Cover Story | Dave Johnson on <i>Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain</i> #1

One of the pleasant surprises this week in Dark Horse's solicitations for June was a listing for Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain #1, which features a cover by Dave Johnson.

An Abe solo adventure that sends our amphibian hero on the hunt of an ancient relic aboard a sunken Soviet submarine is reason enough to take notice, to be sure. But when you add the Eisner Award-winning artist to the equation, there's cause for celebration -- particularly when the cover he creates is such a departure from what we're accustomed to seeing on the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. books.

Johnson, known for his bold sense of design on such titles as 100 Bullets, Detective Comics, Superman: Red Son and Punisher, spoke briefly with Robot 6 about his striking cover for The Abyssal Plain #1, and shared art from the production process.

Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain #1 is due in stores in June.

While the color palette signals that the comic is in the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. line, the other elements are vastly different -- the massive amount of white space instead of encroaching shadows, the repetition of the hammer and sickle in the bubbles (distinctly you). Was it a conscious effort to go in such a vastly different direction?

Actually, I have to disagree with you on the color palette. It's hardly the Hellboy norm. And that was the point. [Mike] Mignola had said that he wanted me because I was doing something different than himself on other stuff. So I really wanted to set myself apart. Which is a lot harder than you think because his style is so ingrained into the Hellboy universe. And because I'm a huge fan, it still feels like I'm pissing on perfection. But that's the job, I guess. Haha. So, I wanted more color than black to dominate the over all feel. Also, I love negative space in design. Too many artists act like they're getting paid by the line and how much crap they can unload on a cover. I'll take a well-designed, simple cover over a hyper-rendered fanboy jerk-fest any day of the week.

The cover evokes the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea movie poster. Did you turn to '50s and '60s sci-fi for inspiration, or am I being led astray by the submarine and type treatment?

It didn't start out that way. But after I did the type, it took on that direction. I'm always filling up my brain with design books from all genres. That sometimes creates these happy accidents, where everything just comes together on its own.

What kind of direction were you given by Mignola? Did you work from the script, or did you work from a plot synopsis?

Haha. Well, like most of the covers I do, they have to be done so far in advance that usually there's not much source material to pull from. But what I had, I threw it all in there. Which ended up being a problem for the second cover. I had nothing left, haha. Which ended being a hell of a lot more simple of a cover design. And as far as direction Mignola gave me on this cover, I'd say it was for me to be myself and not do what he's done.

What other projects are you working on?

Well, mostly covers at this point. Punisher, Unknown Soldier, a Hitman Monkey three-issue series, and some continuity work based on a dumb character I came up with as a joke called Flatulene (YouTube it) that will be published in a book called Titmouse. It's the animation studio I work for from time to time. They're the same guys that do Metalocalypse on Adult Swim. The hope is to eventually do some animation with the character. Fingers crossed. And I almost forgot, a new Drink and Draw Social Club book will be coming out for San Diego Comic-Con. All the art from the industry's top talent, done while drinking in a bar, that you could ever want in one book. It's a recipe for awesome. And all for a low, low price.

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