Brian Churilla goes digital, experiments stylistically for 'Hellbreak'

Hellbreak, the upcoming supernatural action series by Cullen Bunn, Brian Churilla and Dave Stewart, marks a departure on two fronts for the illustrator, who not only embarked on a new artistic style but also made the move to digital.

Ahead of the title's debut next week from Oni Press, Churilla shared with ROBOT 6 a look at his process. It's particularly interesting to learn that preference for working in blue pencil, as he explains, mostly is due to the influence of the Chip Kidd/Paul Dini Batman Animated art book.

"Hellbreak is the first series where I’ve produced all the artwork digitally," Churilla explains. "I had flirted with the technology for some time, but was still finding it hard to fully commit and produce comics 100 percent digitally. I use a Wacom Cintiq 22HD in tandem with and iMac. The Cintiq is a pressure sensitive display that I use to create all of my comic art. It’s mounted to an ergonomic arm, which is mounted to an Alvin Ensign drafting table. I like this drafting table because it has a handy-dandy, spring-loaded lever that makes height adjustment easy. Having the display mounted with the arm gives me even more height which enables me to work standing up, which I do about 80 percent of the time. I like to stand because to be honest, some nights that’s the only think that will keep me awake and working."

"The only software I use for making comics in Manga Studio EX. It was the motivating factor in transitioning to working digitally and has proven to be an invaluable tool in my arsenal."


"Cullen is an amazing, unbelievably prolific writer. I love having him as my collaborator on Hellbreak. His scripts are massive tomes (usually around fifty or more pages), and I constantly marvel at his constantly evolving, inventive narratives. I admire great writers like him. I’ve written one solo book, The Secret History of D.B. Cooper, which was also published by Oni Press. After having such an intense experience writing, drawing and coloring my own book, I was excited to be collaborating with another creator, especially one as rad as Cullen."

"Cullen's massive scripts are densely packed with fun stuff to draw. For those who aren’t familiar with what is in a comic book script, it’s similar to a film or television script, except all the action and dialogue is broken down into panels and pages. I usually have to read through a script a few times before the imagery starts to sink in. I jot down a fairly loose sketch. The page(s) provided are an example of what is called a "double-page splash,” where two pages are combined into one large spread. I usually draw with either a blue or red pencil. This is a habit I got into early on in life, mostly due to the influence of the Chip Kidd/Paul Dini Batman Animated art book. In it, Bruce Timm and the other awesome artists used blue pencils. I wanted to be awesome like Bruce Timm, hence the blue pencils. haha. Over time, it dawned on me that there was a psychological component to this preference; the blue seems less permanent, which makes me less inhibited about making mistakes. It’s become a challenge to use regular pencils after having used colored pencils for so many years.


"If the layout is the bones of this process, then the pencils are the flesh. Here is where I refine my pencils and clean things up, add the details, makes sure all of the staging and compositions work. Storytelling is a problem to be solved, and solving those problems in a part of the job. I try not to make my pencils too clean because I want to feel more like I’m finishing the drawing when I ink, rather than merely tracing it. Once these are approved, it’s time to move onto inks. I always make sure I get the go-ahead before I move onto inks because it’s far easier to fix something in pencil stage than it is to fix it in inks."

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