Self-described as “one part artist and one part barbarian”, Dan Panosian might seem like a new face in comics with work on X-Factor: Forever and Chaos War but looks can be deceiving. The artist got his start as an inker in the early 90s, becoming part of the group of Image-style of artists. He took a sabbatical from comics for almost ten years working in movies and video games, but Panosian is back – and back for more.
Fresh off drawing X-Factor: Forever and Chaos War, Panosian has been doing a variety of cover work from Irredeemable to Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors and is prepping for a variety of work from Doc Savage and Jonah Hex to Conan himself. If that wasn’t enough, Panosian is a part of both the artblog ComicTwart as well as a founding member of the Drink & Draw Social Club. For more, you’ll have to talk to the man himself.
Newsarama: Let’s start with an easy one, Dan – what’s on your drawing board today?
Dan Panosian: Today I'm penciling and inking a page from Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray's Jonah Hex for DC Comics. The script reads like a perfect Western movie.
Nrama: You seem like a guy with no shortage on ideas – I see you participating in the Drink & Draws, Comic Twart, as well as being active online with new art – especially that amazing Daughters of the Dragon pin-up/pitch you did. Can you describe for us your art outside of paying gigs when you’re free to imagine whatever you want?
Panosian: Dave Johnson, Jeff Johnson and I started Drink and Draw in early 2005 and it's taken off like Fight Club around the globe. There are literally Drink and Draw Chapters all over the country and all over the world. It's amazing. We have two published hardcover volumes out with the collected works from the best of our weekly gatherings. I'm very proud of what it's become. The term has become a part of comicdom dialect at this point. So many artists have met and become friends [ hopefully... ] as a result of Drink and Draw. Good stuff.
Comic Twart is a real honor to be a part of and a great excuse to draw some eclectic/off beat character studies. I'm always blown away by my fellow artists on the website. I try my best to participate on each week's theme but it gets tough!
The Retro 70's Luke Cage/Iron Fist pin-up/pitch you mentioned was something I really wanted to see Marvel do. I wrote a very fun script for what could be a four issue limited series and I was genuinely thrilled by the tons and tons of re-posts across the internet clamoring for it to happen. At some point I bookmarked all the websites and blogs but lost track. Unfortunately, I don't think Marvel likes to take bets on unproven writers for things like this. I can understand that. But, hey Frank Miller didn't come in with any indie comic book writing credits before taking over the Daredevil writing chores. Sometimes you have to take a chance, I'm just saying...! Who knows, it may happen one day. I'm a big fan of the Daughters of the Dragon and Heroes for Hire, We'll see.
Speaking of Indie Comics... Eric Stephenson suggested getting some of the main guys from Drink and Draw to come up with a comic book for Image. So, I developed a concept that enabled the participating writers/artists to create tales that fit seamlessly into a cohesive world. A very loose set of rules which allow the contributors the freedom to fabricate their own tales in any time period and/or genre. The result: the writer/artists can play to their individual interests and strengths. Nothing is off limits. So far the contributors are Eric Canete, Francesco Francavilla, Paul Harmon, Steve Jones, Dave Johnson, Jeff Johnson, myself and a few others that I can't really name right now. It's hush-hush. I also have something in the works with writer Jon Davis and Andy Bourne with Oni Press. I'm pretty busy!
Nrama: That sounds great. If you if you had free reign, what kind of comics would you be doing?
Panosian: I would be writing and drawing a few ideas of my own. But would also love to work on that Retro 70's Cage/Fist book too. Then there's Conan. I got into the comic business because I loved the Conan comic book so much. Even my website, www.UrbanBabarian.com is a homage to Conan. My Harley had a personalized plate, "Belit" [ Queen of the Black Coast ]. You could say I'm a fan...!
Nrama: Your next big project seems to be stepping in after Mike Hawthorne on Conan: Road of Kings – is that right?
Panosian: I'm drawing issues 9-10 of Conan: Road of Kings written by Roy Thomas for Dark Horse. I can't tell you how thrilled I am. It's a dream of mine to work on this book. Like I said, I'm a life long fan. Roy writes in the classic "Marvel Style" which means the script is basically a page of what's happening per page of art. How many panels that takes is up to the artist. Once the page is drawn, the writer comes in and scripts the panels. It's a very collaborative method of creating a comic book. I've been smiling every day since Mike Hawthorne, Mark Irwin and Chris Warner convinced Dark Horse to call me.
Nrama: Can you tell us about your adoration for Conan – where did it start, what’s the coolest thing about it for you, and why it took so long for you to get to drawing him professionally?
Panosian: It started when the first Conan movie came out. My father took me to see the film and then brought me by a book store that sold Savage Sword of Conan, the black and white magazine sized comic book by Marvel. Right then and there I knew that I wanted to grow up and draw comic books for a living. In fact, I was introduced to X-Men because of a subscription ad in the back of the book a few issues later. I became obsessed with all things Robert E Howard and Conan. To answer the second part of your question, I think I've never felt ready to draw the book. When I first started at Marvel I drew some pathetic pin-ups for Savage Sword of Conan. Awful stuff. Now, I feel like - hey, I gotta dive in sometime! When I was initially working for Marvel in the 90's I was very into what is now considered the "Image Line Style" and that whole aesthetic. Almost everyone was. I let my early Buscema, Neal Adams and Walt Simonson influences sort of slide by the wayside. Once I branched off and started drawing things outside of comic books I noticed John Buscema and my earliest influences slipping back in. My artistic focus has changed quite a bit from when I was kid primarily inking at Marvel/DC/Image and Dark Horse. I'm trying to draw in a way that mixes my favorite influences with a modern twist. I still incorporate a lot of Zip-A-Tone in my work just like I did in the beginning of my career but these days I don't require an Exacto Blade. Anyway, I'm very excited. I have some artistic ideas I'm playing with and I'm very anxious to start applying them.
Nrama: Your last big project was X-Factor: Forever; I remember you working around the time this original series came out. What’s it like to step back in time while also trying to do something that’ll fit in today’s comic shelves?
Panosian: It was a true honor to work with Louise Simonson on a book that so many fans have very strong feelings about. My art style has some Walt Simonson-isms to it and I think that's why Marvel editor Mark Paniccia thought it would work out. For the most part I think it did. I was going through a tough real estate mess at the time and landed up moving twice during the 5 issue run. Still, I had a blast drawing those characters.
Nrama: I first remember seeing your name during the pre-Image days of the early 90s, being one of the most prolific inkers around. Can you describe those early years from your point of view?
Panosian: Those were some days alright...! I started working at Marvel and DC when I was 21 years old but I had already worked for Malibu and some other smaller companies while I was in high school. I was very fast and great with deadlines so there was no shortage of work for me. I never turned anything down. When I was hanging out at Marvel I noticed some pages drawn by Whilce Portacio that Scott Williams had inked sitting in a drawer. The pages were from Legion of the Night. I asked if I could make copies of them to practice from. Less than a month later, editor Ralph Macchio asked me if I could do inks and then finishes on the last issue. Whilce and Scott had become overnight stars on Uncanny X-Men and Scott couldn't ink two X-Books and Legion. No one else at Marvel knew what/how Scott was doing with his new inking style. The only other inker at the time that was catching on was Art Thibert, but he was at DC doing finishes on Dan Jurgens for Superman. So... they gave me a shot and I ran with it. Before I knew it I was in the X Office inking everything X-related and loving every minute of it. I got a head start on a style that changed the look of comic books for at least two decades.
Nrama: I knew you began drawing yourself here and there in short stories, but can you pinpoint for us your first full issue and what was going on then to make it happen?
Panosian: Rob Liefeld contracted me to draw Prophet for Image and that was my first full story with all the art chores. I had drawn short stories for Marvel here and there like you said but nothing more than 10 pages at a time. It was a big leap.
Nrama: After knocking out multiple comic a month for years, you largely disappeared from comics from 1998 -2008. First off, can you tell us what led you to step away from comics?
Panosian: I got a little jaded I guess. It happens. I had made great money thanks to the opportunities comics had brought me but the industry was beginning to crumble. I never put it together until recently but my father died and he was one of the reasons I loved comic books so much. In retrospect, I think that had a lot to do with why I sort of walked away.
Nrama: What were you up to during those times?
Panosian: Storyboards, commercial art, advertising, clothing design, skateboards, Disney's Imagineers, designing toys for Burger King Meals... Everything. The high point was getting the lead on a DreamWorks video game called Tai-Fu. The characters were amazing. All the animals from the various forms of Kung-Fu. But the game play tested horribly and it came out and went away very quickly. Luckily, my character designs were all over the walls at Dreamworks Interactive and Steven Spielberg took a look at it and said, "we're gonna make this an animated film or TV series!". Nearly 10 years later Kung-Fu Panda came out. I guess he wasn't kidding. The characters are very much the same ones I drew for the video game. It's pretty incredible to see them on the big screen.
Nrama: You did video games, but you didn’t mention one of the most popular ones you did: Duke Nukem Forever I’ve heard stories about that game’s behind-the-scenes antics, but can you tell us what it was like for you as a designer?
Panosian: It was a lot of fun. I have hundreds of character designs from that game. They kept going and going - which ultimately was their biggest problem. But it's a lot of fun drawing Duke (my middle name, BTW) and the supporting cast of characters and aliens. Working as a designer you may draw as many as 50 versions of the same character. The good thing is, it helps you to diversify. By the way, I hear the game is actually going to come out this year. But I'll believe it when I see it!
Nrama: You also worked on something to do with Harry Potter; can you tell us about that?
Panosian: David Williams asked me to help out when Jerome K. Moore was involved in a nearly fatal car accident. David spent a lot of time with me showed me some great drawing tips. I drew Harry and did some fun conceptual background designs. Places like Diagon Alley and that creepy forest with the huge spiders. I grew up playing AD&D so this was a great fit for me. Working on Harry Potter helped me flesh out my current drawing style quite a bit.
Nrama: Was this for one of the movies, a video game, a theme park, or what?
Panosian: The Harry Potter work was for Warner Bros Product Development but I believe some of our background concept design was actually sent over to the movie production department. I'm not entirely sure. I remember hearing that the drawings I did of Diagon Alley had been blown up and were on the walls somewhere at WB. Who knows. A lot of the work was used as conceptual art that was later painted and could be found on various Harry Potter things like coffee cups, folders, stationary. Honestly, I don't know what they did with all that art. David Williams was banging out some amazing drawings. Like I said, it was great opportunity to work on a very fun character and learn a lot in the process. I had some excellent art directors, for which I'm very thankful.
Nrama: But luckily for us, you’ve returned to comics with full force. What brought you back?
Panosian: I did a lot of advertising work but beyond the brief forays with video games the whole vibe left me cold. The money was terrific but I call it "drawing refrigerators". I was drawing things, well learning how to finally draw things is more correct, that I didn't grow up wanting to draw. Drawing refrigerators... Not literally, but I think you know what I mean. A friend of mine, Ivan Brandon, asked me to illustrate a story he wrote for his anthology book 24/7. I penciled, inked, colored and lettered it. He was very instrumental in pushing me to draw more comic books. Thanks Ivan.
And thanks Chris for showing an interest in my work. I really appreciate it. I love this business and I'm not going anywhere for a long, long time.
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