JACK OF FABLES Artist TONY AKINS Keeps Shakin Up His Style

JACK OF FABLES Artist Shakes Up Style

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Fans of Jack of Fables, the Fables spin-off title that's quickly approaching its 50th issue, will often cite Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges' writing as the comic's strength.

Yet critical reviewers more often notice the innovative artwork in Jack of Fables, hailing the unique layouts and unexpected details that support the Vertigo comic's quirky narrative.

"Tony Akins is one of those old-school artists that are increasingly rare in comics," Willingham said. "You can tell that he's having a fantastic time, and he's fearless. There's no scene he can't improve, and he's the only artist that will add more panels per page just because he wants to add something extra."

Tony Akins, the penciler on Jack of Fables since it launched in 2006, took advantage of the changes that occurred on the title after "The Great Fables Crossover" to also "shake up" the art.

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"It wasn't until Jack Frost took over the adventures that I felt the need to shake things up, and that was, like, crazy!" Akins said. "Drawing the comic, layout-wise, had been largely automatic as the editorial culture at Vertigo kept things very formatted. Jack's a three-tiered, five-to-six panels a page comic, so all I have to do is try to rock the drawing of the panel contents, which is how I like it most of the time. "

The decision to get a "crazy" with the layouts wasn't easy, Akins said. Although everyone on the book agreed it was time to take a few risks, the artist still had doubts.

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"Other than the issues I have to read to draw, I read maybe two comic books a year. Two individual issues!  Where do I get off doing all this crazy-assed composition like I know something? Well, for starters, I was driven to it. Yep, like a crazy ex-Marine in a clock tower. Secondly, I'm Tony Akins. It's always a good thing to push yourself, right? So the layout change-up with Jack Frost in Landfall was my way of trying to redefine the book as more of a science fiction title for this arc. The writers thought it was a good call, too."

Akins started by getting himself out of his usual way of breaking down a page. "Trust me, it hurt," he laughed. "I could feel the neurons in my brain revolting."

According to Sturges, Akins has also developed comedic timing that helps make Jack of Fables maintain its status as one of the funniest comics being published.

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"Tony is the perfect artist for Jack of Fables because he genuinely understands comedy," Sturges said. "He has perfect timing, and so much of the joy of the book comes from Tony's facial expressions and body language. Tony understood from the beginning exactly what we were after; we've never had to explain anything to him."

The writer said he's learned a lot during the years he's been drawing Jack of Fables. "I tried to have fun and challenge myself and the team, sometimes it worked and sometimes it really didn't," he said. "Jack has some shining moments, like the fight in the alley in Vegas, or the wonderful plan that Jack hatched to break out of the Golden Boughs. That whole sequence, I still enjoy seeing. Basically, it's like this; an artist is only as good as his last panel. There are generally 144 to 160 panels in a comic. Sheeesh, so no point in resting on any perceived laurels. There's always that next panel in the next issue to worry over. Any badly executed art? Learn from it and move on."

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But looking back, Akins said one of the more enjoyable experiences on the book was the Fables crossover, because he got to draw a lot of characters he hadn't before.

"[The crossover] had all the animal characters that I never get to draw in Jack," he said. "That was terrific! I was so envious of Bucky [Fables artist Marc Buckingham] having this cast in his book. Stinky the Badger? I mean c'mon! All of those critters in their blue scarves!"

But the artist said he's still got a few great characters he gets to draw in Jack of Fables that are unique to his comic — although there are a few he misses.

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"Of course, I miss the Bagmen from the Golden Boughs environment; wonderfully articulated and expressive in a menacing way," he said. "Whenever I do a sketch at a con, I try to do Bagmen.

"Strangely, I do miss Goldilocks," the artist laughed. "The crazy hot chick — go figure. The very first time I drew her — we never see it in the comic actually, it's in the sketch section in the rear of the first Jack trade — I nailed her kind of crazy in the drawing of her sunbathing. You want to look because she's pretty brazen for a girl going topless, but at the same time you can't read her because of the of the reflected light off her lenses. I used a shot similar to that when she's leading Jack away after the escape — silhouette and flash lenses."

But overall, Akins said his time on Jack of Fables has been a good experience. "I consider myself very fortunate to have landed a contributing role with the Fables/Jack of Fables team," Akins said. 

 

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