CCI: Spotlight on J.G. Jones

It wasn't quite 52 weeks in the making, but at the J.G. Jones Spotlight panel at 2008's Comic-Con International in San Diego, fans were treated to a journey through Jones's illustrious career and artistic insight nearly as long, winding, and engaging as the artist's run as cover artist the weekly series "52." Hosted by DC Comics Senior Editor Ian Sattler, who prepared an extensive slideshow of famous covers, unused art, behind-the-scenes sketches and more, the panel offered a glimpse into the mind and work of one of mainstream comics' leading image-makers.

Sattler started the slide show with an unexpected image: a picture of an abstract fine-art piece Jones created. "I was a New York painter before I got into comics," Jones said in explaining the six-foot-tall work depicting, of all things, a curtain.

Next was a more familiar piece from Jones's work on Billy Tucci's "Shi," which Jones said they had to start with since he couldn't find any pictures of his earliest work at the '90s-era comics companies run by Jim Shooter. "I started out at Defiant--I closed that company with Jim. Then I went to Broadway Comics--I closed that company with Jim," Jones joked. It was at Tucci's Crusade imprint ("Billy probably blames me for closing Crusade too") that Jones changed his initial style to the black-and-white painted approach he still utilizes today.

Jones's time at Crusade led directly to his first Marvel gig, "Black Widow," through the time-honored comics tradition of drinking. "Billy and Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada all drink at the same bar. Those guys were just starting up Marvel Knights and saw the stuff I was doing for Billy," and the rest was history.

As covers and spreads for "Black Widow" were projected for the San Diego crowd, Sattler noted the level of detail that went into Jones's depiction of Russian military hardware. "I kind of do a sick level of photo-referencing," Jones said, conducting online research while he eats breakfast or lunch. His research files are "the only part of my life that is organized."

Jones also took this time to note that he didn't consider his "new" painted style all that new, tracing the look back to books like Mike Ploog's "Planet of the Apes" in the '70s. "It's old school."

Next up was "Marvel Boy," Jones's second Marvel Knights project and his first collaboration with "Final Crisis" writer Grant Morrison. "I did 'Final Crisis' just to work with Grant again," Jones admitted. While viewing the cover for "Marvel Boy" #4, which features the title character's reflection in a bullet, Jones noted "I always like doing these sort of obtuse covers where the action is reflected somewhere." Sattler said that in an upcoming issue of "Final Crisis," Jones actually took the time to figure out where a character in one panel would have ended up in the next one, so that he could show that now off-panel character reflected in the back of another character's metallic helmet. The cover was created in watercolor, "my default medium."

Jones's covers for "Avengers" were the next to be featured, and first up was an unused sketch featuring Black Panther that Jones actually took the time to paint despite its not being used. He said he typically sketches on tracing paper, and advised artists to send their editors two sketches in black and white while and a third, their favorite, in color - "The editor will always pick the color one," he said as the audience laughed.

As the "Avengers" cover parade continued with She-Hulk on issue #68 and Iron Man cradling Captain America's corpse on #69, Jones noted that he liked to depict things from weird angles "to make them more dynamic." A case in point was his cover for "Avengers" #71, which showed a tiny Wasp far enough in the foreground of the shot to seem huge, despite the fact that she was actually being dwarfed by a pair of dice being thrown at a craps table by a character behind her. That character, an Elvis impersonator, was none other than DC Comics staffer Fletcher Chu-Fong in Elvis glasses, Jones revealed. Jones also said he loved getting the chance to draw Captain Marvel, a favorite character from "when I was a wee lad," during this period.

Speaking of DC, the next cover was Jones's first for the company, a memorable shot of Wonder Woman's boot stamping on Batman's head in the characters' Greg Rucka-penned crossover "The Hiketeia." The idea for the cover came to Jones during a conversation with Rucka at an earlier San Diego Comic-Con in which Rucka asked "Is there anything in this book that you want to draw? Tell me now and I'll write it in." "The only thing I really want to draw is Wonder Woman with her foot shoved down on Batman's face." Three months later, editor Bob Schreck told Jones that Greg had "a great idea for the cover." "I never ratted out Greg until this day," laughed Jones. "If he still thinks it was his idea, that's fine." Jones handled interiors for this book as well, simply because "I loved the story."

"Codename: Knockout," a shortlived Vertigo series Jones created the covers for, came next. "Because almost nobody read it, there weren't any real rules that I had to follow except to have the two main characters somewhere on the cover. I just got to have fun." Perhaps better known were a pair of "Transmetropolitan" covers Jones made, spoofing both Norman Rockwell's "Saturday Evening Post" covers and old Coppertone ads, with Spider Jerusalem's bare butt standing in for that sunbathing little girl's.

One of Jones's best-known covers, "Y: The Last Man" #1, was based on a familiar figure: Jones himself, who stood in for main character Yorick. Sattler pointed out all the detail that went into the piece, from the subtle Y design element to the photoshopped DNA strand to the Albrecht Durer apocalypse print in the background, which Jones actually handpainted himself rather than copying and pasting. Jones changed his game up somewhat for the acclaimed cover to "Y" #15, whose skeleton-astronaut was painted in acrylic rather than Jones's standard watercolor.

Jones's next project conquered the theaters this summer in film form: "Wanted," his collaboration with Mark Millar. Jones said that at the time, Mark Millar and I were talking about going and doing something at Marvel, because we wanted to make a lot of money, and I thought money would be a good idea after starving for years." However, Millar had four independent projects he wanted to pursue, and Jones selected "Wanted" because it seemed the most commercially viable. "If it tanks, you don't get paid." As Sattler scrolled through Jones's "Wanted" work, recurring themes popped up once again, including seeing main character Wesley reflected in another character's goggles, and almost hidden details, like seeing the eyes of the character wearing those goggles if you look closely enough - or hiding the arm of the slain Juggernaut in a sketch featuring Wesley standing triumphant above his enemies.

From "Wanted" the slide show turned to "Wonder Woman," a cover run that frequently featured the then-blinded Diana behind a blindfold. "If you have trouble painting eyes, that works good for you." But it's viewers that are frequently blind to a notable aspect of Jones's cover to "Wonder Woman" #219, the issue in which Diana kills Max Lord. His rendering of Wonder Woman's midair battle with Superman is so dynamic that few people notice the presence of Batman in the image as well. Another standout "WW" cover was for #225, which was supposed to be Jones's final issue. Featuring Wonder Woman walking away from the Themysciran embassy, Jones said the cover tried to capture the purple shadows and yellow light of late afternoon, and featured a feathery bonus: "It's always fun to paint pigeons."

Perhaps Jones's most famous achievement, his landmark run of covers on "52," was also the artist's favorite. "The '52' cover gig was actually my most fun I've ever had in comics. Seriously, it was great. I didn't have to worry about drawing continuity pages. The deadline sounds stupid but actually it was easy because I only had to concentrate on doing one solid image every week instead of five or six pages."

Several of these covers were shown at every stage from sketch to completion, including Jones's notes for colorist Alex Sinclair, which contained everything from detailed references to copious spelling errors to random factoids such as letting Sinclair know a character's cat was in fact "my cat Mazzy."

Jones went in all sorts of directions for inspiration during this stretch of work: borrowing a rejected "Villains United" sketch idea to convey the absence of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in issue #1, paying homage to medieval altarpieces while depicting Bruce Wayne's battle with his own costume in #30, hand-crafting a graffiti-style street-art stencil of the new Question for #48, and working a neighbor's kid into the trick-or-treat scene in #25. That kid later posed for a photo with Jones and the cover to prove to his classmates that it really was him on the cover.

The final stop on this tour of Jones's career was his current project, "Final Crisis." Jones described his approach to the series' striking covers as "Andy Warhol does comics." With his Green Lantern, Flash, and Supergirl covers, he once again noted his preference for odd angles - cropping GL's head to better focus on his ring, for example - and avoiding "puffing them up" for a traditional hero shot. The bold, neon color treatments for the GL and Darkseid covers, though, were actually the idea of DC art director Marc Chiarrello, whose email to Jones with the idea for these super-bright, bold glowing colors had the subject line "How big are your stones?" Supergirl, meanwhile, gave Jones the chance to depict one of his favorite visual subjects - capes and drapery. Sattler pointed out that this was the subject of the painting that kicked off the slideshow, bringing us full circle.

The panel then segued to a brief audience Q&A.

When assigned to create a cover, what does Jones base his images on? Does he have access to full scripts, or is it just based on a quick conversation with the writer? Jones said it varies and can be either of the above, or anything in between. However, "I prefer more information than less."

Does Jones stay up-to-date with advances in Photoshop and digital art tools? "I'm a Photoshop idiot." Jones said he can feel his way around the program but is not on its cutting edge.

Will Jones ever both write and draw a comic on his own? "I haven't had time to draw the comics I've written," Jones said, though he has plans to do a graphic novel "all mapped out and ready to roll" after "Final Crisis."

Finally, who did Jones use for photo reference for the Flash image on the cover of "Final Crisis" #2? "I used me!" But self-reliance has its price, Jones revealed, because the posing process slows things down. "I have to pose, take a shot, look at it, pose, take a shot, look at it..." Fortunately for readers, Jones's patience tends to pay off.

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