In <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/Tony-Harris-Week-Day-1-100216.html>part one of our week long</a> Tony Harris showcase in conjunction with Desperado Publishing’s coming artbook, Tony Harris: Art & Skulduggery, due out in March, we talked with the artist about his early days. From high school doodles to cease-and-desist-inducing self-created works, Harris talked about how he got bit by the art bug. We followed that with Day 2, in which he mentioned some artists he looks up to. Then some crazy news hit, the postponed us for a day. Our <a href= http://www.newsarama.com/comics/Tony-Harris-Week-Day-3-100219.html>3rd installment</a> focused on Harris’s process, and how his art comes to life.
For Part 4, we look at the project that could come to rival Starman as his biggest legacy to the world of Comics. Teamed with Brian K. Vaughan, Harris has been telling a story for the last few years of a Superhero. This superhero saved one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and went on to become Mayor of New York City. The book is Ex Machina and Harris fills us in on how he came to the project, and the joys and challenges of it.
Newsarama: Earlier on, you were talking about working Brian K. Vaughan on Ex Machina, which is on its way to wrapping up. How did you end up collaborating with Brian on this book, and for you, what's been the appeal of the series?
Harris: At the time, I was putting together a creator-owned book that I was pitching to Wildstorm, and that was when Scott Dunbier was still editor-in-chief up there, and pitched it to Scott. I can't remember exactly which project it was... eh, it's not important. But it was a creator-owned book, I was pitching it over there, for whatever reason DC and Wildstorm decided that it wasn't -- oh, I remember what it was! It was Roundeye, this book I've been working on, I've been working on it for years. But they decided that it wasn't right for them at the time, and Scott called me and told me. I was pretty bummed, because I wanted to do it, and he said, "well, would you be open to looking at some other creator-owned pitches that we have in-house right now that we don't have an artist attached to?" So I said, "sure, I'll look at them, at least."
So he sent me a couple, actually -- he sent me Desolation Jones, which I passed on, and he sent me Ex Machina. I read Ex Machina, and literally, in 15 minutes I called him back and said, "I've got to be on this book." And then I had found out that Brian had pitched that book a year prior to that, and they had not been able to find the right artist for it. They had been looking and looking, and one day, somebody said, I don't know if it was Brian or Scott or somebody, but they said, "we really need a Tony Harris type on this book. Who can we get that's like in that same vein?" And one of them said, "we don't we just fucking call Tony?"
Nrama: (Laughs) You got the original.
Harris: And Scott said, "well, I put it in his hands a couple days ago, and he loves it." And so the rest is history.
Nrama: For you, what did you love so much about that original pitch?
Harris: I had never read anything like it, I mean, not anything at all. There had not been a book that, almost -- I mean, there is some action in it, and there is a superhero aspect to that -- but I've never read a book or a pitch for a book that focused so completely on politics, and the drama that is involved with all that stuff. I was a huge West Wing fan, and I had not just, but I had recently finished watching all that, and rewatched it again -- I was a huge fan. And when I read the pitch, I totally was like, "this is West Wing in comics, man, this is brilliant." And plus the superhero element, Brian, in his original pitch, he just had Mitchell as just a guy in tights and a cape. But he said, "I'm open to whatever interpretation you might have." And when he told me that, that was really the huge hook for me, to come in on the ground floor and be half-owner of a property, and be able to bring -- and Brian said just bring as much as you want to it, visually -- and he's always been very open to my input as far as story goes. So it was the perfect sort of lightning in a bottle thing.
Nrama: That's interesting about the change in the Great Machine's design -- could you walk us through a little bit of how it went from cape-and-tights to the final costume?
Harris: I had read his pitch, and Brian was telling me what the guy's powers were, and what his abilities were, and I started sort of, the way I deal with most things, sort of deconstructing the idea down and rebuilding it back up. And I said, okay, well this guy can control machines, so I think he should have a very mechanical, grounded look, and he should surround himself machines. Y'know, he shouldn't be some grown man who looks naked in tights. So I had an unused character design for a different book, called Doppelganger. This was a supporting cast member called the Wingman, and -- it had a double-meaning, he had a jetpack with wings on, but he was also the sidekick for the main character. So I took that design, and tweaked it, and changed a few things, and showed it to Brian, and he immediately just flipped out and said, "this is awesome." I hadn't seen a really cool character with a jetpack since the Rocketeer. Everybody loved it and so we just went with it.
Nrama: With the politics and the real-world history merging with Mitchell Hundred's superheroism, have there been any particular pages or images in Ex Machina that you were particularly proud of? Or anything you needed to take a step back in order to draw?
Harris: Ah, there have been a bunch. This is the longest run I've ever done on anything -- I'm working on, I'm finishing Issue #48 right now, so it's like 48 straight issues of a comic for me. There have been a ton. Obviously the first page of Issue One was pretty fun for me... and that actually took two drafts on that page. The first one I think we actually printed in the trade paperback, and it was across the river, the view was, and you were in a little marsh right on the riverbed there, with the grass blowing in the front, and the one tower standing there. But you couldn't see the cityscape. And Brian was like, "you know what? I think it would be a little bit more powerful if we could actually see some of the city around the building, so it makes more sense to people what they're actually looking at." So I did the final page that was in the book, changed it. So that was fun as an artistic journey, plus I think it turned out really powerful and cool. And then also the double-page spread, for that one issue, I can't remember which issue it was, but it was the double-page spread with the Machine flying right out at you, and he has control of the second plane, and he's landing it in downtown.
Nrama: That was a really fantastic page.
Harris: Yeah, a you can see the one tower in the background still standing, and you can see the other one burning, and that was a really powerful, powerful spread. That was really intense to work on. And there have been other moments in that series -- whenever we revisit that day, in the flashbacks, I never know what Brian's going to throw at me, and how it's going to affect me. And I'm always shocked that every time we go back to do a flashback, or we do a scene where Mitchell is flying by the helicopter and you see the one tower standing, it still hits me the same way. That strange feeling sort of comes over me every time I draw it. There's still a whole lot of power whenever we hit that stuff, I guess. The one scene that really bothered me that I had to draw was a flashback of the Great Machine on that day, on September 11th. And there were people who were falling from the tower, and he was flying down the face of one of the towers, and there was more than one person within his reach... and he couldn't save them both. And he had to basically choose. And that really, that really bothered me for a good week. When I was supposed to do that page, that was really rough.
Nrama: Not to pry or get too much into your personal life, but -- where were you on 9/11? What did you think after that event happened?
Harris: I was actually pulling up to -- this is like one of the "death of JFK" moments, I think, for all of us, everybody knows where they were and what they were doing -- I was actually in my car, pulling up to the front door of my studio in downtown Macon, and I was listening to the radio, and it came up on the radio. And I remember just sitting in my car and listening to the coverage for probably 30, 40 minutes, before I finally realized, "Jesus, my front door's right there," and go inside, and, y'know, turn the radio on. And shortly after that, Ray Synder came in and we were just listening and freaking out. Nobody else from the studio -- there was like, six or eight of us then -- nobody else had come in yet, and we called Drew Johnson and Dan Jolley, who were roommates at the time, and they were like, "yeah, we're watching it on television, come over." So most of the studio ended up over at their place, for the better part of that whole day, just glued in front of the television, watching all that stuff.
Nrama: It can't help but have colored the way you approached Ex Machina. How did you end up channeling these memories, and how did it impact what ended up on the final printed page?
Harris: Well, I think it would be very different if it were, say, 20 years from now and I was like a young guy coming up, and I was not around when that actually happened. But I was. And I was an adult, I wasn't a kid in high school -- I'm not saying it didn't affect them, I'm sure it did -- plus at that point, I had no idea that I was going to be working on a book that dealt with that subject matter. So I deal with it the best way I can, y'know? My brother actually lives in New York City, and I couldn't get a hold of him for about three days. He lived in Chelsea at the time, in Manhattan, so we had no idea where he was on that day, or if he was alive or dead or whatever. The phones were completely jammed in and out of New York, and you couldn't get a hold of anybody, so that was a pretty tense couple of days, until we actually heard from him. He was fine.
Nrama: Moving on a bit --
Harris: Oh, one more, one more thing -- the really full-circle culmination, and I think it was a really necessary thing, I think for Brian and I to do -- and not on our own, I think it was important for us to do this together -- but we did an interview at Ground Zero, together. And I can't remember the exact year, it was a few years ago, but I think that was really an important moment for both of us, working on this particular book, because we were there, together, shoulder-to-shoulder, at Ground Zero. And I had never seen it before, that was the first time I had ever seen it, and we had to turn right around and do an interview, and that was, that was incredibly intense. But again it was very important for my continued work on the book, and for Brian's, too, because it reminded us of what we were dealing with, and to give us that continued perspective that we've had since the first issue.