Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 08/11/2004
The Look of Things to Come
George Broderick on the Complete Suicide Blonde
For just about two decades now, George Broderick has worked tirelessly in the trenches of the four color world of comics, turning out an astonishing array of stories, characters and literally a small library of material encompassing just about every type of genre imaginable. And throughout that entire time, as long-time readers of his Chase Villens series syndicated right here on WFC surely know, when George Broderick puts his name on a book--whether it's a tale featuring one of his own creations or one co-created with the likes of Chris Yambar--readers can expect to be entertained by a master of the craft. So, with the release of the one volume collection of Suicide Blonde nearly upon us, it seemed the perfect time to discuss the visual look of that exceedingly fine dystopian sci fi she-spy thriller with the man responsible for that particular book's look.
Bill Baker: How'd you get involved with this project, and what about it made you want to work on it?
George Broderick: Chris Yambar and I had been working on another title together (El Mucho Grande) and were happy with the collaborative energy we were generating and wanted to do more together. So we were looking around at his and my sketchbooks, trying to find something, but nothing leaped out at us as a "must do" joint project. Then, out of the blue--or, more accurately, his visit that year to the San Diego Comic Con--Chris came to me with this idea for a science fiction project where chocolate was an outlawed substance and the heroine of the strip "would kill for chocolate", as the old saying goes. I laughed...then, I started thinking about it. I liked the idea of the strong female lead and, too, I'd been looking to do something a bit edgier than my current "animated kids comics" style, and to flex my illustrator's muscles a bit, so I was on board!
BB: What were some of your major concerns going in, as an artist and storyteller? And were there any particularly troublesome aspects which you had to deal with, either design- or storytelling-wise?
GB: There's this annoying rumor circulating about me that, given enough time, I can draw anything, so guys like Chris feel no remorse by throwing in every visual thing--including the futuristic kitchen sink. So not only did I have to contend myself with creating an advertisement-driven dystopian future from whole cloth, I had to deal with giant space armadas, floating brains and huge robots that resembled Tony The Tiger and The Pillsbury Dough Boy--all without crossing the parody/copyright infringement line--as well!
BB: So how did you go about creating that future's landscape, making it believable while maintaining that sense of the fantastic and the strangely familiar?
GB: I've always liked the idea of a future like in The Jetsons or The Legion of Super Heroes, where we've used up all the horizontal space available so humanity had to ascend vertically, creating very tall buildings which are sort of organic and rounded off to avoid wind shear--almost phallic looking, if you will. But I also realized that there would almost certainly have to be an underbelly to such a massive construct, where the poor and downtrodden would most certainly have to go. This would be the future version of the inner city, but it would be lower city. In fact, although it's never shown in the art and not in the script, in my mind The Adverczars have erected impenetrable plexiglass barriers on the 110th floor of every building to prevent the dregs from ascending too far into "polite society", creating a literal glass ceiling! Plus, the lucky ones in the lower depths who could even get their hands on hover cars--yes, my future will have hover cars, unlike the bogus real 21st century we live in--would have altitude dampers installed so they couldn't fly too high. It's depressing, really, and that stuff isn't shown in the story. It's just mental nuts and bolts that make the story work for me.
BB: Is the designing of the characters a largely conscious process for you? Or do you have a real and conscious sense of feeling your way into the look, the physical attitude, of these imaginary folks?
GB: When I started to design Suicide Blonde, my uppermost thought was "I don't want to create Legion of Super Hero-looking costumes." I was looking for some ensemble that would be functional, kinda rough and tumble, and, in keeping with the underlying "character spokesmodel" aspect of the characters, something flashy, readily identifiable, chic...and something that made her look like a bad @$$. So I started with the bicycling outfit with the circular chest cutout--something for the kiddies!--added the padded bomber jacket and the moon boots, and Voila!
Platinum and Temple's outfits are just variations on Su's. Looking back on it, these outfits are something that Hollywood could translate exactly as is to the big screen with no alterations. They're solid designs...go figure! This project, and Chris will back me up on this, seemed to be "creating" itself from the get-go, so I'm still not sure if I created Suicide Blonde's look or if she already existed somewhere and just "allowed" me to draw her.
BB: Are there any general or governing principles you tend to follow when conjuring up comic characters? How might those have asserted themselves in the case of Suicide Blonde?
GB: Several years ago, when my daughter, Megan, was five or six, I made the conscious decision to never do comics that I couldn't show to a five or six year old. That credo extended to Suicide Blonde in that, even though this was considered a "mature readers" title due to its use of sophisticated themes and graphic violence, all of which is mostly implied and off panel, I wouldn't design her as the typical girl-with-guns, big-breasted, thong-wearing bimbo which is so prevalent in comics today--an arena where titillation, it seems, is the overriding motivation. I wanted a strong female lead that was drop dead gorgeous but not "slutty" about it, someone that girls could identify with in an uplifting, empowering way.
BB: Above you note that the relative ease with which you designed of these characters was unusual for you. What's that design phase like for you typically, then? I ask, because all of your various character designs seem so effortless to me.
GB: Ha! If by effortless you mean lots of crumpled up paper or scratched out drawings and personal name calling then, yeah, "it's effortless."
Generally, I try to decide three things when I design a character. First, what's the overriding motivation of the character? Second, how can I break that motivation down to simple-to-understand iconic images, and, third, will it be fun and easy for me to draw over and over again. I'm really quite lazy with my designs. I don't want an elaborate design to bog me down and hinder my storytelling. This is something that I stress to my kids in my cartooning classes, as well. They all want to draw these wildly cluttered figures in a Spawn motif and I tell them, "Yeah, it's cool looking, all right. But, you know you'll have to draw those stupid chains and spikes and claws and whatever every time." I'd much rather whip out 20 or 30 drawings of something that looks like Snoopy than one "cool" Spawn pin-up.
BB: How important is serendipity to this whole process? Does it play a large part, or do you prefer to have it all down and well planned to eliminate any chance of mistakes?
GB: On Suicide Blonde, serendipity was our watchword! Over half of the main elements just sort of "created" themselves, and it all seemed to work out just fine. I had this cute, little robot character just lying around in my files for a few years, doing nothing. So, when the time came, he became BKT. When the characters of Platinum Blonde and Temple Grey came at me out of nowhere, I made Temple black because there was no good, compelling reason for him not to be. That wasn't conscious on either of our parts-- in fact, Chris never saw his design until the first pages with Temple in were already drawn--and I've gotten several positive comments on the matter-of-fact aspects of the inter-racial relationships being natural and not there only for shock value.
BB: Which then begs the question of how you made their relationship seem so natural, so effortless and easy in the visual sense? Did you have to consciously work on that aspect of the "acting", or did it just seem to happen naturally?
GB: I dunno...it sort of made complete sense that they all had some sort of cool "weapon". But, from an advertising standpoint, I thought they should be similar, yet different. Like Snap, Crackle and Pop; all three are pixies and all three are hawking cereal, but you can tell them apart. Since Su already had BKT, I gave Temple the jet pack and neat looking staff, and Platinum, who I always saw as the "bad ass" of the trio, just had a blaster and her fists. She could fly on her own power. Their uniforms were just variations on a theme.
As for staging, the name of the book is Suicide Blonde, so in any scene with two or three of them, she generally was the "featured" player. Platinum always has the "super hero" pose--a "ready for action" stance--while Temple, as the schemer...although, I never knew how scheming until I actually had the "Pitch Black" script pages in my hand ready to draw them...always stood kind of aloof and back from the women.
BB: I was curious how important the physical bearing of the characters, what I just referred to as "acting" is to you, in general and during specific scenes, as a storyteller? Again, is this something that occupies a lot of thought and energy for you, or does it just seem to flow naturally from your pencil and pen onto the page with little or no difficulty?
GB: Some thought goes into it, probably as much as I think about anything I draw. I'm quite instinctual about my art; if it looks good, keep it. But it's really just a way to help me, in my mind, to stage a scene. For instance, when they're battling the alien pirate hordes, Su was generally shown fighting fairly and with some compassion; she only killed when there was no other option or the alien was much bigger than her--and armed with huge teeth! Temple and Platinum were usually drawn much more savagely, tearing into anything that moved. Temple was always kind of smirking--he really enjoyed the blood bath--while Platinum was mostly focused on the task at hand. She was like a force of nature, like a tornado sweeping through a small town. It doesn't care whether it levels the orphanage or the town brothel; its function is to get from point "A" to point "B" as quickly as possible, causing as much damage to the surroundings as it can. That's our Platinum. These were all just visual nuances, though, and any other "subtleties" in their characters were Chris' responsibility.
BB: How about the page design itself? As an artist who's primary job isn't necessarily so much creating pretty pictures filled with pretty people, but rather visually telling a story, how important is the overall look and "movement" of the pages--be it panel to panel, or from page to page--to you?
GB: I've never been a fan of the basic "four to six" panel grid that Jack Kirby used to such great effect. I got much more of a kick out of some of the angular "cascading down the page" layouts that Nick Cardy was using on the Silver Age Aquaman series. I want my pages to move the readers along in such a way that they not only feel compelled to turn the page, but they've already done it by the time they become aware of it! Plus, Chris' background as a pop artist allows him to craft stories that defer to the art in big ways. You'll rarely read a Yambar-written story that has more than five panels per page--he actually prefers three or four panels per, as opposed to DC and Marvel, which routinely uses six to eight panels per page. Go ahead, count 'em. I'll wait...
See? More room for the artist--in this case, me--to flex in a Yambar story..!
BB: Now does all that mean that you've approached the page like a drill sergeant, very regimented and precise, or has chance discover and even surprise played a part in creating the pages of Suicide Blonde?
GB: It's somewhat of a mixture. Sometimes the story demands a straight grid and others, I sit there staring at a blank board and saying to myself "Hmm...think I'll do these ones leaning to the left..." Ultimately, it's all about what looks best in the end and tells the story most clearly!
BB: Well, how do you go about creating a comic page usually, and how might that have differed from your work on Suicide Blonde, if at all?
GB: My layout sense is pretty ingrained into my psyche, so my "serious" Suicide Blonde work follows pretty much the same layout specs as my "big foot" cartoony stuff; only the drawing style itself tends to shift from project to project.
I'm a force of nature, Bill! A force of nature, I say!
BB: Well, does this particular force of nature start doing the visual work while it's reading the script the first time, perhaps making notes or even thumbnails in the margins or on another sheet of paper, or do you fully absorb a script before you begin to set down the visuals? Also, I was wondering if your approach to the page change much when you're the one creating everything, from the script to the finished artwork?
GB: I usually find a quiet place and read the script through, mentally "visualizing" what I think the scene will look like first, just like most people do with a good book, but it plays out cinematically in my head. Then I sit down and start to pace it out statically for the comic page. Sometimes I'll change the angles, or use close-ups where scenes were panoramic in my head, but, generally speaking, it pretty much looks on paper like I've visualized it in my head. I do only the rare, occasional thumbnail. That way lies madness! Too many thumbnails would have me redrawing pages three, four, five times--which, as an artist, never looks quite right to me, so I could redo stuff all day. And then nothing would ever get done! I have to take a hard line with the art; just do it and move on. Noodling and fussing are my arch foes! I tend to take that stance whether I'm writing the script, or Chris or someone else is writing it.
BB: Do you tend to pencil the entire story and then hit the inks, or do you basically finish the work on one page before going on to the next?
GB: Lots of times, I'm just penciling and someone like Ken Wheaton is doing the inks, so I don't really care. But, when I'm doing it all, pencils and inks, I like to finish a page completely before moving on to the next--except when I don't! Yipes! How very John Kerry of me!
Basically, it's whatever catches my fancy on any given day, and what'll move the project forward.
BB: What kind of tools -- pencils, pens, brushes, inks, etc. -- are you using these days, and how might they differ from what you've used in the past? Also, what about each of these make them your preferred tools of your trade?
GB: I do all my penciling with a technical pencil filled with non-photo blue leads. My inking is a mixture of a Windsor Newton #3 sable Scepter Gold brush, a Pentel Stradia plastic nib refillable pen, and the good ol' Sanford sharpie. For the gray tones--since you can't find Zip-A-Tone anywhere these days except in Japan--I do it all in Photoshop. That's my comfort zone, and I feel like I have the most control with these tools. Unlike the late TV painter, Bob Ross, I detest "happy little accidents". That said, however, I'd use a Sherwood Williams house paint roller if it'd do the job I need done on a particular page. I'm...uh...a conservative rebel!
BB: How about paper? Do you have a certain weight and tooth [i.e. surface texture] of paper you prefer, or do you just use what's on hand? And, again, have your preferences changed over the years, and what is it about those particular weights and surfaces that make it work for you?
GB: Bristol board, 100 pound, vellum finish. I can get pads of fifteen sheets for about seven bucks at a local craft store. They're 14 X 17 inches instead of the industry standard 11 X 17 inches, so I just cut off the extra three inches and save those scraps for sketching! I may be a conservative rebel, but I'm a frugal little conservative rebel! Plus, the unlined stuff lets me draw my own panel and page borders and play with the layouts more that those pre-lined boards. I don't like other people thinking for me--no offense Blue Line Pro! The big change between this paper and what I used as a kid is that, back in the day, I used whatever 8 1/2 X 11 bond paper my grandmother brought me home from her cleaning lady job in a downtown office building. Generally the Bristol works much better, although I do sorta miss the law office letterheads on the back of each page, though...
BB: What advice might you have for anyone who's trying to become a good, or better, artist?
GB: Like I'm always telling my kids in my cartooning classes, draw draw draw! And don't just copy that manga crap! Take figure drawing classes, learn to draw clothing and folds, always remember that everything is affected by gravity...and that anyone can make The Hulk thumpin' on The Thing look exciting, but what about a businessman sitting on a couch talking on the phone? Sometimes you have to draw boring stuff--attack it, subdue it, and become its master! Also, I always tell them the "unwritten rules" of comics: "Robots and dinosaurs are cool. Penguins and monkeys are funny."
BB: What do you get, be it personally or professionally, from creating comics and art? How about Suicide Blonde? What did this particular project do for you?
GB: I, like many of my peers, have this insidious, recessive mutant gene that kicks in around nine years of age which forces me to draw comics. It's all I can do, it's all I WANT to do. Intellectually, I know I could make way more money--way, way more--doing something else, but this is who I am. Birds must fly, fish must swim, George must draw. That's what I get personally. Professionally, I usually get stuck with the check...
As for Suicide Blonde, it gave me a chance to stretch not only my range as an artist, but people's pigeonhole perception of me as "just a funny cartoon artist". There's some meat, some darkness to Suicide Blonde that you usually don't see in my work, but it still maintains my upbeat sensibility and philosophy of life in many ways, I think.
BB: What do you hope readers get from your work on Suicide Blonde, specifically, and from your work, generally?
GB: If, twenty years down the line, some thirty-something comes up to me in my dotage at a con and says "Wow! That such and such book you did when I was ten really affected me," or, "It changed my life," or better still, "I was going through a bad time and it made me smile!" then, young Jedi, my work here will have been done. Just think how cool will that would be...
For more information on the nefarious activities of the scoundrel who goes by the name of George Broderick, those in the know will to turn to www.worldfamouscomics.com/chase as their primary source of solid and wholesomely presented news concerning the activities of this purveyor of visual treats for minds seeking naught but sheer, unadulterated entertainment. It is also generally given to know that inquiring minds will discover still more about when and where to get their very own copies of Suicide Blonde via www.yambar.com, the home of Mr. Broderick's sometime partner in comedic criminal activities. And may God watch over your soul if you chose to so venture forth, good people!
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