Process Of An Artist – "Abe Sapien's" Jason Shawn Alexander

[UPDATE: Wednesday evening, CBR News recevied an e-mail from Dark Horse editor Scott Allie who explained why "Abe Sapien: The Drowning" #2 didn't actually ship today. "'Abe' #2 did not go on sale today because the colors on the book didn't print quite right, so we had to scrap the print run and reprint. I got advances for the reprint today, and they look fantastic, so they're gonna be on sale next Wednesday."]

With "Abe Sapien: The Drowning" #2 --continuing the story of Hellboy's partner's first solo adventure for the BPRD-- on sale today from Dark Horse, artist Jason Shawn Alexander offered CBR News an exclusive and in-depth look at the creative process behind his striking and unusual style. Below, Alexander explains in his own words the thoughts, preparation, and near-catastrophes behind three pivotal pages of "Abe Sapien: The Drowning" #1.

For more on Abe Sapien and the Hellboy universe, be sure to check out this exclusive preview of "Abe Sapien: The Drowning" #2 and CBR's interview with creator Mike Mignola.

By Jason Shawn Alexander


As much as I would like to be more professional, I cannot see drawing the same image numerous times. You have one shot to get the right feel and emotion-anything else, for me, becomes traced and stiff. My layouts are my pencils. I use them to get composition and storytelling down. Once that's approved, my pencils are just 14 x 22 versions of the layouts.

[Editor] Scott [Allie] and [series writer] Mike [Mignola] are saints for working with that. Nothing would get finished if I had to show pencils. Even when I do them, they look horrible and nothing in my work looks all right until it's inked. The inking stage has always been the part that actually has any merit and character, so I cut out as much of the penciling as I can.

The layouts are done to show Scott what I'm thinking as far as pacing and possible gestures. After that, I shoot models/actors for reference. I read the script to the models so their facial expressions really match what I want. That personal touch drives these facial expressions home. Even on Abe. I don't trace photos or try to emulate my reference, it's just a jumping-off point that gives me information that my mind would have only replaced with what I've done before. This way, every panel, every page, is different for the reader and me as the artist. It also allows me to get these beautiful subtle gestures that I would not have thought of or captured otherwise. Liz and Abe's scene shows that, I think.

Page #13 begins with an establishing shot with close-ups. Mike threw into the script the idea for the shot of the cow. His scripts still have a lot of his visual language in them. I've always loved his "cut to" panels. This one, though, he told me he threw the panel in there "just because I wanted to see you draw a dead cow." I love that. He's told me most of the visual elements that exist in the story are there because he wanted to see how I would draw them. I love a writer really taking what the artist can do into mind.

Page #14 is all Eisner 101. For this page, here's a breakdown of the thought process for the layout and pacing:

Panel #1: Liz is leaving. She's the stronger personality here, and shows off that great smile. She points away from us, past Abe to where he needs to go. Abe is unsure and not confident, so his position in the panel needs to reflect that. Being smaller and behind Liz conveys he's not in control here.

Panel #2: Abe's reaction to what she says. It's poignant to him so nothing in the panel exists but his face. It's not shocking news, just interesting. That puts it as a slightly further back shot. Not a close-up.

Panel #3: New environment, so here's the establishing shot and since he is still not the strongest character in the scene, he's small-the environment owns him, not the other way around. Broom's office was a blast. I made up everything. I loved it. The masks were especially fun.

Panel #4: The action should not oversell the reveal, so a medium shot is good and allows for that fun angle.

Panel #5: A good reveal and I didn't even want a panel border taking away from it.

There you go, Comics 101.

Page #14 was almost destroyed. I penciled a little more on the office and such and used new ink that was flawed-it never fully dried, like softer newsprint ink. I took my big damn eraser and went nuts over it and smeared ink all over this finished page. Pissed! I threw the page across the room, along with the ink. Some white gauche later, and it's all ready for production. Always test your ink.

Page #15, panel #1: "Abe hands picture back while talking." It's the pedestrian panels that are so fun. It means perspectives and angles can go nuts as long as you still convey the action. Even as far along as my thumbnail I was bored a bit, but in the layout on the actual page I stopped, twisted the angle and really made myself have fun with it. There are no boring panels. If you're burning through it, you just didn't come to the right conclusion for how to execute it.

I love these characters, even Broom. The bottom panel of Abe's head, really, I just wanted to draw Abe's head. You can do that sometimes. It's okay.

All of this sounds boring, I think. But working the way I work. It's slower, but I never felt like I wanted to be like those guys who just "manufacture" comics. Every page, every panel, is scary because it's almost straight ink. But that invests you SO much more in the work. Its mood, compositions, what to put in, what to leave out, its details, line weights-you're aware of every part because there isn't that safety zone that finished pencils provide.

Just carry a big black brush and a hell of a lot of white out…

…and acrylic…

…and gauche…

…and razor blades…

…I use a lot of razor blades… and….


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