NB: The pictures for this interview are missing after a server crash, I am attempting to locate the images to fully complete this interview. Chris is a wonderful guy who supplied the pencils for this interview from his own resources.
[Interview for Toon Zone News: 4th December 2003]
Following on the interview Justice League Adventures-penciller Christopher Jones gave Toon Zone last month, Chris has kindly offered a behind-the-scenes glance at his latest work for the current Justice League Adventures story.
The page below comes from last month’s Justice League Adventures #25. Final inked page courtesy of Dan Davis. (Kind thanks to Dan for sending us this image to complement the article).
Toon Zone: How close did this final page design resemble the script you were given?
Chris Jones: This story was unique from all the other work I’ve done for DC Comics, in that I was working from a plot rather than from a full script. I’m not sure how noticeable that was in terms of the finished artwork, but it did allow me to bring the average number of panels per page down to 3-4 rather than 4-6, which allowed for some big, splashy vistas as we travel around Rann.
This page was part of the rather interesting sequence at the end of part one, where the League members had separated and were all reaching individual cliff-hanger moments simultaneously. It was interesting cutting rapidly between locations to the point where it feels like it’s all happening at once.
TZ: Did you use any models or research materials for the dinosaurs?
Jones: Oh, heck yeah. They were supposed to be dinosaurs, but alien dinosaurs, so I found a species other than the over-used T-Rex and then made some additional little modifications. I was hoping that they would be colored something more exotic, like blue with yellow stripes or something. But they just came out green.
TZ: How do you visualise the black areas when you pencil a page? In this page there are a lot of marked areas for Dan to ink; do you make a rough copy to visualize the dark areas before starting the final page?
Jones: I’ve gotten pretty good at visualizing the blacks, but the pencil page you see here doesn’t show all the work that led up to it.
I tend to do little thumbnails of the story to determine the rough layout of the panels of the page. I do this so that I can make sure that an entire scene has an interesting flow and that I’m not repeating myself too much before I put too much work into any one page layout.
Then I do breakdowns at around the size of the final comic book reproduction size. This is where I really start to draw the figures and the background detail, although in fairly rough, simple form.
When I’ve got a page breakdown I’m happy with (and it might take 2-3 passes), I scan that breakdown and fiddle with it in Adobe Photoshop. This allows me to scale or alter any elements of the breakdown that might need to change to make room for dialog balloons or something without having to completely redraw a panel that was working for me.
Then I scale the whole thing up to the size of the art paper the final version will go on, and print the whole thing out. I then go to my light table and pencil the finished version of the page. This allows me to keep the pencil art very clean and clear, which I think makes it a little easier for the inker.
To answer your original question about black areas (finally), sometimes I’ve gone into more detail with the shading on those earlier rough versions of the page and sometimes I’m adding it in on the fly. I actually find it pretty easy to add blacks to the “animated” art style, given its simple, almost geometric forms. And I think the blacks add a lot of weight to it, keeping it from looking like coloring-book art on the page.
TZ: Do you have a particular pencil you use for your final page?
Jones: I just tend to use a medium-weight mechanical pencil. I used to use the type you sharpen and found that it would change the character of my line in ways I didn’t want, depending on how many minutes it had been since I last sharpened it. The mechanical pencil means that the pencil is doing something consistent and any variations in line quality are my doing.
Moving on to the latest issue of Justice League Adventures (Justice League Adventures #26). To see the final inked versions, purchase the issue which is OUT NOW.
TZ: The above is the final pencils for page 3 of Justice League Adventures #26. Did this page present any compositional problems, or did it come naturally?
Jones: I spent twice as much time on that page as any other page in the story. I was trying to figure out how I wanted to stage the sequence of this rocket with Adam Strange and Wonder Woman chained to it heading down towards the city. I knew that the most dramatic shot would be up behind the rocket, looking past it at the city below. I also knew that they had to be far enough away that it didn’t look like they were going to hit in the next 1-2 seconds. That meant I was going to have to draw all of Rannagar.
TZ: Do you enjoy working on such delicate detail? How do you go about creating such a layout?
Jones: Honestly, the only concern I had about the level of detail (other than planning for it to take as long as two normal pages) was that it might be too much detail for an “Adventures” title. But I think it worked out pretty well. I’ve actually been going more and more detailed with the backgrounds because I think it grounds the action in reality and also because if you watch the animated series, the Justice League backgrounds aren’t quite as stylized as those on Superman or especially the Batman series.
TZ: The above is the final pencils for page 15 of Justice League Adventures #26. What pencils did you use on this page? It looks like there are variable pencil strengths there.
Jones: That’s just a case of me using the pencil differently. A mechanical pencil is great for that fine detail work, but by using a medium weight I can still get some good dark shading out of it when I want to.
TZ: How long did this page take you? Do you try to keep a schedule--a similar time period--for each page you do?
Jones: I can usually do around two pages a day in this style, but it varies a lot depending on what’s in the panel. If there’s a lot of background detail I have to research or design, which can bring me down to a page a day. I’ve also had days where I did three pages, start to finish. The JL Adv #26 page 3 was an extreme case and probably took me about a day and a half.
TZ:We have several Diana poses in this page. Is there any posture, of male or female form, which you feel are more difficult? Do you ever use any physical models for poses, say, a figurine or a mirror?
Jones: I don’t as a matter of routine, but I might if I’m really stuck on something. Sometimes it’s really hard to capture the subtlety of a pose. Action stuff is easier to make up. It’s the familiar things like sitting up in bed or leaning on something in a specific way that has to be just perfect in order to look right.
TZ: I notice in the lower left panel you’ve added sound effect letters - was that out of choice? How much sound FX is left to the letterer and how much is the artist expected to incorporate?
Jones: There are no hard and fast rules (that I've been told of). I generally put in the sound effects myself if I have a specific idea of what I want. There have been times I’ve not added a sound effect because I didn’t want one at all and it got added at the lettering stage. That’s the nature of the assembly-line process of creating comics for a major publisher and of editorial privilege.
TZ: The above is the final pencils for page 11 of Justice League Adventures #26. A question about model sheets: Are you told to adhere to certain model sheets for characters? There have been several differences between Superman between seasons one and two of the animated series. Do you have a preference for one or the other, and are you given the freedom to choose the one you feel most comfortable with?
Jones: In theory, all the Justice League characters should look “on model” with the animated versions. The trick, of course, is to vary their look to create dynamic figures from different angles and with different facial expressions and all that, but without having them look noticeably “off.” I actually didn’t care for the more square-faced, baggy-eyed look for Superman in the first season of Justice League, and while I tried to stay close enough to not get in trouble, I think my Superman tended to harken back to the design from his own series. I was delighted when they tweaked the character back in that direction for season two of the show.
TZ: This again is another very visual page. In regards to what you said earlier, do you think you’ll be able to work from plot rather than script notes again in Justice League Adventures, or was this a one-off?
Jones: I think this story being written in plot form was a unique arrangement with this particular writer. Although I don’t mean to suggest that working from a full script is necessarily limiting. It really depends on how visual the writer is.
I’ve done several stories with a writer by the name of Josh Siegal who I’m having just a blast collaborating with. He has a great grasp of character and dialog, and he really leaves me a lot of room to play with the visuals. There’s an issue coming up that we did together that guest stars the Phantom Stranger, which I have to say is my favorite issue to date.
Interview Copyright: James McLean