Gastonny talks "Caliber" Artwork

Radical Comics' debut titles, "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" and "Caliber: First Canon of Justice," appeared in stores last month and were greeted by comic book critics with largely positive reviews. Both series are complete reinventions of familiar characters, but "Caliber," a Western retelling of the legend of King Arthur, is a more radical visual alternative to styles of comic book art most readers have grown accustomed to.

The task of visually crafting the Pacific Northwest of "Caliber" fell on Garrie Gastonny of Imaginary Friends Studios. The artist comes to the project after illustrating a number of "World of Warcraft" trading cards, an experience that lends itself to the Radical title. "Caliber" features mystical, Native American and Western elements, and it all falls on Gastonny to bring them together in a cohesive style. The artist took some time to talk to CBR News about the process of creating his distinctive artwork and, the influences that can be seen in "Caliber: First Canon of Justice."

CBR: How did you get started as an artist?

Garrie Gastonny: have been reading comic books since I was a kid - mostly European comics, such as "Tintin" and "Asterix," but the superhero characters like Superman or Spider-Man �" those were the ones with all the pictures that inspired me a lot. Since then, I wanted to become a comic book artist. I began drawing comics professionally at university, starting in 1998 until now. May it long continue.

What's your process like? Most comic book readers understand the pencil and ink process or the painting process, but yours is different.

Yes, I think it differs from the usual process in the sense that "Caliber" was completed with a fully painted finish. But the process in between still adheres very much to the conventional methods. It begins with ensuring that the [thumbnail sketches] are a good representation of the script. After that, I continue drawing the details at the pencil stage and try to depict every panel as realistically as I can, thus helping the painter do their job. (I hope!) After it is finished and approved, we move on to the painting stage, but here is where the process really differs. The painters apply the coloring directly over my pencil lines, so we didn't need to go through the inking process. Actually, the painters are the ones who are doing an amazing job; they really compliment my pencil work �" thanks guys!

You've worked on a lot of licensed properties like "World of Warcraft." How is "Caliber" different?

Since "Caliber" is my main project, I gain a lot of experience by thoroughly embracing and getting involved in the process. Things like these cannot be experienced in other licensed properties, so I get a lot more room to explore when making "Caliber," especially in terms of my drawing style.

What do you prefer to draw, action or characters having conversations �" what some artists call "acting."

 To be honest, I prefer drawing the action scenes more than the conversation pieces. Anyway, this is a western, so it's full of action and that works for me. Having said that, the conversations are important for visualizing and setting the mood as well as tension in the comic itself. I just try my best to visualize all the elements and events to make the comics more appealing and understandable for the readers.

Reading the first issue, it seemed like the action scenes were about the characters interacting with their environment, while the quieter scenes allowed them to interact with each other. Do the characters' interactions in one setting inform the other?

Yes, because I want to make "Caliber" look as realistic as possible. That's why I try to draw corresponding details on each panel, to help give the storytelling more flow and continuity.

The first issue is a prologue. Arthur grows up--as does Gwen--between the first and second issues. When you conceived the characters, visually, did you start them as youths and age them or as adults and then make them younger?

After we got the script, we started immediately on the character designs and so we started conceptualizing them as adults before working on the age reversal process. It's easier this way, because we only see them as youths in issue #1. It's definitely more important to design them as an adult first because we need to see how our hero takes shape.

What kind of reference materials did you use for the Western time period and setting?

That's a good question. I actually watch a lot of movies for reference on comics. I went through my old collection of western movies and got everything that I needed from the movies! "Tombstone, " "Young Guns" and "3:10 to Yuma" are the movies that influenced me when illustrating "Caliber," but sometimes I'll browse the Internet for more references. Very exciting process!

How realistic is the setting in terms of architecture and costume design?

To be honest, I have never considered the architecture or the costumes that I design realistic enough, but I do try to depict every material in this comic as realistically as possible. That's why I need a good reference and movies are great visual reference material. Nonetheless, we still discuss a lot of things with the writer and editor in our creative process.   

Did you reference, for visuals, any classic King Arthur material?

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I never actually looked for any visuals on King Arthur when I drew this comic! I know the King Arthur story from the books and movies that I watched, but my intention was to make "Caliber" as refreshing as possible. Well, you can't avoid certain similarities, but I have tried to make it different from the Arthur that we all knew.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

This may sound cheesy, but everyone in my studio inspires me. They always do an amazing job for their art. That encourages me to make good art when I'm drawing. For artists beyond the studio, I like Adam Hughes' style, his art somehow influences me when I draw. I don't try to imitate his style but I really like what he does. Oh, and let's not forget Alex Ross, one of my favorites too - his work is very realistic. 

What do you think of when you think of a Western? On the other side, what do you think of when you hear "King Arthur?"

When I think of Westerns, I see guns, cowboys and horses. I see action. King Arthur brings up images of the sword of Excalibur, medieval stuff and Sean Connery's portrayal. When I think of King Arthur, I think of a legend. But when I think of both of them, I get "Caliber."

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