At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Image Comics' brought together writers, colorists and artists to discuss a unique storytelling ability: creating a distinct aesthetic. In a panel moderated by David Brothers, Stuart Moore (writer, "EGOs"), Lee Loughridge (colorist, "Deadly Class"), Jamie McKelvie (artist, "The Wicked + The Divine"), Josh Williamson (writer, "Nailbiter"), Scott Snyder (writer, "Wytches") and Rob Guillory (artist, "Chew") had a detailed discussion about the look, feel and tone of their work.
The discussion began by focusing on Williamson's "Nailbiter," with the writer sharing that a key component in his collaboration with series artist Mike Henderson is a dark sense of humor -- something incredibly necessary in a book about a town that produces an unnatural number of serial killers. Their trademark humor can be seen in the origins of The Buckaroo Butcher, a clown killer who wanted to see how many clowns he could actually fit into a clown car.
McKelvie took the opportunity to debut a variant cover for issue #14 of "The Wicked + The Divine," which was created in a collaboration with musician Grimes. "WicDiv" has an aesthetic largely based on pop icons, and a guest cover from a talented rock star was a natural fit.
"We just started talking on the internet about a year ago," McKelvie explained. "She was a massive fan of [series colorist] Matt Wilson."
All the other covers for the next "WicDiv" arc are by the guest artist assigned to each issue. McKelvie is drawing issue #14, which writer Kieron Gillen has been hinting about darkly online and in the book's letter pages, and which McKelvie described as being "a very special Kieron exercise in formalism and... being Kieron."
Much like the way that Wilson's colors define the look of "WicDiv," Loughride's colors absolutely set the tone of "Deadly Class," his book with Rick Remender and Wes Craig. Brothers asked if he found it challenging to define the style of comics through coloring.
"It depends on the art," said Loughridge. "Whatever art I get in front of me hits me immediately and I know what I'm going to do with it."
Moore, who writes but does not draw, felt that it was important to leave the look of a book open for the artist. On "EGOs," he approached two different artists before finding Gus Storms. Storms was about to graduate from Savannah College of Art and Design and Moore appreciated his "European, scruffy Moebius" style and how it elevated the world of "EGOs."
Snyder agreed that he owed the aesthetics of his series "Wytches" to collaboration with artist Jock. "He's easily one of the best in the industry," Snyder said. "He's the guy that took a chance on me before anybody. I remember meeting with him in a bar and thinking I had to keep up with him drink for drink."
"That was a big mistake," McKelvie laughed.
Guillory shared that his partnership with "Chew" writer John Layman also has an appealing sense of freedom. Every job Guillory had before "Chew" was someone asking him to draw like another artist. When he tried that approach with Layman, adopting a Vertigo style based on the strangeness of the series, he was almost fired. Layman wanted Guillory to bring his own sensibilities to the series, which has allowed him to develop and grow as an artist. And as "Chew" approaches fifty issues, it's clear to see how Guillory's talent has flourished as his cartoony sensibility has shaped the book.
Brothers noted that McKelvie's art, specifically the title pages featuring icons for each god, has given "WicDiv" a very concrete look. For Gillen and McKelvie, the title pages are another way of telling the story, with icons appearing for new characters and turning to skulls when others die.
"It affects the emotional reading of the book, like issue #11," McKelvie said, referring to a recent issue where a beloved character met a tragic end. The title page cements the death, making it real for the reader. As fans in the audience vocalized their sadness, McKelvie said that he wished that Gillen were present to apologize for their loss. "He's a horrible person."
Unlike Gillen, Williamson has very clear rules in "Nailbiter" to protect the series from getting too dark. The rules are simple -- no rape and no children. This was a product of the creators shared sensibilities, resulting in he and Henderson building serial killers that more closely resembled the slight goofiness of "Batman" villains than realistic murderers. The notable exception is a killer known as The Blonde, who is based on someone very close to Williamson: his fiancee.
"'Nailbiter' got rejected by a publisher and right after it got rejected, I went on a blind date with this girl," he explained. He was upset about the rejection and learned that his date had a degree in Criminal Behavior. They began discussing serial killers and Williamson's story, and he was blown away by her knowledge. The date ended well, and Williamson happily shared that they are getting married in six weeks. As "Nailbiter" progressed, Williamson asked her what she would do if she were a serial killer. She immediately answered that she would go after men that cat-called women on the street, kidnap them, cut out their tongues and sew their mouths shut. Thus The Blonde of Buckaroo, Oregon was born.
Brothers turned the panel over for audience questions and the first fan up at the mic asked how the creative process differed between Image and other publishers.
For Snyder, he said he writes all books as though they are creator-owned books. He noted that what Marvel and DC want from superhero books is changing because of how supportive readers are of creator-owned books, and mainstream publishers welcome those same sensibilities into licensed projects. Snyder brings passion to his superhero work, pretending that he made the characters up so he's able to translate everything he loves about them into his work. .
Guillory was asked for an update on the animated adaptation of "Chew." "It's moving," he assured. "Everything we've seen and heard so far is really, really good."
The next question drew the conversation back to aesthetics, asking Snyder where the characteristic coloring splatter effects in "Wytches" came from. Snyder explained that Jock had been very keen on working with Matt Hollingsworth, who Snyder described as "one of the best colorists in the industry." Because of the confessional nature of the series, with Snyder exploring a personal darkness in his own life, he encouraged his co-creators to try something personal to their style. "How do you convey the worst version of yourself?" he asked. "Something you hate looking at, but that's a scary and true as the version of yourself that you're proud of?"
Hollingsworth said he'd wanted to do something experiential with the colors, creating a feeling of not wanting to look but needing to see what was happening -- and thus the hazy, hallucinatory color effects were born.
Loughridge was asked a very personal question, from someone quite close to him.
"Dad, when are you going to put me in a comic book?"
Loughridge laughed, recognizing his daughter at the mic. "In April," he answered.
"Really? Okay, good!"