He's definitely a star, man, but for those who have missed seeing Tony Harris' interior art on a regular basis, you're in for a treat in June. With the release of "Ex Machina," Harris returns to monthly pencilling and he couldn't be more excited. It also marks the first "in house" monthly series production by Jolly Roger Studio, a studio comprised of JD Mettler, Tom Feister and Harris (all of whom work on this book in some artistic capacity). In part 2 of the spotlight on this new DC Comics/Wildstorm series, CBR News spoke with the acclaimed artist and learned a bit more about the book.
"It's about the worlds very first super hero," Harris told CBR News. "And how he turns what little success he had as that hero into a political career, which is what he really wanted in the first place. Its also a serious look at friendships, and relationships, and the choices you make daily which could affect them in a positive, or a negative way. My ideas on the series are mainly the visual, and to compliment what Brian has come up with."
While Vaughan provided some information on Mitchell Hundred, the lead character of the series, Harris explains what inspired the visual look of the series' characters. "Well, we have Mayor Mitchell Hundred. After my initial conversations with Brian, it was clear that we wanted something visually comfortable. Mitchell is a young guy as far as politicians go, so I think the reader can identify with him on that level. Kind of a JFK, kinda thing. Good looking , but not devastatingly so. Brian also wanted a permanent scarring on his face, from an accident that ultimately gives him the power to become 'The Great Machine.' Since he can communicate with, and control machines, it was logical that the scarring would have a circuitry look to it. Then you have 'The Great Machine,' Mitchell's alter ego. This design was completely practical. A 'working' suit , if you will. It had to look like something a guy and his mechanic buddie could build. Using things they could get their hands on. Like military surplus and the like. Plus, Mitchell is an engineer, and an inventor, so the rocket pack came from that. I had messed around with the design a bit, and it never got attached to any particular project, so when this came along, I pulled outta the drawer and retooled it. Then I sent it to Brian and Ben, and they loved it.
"Next is Kremlin. He had to have the look of someone who led a hard life, working with their hands, plus that cool, grizzled, Russian immigrant thing, too. I ended up casting his character with a good friend named Larry. He lives here in my neighborhood, as do all my models. I like to have a face attached to the characters. It gives them more life; you believe them on the page. I was very lucky in the casting of this book. I use my wife and my son for Mitchell's mother, and a young 8 year old Mitchell.
"Next is Bradbury. Had to be a war veteran, good friend to Mitchell, and a basic jar-head, built like a wall. I like to think a beefier Treat Williams, the way he looked in 'Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead.'
"Wylie (Deputy Mayor). Brian and I bickered a bit back and forth on the Dread-lock thing, but I liked it alot, and thought how cool that the deputy Mayor of New York City would look like this! So Brian lemme have that one."
Harris hasn't been seen on a high-profile monthly series since his work with James Robinson in the late 90's on the classic "Starman" series and ironically, he got his new job while trying to pitch his own series. "I was pitching a creator owned property to Scott Dunbier at Wildstorm at the time and I got a call from Jim Lee one day with the bad news," explains Harris. "They were going to pass. I said ok, and we chatted for a few moments. I think he asked what I had going and if I would be into something with Wildstorm, which is what Scott Dunbier had asked as well. So I said sure, and they sent me a couple o' 3 pitches . I liked one or two, but then I read 'Ex Machina!' Wow! I think I called them back in like twenty minutes to say that I wanted it. The pitch was that good. I saw soooo much potential for great characterization, which is really what I love to do. They mentioned me to Brian, and the rest is history."
While critics are already using words like "deep" and "insightful" to compliment both the writing and art on "Ex Machina," you'll notice that there's something they're not doing: defining the series. Both Vaughan and Harris say it's not easy to put the series under any one genre label and for Harris, that means he can really flex his creative muscles. "It's a great workout for me as a story teller. It's a great mix of high drama, political intrigue, and action- with a splash of costumed stuff, too. So I can't rely on the splashy hero shots to carry the visuals. I have to rely on my ability as an actor with the facial expressions, the body language between characters, etc... That's what drives this project for me. So when you get to action, hopefully you will have been sucked into these characters and their lives, then the action sequences become urgent in a huge way. Plus there is the other major character in 'Ex Machina': New York City! Jeebus!! I though creating and drawing Opal City in 'Starman' was tough- this is harder. New York is real, Opal was not. There are alot folks that live in and love New York. Plus they know it quite well. Brian is a native to New York City as well, so it was really important for me to give the city the respect it deserves. Right down to the slightest details. City Hall, Cops uniforms, police cars, FDNY, specific areas in the 5 Burroughs, and most importantly, The Brooklyn Bridge. If you are a New Yorker, you will appreciate this book."
There's been a distinct change in Harris's art style in recent years and with each new project, it's seemed like that there've been some changes, at least in the nuances of his work. But will his style change again in "Ex Machina?" "Not really," answers Harris. "I am using a very realistic style for this book. A lot like what I did for 'Starman,' and 'JSA: The Liberty File.' I let the project dictate the style I use. I like to be versatile. But I think a reality based idea like 'Ex Machina' needs the same kind of attention in the art. It'll make you believe what you are looking at."
There are a lot of concerns in the comic book industry about the timeliness of artists and with Harris gone from the monthly scene for some time, it'd be reasonable to think he might have some deadline issues. But when you're talking about Tony Harris, you have to remember one thing: the man doesn't face problems, he conquers them. "No concerns at all. I had a huge break from monthly rigors, so its time again, and the project is just right. We publish ten times a year, and as of this writing I am completing issue four pencils. The book doesn't come out till June, and I average six or more pages a week and haven't missed a deadline yet. There will be no fill ins on this comic. None. If we are around one year or four, I will do all of it."
For better or worse, the series that Harris is most associated with is "Starman," of which he illustrated more than half the series and was able to create a unique super hero vision with writer James Robinson, which is many ways parallels the creative synergy on "Ex Machina." "This is similar in ways to 'Starman' in that Brian and James both came up with their ideas for these series and asked me to come and get involved. Brian and I are of one mind. We talked about what we wanted to achieve with a book like this before we ever started, and what our sensibilities were as creators, and it just gelled. I asked for one thing from Brian: If he could write his scripts as 4 panel pages for the most part. That way I could tell a clean streamlined story, and would have room to add panels if needed. He agreed without question. I love that guy. With Dan, I co-wrote everything we did together except 'The Mummy,' so I was thinking very visually when I put my ideas on the table. Luckily, with Brian, he's a very visual guy anyway, so his scripts translate very well."
There's always been talk of a "Starman" original graphic novel and while Harris would love to finish it, he admits there are a few obstacles. "James would have to not be able to get work in Hollywood anymore, then he would have to start returning people's calls and e-mails. I have wanted to do the Starman Far East Graphic Novel with him for years."
Turning our attention back to "Ex Machina," there's something else that Harris loves about working on the series- trust. "We very much trust each other to do our own jobs, but at the same time, we both make suggestions to the other about what we are doing. I send my pages daily to Brian and Ben [Abernathy, editor on the series], Tom and JD. So everybody is on the same page. I did contribute a couple of story threads that hopefully will make it into the book."
Now if you're one of those folks waiting on the trade paperback collection of "Ex Machina," Harris explains the science of comic book profit margins, by saying, "If everybody waited for the trade, then nobody would be buying the monthly, then the monthly books would go away, then there wouldn't be any trades for people to wait for."
Regardless, Harris is having a great time on the project and is thankful for all the support he's received thus far. "I haven't loved a project this much, or had as much invested in it, since 'Starman.' And I know it shows on every page."
|Detail of the inset on page 22.||"Ex Machina" #1, Page 26|