Talking Comics with Tim | Dale Eaglesham

Today marks the release of the second issue of Marvel's new Alpha Flight eight-issue miniseries. Given how committed and enthused the creative team of writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente (on evidence in the two writers' May 2011 CBR interview) along with artist Dale Eaglesham are about the project, I hope it becomes a regular series, quite honestly. To mark the release of the latest issue, Eaglesham agreed to an email interview. I never tire of conducting discussions of this type, where I can find out the approach an artist takes in certain scenes or with particular characters. If you're as much a fan of this latest incarnation of Alpha Flight as I clearly am, do Eaglesham the favor of following his marching orders (detailed in the last part of this interview) so that the book can hopefully become an ongoing. In addition to discussing Alpha Flight, I was pleased to learn more about the local charity that Eaglesham supports: Refuge RR, a local animal refuge.

Tim O'Shea: Your art clearly meshes well when in collaboration with writers like Van Lente and Pak, it seems like they give you opportunity to stretch the boundaries of what you can do as an artist. For example, in the shocking reveal of issue 1, I was struck by the flock of birds flying behind Heather. Was that something specifically requested in the script or was that totally your idea?

Dale Eaglesham: That was actually my idea. It was just a casual symbol I put in there, referring to lost freedom, for Mac, but also for the whole country. It foreshadows what’s coming for Alpha Flight and Canada, and creates a sense of foreboding. You know when all the birds fly away, there’s danger nearby… I love when I get a big shot like that, it allows me to add layers to the art.

I add lots of little details, but other than that, I stick pretty closely to the script. What you see on the page is usually exactly what Fred and Greg called for. These guys make a really great team and have lots of good ideas. For the big tsunami double-page spread, for example, I was having trouble deciding what angle to take. The shot I eventually used ended up being more dramatic as a result of back-and-forth discussions with them.

O'Shea: How do you see your art benefitting most from being inked by Andrew Hennessy and colored by Sonia Oback?

Eaglesham: Drew is one of the best inkers for my art, he’s doing an amazing job. We’d worked together before, at CrossGen mostly, and I’d always wanted to work with him again. He’s incredibly skilled and so easy to work with. The only problem is that I haven’t been able to get out of the habit of doing full pencils, as I’d been doing those ever since I got to Marvel. I’m still waaay over-finishing and I’m sure it must drive him nuts.

Sonia has also been great to work with. She uses a lighter palette that I really like, with a lot of subtlety. She works really hard and produces intricately nuanced coloring, and she’s very good at form sculpting. We have a great team going here!

O'Shea: I loved that issue 1 featured some of the character sketch redesigns that you worked up for Alpha Flight. Clearly the biggest impact you had in redesigning was with Marrina, how long did you pursue the multiple looks before settling on the final approach for her? Also in the sketchbook, you acknowledge that Sasquatch is "trickier to draw than he seems". Care to elaborate on what some of the challenges are in drawing him?

Eaglesham: The tricky part is to somehow draw him in a way that doesn’t make him look goofy. Also, he has all these different hair lengths and styles. You want to get them all “just right” while somehow making him cool, not silly-looking.

As for Marrina, there was a LOT of negotiating for her. We must have exchanged forty e-mails over the course of several days. Here are some of the exchanges:“That first is soooo over the top! Love it. Maybe go with that sans the seaweed mink and exposed knees?”

“I like the flared pants. They actually seem practical to me, too -- I'm thinking those flaps/flares are stiff enough to give her extra power when swimming.”

“I LOVE the mermaid bell bottoms!!! Do we want to put in segmented lines in the fins (you know the kind that you see on swordfish back fins)?”

“I do like the bell bottoms too -- but I also like the ripped pants. Punk is early 80s, after all…”

It was a lot of fun, and as a result Marrina’s one of my favorite characters. She and Puck seem to draw themselves, they’re just not work.

O'Shea: Speaking of Puck, Marvel has already released a preview of issue 2 that reveals the return of Puck. With a character like him in the mix, which characters allow you the opportunity to introduce more whimsy into the mix--Puck, or the snarky faux flirtation between Walter and Aurora?

Eaglesham: I’d say Puck provides more levity for sure. But what I love about this book is how varied the characters are. For example, you have the iconic in Guardian and Vindicator, the majestic in Snowbird, the edgy in Marrina, the playful in Puck and Sasquatch, and the sexy in Northstar and Aurora. You just can’t beat that. I love this team.

O'Shea: Of everyone on the creative team, you seem to have striven the most to reach out to Alpha Flight fans, setting up a message board home for the creators to communicate with the readership. How much has that been of help while working on the issues, hearing what potential readers' hopes and expectations are?

Eaglesham: I guess what’s helpful there is seeing just how loved these characters are. The book has a devoted following, and that’s really great to see. I’m also learning a lot through the questions that are being posted there. These people sure know their AF lore! Fred’s hard to beat on that score, though. As he teasingly wrote to a member on there, “My friend, if you are going to try to out-nerd me, don't bring a knife to a gunfight.” But I have to add that the message board wasn’t set up to help us – it was set up as a treat for the fans, a place where both creators and fans could all share their excitement about this book.

O'Shea: In a recent post over at the message board, you acknowledge you play a certain kind of music when you draw fight scenes (other types of music for other scenes). How did you first discover a certain kind of music helped you when drawing certain scenes?

Eaglesham: A long, long time ago. In the early days, I think I did it subconsciously. Then I remember reading an interview with Devin Grayson where she mentioned she made different tapes or CDs for different characters. That’s when I started being more deliberate about my music selections. I have lots of different iTunes folders for various moods. Mind you, I don’t always “match the music to the scene” – sometimes I just listen to whatever I feel like listening to!

O'Shea: On a recent Marvel podcast, it was mentioned that your wife, Louise, has been of immense help on Alpha Flight (translating dialogue into French, for example). Does this mark the first time she's helped you on a particular project, or is she constantly lending a hand when you need it?

Eaglesham: Lou’s been interested in my work and helping in any way she could since we first started going out together, in 1989! Now 22 years later, I don’t know what I’d do without her. She does the scanning, the mailing, and all the admin work… she keeps me on schedule, she manages the website and the forum and the Facebook page… she helps Fred and Greg with the French translation (she’s a translator by trade) and with some of the research when they have trouble finding something online. All on top of her own work. Fans have actually known her since she started posting on message boards as Wolfie, about 10 years ago.

O'Shea: OK, I restricted most of my questions to your current work, but I have to ask one question about your great run on the Fantastic Four, how hard was it to draw all those different Reed Richards?

Eaglesham: It was HARD! Making them all different and interesting, while having them all be recognizably Reed… Yeah, that was a challenge! I’ve had a lot of positive comments on the Multiple Reeds, so it was nice to know the work was recognized and appreciated.

O'Shea: One goofy question, based on this tweet, do you have TV on in the background when you are drawing, or cannot you afford such distractions as you work?

Eaglesham: A TV while I work? I can’t imagine. I’d never get anything done. Actually, you may be shocked to know that we don’t have TV reception at home, and we choose not to get cable. Sometimes I feel like I’m falling out of the loop, pop-culture-wise, but TV’s become so mindless, that most days I think it’s the right move. We get recommendations for great series, like The Big Bang Theory, and we buy those on DVD to watch at our leisure.

O'Shea: In the intro to your sketches in issue 1, it was mentioned that you're trying to help raise funds for your local animal shelter, if you'd like here's a chance to tell Robot 6 readers about your efforts.

Eaglesham: Every year, in May, we hold our Comics for Charity event in our hometown. Fans come from Montreal, Ottawa and even as far as Québec City, to support us. I do sketches, we “sell” our old comics for donations, this year we sold a print of a Guardian sketch that I’d drawn, plus we auctioned off the original. We absorb all the costs of holding the event, and we remit every single penny to Refuge RR, a local animal refuge. Hopefully I’ll get the numbers right, but I believe they have about 400 animals on their huge farm. About 75 of those animals are horses that were abused or abandoned, or headed to the slaughterhouse because their owners couldn’t race them anymore or couldn’t afford to keep them. It costs the Refuge about $1200 a year per horse, so we try to raise enough each year to at least pay for the care of a couple of horses. We raised $3380 this year. We also want to plan a “build day” later this summer to help them fix their fencing and build a shelter for the smaller animals.  Help them out if you can, they desperately need it.

O'Shea: Anything you'd like to ask or say to the Robot 6 readers (or any ground we did not cover that you'd like to discuss)?

Eaglesham: I’d like to thank them for supporting Alpha Flight, and encourage them to pre-order their copies. If enough people reserve their copies in advance, this book could become a monthly!

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