The 52 Steps Addendum: "52" @ Pittsburgh

So, we've been following this tale of love, adventure and war for fifty-one weeks, now. Fifty-one weeks. That's one of the longest things I've ever devoted myself to, and to see the culmination of all this work this coming weekend is going to be amazing. However, before I could take my fifty-second step, there was a slight detour.

This past weekend, the Pittsburgh Comicon opened it's doors to fans and professionals alike, and one of the panels that the show sported was wrapped around your favorite book and mine. Featuring artist Pat Olliffe and inker Rob Stull – familiar names to us weekly issue junkies – both were in attendance at this year's convention and each participated in the panel called 52 Pick-Up.

One of the first items of interest during the session was a discussion of the book itself. Several fans were interested to know about the process behind the art of 52, and just how much work was involved in getting each issue out the door. Stull was the voice of experience at this point, as he began working on the series in its earliest stages, inking over the work of artist Eddy Barrows. During those early stages of development, the artists had had plenty of time to get the ball rolling and keep it going, as they were given something like six months advance time to get the issues out the door. With that much lead time, and the ability to hand off work to the next artist in line, Stull explained that the schedule wasn't as horrendous as you might expect, and it was really no different than working on a monthly book.

Olliffe, who came on the book at issue #19 and remained throughout the course of the series, explained that having Keith Giffen work on the books throughout the course of the series was a blessing to the artists, as the time they would normally spend staging out the beats on the page could be directly put into artwork. With that in mind, the artists could spend that much more time making the final pencils shine and only rarely did Olliffe change the panel design offered up by Giffen, even then only perhaps changing the point of view within a particular panel to help create a better sense of drama or the like.

It's interesting to note that, little by little, that early lead time Stull mentioned got eaten up, so at the end, the pace had to pick up. However, even with deadlines approaching rapidly, there weren't any panicked phone calls demanding pages or finished work, nor were there any big changes that needed to be made at the last minute. Instead, Olliffe joked that the editors just sounded really tired.

This led some convention attendees to wonder about the artists' relationship with the editors, both in a structural sense as it relates to the book and in a more personal sense that could determine how much leeway the artists had. First off, the bigger question was how much of a difference Stephen Wacker's departure made. Stull was done before the change came down the pipe, but Olliffe, who got his work on 52 through Wacker, said he didn't feel that much of a change in the pacing of the book. Wacker set up a good system, so there was no need for any day-to-day changes, because everyone already knew their jobs. Olliffe also offered credit to new 52 editor Michael Siglan, who jumped into the hot seat and took over following Wacker's departure.

On the other hand, some fans wondered about the relationship with the editors and how it could affect the book. Particularly, the fan wondered if either of the professionals had ever offered up creative suggestions for the story itself or suggested any major changes. Olliffe explained that he never saw much of a need to offer up such suggestions. The work was so structured that everyone had a good sense of what was going on, so he felt no need to damage anything by suggesting something drastic that would affect everyone else around him.

I'd be able to hear my editor's head pop from my studio at home if I did that, joked Olliffe.

Instead, both professionals were able to make slight modifications to certain panels once the two were able to coordinate with their editors. Both men said they felt comfortable during the process and occasionally called the editors to discuss concerns, but even those calls became less and less as everyone fell into the groove of the series. Stull explained that, as an inker, he usually got the finished product, but his training as an artist helped him out on occasion, allowing him to change some details here and there during the course of his inking process. He particularly noted one issue where Animal Man was drawn with only his jacket and not his costume, which Stull added by freehand. It was this ability that Olliffe praised highly during the panel, as he credited Stull with being able to see where the artist is coming from, rather than just adding inks to the work.

Stull also shared one humorous story stemming from the day he received some pencils on issue #18. During his review of the pages, Stull noticed a particularly explicit sex scene between Renee Montoya and another woman, featuring some things that Stull looked at and thought, That can't be right. As such, he called his editor up and asked what was going on, which led to the entire page eventually being scrapped, though that was, thankfully, the rarest kind of change ever needed.

As the panel wrapped up, your favorite we asked what the artists could be working on the in the future, now that their time on 52 has come to a close. Interestingly enough, neither was approached to work on Countdown, though the reasons for that were simply written off as editorial changes designed to create some distance between Countdown and 52. Stull, though, noted that he just completed his work on the origin story of the Sandman for the forthcoming Spider-Man annual and he's also been doing a number of Back in Black covers. As for Olliffe, you'll see an issue of Excalibur done by him shortly and then he'll be back at DC doing an arc of Superman Confidential with writer John Arcudi.

Artist Ron Frenz of Marvel's Amazing Spider-Girl joined in the panel near the close to heckle his good friend Olliffe. When Frenz asked the two professionals how 52 ends this week, adding jokes about Lois Lane's rumored death in childbirth and the like (all reportedly picked up on the net) Olliffe answered him straight-faced.

Everybody dies.

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