How do you become one of the most popular and acclaimed over artists in modern comics history? For Adam Hughes, his journey began when publishers stopped asking him to do interiors as often. As the veteran artist concludes his run on "Batgirl" covers for DC Comics New 52 and segues over to Vertigo's "Fables" spin-off "Fairest," Hughes is in a period of transition between what's come before and what comes next.
CBR News spoke with Hughes following an earlier CBR feature profiling unreleased comic books including the creator's own "All-Star Wonder Woman," and after some miscommunication over the book's ultimate fate we cleared the air and Hughes opened up about the title and the scope of his unique career.
CBR News: Let's start with an easy one, Adam -- what are you working on today?
Adam Hughes: Today? I'm working on a cover for the "Overstreet Price Guide" that DC Comics actually asked me to do. I'm also doing some tweaks to the covers for "Fairest" #1 and 2 -- basically, well, making the women fairer! It's one thing to do covers for "Wonder Woman" or "Catwoman" and make the leading ladies as beautiful as I can. It's another thing to work on a book that's actually called "Fairest" -- it's like a guarantee that the ladies have to be the prettiest you've ever seen. I feel like I need to "take 'Fight Club' up a notch," as it were.
Your run as cover artist on "Batgirl" comes to close with #6, and as you mentioned you're joining Vertigo's "Fairest" when it launches in March. Can you tell us how you go about picking projects, and the kinds of things that you are offered?
Well, I don't pick assignments as much as they pick me. I date whoever asks me out, I guess. People seem to think I have more clout than I actually have; I'm only a wee 150 lb. gorilla. I don't get to waltz in to DC Comics and say, "Gimme 'Batgirl!' I wanna draw her now!" DC asked me to participate in the New 52 project by doing a few "Batgirl" covers. Bill Willingham then wanted me to be part of his new book "Fairest." I've known Bill my whole career. I worked with him a little back in the old "Elementals" days, and we were both working on "JLA" during the Giffen/DeMatteis years, and was keen to get back together with him. "Fables" is one of my favorite titles, and the chance to be part of a new chapter in that story was one I couldn't pass up.
You're known for drawing some of the best looking women in comics, and you say that assignments are usually chosen for you by publishers. But let's say you did get free reign and could draw whatever you want -- would it be the female-centric jaw-dropping covers or something outside of what people have come to know you for?
Probably the latter. I mean, I can't imagine being a cover artist, exclusively, for the rest of my life; especially not Good Girl art. People would just get tired of it, eventually. For all I know, they probably already are. I love doing female-centric art, obviously, but what I enjoy most about it is making believable characters out of what could otherwise be viewed as merely superficial glamour-pusses. The desire to do that, to make characters live & breathe, extends beyond just the Good Girl art I'm sorta infamous for doing.
That being said, I'd dearly love to do some World War II-era Captain America stuff some day. I'd love to do some war comics art, especially with one of my favorite characters.
How do you approach a cover? Do you read the script, rely on the solicitation text, talk to the editor, etc.? Walk us through your process.
It depends on the assignment. I have no set approach. On "Batgirl," I would talk with writer Gail Simone to get a feel for what was going on in a particular issue. On "Fairest," I chat with Vertigo editor Shelly Bond and creator Bill Willingham and bat around ideas. I generally don't like to read full scripts. I find that the best cover idea is also the Big Moment from the issue, one that shouldn't be blown on the cover. Readers should have that magic moment unfold while reading the issue. When I just know the general idea behind an issue, it's easier for me to come up with something that sums the issue up. Specifics can sometimes curtail creativity; for me, at any rate.
We're speaking today because of the piece I wrote on announced comics that have yet to be released, and your "All-Star Wonder Woman" was at the top of the list. After sorting out some miscommunication where it was listed as "presumed dead," you commented that it was "in a coma on a high, dark shelf." Since so many people were looking forward to it, could you explain how the project developed and ended up the way it has?
I was working with Geoff Johns on "All-Star Batman & Robin," originally. That was before Frank Miller and Jim Lee had the book. At some point someone at DC said "Why do we have Adam drawing 'All-Star Batman & Robin' when he should really be doing 'All-Star Wonder Woman?'" No one had a good answer for that, so they offered me "All-Star Wonder Woman." Geoff and I started hashing out the story, but when Geoff got so busy writing many regular DC projects, I ended up getting the all the creative chores for "All-Star Wonder Woman," with Geoff's blessing.
I would work on it, and then get sidetracked by single-illustration assignments, covers and such, because they pay faster. I'm really slow, and doing interior work that doesn't pay until you get lots of pages in the drawer isn't conducive to paying the bills. Especially when you're trying to buy your first home or your wife has a medical condition that requires a lot of money to take care of. "All-Star Wonder Woman" would get worked on in what is laughably referred to as my 'spare time.' I just ended up with less and less time to devote to it. Eventually, we all realized that it was taking forever, so we just all agreed to hold off on it 'til the time was right to do it properly.
Can you say how much work -- story, art, covers -- you completed before you called it a day on the project?
I can, but I don't wish to. Invariably it'll be seen as 'not enough' or 'geez, you're almost there -- can't you just knuckle down and wrap it up?'
What do you think the honest chances are that the project might come back and be published at a later date?
Well, I still have a contract; DC never tore it up. I think we'd all like me to get to it eventually. DC has said as much. I would very much like to get it out someday. It'll be my 'lost project' for a while, and then someday it'll come out. I think with the end of the All-Star line, and what DC is doing with the New 52 initiative... my "Wonder Woman" might get lost in the shuffle or worse -- compete with what other people are trying to do with the character in the mainstream.
Although your "Wonder Woman" series never came out, I did dig out my weathered single issues of the previous major project you wrote and drew: "Gen13: No Ordinary Heroes." How do you view that series in hindsight?
The way any creator views their earlier work: with equal parts pride & dread. [Laughs] That was another gig I wasn't supposed to write, but ended up doing anyways. It was my first writing credit! Mark Waid had my favorite comment about it: "I liked it more than I thought I would, Adam."
Although it's a rarity, on a few occasions you've written a comic with another artist drawing it like the overlooked "Superman/Gen13" series you did with a young Lee Bermejo. What are the chances we could see you doing more of that, writing for another artist?
I was supposed to write and draw that book, but I ended up quitting over creative differences with DC. The finished scripts sat in a drawer for a few years, pretty much dead as far as I was concerned, and then Wildstorm came to me and asked if I minded if they published it using another artist. My response was: "You paid for it; it's your script, not mine." I'd washed my hands of the project, after investing the better part of a year getting it ready. Imagine my surprise when Lee Bermejo came along and did such a wonderful job on it!
As for writing for other artists -- well, to be honest, I resist it. I've had several offers, and I just don't want to take the chance of getting distracted from being an artist. It's something that would be very easy to do. I pain over every line when I lay down, but I really enjoy writing and it comes much more quickly to me than drawing. But I want to be an artist, so, I resist.
When I think of you and your work, the next thing that pops in my mind is Gaijin Studios. Although the studio disbanded a few years ago, do you still keep in touch with the guys and girls you worked with there?
Actually, the studio was still around up until last year. I'd left in the early part of this last decade, to try to save up money for a house, but I was always on good terms with my old studio mates. I just went to a Christmas party with Brian Stelfreeze and Karl Story, among other Atlanta-area creators. Cully Hamner and I get together for lunches. When I see Jason Pearson, Dave Johnson, or Joe Philips at cons, we always say hi to each other. It's always a joy to see their work as well, when I come across it.
When I've seen you at conventions, you're always busy and the line to talk to you is long. What's it like to be Adam Hughes at a convention?
It's a bit of a zoo. Everyone wants either a sketch, a portfolio review, or a chat. I try to accommodate everyone, God bless 'em, but it does get to be a bit of a madhouse. Especially when you have to be on your best behavior. Usually by Day 5 of San Diego Comic-Con, I want to yell "I'm pooped! Go see Jeff Campbell -- he's got more energy!"
I couldn't help but notice how well your sales of art go at conventions. I know they started out as fun and promotion, but could you say how much doing commissions factors into your overall workload?
Original art sales is really the beating heart of my income. All of us creative types have to sing for our suppers, and for some the song is original art. I'm happy that people dig my work enough to want to own it.
You're a busy man at conventions, but I've read online that you're cutting back in 2012 and only attending three: C2E2, Heroes Con and CCI: San Diego. What led to this decision?
Workload is one. Private life is another. We've made some headway into getting my wife Allison cured and healthy; she & I discussed it and decided that if we could ease up on the cons for just a little bit, maybe just one convention season, we could be free to pursue the efforts to getting her squared away, health-wise. If we're fortunate, 2012 could be our year.