In celebration of the new The Cape: Fallen comic, an interview with artist Zach Howard about his work:
Zach Howard is a freelance professional illustrator of fifteen years. His most notable employers include Marvel, Disney, DC, Warner Bros., Image, IDW, Boom, Simon & Schuster, and Steve Jackson Games. Zach’s most popular projects are Wild Blue Yonder, Shaun of the Dead, Spiderman, X-Men, GI Joe, The Cape, and Batman. He has been nominated for an Eisner award, multiple Indie awards and received an Amazon Book of the Month selection for Wild Blue Yonder. In addition to his professional work, Zach is passionate about supporting young artists and has dedicated much of his time to helping nurture the next generation of creators.
How does a tipical work day look like when you draw comics?
Now of days I art direct and edit projects, as well, so my day to day activities can be inconsistent. I usually get up around 8am and work until I’m done around midnight. I take a lunch break, and usually go for a jog with the dogs and wife in there at some point. As soon as I get to my office in the mornings I plow through emails and handle any sub-contractor talent needs. I desperately try to get drawing sometime before noon. I put as many hours as I can stand in doing that and then go to bed knowing I didn’t get enough done. That last part might be pretty ubiquitous for most comic book artists, though.
Wash, rinse, repeat until The Cape: Fallen is wrapped! I promised Joe the best looking book on the shelves, and Nelson Daniel and I intend to deliver =)
What do you do when taking a short break?
Read an article, check email, go see what the outside world looks like, throw the ball for the dogs, workout, daydream, etc. I try to completely disconnect from drawing so I’m fresh when I come back. My current style has developed in a way that my OCD has taken full control of the steering wheel, and I’m just gritting my teeth holding on. When I’m done with this series I’ll be taking a nice long break to recharge the batteries.
Well, long for a comic book artist! We tend to be neurotic about our extended absences from the sequential mistress.
When drawing, is there something on in the background?
A constantly revolving menagerie of music, podcasts, audio books, and stand-up comedy. After 18 years of working in isolation, I get bored quickly, but I get bored quickly so I have a constant struggle to distract my conscious brain enough to let my fingers find their muse. Thus the constant rotation. Keeps my brain percolating while I draw leaf after leaf after leaf… One must fight the demons of stagnation with variety.
Music, podcast or TV playing? And what kind?
At this point my music tastes are so eclectic and varied that it’s hard to just bullet-list them. Everything from Dylan to Biggie to Gogo Bordello. Mountains of shit in between.
Podcasts – again rather mottled, but here are my absolute favorites:
Your Mom’s House (Try it out.)
Hardcore History (Such a density of historic perspectives told by a brilliant storyteller.)
Joe Rogan Experience (Well, duh!)
Radio Lab (Eclectic, well-edited and has an endless well of heart.)
How is your relation with the creator Joe Hill and writer Jason Ciaramella?
Great! I’m honored I get to work with both of them. This entire creative crew is rock-solid and on the same frequency. Which is always a good foundation to draw dorks dying in the woods upon!
You came up with the idea to fill in the three days Eric goes missing and Jason wrote it out, how much involment have you got in the story line?
Jason had pitched me a sequel here and there through the years, but I was off doing Wild Blue Yonder or some multimedia project. So one day I was rereading The Cape and I remembered that I had always wondered what adventure Eric had wander off to for those three missing days that his mother mentions to Nicky.
I basically just pitched Jason to find a story in there and I’ll come back and do a sequel with Nelson. Jason just wrote me back and ask if I liked LARPing. I was hooked and Nelson is always game. So there we go – now we get another round of Eric’s decent into darkness!
How involved is Joe in the book?
He and Jason work more closely than Nelson and I, but he is involved in each step from scripting to lettering. I’m pretty certain he must have clones at this point.
Are you a Joe Hill fan?
Well, hell, I think you know the answer to that question. Ha! He’s a multi-genre writing demon-lord. And he’s a better person than he is a writer. So anyone who isn’t a Joe Hill fan can punch themselves in the dick =)
If so, any fav books or short stories?
I’m going to be a jerk and say “The Cape”! lol
It is the first thing I’ve read of Joe’s and then went back and read his non-comic book work. I was honored to be part of his Loaded short, but The Cape is still my favorite. I like stories that kick the reader in the chest while still being an enjoyable story.
Is there some back and forth before you start on a book?
This book? A little, but that mostly happened up front when Jason was developing the story.
Like character sketches, scene settings?
I tackled the character designs up front along with the cabin, but the rest I designed as the story evolved. Jason set the story in a place called the Blue Hills in Massachusetts so I had a great reference pool to create a setting for this story. I basically studied the location and then created a fantasy version of it that would serve the story over the course of 30 years.
Same for the cabin, as well.
I wanted both the cabin and forest to feel like characters of their own. The forest, for example should start to feel tall and suffocating as the story goes along. I wanted the characters to feel trapped.
The cabin ages through the story, and I had to design it with that in mind and I needed to feel magical in 1968, but neglected and overgrown in modern times. I had fun designing that one – I like tangible though out progressions in a story.
Exclusive first three page preview before the comics release:
Do you have freedom on how you break down a page?
Of course – I have complete freedom. Jason gives me panel counts and descriptions and then I have at it. I add and subtract panels as I work through pages, but Jason and I always talk about it and make certain we are in agreement before any triggers are pulled.
Luckily on a project like The Cape, the entire team trusts each other and we all chime in at some point. Jason take’s Joe Hill’s character and sends me a nice, tight script that I in turn interpret visually with lines. Nelson then comes in and makes sense of my madness and unifies it with Jason’s vision. Joe has his hand in all of our creative input and when the final product comes in we get to see a story of strong creative voices coming together in one hell of a package.
Or is it a tight script with little to no diversion?
Jason Ciaramella writes very tight scripts that never steer me off course or wander into obtuseness. However, like I mentioned above, he and Joe let me off the leash to see what ridiculous shit I bring back when I go wandering off into the woods.
How is your relation with the colorist, Nelson Daniel?
We are trying to find a way to let our wives know that we are eloping together.
We have worked together for 9 straight years. I couldn’t imagine working with another creator the way I do with him. We have complete trust and he brings order to my layered chaos.
When delivering the art to Nelson, do you put in notes on how to colour certain things?
I give him notes and we talk about. He then goes off and follows his muse. Sometimes he follows my notes, sometimes he comes up with things far better than my thoughts. We work very closely and usually by ourselves when visualizing.
He, being an outstanding storyteller/artist himself, doesn’t need me to shackle him. Together we make something far better than either of us could do on our own. Our Yin/Yang styles create something new and definitely more potent than my lines on their own.
When inking, do you like to get your hands dirty? i sometimes see that you use whiteout and your art has a lot of blacks. You ink drationally? If so, what are your thoughts on digital inkting?
I only ink traditionally and will always ink traditionally. That’s the only way I find the truth in a piece of art I create. I used to be a potter so I guess I have a need for dirty hands somewhere in my soul.
Digitally inking – I’ve only seen a handful of people be able to pull them off with me looking at them with the shit in my guts curdling. That being said, as the digital programs expand and refine we are seeing a lot of new and interesting styles.
However, I’ll contend that most badasses you see ink on the computer first learned to do it traditionally.
There is a lot of violence on The Cape, there is no holding back on it.
Thank you. =)
It feels like drawing choreographed violence is something you excell at.
Where comes the inspiration for these particular scenes? Horror movies? Action movies?
Neither. I try to not be influenced by other artist’s visons any longer.
I am an insane person that grew up in spurts of heavy violence, I loved Conan, and then went on to train MMA and kickboxing. I just pull upon my knowledge of bloody violence, I then put it through the fantasy filter and you see the result. I try to make violent results have a garish feel but keep the acts leading to those results based in reality.
Basically I like my action to feel like it’s grounded in objective reality but feel just a touch fantastical.
Can you tell us more about what to expect in The Cape: Fallen?
Blood, leaves, death, nightmares and self-realization =)
What will the future bring after this for The Cape?
There is a big push to see it serialized in a multi-media platform, but I’m not allowed to say.
As for comic books, I pitched a sequel to this series to Jason and he seemed to like it. So who knows, right? If that idea fizzles, I may draw the scene I pitched to him as fan art – it’s biting my ass too much not to see it come to life at some point.
The Cape: Fallen will be for sale in shops: juli 4, 2018 (update)
—Ben, June 2018
Special thanks to Rob Croonenborgs, a Belgian comicbook artist, for helping out with the questions!