showing the Lincoln memorial, but we ended up with the Licoln statue too small and far on the background and they didn't like it. I did it all the way to inking, but I had to redo those pages after I was done with the whole issue. Usually, when you work on a page several times, it always gets better and better, so people should not be afraid of redoing stuff. It's always for the best. The new spread is way better than the first one."

As to changes elsewhere in the issue, Bá said, "There's a big scene on page 24 that Scott wanted me to place the camera a little higher so we could see more depth in it, but I think other than that the whole issue was very on-the-spot."

Describing his process with colorist Dave Stewart, Bá noted that he and twin brother Fábio Moon are more accustomed to working in black and white. Moon is also a professional comic book artist, and the two are frequent collaborators. "I haven't worked with a lot of colorists before," Bá said. "Steve Oliff (yeah! Him!) did color guides and he had Kirk Mobert coloring my pages on 'Roland, Days of Wrath,'" a 1999 miniseries written by Shane Amaya that was Bá and Moon's first work to be published in the U.S. "We didn't tell him almost anything, and he did what he does, and it looked good, but there were many times we weren't so satisfied with the results. Some airbrushing, mostly, a little too naturalistic sometimes, but that was about it. Fábio had some bad experiences over BOOM! Studios with coloring and we both love black-and-white art and take deep pauses before doing anything in color."

"But 'Umbrella' was a big project and Dave Stewart (wow) was going to color it," Bá said, having no reservations about the Eisner Award-winning colorist's work on "Umbrella Academy." Bá also suggested he did not feel a need to significantly direct Stewart's efforts, and that some choices--such as the matching or complementary beige tones across environments on page one--belonged to his partner in art. "The only things I've said to him were right before we did that first preview story for the Free Comic Book Day. I told him I like to tone the scenes so the color can add very strong mood to the scenes," Bá said. "Also, I didn't want the colors to 'close' everything up, fill inside the lines kind of stuff, because my art, when colored like that, becomes a lot more cartoony [or] cute, and that was not the tone for the story. I work a lot with empty spaces on the black and white art and I needed the color to follow that dynamic. That was all I ever had to tell Dave. He's the best and he amazed me. He uses a lot of colors, but it makes the book look unique and he actually taught me how to color my art."

For most comics, the page's "gutter"--the area between panels and the page background--will be either white or black, unless the art bleeds into this area. A notable characteristic of "Umbrella Academy," though, is that these areas are often filled with other colors entirely, another of Stewart's decisions that Bá supports. "I leave a lot of open spaces on the art, blending the art with the back of the page, placing some panels on top of others and drawing between the gutters," Bá explained. "It works great and easy on B&W, but it's a little tricky on colors. Sometimes Dave will fill the whole page with one color from the 'back panel,' others he'll create a clean cut on the colors. I totally trust him to make the best choice there. As I've said, he pays very close attention to everything, so he'll think of the colors on the walls and table to blend and fit well with the rest of the panels on that page. That's good coloring. Make it all work together, not each panel separately. That's good comic book making."

Starting with the second issue of "Umbrella Academy: Dallas," Stewart will also be coloring Bá's covers. "We're talking again because I want a different look on the covers," Bá said. "But I really don't have to say much to him. He knows everything by looking to the art. He pays so much attention to the details that really surprises me. I couldn't be happier."

"Umbrella Academy: Dallas" #1 is on sale November 26 from Dark Horse, along with a limited edition hardcover of the first Umbrella Academy series, "The Apocalypse Suite," all by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá and Dave Stewart.

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