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Questions and Answers with Comic Artist Christopher Jones

Discussion in 'The Drawing Board' started by James, Feb 16, 2004.

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  1. James

    James Administrator
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    The Drawing Boards Workshops Presents:
    QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH PENCILlER CHRISTOPHER JONES

    [​IMG]
    Cover for Justice League Adventures #24

    Comic artist Christopher Jones has kindly made time in his busy schedule to answer some of the Toon Zone members individual questions regarding his work and the comic industry. So without further ado, The Drawing Board Workshops opens this interview with the first question from Toon Zone member Bubblegum Girl.

    Bubblegum Girl: I always have problems with laying out the story of comic. I can think of good ideas but I just to don’t know how the stories is drawn out. Help!

    Christopher Jones: I’m not clear on whether this is a question about writing or artwork. If it’s about writing, I would strongly recommend finding books on writing or getting involved with a writing workshop. While there are books on writing for comics, you’re much better off working on your general story-writing skills and then figuring out how to apply your writing to comics. The same is true of artwork.

    Bubblegum Girl: I need help on drawing different hairstyles, inanimate objects (like rocks and trees), folds/wrinkles on clothing, animals, and backgrounds. Could yeah help me out?

    Christopher Jones: Surround yourself with photos of the real thing. Copy them. Learn from them. It’s not cheating to look at the real thing as reference for your artwork. Eventually it gets easier to convincingly “fake it” without having really specific photographic reference for what you’re trying to draw. But starting with reality tends to get you much more credible results than making it all up out of your head.

    Take a sketchbook to a park. Take a drawing class. Look at photographs from magazines or from the internet.

    Screw On Head: I really enjoyed your work in Justice League Adventures #18. Are you a Jack Kirby fan and if so, what are your feelings about his work? But on the same token, I saw some Magnolia-isms as well, so could you name your influences?

    [​IMG]
    Justice League Adventures #18

    Christopher Jones: I love both Kirby and Magnolia. Other artists that have influenced my work include (but are not limited to) Will Eisner, Frank Miller, David Mazzuccelli, John Byrne, Alex Toth, and Neal Adams. And the lessons I’ve learned in studying Bruce Timm’s work to do the “Adventures” style can be applied to my “normal” artwork.

    [​IMG]
    Click on image for full size pencil image

    Screw On Head: I really love that you used “Kirby dots” to illustrate and disguise the alien surroundings the JL found them selves in, only to find out they’re in superman’s ear. Was using Kirby dots your first instinct, rather than drawing more tissue-like details? Really great choice.

    Christopher Jones: The challenge there was to draw the environment in a way that it wouldn’t make it too obvious to the reader right away where they were. If it was obvious from page one, then the Justice League characters look dumb for not figuring it out right away. And of course once they do figure it out, you can’t suddenly change the way you’re drawing it, it needs to remain consistent.

    This challenge was further complicated by needing to keep the artwork simple and clean enough to fit with the “animated” style. Lots of light and shadow and vaguely organic texturing seemed to be the way to go.

    Screw On Head: Did you intend the alien invaders in #27 to have green skin? I read an interview here at TZ where you had trouble with the aliens in #18 being green, since they already almost resemble frogs. Do you have any say in the coloring process?


    [​IMG]


    Christopher Jones: The aliens in #27 were meant to be the Psions, an established race from DC Comics, and they do indeed have green skin. I often provide notes on the coloring process which are sometimes followed and sometimes not. It’s not my place to tell the colorist their job. My notes are usually limited to the color scheme of main characters and anything that is important to the storytelling, or where the color is important to an effect I was trying to create with the line art.

    Screw On Head: By the way, “Mr.” Pandora in issue #27 looks a lot like Paul Dini, was that intentional?

    Christopher Jones: Ha! No, that wasn’t intentional. Perhaps I was subconsciously influenced by Mr. Dini’s classically handsome looks.

    DisneyBoy: Dear Chris/Mr. Jones (whichever you prefer), Firstly, let me say that your work in JLA has really breathed life into the decades-old “Adventures” style. I often find myself wondering how you decide what to include and what not to in terms of details. I’ve heard other “Adventures” artists mention how difficult it can be to decide where to use details so that they don’t cramp the style. You seem to focus more on using shapes and perspective in your pencils; blocking out the figures and locations in a very tangible way. Not to be critical, but as much as I love your pencils, I find myself viewing them as beautiful layouts that could only benefit from further detailing. What your thoughts are on all this?

    Christopher Jones: Well my backgrounds have been getting more and more detailed. I think the backgrounds on the Justice League TV show are less stylized than the earlier Batman and Superman shows, and more detailed than some of the Adventures comic book art. It’s gotten to the point where the backgrounds are drawn in what I would consider to be my “normal” style and it’s only the characters that are specifically stylized to resemble the animated look. Keep an eye out for my future issues with the Royal Flush Gang and a story called Wannabes.

    DisneyBoy: Secondly, I’m very curious to know what you would have done if you’d had the opportunity or known to, along the road to becoming a career comic book artist. What sorts of things should a young artist do to prepare for your sort of job? I’m asking more in terms of education than actually submitting. I’m assuming applying for a job with a comics Publisher like DC is pretty straight forward...? Again, any advice you could give you be very much appreciated.

    Christopher Jones: There’s not much straightforward about it, actually. It’s kind of an odd business.

    As far as training and education, the thing I tell aspiring artists is to really learn to draw, and worry about the stylistic conventions of comic book art later. If you really have your drawing skills together, and know how to suggest mood and communicate story points in your illustration, then page layouts and stylistic issues can be worked out later.

    Too many aspiring comic book artists teach themselves to draw and about human anatomy by looking at other comic book art. This tends to result in artwork that isn’t grounded in any kind of reality and really doesn’t work.

    Learn anatomy. Learn perspective. Become an observer of the world around you. Learn how details inform your work: How a character’s clothing, posture and surroundings tell you who they are and how they feel. Then you can start producing comic book art that can tell a story well.

    As for applying with a publisher like DC, in theory you just need to show samples of your work to an editor (at a convention or by sending copies through the mail) and they may or may not decide to assign you work. In practice, the process is much more involved. Networking and making personal connections is invaluable, and there are industry dynamics at work that make hiring decisions much more complicated than whether someone’s stuff is “good enough”...

    DisneyBoy: Finally, I remember you having mentioned that Wonder Woman was a particularly tough character to draw. Does she continue to challenge you? Can we expect a Diana-focused issue anytime soon in the book?


    [​IMG]
    JLAdv Wonder Woman

    Christopher Jones: I still find her challenging, but I feel I’ve gotten more of a handle on her. I don’t think you’re likely to see an issue featuring any given character solo, but the last two I did featured quite a bit of our favorite Amazon. I don’t know in what issues those stories will see print, but keep an eye out for Raw Deal Justice and Wannabes.

    DisneyBoy: Thanks again for all your time and hard work Chris. I’ll keep checking out your work in Justice League Adventures. I recently decided to drop the book (the only other one I collect, aside from Batman Adventures), and it wasn’t a decision I made lightly, having never before dropped an Adventures book I’d committed to. I sincerely hope the writing improves and the second it does, I’ll be back on board!

    Christopher Jones: The tricky thing with Justice League Adventures is that there are a variety of writers and artists working on the book, so it’s a different creative line-up with every issue. Everyone’s got a different style and their own take on the material, so it might not all be your cup of tea.

    I’ve been very happy working with an up-and-coming writer named Josh Siegal who wrote Must There Be a Martian Manhunter back in #10, as well as the recent Just Us in #27. We did a Phantom Stranger story together called Tomorrow which I think is just outstanding. There are some other surprises on the way that I really shouldn’t talk about yet. Keep an eye out for news on that Wannabes story. It’s something special.

    RandomGuy: As a comic book guy who handles both writing and art duties, I’ve always wondered how a typical writer/penciller relationship works. Are panel layouts decided upon by the artist, the writer, or a collaboration of both? How much freedom do you have in deciding the camera angles, general flow of the page, backgrounds, etc.? Do you pretty much do as the writer says, or do you have a lot of creative leeway?

    Christopher Jones: Most of the work I’ve done for DC comics has been done in a full script, which tells the artist how many panels go on a page, and specifies the visual action, the dialog, and any captions for each individual panel. Often the writer will go as far as to specify whether the artwork for a panel should be a close-up, a medium shot, a long shot, or whatever. The Adam Strange two-parter I did, was drawn from a plot, which gives a much more generalized description of the story’s action, leaving the artist with a lot more freedom to break down the action of each page as they see fit. The dialog and captions are written later, based on what the penciller has done.

    RandomGuy: What kind of equipment (papers, pencils, etc.) do you like to use when you draw?

    Christopher Jones: A larger publisher like DC provides artists with their own custom paper, which has margins and other details pre-printed on it in non-reproducing blue. I’ve done plenty of comics for smaller publishers where I bought tablets of blank paper and drew my own page margins out with a ruler. Either way, most comic art is done on paper called Bristol paper, with is heavy enough and has a surface that is good for inking.

    I tend to use mechanical pencils for the convenience, and work with a wide variety of rulers, french curves, and templates for circles and ellipses. As for inking, a wide variety of tools are preferred by different artists. The closest thing there is to an “industry standard” is a combination of brush and quill-pen (often a Hunt #102) used with waterproof India ink.

    [​IMG]
    Click on image for larger picture

    RandomGuy: What artists inspired you when you decided to go into the comic book biz? Is there a particular penciller who really made you say “This is what I want to do with my life”?

    Christopher Jones: There are many artists whose work I enjoy that don’t tend to influence my own work much at all. There’s no one artist I’ve based my own work on, but I take individual lessons from different artists. You can’t get much better than Alex Toth for composition and design. David Mazzuchelli’s work on Daredevil had such a great sense of movement. John Byrne’s 1980’s work can’t be beat for clear, economical storytelling. Mike Mignola’s mature style is amazing for its use of blacks, and of light and shadow.

    RandomGuy: I often struggle with more unorthodox camera angles (that is to say, views of a character that aren’t frontal, from behind, or from the side) like overhead shots and ¾ views. Do you have any tips in tackling these tricky shots?

    Christopher Jones: In general, study live models or photographs to learn how the human body looks form different angles and in different positions. In the case of my “adventures” work, those Justice League action figures are awfully handy.

    RandomGuy: Is there a dream character (or book) that you aspire to draw for someday? Perhaps a personal favorite you’d like to tackle at some point in your career? Similarly, is there a particular writer you would enjoy working with?

    Christopher Jones: I really wish I could talk about Wannabes, because I just got one of my wishes. When it gets announced, you’ll know who I was talking about. I’d love to work with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Mark Millar, and a laundry list of others. As for characters, I love Batman to death, but I’d also have a great time on something like Legion of Super Heroes.

    RandomGuy: In terms of what makes a good comic book, which element do you think is more important, art or writing? Or are both equally important?

    Christopher Jones: You can’t have a great comic with out both. They’re intertwined. The one thing I will say is that if you have great art and a bad script, you can still enjoy the comic for the artwork. If it’s the other way around, the story has been ruined because the art hasn’t told the story well. You don’t get to read the script that writer sent in, you only get to see the end product.

    RandomGuy: How did you get your start in comic books?

    Christopher Jones: My first professional work was pencilling and inking Street Heroes 2005, written by Steve Jones and published by Eternity Comics back in 1989. My first work for DC Comics, was doing fill in art on issues of Young Heroes in Love, written by editor Dan Raspler. Dan liked my work on that enough to give me some Justice League stories to work on, and I did some breakdown work for Day of Judgment, which was written by Geoff Johns, who is another writer who I’d love to work with again.

    MattaFatta: I got a question for you, how much money do you make?

    Christopher Jones: Without getting too specific, there are different rates that even a large publisher like DC Comics pays depending on how long you’ve been working for them and what the “market value” of your work seems to be. Pencillers may make around $200 or a bit less per page. Inkers and writers tend to get less, mainly because the time put in per page is less. But it varies wildly depending on the individual in question and different publishers pay different rates. Smaller publishers often can’t pay more than a small fraction of what DC and Marvel can.

    SJJ: If there was one thing you could change in the comic industry - what would it be?

    Christopher Jones: I’d like to see comics reach a broader audience. There are issues with content and distribution that make that a complicated thing, but that’s what my wish would boil down to.

    A final thank you to Christopher for answering so many questions in depth and apologies to members and Christopher alike for the delay in getting this interview.

    Any further comments or questions based on what Chris has said here, posted below and I'll make sure Chris gets them!

    To see more of Chris' artwork, check his website at www.christopherjonesart.com
     
  2. Easily Amewsed

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    coolness..and a question or two.

    Wow, nice interview. :)

    One small detail SJJ...the link to the first JLA .jpg didn't work. Good news, your 404 error pages did. ;)
    Question to Chris:
    It may sound odd, but what's an average working speed? For something with the detail level of the JLA pages shown in this interview how many hours per page?
    Second question..do pros ever have a 'bad drawing' day?
    DK
     
  3. Outlander00

    Outlander00 Another Stand Alone Complex

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    Link is fixed FYI, EA :)
     
  4. James

    James Administrator
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    I've emailed him the link so fingers crossed he'll get the chance to answer some more of these great questions. Ooo, and thanks for the help on that image Outie!

    Nice to see the 404 images coming to good use too! :D
     
  5. Peter Paltridge

    Peter Paltridge Knows about rock people
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    The only question I can think of for Chris that hasn't been said yet is, "Can you look at my site and then like it so much that you decide to open doors for me?" But I'm not naive, and know I'm a small bug to anyone with a real job.
     
  6. randomguy

    randomguy Came, liked Ike, and left.

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    Wow, great interview. Mr. Jones was very informative, and he answered all my questions, which I thought was cool. I don't have much of anything left to ask right now, but please pass along my sincerest thanks.

    EDIT: Also wanted to note that I'm very excited about the Phantom Stranger story. I love that character, so I'm looking forward to that issue. Very cool news.
     
  7. James

    James Administrator
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    I've sent him the link to this thread and will contact him again shortly. I'm sure he will appreciate all the kind comments here. He truely is a great asset to comic enthusiasts and amateur artists.
     
  8. The May solicitations came out, and I see that the Phantom Stranger story will be appearing in Justice League Adventures #31 that month...

    Chris
     
  9. Sadly, I'm not really in a position to open doors for anybody right now. I'm not a publisher, and I'm not an editor. And I'm fighting to stay regularly employed myself. So my word wouldn do much to convince an editor to give somebody else a shot.

    Hopefully, the day will come when I have that kind of clout, and then you're free to bug me all you want!

    Chris
     
  10. It varies a lot depending on the page. I'd say the average page takes anywhere between 5-10 hours, averaging somewhere around 6-7. There's the occasional page that is really simple and can be done in 2-3 hourse, but for every one of those there tends to be a page like that cityscape (page 3 of JL Adv #26) that took a couple of days.

    And do pros aver have a "bad drawing day"? This one certainly does. If you're up against the wall with a deadline, you just have to power on through and get the pages done. If you have a little time to play with, you can find other ways of being productive with your time and make up the lost drawing time when it's coming out a little better.

    Chris
     
  11. Pyro

    Pyro Active Member

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    Hi, Here's my question.
    How important would you say knowledge of anatomy is to drawing? I think I do pretty well and I've only looked at secondary sources so far (like other artists work). But I'm looking into learning real anatomy and I think it might be very beneficial.
     
  12. James

    James Administrator
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    Pryo's is the last question. Hopefully Chris will have time to answer it and then I'm closing the thread. I want to thank Chris in advance for all his hard work here. We really appreciate his thoughts and professional advice in this Q&A session!

    This will be up as a perm feature article at the Drawing Board Website very soon!
     
  13. James

    James Administrator
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    Just got an email reply from Chris in response to Pryo's question - he's not been able to get over to Toon Zone to reply personally..


    Many thanks to Chris for this in depth article. Thanks to the members for asking such interesting questions and continuing to support this workshop.

    This will be transfered to the Drawing Board Website as a Workshop article very soon.

    Chris will be speaking briefly about an upcoming JL Adventures issue in TZ news very shortly. Keep your eyes peeled!
     
  14. Pyro

    Pyro Active Member

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    Thanks for the input Mr. Jones! I'm glad I got in here before it was too late. :D
     
  15. James

    James Administrator
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    Thanks everyone, with that final word from Pyro, thread closed.
     
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