Cover Story: Top Cow's ARTIFACTS Variants
Is the Spandex chafing your thighs? How about some magic, mystery, and 13 very powerful Artifacts to change everything?
Artifacts, the much-anticipated amalgamation of Top Cow continuity, is flying off the shelves. Even if you are a Top Cow universe newbie, writer Ron Marz makes it easy to dive right in. With the first issue of Artifacts in its third printing, readers seem to have done exactly that.
The 13-issue event features matching variant covers highlighting each of the main characters and the Artifact that they wield. The talented artist creating these covers is John Tyler Christopher. Anyone who incorporates theoretical physics into their art is not only talented, but incredibly thoughtful. Christopher may be a pup in the comic book world, but his art can hold its own in the ring with the big dogs. He spoke to Newsarama about his process, his work on Artifacts, and offered an exclusive sneak peek at some of his Artifacts covers.
John Tyler Christopher: I was working in Atlanta, and I met Tariq Hassan of Studio Revolver. He introduced me to all the guys at Studio Revolver – at the time it was Georges Jeanty, Dexter Vines, and Tom Feister. That was my first moment of sheer and utter star-struck. I remember I was such a fan of Georges’ work on Gambit. I’d always thought how amazing it would be to color his work, because he has such an open style that leaves a lot of room for interpretation by a painter. So the first time I met him, I totally geeked out on him. Everyone was very welcoming, and I joined Studio Revolver.
Nrama: From Studio Revolver, how did you land the Witchblade #129 cover?
Christopher: I went to Emerald City Comic Con. When I was there, I was still kind of tagging along with Georges and those guys. I had done some pin-ups of comic book characters that I always liked. One of things I tried to do was to go to cons, and get my prints in as many hands as possible. From what I understand, some people had some of my prints, and walked by the Top Cow booth. Filip Sablik saw them, and came over and approached me about doing some work.
Nrama: Now you are doing the variant covers for Top Cow’s Artifacts. The covers are a matched set of 13 featuring each one of the Artifacts and bearers. Was there a lot of preparation involved with this project, or were you already familiar with the Top Cow universe?
Christopher: Very. I was a huge fan of Witchblade. I always dug their universe. The idea that they weren’t necessarily super-heroes, but they were just people given these bizarre, mystical Artifacts always struck me as very cool.
Nrama: So, you were a fanboy who got asked to draw his favorite comic?
Christopher: Totally. I’m still geeking out all the time. I loved drawing Witchblade. When Filip approached me about doing Artifacts, and was explaining the project. I was like, “So, I get to draw Magadelena!? I get to draw Darkness!? I get to draw Angelus?!” Every character I ever wanted to draw was right there, sitting in front of me, and I had the ability to do it. That was awesome. Growing up, I always loved those books that were basically encyclopedias of characters with pictures of a character, that weren't a super action pose, not overly dynamic. What it enabled me to do as a kid, was I could say, “Okay, that’s what that character looks like. That’s them.” There wasn’t room for misinterpretation. One of the things I strive for with these covers is to give … I don’t want to say essential because that sounds egotistical, but I wanted to give a version of the character that anyone who’s coming into this series or being introduced to Top Cow with Artifacts, will know this is what the character looks like. There’s no if, ands or buts. This is what Witchblade looks like now. Anyone who wants to draw her can take that cover and know what she looks like and what kind of armor she wears.
Nrama: The Artifacts series seems to be very new-reader friendly, and your covers give a very clean, clear concept of each character bearing an artifact, thus adding to the appeal.
Christopher: Thank you. Having a background in advertising, and having worked a lot on branding, one thing that fascinates me is the direction from Top Cow on certain things. Sara (Pezzini) is a very well-endowed girl, and some of my early designs were based on the early ‘90s books. Witchblade basically wore a metal bikini. That was the armor. They’re trying to move away from that look. They want Sara to be a knight in shining armor, a powerful, strong, female role model, which I think is awesome. Having a daughter, I love anything that reinforces that concept.
Nrama: We’ve seen the Artifacts #1 variant cover featuring Sara. What about Artifacts #2 featuring the Angelus?
Christopher: The iteration of the Angelus with Dani is practical. The armor works. Stjepan Sejic did the design of her. It’s just awesome. What I tried to do with her in the cover is like Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god. If you look at her armor. it’s almost like snakeskin, then bright, vivid-colored wings with really vivid and intense ornamentation. I wanted to try to give it an almost Medieval-style rendering, like the paintings of the time when the subjects revered the central figure; like paintings that portrayed God, then everyone would move toward him with a sense of reverence. I wanted to capture that with the two angels.
Nrama: What is the importance of the sort of “Tree of Life” design in the background of each one of your covers that features each one of the artifact symbols?
Christopher: When I started doing research on the 13 Artifacts that were already established, I thought that was a really important piece to the design. It shows how everything ties together in this universe. I wanted to utilize that in how I positioned all the characters. All the characters, and it will be more clear when all the covers come out, are posed in a manner that fits the location of their symbol on that grid. Sara is effectively a giant cross because she is dead-center. If you notice, Angelus is leaning with her head very slightly tilted up, with her hand clearly raised up to where Sara is like she almost pointing to Sara. The symbol above Sara is the Darkness. The Darkness is almost a mirror opposite of Angelus. Tom Judge is at the bottom of the grid, and he has his head almost looking up and his hands in a sort of “Y” shape. His hands are connecting up the grid to the other two bearers of the Ember Stone and the Glacier Stone.
Nrama: It is wildly interesting when artists use that sort of connectivity and symbolism.
Christopher: It’s a labor of love. Like with Magdalena, I had to gauge whether it would be a crazy action pose or her going all ninja on everyone. I was constrained by her placement on the grid as far as what I could do with the character. At the end of the day, I had established this motif; I really had to make sure I kept that going with every character.
Nrama: This grid is part of a backdrop that has a Da Vinci-esque theme to it. It has a layered look. How did you go about creating that?
Christopher: Basically what I wanted to do with those was to create a Da Vinci-type element. I rendered everything in pencil, and I scanned it in because I wanted to give it that look. These Artifacts are ancient. They are not new technology, the idea being that perhaps those were Da Vinci’s actual sketches of the Artifacts as he interpreted them, as he saw them, having been exposed to them in some capacity. In fact, the font I chose is called “Da Vinci.” All the writing on the covers, like Da Vinci himself who supposedly wrote in some sort of code, all the letters are backwards. If you look, it says “Witchblade,” or “Angelus.” There is also a darkling skull that I rendered. I did the research on an actual human skull and found out all the different sections of the skull that comprise the different bones. It’s all accurate there. Even the grid itself, if you notice, beside the name of the individual Artifacts, I broke the grid down into sections. I went in and translated. It's an amalgamation of Latin and Italian, but the writing refers to primary field, exterior field, and left and right. It’s to show the relationships of how all these things come together and work; the Witchblade, the Darkness, and the Angelus are the central piece, and everything around them is classified in a certain field.
Nrama: Of the covers we are getting a sneak peek of, Angelus, Tom Judge, Glori, Finn, and Magdalena, which one is your favorite?
Christopher: I’m not going to give you the cop-out answer that I like all of them. Let’s see. Damn it. I would probably say Angelus was my favorite one to work on. I wasn’t feeling as much of a crunch on the deadline, and I was really able to go all out. At the time, Jason Pearson had just joined the studio. The guy had become this spectacular mentor for me. Talk about a modern savant; Jason Pearson is multiple steps ahead. He explained to me new ways of thinking about rendering. Before Jason, I would have rendered out all these angels, and just gone crazy with all the armor. But I wanted to keep a focal point. Dani is me trying to be artsy. I wanted to imbue it with something different.
Nrama: So, you know Artifacts #1 has sold out not once, but twice? The third printing hits stores on Sept. 22.
Christopher: Awesome! That is so cool.
Nrama: Did you not know that?
Christopher: I did not know that. I’ve been too busy drawing. I’ve got to say, it is well-deserved. The level of thought that I try to imbue into the covers … I’m not alone in that. That is something that I think everyone at Top Cow is trying to do. The subtle clues that Ron has put into the stories along the way, I think the readers are picking up on that. People can go back and read, and discover things they had not seen before.
Nrama: What other projects are you working on?
Christopher: I’m working on a couple things for Marvel. But I’m really excited about contributing a piece for the Wonder Woman Day charity. I can’t tell you how stoked I am to be able to give a little something back. I think it’s an awesome charity, and such a worthy cause.
Nrama: What would be your dream project?
Christopher: This is going to sound like a total cop-out, and I swear to God I am being totally sincere when I say this.This job on Artifacts is totally a dream job. I love doing character shots! Just drawing a character and doing design work on a character. That is exactly what this project has been. It’s a total geek-out moment for me to be able to do this. This is as close as it gets. And you know what? This has all been surreal to me. If someone had told me even a year ago that I would be doing work with Top Cow, I would have thought it wasn’t possible. Thanks to everyone who has let me be a part of this process
Artifacts #2 hits stores September 29th. Click here for an exclusive preview.