Talking "theBlvd Sketchbook" with Tommy Lee Edwards

theBLVD is a virtual studio, consisting of five of today's leading comic book illustrators (who also are heavily involved in entertainment design). This August, Boom! Studios is releasing theBLVD SKETCHBOOK, featuring 120 pages from John Paul Leon, Bernard Chang, Sean Chen, Trevor Goring, and Tommy Lee Edwards.

Edwards, who -- in addition to J. Michael Straczyinski's upcoming "Bullet Points" and the recent "Question" series with Rick Veitch at DC -- did design work on this month's "Superman Returns," took some time to talk about the "Sketchbook" and theBLVD.

I love sketchbooks. Most creative people enjoy getting insight into a creative process. Whether it be with drawings, paint, dance, film, music, writing, or whatever, the "behind the scenes" stuff is always fun and educational. "The BLVD Sketchbook 2.0" gets a bit more in-depth than our first volume. Each piece of art is accompanied by commentary from each artist, which informs on everything from a drawing's process and medium, to the inner-workings of the art as a business.

theBLVD is a virtual studio. How does that work? Since it's made possible by the internet (I assume), how much does it differ from a real studio?

The BLVD consists of Bernard Chang, John Paul Leon, Sean Chen, Trevor Goring, and me. We're all pals, and have known each other for years. Many of us started-out together as illustrators in the early 1990s. Trevor has been at it for a lot longer than that. Anyway, as most freelance artists will relate, the five of us have our solitary studios in or behind our homes. The only real "interaction" we get with like-minded people is when we're on a job that needs us to work on location. For me, that could mean spending a week at EA Games, or a few days at DreamWorks, or a month on a movie set. Trevor and I got to spend some time together in Sydney last year while he was working on the "Logan's Run" remake, and I on "Superman Returns." The interaction you get with other creative people is very important as a place to talk business, complain, ask advise, shoot ideas back and forth, get a critique, etc, etc. The BLVD guys all have that. We also work together a lot. We recommend each other for jobs, and help each other out when needed. I may help JP with the art chores on a comic, while he in-turn has aided me on video game and children's book projects.

All of this is done in different cities, by the way. I'm in North Carolina. Trevor and Bernard are in LA. JP is in Miami. Sean is in New York. With email, FTP, and FedEx, there's little need for us to work face-to-face.

The final "official" reason to form theBLVD was to give ourselves a presence at comic book conventions. We get more out of the cons by appearing as a group, and I think the fans do, too. We enjoy ourselves as a "studio," are always willing to do con sketches and talk shop.

The sketchbook is a "jam" sketchbook. What's a "jam" sketchbook?

A "jam" sketchbook is Bernard's fancy way of describing something that all of us worked on and built from scratch. This book contains an equal amount of blood, sweat, and tears from the five of us. It's 120 pages of comic book sketches and layouts, video-game concepts, movie storyboards, life drawings, licensing work, and just plain doodles. Beyond all-new material, the major factor differentiating the 2.0 sketchbook from #1, is that each of us has contributed an original short story.

From the art I saw online, your contributions to the sketchbook look different from your more recent comic work. What have you included in the sketchbook?

Depends on what you saw. There are quick thumbnail drawings done with markers or charcoal, and there are more finished pieces done in paint or Photoshop. People that know our work will like seeing the sketches and different versions for things they've seen elsewhere -- like my "Daredevil" covers or my paintings for various "Star Wars" projects. Most of the book has stuff we're proud of, but also stuff fans want to see -- like Bernard's work for Disney, my work on "Superman Returns," JP's work on "Batman Begins," Sean's work on "X-Men," and Trevor's storyboards for the "Fantastic Four" movie.

You use computers in your work. How has technology affected your art?

Well the computer has primarily affected the "delivery" of art. My original drawings and paintings never leave the studio. Everything is scanned, manipulated if need-be, and sent off via CD, DVD, or FTP. Most of my work is done with actual ink or paint or other media. I do most of my layouts digitally with a Wacom QINTIQ tablet and Photoshop. Bernard uses the same method -- sometimes even creating a whole finished piece that way. We all color our comics in Photoshop.

You do both covers and issue art. Do the same parts of the brain conceive both or are they different -- the cover more design work, the issue panels more storytelling?

There is nothing like conceiving the panel-by-panel storytelling of a comic book page. It is totally unique. Doing a comic cover is different. It's usually revolving around a scene, giving a hint as to what the overall story is about. Children's books or my "Star Wars" book covers may sometimes be more like "movie poster" montages, where I'll have to pack in several elements from the story into one harmonious composition. Generally, my parts of the brain will shift in order to match the objective at hand. I may approach a comic differently than a storyboard, and a children's book painting differently than a video-game concept drawing. That's also the reason why I tend to use various kinds of media.

Tell us about some of your artistic influences.

Us BLVD guys have a lot of comics influences, and even more from "non-comics." We've all had formal training, and are probably primarily influenced by our instructors. For myself, that would be Harry Carmean. While in college, he really helped take my drawing to a new level. Throughout the years, I have admired and gotten inspiration from the likes of Herbert Morton Stoops, Al Parker, Bernie Fuchs, Drew Struzan, Howard Chaykin, Milt Canniff, Noel Sickles, Alex Toth, Bob Peak, and more. I'd definitely like to have sketchbooks from all those guys.

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