Durwin Talon "Bonds" with Comics

Durwin Talon first gained the attention of comics fans with a series of striking covers for DC Comics' "Batman: Officer Down" event in 2001. Since then, Talon's work has appeared sporadically, covering such books as "Skinwalkers" and "Queen & Country." Now, Talon is back in full force with his own creator-owned miniseries, "Bonds," shipping in August from Image Comics. Talon spoke with CBR about his reemergence, his influences and more.

"Bonds" follows Faith Warner, a world-class cellist whose father is killed when he discovers a bio-weaponry plot. Faith discovers she has long dormant magical powers. Among these powers is that each time she kills, the soul of her victim is emblazoned onto her skin like a tattoo.

"'Bonds' is a character piece exploring relationships and obligation," Durwin Talon told CBR News. "[Faith] has people helping her cope with her powers–-a mentor in Detective Jim Alley, and her mother, a Binder, a magical being who can impose their will upon nature or man. However, it's her fiancé Josh who keeps Faith's soul intact as she walks this path of vengeance."

"Bonds" is Talon's first creator-owned comic and provides him a unique opportunity to draw on many influences and inspirations. "'Bonds' has a kind of 'Lone Wolf and Cub' meets 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' vibe," said Talon. "However, the [collection of short stories] 'The Illustrated Man' by Ray Bradbury most inspired 'Bonds.' I bought this paperback from a used bookstore and was mesmerized by the cover and then the concept. The cover had the illustrated man sitting with his back towards the reader with all of these tattoos in plain sight. It was this deep red, almost monochromatic cover, whose basic composition I swiped for the first issue cover design of 'Bonds.' I thought the idea that these tattoos told stories was terrific. So I simply wondered: 'What if these tattoos represented lives?' And then I let the thought continue. 'What if these lives were taken by the person who wore them?' And so 'Bonds' was born."

Talon added, "Art-wise, I have been greatly influenced by classic illustrators with strong design sense: Coles Phillips, JC Leyendecker, Michael Schwab, Ludwig Hohlwein and Mike Mignola. However, comics is such a communal community, so I'd feel terrible if I didn't list George Pratt, John Van Fleet, Mark Chiarello, Walt and Weezie Simonson, Dave Dorman, Chris Moeller, Ray Lago, Adam Hughes and especially Scott Hampton for their amazing support.

"The writing in 'Bonds' has influences that can be found in the works of Joseph Campbell, Stephen King, Kazuo Koike and Greg Rucka."

It is the influence of Joseph Campbell that may partly determine whether Faith will be seen in further adventures. Said Talon, "Using the Joseph Campbell model of the hero's journey, Faith's story ends at the initiation phase–-she will not be able to take this journey to the end. However, I have been thinking about storylines where someone might be able to complete the path of the One Binder… and Faith will have a hand in these new storylines."

Talon comes to "Bonds" in the unusual position of being an experienced writer, yet this is the first series he's actually written. "The books I've written on comics --'Panel Discussions' and 'Comics Above Ground'-- were great motivators for me to write and draw my first creator-owned comic," Talon explained. "The comics community in general is a very giving community, and most creators are willing to talk shop with you. It's hard not to be inspired to create comics after talking to greats like Eisner, Simonson, or Mignola. And talking to all of the creators I interviewed for the books gave me all of the ammunition I needed to give 'Bonds' a go."

However, "'Bonds' isn't my first go at the sequential narrative," Talon continued. "I've co-written some short stories for Caliber Comics. 'Skinwalkers' and 'Officer Down' are even examples where I've generated ideas that helped storylines that I didn't write. But this is my first attempt at writing a story from the first panel to the last page. I've had wonderful people to hold my hand throughout this process, and I especially couldn't have gotten though these issues without the sharp editorial eye of Scott Hampton. The writing was by far the toughest hat to wear on this comic--but I am pleased with the results."

Talon talked about how the experience differs in fully creating a project versus being part of the team. Asked if there a greater pressure or a greater freedom, Talon responded, "Yes. And ohmygosh yes!

"When you are part of a team, and here we are talking about creating comic book covers for DC and Oni, my job is to help tell the story at hand. I always try to communicate with the writers or editors of the book to discuss plot points in the issue I'm working on (and sometimes beyond). I'm always searching for the perfect moment to illustrate on the cover. Whether it's a moment from the narrative, an iconic moment, or an emotion, the cover must serve the story. However, when you are the writer and editor, the experience is much more pressure-filled. Since I know where the story is going, every panel (and here I feel that my covers serve as panel one) must set up important plot points and themes in the issue. So within the narrative, I find myself paying very close attention to details that will become important later on- I have freedom to call the shots, as long as they fit within the story. For every panel that makes the page, I've had to abandon choices that may have been more fun to do, but didn't serve the story on the page. If a panel doesn't work within the story arc, no matter how much it hurts me to drop it, it's gone."

"Bonds" is already collecting accolades, and it will be included in the 49th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Illustrators.   "The Society of Illustrators is a grand institution promoting the art, appreciation and history of illustrators since 1901," said Talon. "Their annuals collect the best work for the year and the annuals stretch back to the sixties. It's an honor to be included in the annuals and then to have your work hanging in the Society building. Kind of like sitting at the grownup's table."

"The sequential category is a relatively young category for the competition," Talon added, "but some amazing talent in comics has been included and has judged for the Annual and Competition: George Pratt, Kent Williams, Michael Kaluta. I just consider myself lucky to get in the show. Believe you me, it feels like I got called up from the minors."

While art puts bread on Talon's table, it's still not his comics art that qualifies as his "day job." "I currently teach sequential narrative and video game classes in the School of Informatics, Indiana University, IUPUI," explained Talon. "Before that, I used to teach sequential art and illustration classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Teaching is the best job in the world because of the amount of talent I come in contact with day in and day out. Some of my former students have made their mark in comics already: Brad Walker ('Superman,' 'Action Comics'), Chris Brunner ('The Ride: Foreign Parts'), and Jon Luna ('Ultra,' 'Girls') was the person who hooked me up with Image Comics."

Talon continued, "Teaching keeps me honest. I can't demand anything from my students that I can't demand from myself. So, teaching reinforces good habits. Also, my students inspire me with their love of telling stories in this form."

It was Talon's teaching career that created a sort of bridge into working in comics. "In 2000, I participated in an 'Under the Big Top' gallery show with the Illustration Department at the Savannah College of Art and Design," Talon said. "It had a circus/freak show theme and I created four pieces for the show: a winged woman, a flamethrower, an escape artist and even a tattooed woman! I placed these pieces at the beginning of my portfolio and went to New York to visit the Society of Illustrators. While in New York, I visited some friends at the DC offices. I was having a casual conversation with [editor] Mike Carlin, and he became curious about my work and so I pulled out the portfolio.

"He was intrigued by my gallery work and then he called in [editor] Matt Idleson who in turn passed the work over to [editor] Bob Schreck. They liked the colors and the style and thought that it would be perfect for the 'Batman: Officer Down' covers. That was the start of my official comics career and from that moment, I was hooked! But I knew that if I wanted a career in comics (and not just illustration work), I needed to do comics. And so 'Bonds' is the result of this."

Talon's unique artistic style is the result of traditional methods, computer work and an idiosyncratic approach. "My process is one part planning and one part whatever isn't nailed down to the floor, said Talon. "Since I'm writing and drawing the book, my roughs reflect both the Marvel and DC style of creating comics. For some pages, I have a clear sense of the dialogue… what each character is saying and the pace at which the words come out. Then I create my roughs with the dialogue in mind. Ideally that's how production should flow, but I have just as many pages where I have a better sense of the action, and so I choreograph the actions at the roughs stage and place dialogue afterwards.

"I come from a traditional art school background, but in 'Bonds', I've done everything under the sun to produce the art. I draw traditionally and electronically, I ink using vector programs, and I color in raster programs. It's my coloring that makes my work unique (at least that's what I've been told), and to do the best coloring, you have to think about descriptive shapes. I avoid the airbrush tool or gradient fills in Photoshop because things can get a bit mushy. I try to rely on strong color theory and stronger highlight and shadow shapes. To make shapes that are believable, I've collected extensive research, taken photographs and even created 3D models to light."

"Bonds" may well serve as a reintroduction to further comics work for both creator and audiences alike, as Talon has further projects in the pipeline. Next up, a collaboration. "I am a co-creator with Guin Thompson on a three-part series entitled 'Beautiful Scars' for Archaia Studio Press," Talon confirmed. "Guin and I split all of the art and writing duties down the middle. It's a wonderful premise: every scar tells a story. And so in an English garden, a grandfather relates how he got all of his scars in a series of stories told to his granddaughter. As he tells his stories about the turn of the last century and World War I, the granddaughter's imagination is sparked. She begins to imagine a fantastic world where trolls, dragons, and princesses live. She learns to love stories because of her grandfather and the scars that he sports become less scary and more the signs of a life well lived.

"Maybe my next project should involve birthmarks since I've already covered tattoos and scars…."

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