One of DC Comics' most acclaimed series from its mature readers Vertigo line has been "Human Target," which debuted as a mini-series, was followed by an original graphic novel (OGN) and then returned to fans in a regular series last year. With the rotating artist lineup, the series has maintained a fresh look and CBR News caught up with current artist Cliff Chiang to learn more about the series.
"Christopher Chance is a suave and wealthy master of disguise," says Chiang of the series' driving concept. "For a fee, he'll impersonate anyone in danger and take on their looks, their personality, even their neuroses. He's the ultimate method actor, but after years of 'brief lives,' his grasp of his own identity is pretty shaky. Action, gunplay, and lots of psychological drama!"
Part of Chiang's popularity is his ability to bring out elements of characters in their movement, dress and other aspects of panel "acting." "Human Target" is no different and Chiang describes his approach to the main characters. "Christopher Chance is all the good stuff they took out of the James Bond movies: a witheringly sarcastic but charming leading man who is plagued by doubt and guilt. But he still manages to have a good time and always tries to project an air of confidence. I try to give Chance that kind of panache whenever he's on panel (even in disguise).
"Restauranteur and best friend, Bruno, is Chance's occasional assistant. He's usually called on to bring Chance back to reality or provide some sort of moral compass, but often that just gets Chance into more trouble.Page 21
"Mary White is Chance's current love. But how can you ever be sure that the ultimate actor is being honest with you? Especially after he impersonated your dead husband for months?"
Chance changes identities quite often and while Chiang makes each identity feel unique, he's also found a way to make the "acting" of each identity visually tie back to the real man. "It has to do with body language," Chiang explains. "Chance wants to be seen as cool and collected, so he's usually in some sort of strong but casual stance: leaning against something, using the environment somehow. He should evoke a bit of Sean Connery or Cary Grant's relaxed confidence."
While fans and critics alike have commented on Chiang's talent suiting the series, the artist explains that it's been a long winding road that finally brought him to the series. "The first time I was attached to the new monthly was as an inker. About 3 years ago, Vertigo had been talking to Darwyn Cooke about launching the book (how cool would that have been!), and he'd asked me to come on and ink the first arc, with the idea being that we'd trade principal art duties back and forth after that. I was already a big fan of the character, and working with Darwyn would have been very cool, so I was up for it. Unfortunately, Darwyn later bowed out so he could focus more on 'New Frontier,' and I expected to never hear about 'Human Target' again. But the seed had been planted. A year later, Vertigo decided to go with the alternating artist format (what better metaphor for Chance's state of mind?), and I'd just finished Beware the Creeper so it seemed to work for everybody.
"Peter Milligan has long been one of my favorite writers, so the opportunity to work with him made it a must. That it would also be on a character I liked was a bonus."
The depth of Milligan's scripts is part of what has made him so popular with Chiang and the penciller admits that adds to the challenge of working on the series as well. "Part of the challenge comes from trying to dramatize the more emotional aspects of the story. Peter's characters have a lot going on in their heads, and getting some of that on the page can be difficult but it's rewarding.
"I'm also a fan of series co-artist Javier Pulido and previous artist Edvin Biukovic, so it's exciting and daunting to be in such company. Eddie was a big inspiration for me, and he - along with his fellow Croatian artists Goran Sudzuka and Essad Ribic - encouraged me to keep drawing. It meant a lot to me both then and now, and I'm trying my best to live up to the legacy Eddie left on this series.
"I actually don't communicate with Peter as much as I'd like, but the fact is I don't need to. Peter writes in such a way that everything I need is in the script and the few times I have had questions they're in regards to future chapters. I'm also allowed to adapt scenes visually if necessary and that freedom is important to me. Otherwise I feel like I'm chained to the script, just robotically pumping out pages that match the script exactly. Here, as in other projects, I feel like there's a true collaboration in effect."
"Human Target" has established itself as a unique comic book through its style in both writing and visuals, something that has helped Chiang develop his craft even further and he explains, "I've always enjoyed comics that provide an immersive experience. Eduardo Risso's work on '100 Bullets' is the premier example of wonderful, cinematic storytelling that uses background detail to reinforce that feeling. My style has always tended towards a cleaner line, but a lot of times that just gets mistaken for a simplistic approach. What I am trying for is a real density of content and story information without making visual clutter. It's a tough balancing act."
The series has also received extremely quick trade paperback (TPB) collections from Vertigo, helping raise "Human Target's" profile and one has to wonder if Chiang's previous work (with writer Jason Hall) on "Beware The Creeper" might have benefited from the same treatment. "'Beware the Creeper' actually did pretty well as far as readers go, but of course having more books out there always helps: if people like my work, there's actually some more of it to be found! I would like to see a 'Creeper' TPB, especially since that story probably reads better in one sitting. I believe it was on the schedule at some point, but if people would like to see it come out, I'd recommend sending DC some emails."
Before you fit Chiang into the round peg as a Vertigo-only artist, the creator says he plans to expand his breadth of work in the future and reminds readers of some former Vertigo artists. "I'd like to do some superhero work, actually. It's too easy to get pigeonholed, and I need a change of pace as well. Not too long ago, both Chris Bachalo and Frank Quitely were known chiefly as 'Vertigo artists.' Not that I'd compare my work to theirs in any way, but interesting things can happen when you bring outside visual influences to mainstream work. Peter and I are talking about doing some Batman stories, but beyond that, I'm not really sure. And I like it that way."