WonderCon: Spotlight on Terry Dodson

A rain subdued group of fans showed up for the Terry Dodson Panel Friday at San Francisco's WonderCon. Dodson is known for rendering the striking portraits of superheroines most notably Wonder Woman, Black Cat and others.

Lopresti started with a brief recap of Dodson's career, beginning with his first work on the Ultraverse for Malibu. Dodson got a quick laugh by completely forgetting what it was he worked on when he started finally admitting that it was "a lot of stuff" in 93. A sample page he worked on for three weeks got him in the door.

Dodson spoke about how he started working with his then girlfriend, now wife, Rachel Dodson. He first talked her into lettering, but that didn't really work out and he tried her on inks where her very precise linework really impressed him and allowed him to start using her on more of the projects he got. He also noted that even now she is still not really into comics "treating it more like a 9-5 job," which is nice since it means they can talk about other things than comics.

The conversation moved to Wonder Woman and Dodson said after working on the book for 2 ½ years, he felt he was ready to move to the X-Men, but Marvel wasn't offering anything more than Generation X. Karl Kesel called and told him about the upcoming "Harley Quinn." Dodson had just worked on a project earlier that year with Idelson and being a fan of the Bruce Timm animated version, he decided to take a chance and create the DC version of that character.

After two years on "Harley Quinn," Dodson's contract was up with the publisher so he decided why not move back to Marvel to do Kevin Smith's "Spiderman/Black Cat." Marvel EiC Joe Quesada wanted Dodson to come over and Dodson was actually more interested in drawing Spider-Man and working with Kevin Smith than doing anymore with Harley Quinn.

"So, there were some …delays," Lopresti said, which got the room laughing. The series was plagued by delays, Dodson pointed out, "It started as a two-issue mini, then three and finally ended with five issues over 3 years."

In the meantime, Dodson was offered work on a Graphic Novel for Humanoids Publishing called "Songes Coraline." Dodson worked out a deal to continue working with Marvel getting fill-ins along the way while waiting for Smith's scripts and producing the graphic novel for Humanoids. Then Marvel called him about the secret origin of Peter Parker, which resulted with mixed groans and laughter from the audience.

Dodson said he had great fun working on Spider-Man, getting a chance to do all of these character he grew up with and really put his own spin on the look. Which, for Dodson, is always enjoyable as an artist. He said he's usually doing a lot of boring work with just backgrounds and grunt work, but designing new elements was a blast.

Around this time, Dan Didio had come aboard as Executive Editor at DC Comics and offered three characters for Dodson to draw. The second of which was Wonder Woman. He jumped on that immediately, not even knowing who would be writing and never found out the third. Eventually he found out that Allan Heinberg ("The OC," "Grey's Anatomy") would be writing it and really enjoyed the experience working with him. "In fact we ended up talking about Wonder Woman more than we spent working on 'Wonder Woman.'"

Dodson has since let his DC contract expire so he could get more "Coraline" done, since it had been a bout a year since the first volume and Dodson felt it was unfair to Humanoids to make them wait any longer. The new Coraline graphic novel will pick up directly from the end of the last volume.

The conversation moved to toys that Dodson created for DC, which was the first time Dodson saw his designs rendered in 3-D. Dodson has a series of eight inch mini busts coming out that include Wonder Woman, Starfire, Cheetah, Batwoman, Supergirl, the Huntress and the final one being Jade. Dodson has started the next series, called "The Women of the DC Universe."

The conversation then turned to the matter of influences, when Lopresti asked if it bothered Dodson that he's better known as a pinup artist. "A lot of my influences are pinup style artists so this doesn't bother me at all," said Dodson.

Dodson mentioned Adam Hughes is a huge influence on his work, amongst others. "Mike Mignola, who I didn't like at first, then I started to see what he was bringing to his art and I started to love his art," said Dodson. Dodson also mention Frazetta as a major influence.

When Dodson started his professional comics career, Jim Lee was popular and a lot of artists were trying to emulate that style. Dodson really didn't want to be just another artist trying to mimic Lee, so he looked to inspiration outside of comics. He found it really helped to do more realistic figure drawing, but was moved by animation.

When Dodson was working on "Generation X," he was constantly looking at Disney art books and discovering Bruce Timm's DC Animated Universe work. After looking at Timm's work, Dodson would force himself to do versions of his work as simply as possible to find the interesting elements of the characters.

Lopresti then asked Dodson about how he approaches stye on comic pages. "Do you do mini style? Do you lay out a grid pattern?"

"I basically break down a scene," said Dodson. "I tend to do layouts on the script and by the time I get to the page I can kind of see it in my head. If it is a really tricky page, I will do a half of a trading card size thumbnail.

"Because I am working with a little bit of a language barrier on the 'Coraline' style stuff, I do thumbnails storyboards -- that's what they call them -- and when I draw that big you don't want to make mistakes so you do really detailed storyboards. It isn't so necessary for action stuff."

Lately Dodson finds he'll do roughs in blue pencil, then nail down the panel borders so he can have a limited composition. It forces him to have really good composition instead of the way he used to go back and alter it on the computer. It has actually increased his speed since he isn't going back to correct his work.

Several readers have mentioned that Dodson's work on the "Caroline" looks like it was done in watercolor, but he actually did using Adobe Photoshop.

"I started on Painter, but the machine couldn't keep up so I went back to Photoshop," said Dodson. "It was just the way I wanted it to look, but most people think it looks like watercolor so I guess that is what I wanted it to look like."

More recently, Dodson said Marvel has called and offered him the first six covers of the X-Men, which was great news to the artist since he finally gets to do the main X-Men characters.

At this point questions were thrown to the audience.

When asked to talk about the redesign of Wonder Woman, Dodson replied, "I started with my sketch book first. I kept drawing it and I would use the eagle because I always thought it was there and then Allan felt like he wanted to bring back the eagle, instead of the W. DC was fine since it had been 20 years since we last saw the Eagle.

"Then I dropped the shorts and brought up the red because the costume had gotten so small. She is supposed to be sexy, not sex. I think that as a princess she would still want to wear a little more."

But, how does she bend with that belt?

"Actually I made the belt smaller since I couldn't figure it out. But we are talking about superheroes who fly, so…"

What about the redesign of Donna Troy?

"We spent more time talking about the book than doing the book," Dodson said. "I had so many ideas for Wonder Woman, but couldn't do some of them because DC didn't want to change her that much. So the ideas I had for Diana I moved to Donna and Hippolyta. It was great to be able to do."

Who gives more freedom, Marvel or DC?

"Both are great, but Marvel seems more free, but too much freedom might let you go off the wagon. DC is more controlled, but it keeps things going. It gives a little more security. It's always an adventure with both."

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