Comic Books: they’re literature; they’re art; they’re design. It’s no wonder it takes a collaborative team to bring one to life. However, how often do you think of that process, and, how in depth do you think that process is? At the New York Comic Con last weekend, I sat in on a panel presented by DC Comics that took the audience on a reflective tour “From Concept to Page” of the creation of Wonder Woman #0, #5 and #13. It is a journey worth sharing.
Brian Azzarello (writer), Tony Akins (artist), Cliff Chiang (artist), Matt Idelson (editing), Chris Conroy (editing), Jared Fletcher (letterer), and Matt Wilson (colorist) each shared their memories of the creative process while the moderator, John Cunningham from DC Comics, shared snapshots of conceptual sketches and different pages of the book at various points of completion.
“Bastardizing” the Concept
Wonder Woman issue 0 was part of a September stunt we did to sort of give people a chance to go back and fill in some of the back detail about what had happened in the gap before the New 52 started.
What I loved about this panel was the brutal honesty each of the creators discussed this process with. Brain Azzarello said that when Idelson first pitched the idea of a Wonder Woman #0 comic book to him, he “thought it was a really stupid idea”, at first he had hoped that they would get someone else to do it. He was in the middle of a much larger project that had already been planned out and “this came out of nowhere [...] it was not something [he] was interested in doing.” However, like most writers, once an idea crept into his mind, it festered…
Then I thought about the concept some more and I said, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s do what they want us to do, but in a different way… Let’s bastardize it!’
He spoke to Idleson on the phone again and suggested that they “play it like [they] missed their deadlines and have to reprint something from the past.” And that’s what they did “seventies style.”
Azzarello pointed out that the technique he used for writing issue zero was not the way he usually writes. He said wrote it that way because, in his words, “we were doing (yes it’s a DC book, it’s Wonder Woman here, but it’s…) an old Marvel story, so we decided let’s approach it and do the the script ‘Marvel style’.” Cunningham asked if this writing technique made it easier for him, Azzarello replied, “No it made it fun. It made a challenge for us.”
The Artists and The Writer In Their Ears
Tony Akins discussed his process in creating characters such as Posiedon and Hades while Cliff Chiang discussed creating Suraka, Dionysus, and (recreating) Orion for the Wonder Woman universe. For each character Azzarello had his own input which helped the artists solidify each character’s look for the story they would tell together. Here’s how each character came to life.
Akins started by saying that the way Azzarello sold him on coming on to the Wonder Woman project was by telling him it was a monster book. Poseidon was their first monster and they agreed that they wanted to go “out of the box… [they] didn’t want the old guy with the beard and the trident in the ocean.” The upper left is Akins first attempt at Poseidon. When Azzarello saw this sketch he told Akins he wanted “a big fish” not, as Akins thought, someone who would tower over those below. The upper right is what Akins calls another “detour” which was inevitably trashed. In the ed Akins went with a “leviathan” reminiscent of the “old world maps where once you get to the edge of the Earth there’s monsters. [He] thought that was perfect.” However, when he got to the page, there was still some tweaking to do. Azzarello said he needed to be bigger, he was worried that it “looks like she’s going to ride him,” so the final product is a bit beefier version of this sketch.
According to Akins, “Brian said he wanted a kid. A ten year old kid, so the upper left was the first swipe at him and you can see… it just wasn’t right.” He started to think of who Hades was, “he’s unworldly; he’s Prince of the Underworld; he’s unkind; he’s unhuman… why does he need eyes? Maybe he uses his candles as ‘dead lights’…” He researched some morbid Victorian funerial photography, of which he found lots of kid pictures, which led him to the waxiness and “sense of the dead” for the character’s look.
Suraka was developed, by Chiang, for issue 13 (still to be released). Chiang began with a Palestinian dress in the 1930s style and “dead eyes” in the the first imagining (upper left) of this character presented to Azzarello. The writer told him he thought he was “missing an opportunity here. She has black hair and it’s all around her face, you can get a sense of the wind blowing.” Chiang agreed, but wanted to keep the authenticity of the headdress (as seen in the bottom picture), but ultimately conceded that Azzarello was right in his assessment of the hair bringing the whole look together.
At first Chiang confessed that both he and Azzarello almost went for the more traditional jolly “Christmas-like” Dionysus for their concept of this character, but as they thought more deeply about who Dionysus was, this unique design came to fruition. Here’s their logic, according to Chiang, behind this look:
Here’s a guy whose been around eating everything and drinking everything and is probably the pickiest guy ever. If you are going for someone who is a real foodie, you figure he’d probably some kind of weird Japanese hipster, and that gave us this opportunity to do more of this urban fantasy type of thing. Then we realized that maybe there were some cool fox elements we could bring in (there’s a tradition where Dionysus wears fox skins). [...] It ended up coming together pretty quickly.
In fact, the only variation on this design considered was one where Dionysus had completely black hair.
Orion was a different kind of character creation, Jack Kirby had already created an iconic image known to fans and both Chiang and Azzarello wanted to be as respectful to the original as possible. The original adaptation was turned down by DC because, “it looked too much like the old stuff and it kind of looks like Ant Man.” So Chiang and Azzarello sat down and “discussed who Orion really is”. They talked about his “cockiness and swagger” which led Azzarello to say, “What if he’s wearing a motorcycle jacket?” which led Chiang (who feared that could lead him down 1990 “Superboy” paths) to think of an Italian motor cross racer’s look. He discussed how he tried to keep some of Kirby’s design elements within this new look.
If you look at Kirby’s “New Gods” stuff there’s so many patterns in it. One of the patterns you find most is a circle and a little squiggle that leads to another line or another circle, and that’s kind of what you are seeing with the piping of his jacket where’s there’s a shoulder piece with a straight stripe. With the nature of the folds in the jacket that becomes another squiggle. I want to pay homage to Kirby there.
He then leaned back on the “motorcycle guy” thinking to transform the helmet, giving it a visor and changing the look of Orion’s Astro-Harness to be a bit more mechanical as if Orion “could fix it if he needed to.”
We Still Don’t Have Any Pages!
All of this work and collaboration has happened and we haven’t even seen a page of this comic book! Tune in to Part 2 of this coverage to see the development from thumbnails to sketches to inking, coloring and lettering all to bring one comic book to life. It’s a fantastic process every fan should take time to appreciate.