IMAGE EXPO: Image Artists Talk Never Going Out of "Style"

As par of last week's Image Expo show in San Francisco, some of the comic book industry's most notable talents took the stage to talk about comic books and artistic style. Moderated by Image Comics staffer David Brothers, the five-person panel included Image artists whose work carries a unique personal flare including "The Wicked + The Divine" creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie as well as incoming artist Emi Lenox ("Plutona"), Eric Canete, ("RunLoveKill"), and Skottie Young ("I Hate Fairyland"). The panelists discussed the roots of their style and the modern influences that are affecting their new Image work.

Young got things rolling by explaining that his cartoony style is best attributed to his love of cartoons like Looney Tunes when he was a child, and "Ren and Stimpy" as an adult. "We've turned 'cartoony' into a four letter word in these past 15 years," said Young, before mimicking what a detractor might say. "'Ahh, that book's too cartoony! It can't be that cartoony!'"

Before really discovering superhero comics, Young emphasized that he gravitated toward comic books such as "Archie Comics," "MAD Magazine," and "Ralph Snart" stories. However, Young made sure to credit famed cartoonist Sergio Aragones as his favorite of all time, noting that not a week goes by that he does not read an issue of "Groo The Wanderer." "When it's time to go to bed, but not enough time to dive into a book, I'll just pick up a random issue of 'Groo,' and that'll be my night's reading.

"That guy is amazing!" Young continued, alluding not just to Aragones' artistic style as it exists on the page, but also the legendary artist's personal style. "Everything about him is something to idolize. That mustache is on point!"

Another long time veteran that Young spoke highly of was Sam Kieth. The artist explained that he didn't read "The Maxx" for a long period of time, only to discover Kieth's influence on him on a subconscious level. For instance, the way Kieth draws patches of grass crept up in Young's own work. "Like, 'I've been ripping him off all this time and never knew it!"

As for Gillen and McKelvie, the subject of unique style didn't just extend to their own individual selves, but to the two of them as a singular unit, as well. "I feel like I need to address you guys as a duo," said Brothers. "I feel like the work we do with other people is not anywhere near the same as the work we do together," said McKelvie.

Gillen himself talked about something that artist Liam Sharp once shared with him regarding the pair's collaborations ranging from "Phonogram" on through to "Wicked + Divine." "In the industry, there are people who come in together. You break in, and do the work, and then it begins to tear you apart," said Gillen. "[Sharp] was incredibly touched that we've actually stuck together."

"No one else would put up with me," McKelvie quipped.

On the subject whether or not there's a lot of overlap in the tandem's taste, McKelvie said ,"Not as much as people think. "When we have a book like 'Phonogram,' people tend to think that we have the same music taste, for example. But we don't."

"There's a shared value," continued Gillen. "We both believe in art. The idea of what we believe is important. Even ethically, me and Jamie are similar in what we think is right and wrong."

"Yeah, we're both monsters," McKelvie jumped in with more quips.

With the announcement earlier in the Expo that McKelvie would take a break from "The Wicked + The Divine" to focus on working on the newly announced third volume of "Phonogram," Gillen stressed the care he used in choosing which artists would fill in for McKelvie. "The third arc is called 'Commercial Suicide,' and it could entirely fall apart and be an awful idea. But I'm trying to think about the style of these other artists, and the story we're going to tell is specifically designed for them."

Canete, who originally comes from an animation background, described his work as something that "comes from not the in-between panels, but the final pose and beginning pose."

The "RunLoveKill" artist also admitted that his art can be off-putting because it's not something that most people are used to. "But there's a hundred guys who can do that," said Canete. "I'd rather push one way or another, and if you react, whether it's negative or positive, it's good enough for me."

"There are artists and illustrators who can do the anatomical thing that I have no concept of. It's not for the lack of interest," Canete continued. "I just can't wrap my mind around it. So I just say it's my style. But really, I'm just cheating, and ignorance comes into play. And someone allows me to do it for a living!"

"Beautiful magic trick we pull," said Young.

"Best bamboozle you've ever seen, or worst bamboozle," said Canete.

Canete also referenced illustrious animator Peter Chung and his "Aeon Flux" series as a major influence. "When I first saw 'Aeon Flux,' I was like, 'I'm not drawing anything else, except for that Aeon Flux stuff!'" Later, as Young mentioned similarities of his work to Sam Kieth, Canete likened his stylistic approach to Chung's. "After drawing the best pose, I'd feel like I've come such a long way as an illustrator," he said. "Then randomly, 'Aeon Flux' would be on TV, and-" and then Canete sighed to show how his confidence levels would come back down.

"There's no getting around it. We are the products of our influences, whether artistically, or in our upbringing," Canete concluded.

For Lenox, Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" was a major influence on what she called her "crayon years," and then manga was big for her later as a teenager. "I'd like to say I was reading it before it was hip and cool, y'know," she joked. Then she elicited a nice round of laughter from the whole room by stating: "I was reading 'Dragonball' before it was translated. Thank you."

Following that, Lenox reiterated Canete's thoughts about being the products of their influences. "There's a lot of manga influence in my work," she said. "Which I don't personally like, but I realize I can't get rid of it. So it's just there."

The self-taught Lenox attended one year of art school in the Expo's host city of San Francisco back in 2003, but things didn't exactly pan out. "Here's to you, Academy of Art," joked the Portland, Oregon native. "I taught myself to draw by literally copying my favorite cartoonists," said Lenox. "I copied a lot of Jeff Smith's 'Bone' growing up, 'Dragonball,' 'Sailor Moon.' Even Snoopy. God, I love Snoopy."

At a certain point in the panelists' answers to this introductory round of questions, Gillen chimed in to tease, "I really hope the next question is 'Whom do you rip off the most?'" Sure enough, that's where the direction that the discussion segued, and Young used it as an opportunity to expand on his work in relation to Sam Kieth.

"It was around when I got my iPad in 2010. I had not looked at issues of the 'The Maxx' since I was around 20," said Young. After flipping through the pages, Kieth's influence became more apparent. "I almost had a day of panic, like, 'Am I gonna get in trouble?' This stuff has been sitting in my brain, and I've been doing it unintentionally," said the artist. Then he joked, "Like, do I even have an original bone in my body?"

Young also talked highly of Chris Bachalo, saying "He might be the reason I thought I could draw comics, because here's someone who's doing it very different. For a good five-year period, his books were always laying around my table. So if I needed to draw a building, I wouldn't look up actual buildings. I'd go look up Chris Bachalo buildings."

Outside of comics, Gillen traced himself to three particular movies. "If you remove 'Aliens,' 'Bill and Ted' and 'Dangerous Liaisons' from me, you remove 95% percent of my personality," he said. "When I think about it, I go, 'Well, that's why I'm an evil shit.'" Also outside of comics, the writer noted how critical writing in music and video game journalism helped inform how he writes.

As far as comics, Gillen gave credit to a pair of 2000 AD books: "The ABC Warriors-The Black Hole" and Peter Milligan's run on "Bad Company." "Pete Milligan is my biggest influence that no one ever notices. I take a lot from Pete Milligan," he said.

The artists that McKelvie named as his greatest influences were Paul Smith, Marc Hempel and Stuart Immonen. Of Smith, McKelvie recalled when he was a 12-year-old in Cardiff, Wales and he first got his hands on a collection of Smith's "Uncanny X-Men" run. "That was the first superhero comics I read, and it was a massive influence on me and is still to this day. I still have that book. Though, it's falling part."

Before Canete could chime in, Young interjected, "I just want to say that I've ripped off a lot from Eric Canete, too. For a period, if you went to his blog, it was like going to art-college, because you got to see everything be drawn and move. If you wanted to see the coolest version of a character, it was his drawing."

In addition to Peter Chung, Canete also showed praise to Paul Smith, as well as Kevin Nowlan. Canete shared the story of when he recently did the art on he and his wife's wedding invitation, and how he felt really good about the end result. That is, until his wife took a look at it. "'Oh, now this is your best Sergio Toppi rip-off that you've ever done in your life,'" she said, which got a big laugh from the crowd. "Now, she said it tongue in cheek, but there's some truth in that, because she was spot on!"

Then there was the influence of artist Robert McGinnis, of whom Canete noted, "If there's anyone I want to be when I grow up, it's Robert McGinnis."

While working on her just announced "Plutona" with writer Jeff Lemire, Lenox admitted that she has been studying Paul Pope's "Battling Boy." "I like his inking, and I feel like mine can be a little stiff." Lenox's love of brush ink also extends to the works of Craig Thompson and the aforementioned Jeff Smith. Though for the use of watercolors, she looks to Dustin Nguyen.

The way style can influence the medium of comic books itself was best addressed by questions from the audience. During that part of the panel, a fan asked about how the style of a comic book can help as a storytelling tool when the comic is dealing with a particularly serious issue.

Canete had a perfect response: "When it comes to something super sensitive, like the events in Paris the other day, you can draw something one-to-one as an analogue. But the moment you change the style up to the style of, say, 'The Smurfs,' somehow the message becomes that much more palpable."

Stay tuned for more from Image Expo on CBR.

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