Process Piece: Charles Paul Wilson on The Stuff of Legend

Charles Paul Wilson on Stuff of Legend

Stuff of Legend, FCBD issue

When The Stuff of Legend is previewed on Newsarama or seen in its Free Comic Book Day issue, one thing about the comic gets almost all the attention from fans: The art.

The finished artwork for Stuff of Legend, the upcoming two-part series written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, has a very different look about it. Not only is the series from Th3rd World Studios being released as square-bound issues (similar to Archaia's Mouse Guard comic), but artist Charles Paul Wilson III draws Stuff of Legend in tonal pencils rather than pen and ink, with no colors added, making the comic look like illustrations for a classic fairy tale. With more value changes than most comic book artwork, the images bring to life a world where a child's toys fight the boogeyman to save their master.

Although orders are only now being taken for the the first of its two 52-page issues in July, Stuff of Legend has already gotten some pretty impressive reviews. Writer Brian K. Vaughan said of the book, "This is some of the loveliest artwork I've seen in a comic book in a long, long time, and a darkly beautiful story to boot." Artist Frank Quitely said of Stuff of Legend, "I love it! It's a real page-turner. Economical, effective storytelling, with both story and art complimenting each other perfectly, and hinting at something darker. Very involving."

Newsarama talked to Wilson to find out more about how he developed the unique style and how he's approaching the artwork for Stuff of Legend.

Newsarama: Charles, how long have you been drawing?

the toys

Charles Paul Wilson: I’ve been drawing most of my life. My dad was a pilot so I thought planes were cool to draw. He flew T-38s, KC-135s and U-2s, but when Top Gun came out I drew F-14s everywhere. And then there were comics. I liked drawing Spider-Man and Batman like most other kids who liked comics, and I remember there was this one kid at school who used to pay me a buck every now and then for drawings of Predator and Aliens when those movies were big. Preferably doing not-so-nice things to our least favorite teachers. I had a lot of fun drawing as a kid.

NRAMA: How did you develop your style? What was your biggest learning experience when developing as an artist?

CPW: Well, while I was at school I was told I shouldn’t try to force a style. Just focus on the basics, maybe a style would develop. It was really messy and confusing when I started taking drawing seriously. A lot of erasing and redrawing, and for a while it got ridiculously hard and the fun was taken out of it. But as I got more control over the pencil I started seeing a little success in my drawing here and there and that encouraged me to push harder until I was ready to try new things, and I’m still doing that. I’m still not entirely sure I see anything distinct when I look at my own work, but I’m happy with the way it’s working out and I look forward to seeing how much it has evolved in the next 10 years.

NRAMA: How did you decide upon the style for Stuff of Legend? Why did you pick this approach for the story?

CPW: Actually it was Mike Devito, the publisher who brought writers Raicht and Smitty and I together for the book. He suggested I render the pages in tonal pencils instead of the traditional pen and ink after seeing some of the tonal work I’ve done. I was a little apprehensive at first, given the amount of time it takes to do pages this way, but after reading the description of the project, I really wanted to do the book this way.

page 5

NRAMA: Let's talk about the technical part of drawing Stuff of Legend. What tools do you use to get this look?

CPW: I mostly use 2H and HB pencils. 2H is a harder lead for drawing and rendering lighter lines and tones, and HB is a bit of a softer lead for the darker stuff. I don’t use anything softer than HB to keep smudging to a minimum. Other materials include typing paper, heavy-weight illustration paper, a lightbox, kneaded eraser and workable fixatif spray.

NRAMA: Walk us through the process of drawing a page of Stuff of Legend. What are the challenges of working like this?

CPW: First I do up a rough drawing, or idea, for the page I’m going to do on an 8”x11” sheet of typing paper. I’m extremely heavy-handed so I want to keep as many of my mistakes away from the final page as I can. When the rough drawing is okayed by all of the other guys, I blow it up on a photocopy machine and transfer it to an 11”x14” sheet of smooth bristol. I tighten up the drawing with my handy 2H pencil, making sure I don’t carve into the page. Sometimes I adjust things here and there in the drawing without deviating too much from what I showed Devito, Raicht and Smitty.

Max

I pick a single panel I want to work on, then go over all of the linework in that panel with an HB pencil, darkening all of the lines. I determine where the lighting is and rough in the shadow areas with the HB, and then gradually switch back and forth between 2H and HB to shade in the rest of the drawing. I’ll use a kneaded eraser to soften some tones here and there. If I need to rest my hand on the page, I’m careful to make sure I always have a sheet of typing paper underneath it, regardless of whether there are areas of drawing under it or not.

When I’m done rendering the panel and it’s all finished, I cover the rest of the panels on the page with typing paper and tape, whether they’re already finished or not, and lock the pencils onto the paper with workable fixative spray. Then I give it a bit of a lengthy amount of time to dry (I say lengthy because there have been “accidents”) and I work on another panel on a different page. When the page is done I scan it in, work with it a bit in Photoshop and send it off!

NRAMA: When you designed the characters for Stuff of Legend, what was your main concern? What types of things did you keep in mind for these characters in general?

CPW: At first it was research and reference. These characters were based on toys that were supposed to exist before and during 1944. With that in mind, I scoured the internet with various descriptions of antique toys on Google and several other search engines. Based on what I found, combined with the descriptions and sketches sent to me, I designed the toys to look as though they would exist in that time period. Even the bad guys in The Dark, whom we don’t see in toy form, were based on something that existed back then.

Then there was personality. You can’t judge a book by its cover, so they say, but I wanted the appearance of our main characters to speak for what they’re carrying on the inside. A lot of this can be covered with various facial expressions and body language in general, but a lot of fun can be found in the creative process when it comes to figuring out the look of a certain character’s character. For instance Jester, the jack-in-the-box, has a lot of precise jagged, angled features to accentuate his sharp wit. And Harmony, the metal ballerina, has angel-like wings to help emphasize the caring, mother-like qualities in her personality.

And finally there were the transformations from toy to Dark appearance. While a lot was covered with their general appearance, an aspect I embraced was to go with individual patterns in their clothing so the transition would be as easy as possible for the reader. This way my hope would be they could just focus on the story and take in the visuals as they read along.

Manaroo

NRAMA: Describe three of your favorite characters and how you came up with their design.

CPW: Having previously described Jester and Harmony a bit, I’m going to go with The Colonel, Percy and The Boogeyman.

For The Colonel, the WWI toy soldier, he had to look the part of the hero. This is what was expected of him from the boy, as the boy idolized and put a lot of his father into The Colonel as he fought his way from the dresser to the bedspread against countless enemies in the boy’s room. At the time this story takes place, the boy’s father is overseas taking part in World War II. I kept things a bit minimal with The Colonel, staying with the WWI doughboy uniform and limiting some of the more intricate designs to only a few characters. This was to help keep the reader knowing who was who, where and when without overloading their eyeballs with patterns and details, and to help give the design of the group as a whole a sense of balance.

For Percy, the piggy bank, I tried to give him a simplistic appearance as well. I felt he needed something, though, so I gave him a pair of pin striped pants. Originally he had a crack across his face in toy form that would translate to a scar when he walked into The Dark, but that wouldn’t have worked well with how the story was going to be presented so it was phased out.

With The Boogeyman, I wanted to give him something different that I wasn’t sure I’d seen before. I gave him the look of a traditional villain - evil-looking with menacing, manipulative expressions but I also gave him a tar-like, fiery cloak to wander around in. I thought it might be interesting if he used this to move around in the dark, so whenever you saw tar-like flames emanating from the ground you’d know he was coming. His appearance also evolved with the writers as I sent in sketches. When he first shows up he has a smooth, porcelain face. He’s still a bad guy, but this side of him is much easier to converse with. As things get heated, however, his appearance transforms into something more menacing, fanged, almost serpent-like. We see a bit of this in the first issue, but there’s still a bit more of a transformation as we go along.

Jester

NRAMA: What's your favorite thing about drawing this series?

CPW: The characters. They're a lot of fun to draw, and there are more coming that I haven't even drawn yet that I'm excited about.

NRAMA: How has the experience been overall of working on Stuff of Legend?

CPW: Very pleasant! All of the hard work we’ve been putting into it seems to be getting a pretty decent reaction from those looking forward to the book’s release. The Free Comic Book Day preview went over really well and a lot of people seemed really excited about it, and I’m excited they’re excited!

The July release of the first 52-page issue of The Stuff of Legend is available for pre-order at local comic shops now. For more details, visit the Th3rd World Studios website at http://www.th3rdworld.com/.

Twitter activity