Before the new Swamp Thing title at DC was launched last year, artist Yanick Paquette told Newsarama he was pressuring himself to be innovative and experimental on the art for the title.
A year later, critics and fans are enamored with Paquette's detailed and distinctive art in Swamp Thing. Working with writer Scott Snyder, the French Canadian artist has blended his own aesthetic into the new look of Swamp Thing, while still respecting the masters who worked on the title in the past.
Now the artist is depicting a whole new future for the DCU in "Rotworld," this fall's crossover event between Swamp Thing and Animal Man. As readers found out in August's prequel to "Rotworld," much of the "Rotworld" crossover will be set in a post-apocalyptic DC Universe, where familiar characters and locations have already succumbed to the monstrous decay of the Rot.
For fans of Paquette's art, this means readers will see him depict what the Rot has done to DC heroes and villains, who will have been transformed into Rot-type monsters.
"Rotworld" begins with October's Swamp Thing #13 and Animal Man #13, culminating stories that have been building in the two series since they were launched last year. The "Rotworld" story will continue through each series' issue #17.
Paquette, who counts Swamp Thing legend Bernie Wrightson among his influences, has utilized creative panel borders and unorthodox layouts to highlight the otherworldly feeling of Snyder's scripts.
In this interview with Newsarama, the artist reveals what those borders will look like during "Rotworld" and what readers can expect from the monstrous DC characters who inhabit his Rot-ruled future.
Newsarama: Yanick, we've talked before about some of your designs for the Rot. But we've now learned that the war with the Rot has already been lost, and part of this story is set in a future where the Rot has taken over. Have you started drawing that version of the DCU yet?
Yanick Paquette: Yeah, it's funny, because when I got Swamp Thing, part of the appeal was the excitement of drawing nature, right? Like, animals, flowers, birds. All that is gone! It's a post-apocalyptic run that I'm doing now.
I guess it's the counterpart of what I was doing in the first arc, although there were certainly a lot of monsters and elements of the Rot showing up even then.
But yeah, this time around, the Rot is everywhere. Nothing remains. It's a post-humanity kind of landscape.
Nrama: You're also getting to draw a few characters you've never drawn before, like Deadman and Poison Ivy, right?
Paquette: Yeah. I never had a chance to draw either Deadman or Poison Ivy. But I'll be drawing in the arc a lot of other post-apocalyptic DC well-known characters. Because it's all set in this alternate future where things went really wrong, I've been able to have my own input into changing them a lot. I mean, they've been through a lot.
Nrama: So are they monstrous?
Paquette: Some of them are monsters, but some are just surviving this nightmare. There will be significant design changes.
Nrama: There have been so many "monster"-inspired versions of DC characters before. How is your approach unique? Is it based upon what you've done regarding the Rot before?
Paquette: Somewhat, but in the first arc, I did a lot of dead stuff being combined into a monster. That was my approach in the first year.
Because we are inside the Rot itself, I figure the monsters there should feel more natural. Not pieced together with dead stuff, but almost purebred monstery things, while remaining true to the vibe that I've created in the first run.
I want to have disturbing monsters, not "oh, this monster is so cool!" That response makes me think, "Aaaah! No!" I want something that is disturbing.
To achieve the visuals of the monsters in "Rotworld," I'm digging into my understanding of nature, like insect larva. The structure of some bugs are an inspiration. I'm trying to be faithful to nature, but at the same time be a bit shocking.
So it's a little different approach, because in most cases, what I'm drawing now won't be a combination of dead stuff, which used to be the case.
For me artistically, it gives me a new creative option than just redoing what I did pretty extensively in the first arc.
Nrama: Is there coordination between what Steve Pugh is doing in Animal Man and what you're doing in Swamp Thing? Or are you being given a little artistic freedom, since each story explores a different path for the two heroes?
Paquette: Yeah, the Rot contaminated the entire world, so there is room to show different parts of it. What I'm drawing in the first issue of "Rotworld" is a part where the Rot took over, so it's, like, bare.... nothing. Like Mars. But as we get closer to civilization in issue #14 and so on, I'm bringing some remnant of what humanity has left behind, like burned cars and artifacts of humanity, all embedded into a Martian sort of landscape.I've had this discussion with Nathan Fairbairn, my colorist, about what the Rot should look like. Initially, my first instinct was to go for some sort of deserted place like Mars. But he turned me to looking more at... you know the book The Road?
Nrama: Cormac McCarthy?
Paquette: Yeah. That's post-apocalyptic where everything is dead, but [the shapes are still] there.
Nrama: Yeah, I read that. It's like everything is covered in ash and has turned gray.
Paquette: Yeah. In that landscape, you could see that there was a world there before. So that's the type of thing I'm starting to show.
And color palette-wise, Nathan is trying to go away from color, to create this desaturated world of death.
And that's a great thing, to work with Nathan and come up with our approach together. In my mind, I had an idea. And when he sent me the first set of pages for #13, I thought, "Oh, no, this is not at all what I had in mind!" But we discussed it, and his vision makes sense from a storyline point of view. Let's kill the world. Let's not make it look pretty. Let's make it lifeless, a chroma palette, almost. And it made total sense.
Nrama: In each issue, from what Jeff and Scott told me, part of it is set in the present, and part is in the future, so you'll have color in the "present day" scenes. That at least gives the issue some color, right? Instead of an entire issue of no color.
Paquette: Yeah, that's true. But it's not "no color." It's subdued color. Even within the Rot itself, like in issue #13, there is a moment where there is an oasis of life, and at that precise moment, color is just blooming.
But yeah, there is a link between the present and this alternate future, throughout Swamp Thing and Animal Man. And color-wise, we're going to use the color to indicate that transition.
But also, because in Swamp Thing I've been very thorough about using panel border for this precise kind of meaning, when we are in the Rot, I'm not using the same kind of Rot as I used to in reality. Remember this kind of dry brushy, dried blood kind of panel border that I was using? Now that we are in the real rot, I'm using something more decorative, like what you saw when we were in the Green. When we were in the Green, I used this very arabesque, art nouveau, acid trip design. So when we are in the Rot, it's the same idea, but with more chaos. And color-wise, it's clear that now, we are in the world, in almost this dimension of Rot.
And so by changing from this to the present — in this case we are following Abby mostly — with the panel borders that are pretty clean and simple. They're just angle gutters, like black gutters. So this transition is very, very clear.
So I feel confident that, with only this device, even in black and white, it's pretty clear where we are.
Nrama: You ink your own stuff but, as you said, you work with Nathan as your colorist, right?
Paquette: Yeah, exactly. I'm doing everything over a Cintiq tablet, which has been the case from the start of Swamp Thing.
This is allowing me to do things that would otherwise be, just, a pain. Like symmetry, for instance. On the covers of the first year of Swamp Thing, I used a symmetric pattern at the bottom of the image, except the cover of issue #6. But then the cover to #7 is this entire symmetrical thing.
In "Rotworld," I'm still using this device for the cover, but I'm using it at the top of every cover. And hopefully they're use some sort of "Rotworld" tagline there.
If you ink on the page, to do this type of symmetry, you have to ink both sides, one of them in reverse, and that's kind of tough. When you use a Cintiq tablet, because it's computer based, in Photoshop, I can just take one half and flip it.
Nrama: Do you do that for the borders as well?
Paquette: Yes. And in issue #7, there were even panels that were symmetrical in that fashion.
Nrama: But you use the Cintiq for everything you draw?
Paquette: I do. No paper got injured in the creation of Swamp Thing. No trees have been killed. I'm being super-respectful of vegetation in general.
Nrama: It's interesting that Nathan had such an influence on your approach. Do you always work closely with the colorist that way?
Paquette: It's not always the case. But in the case of Nathan, I totally trust his judgment. And we have good communication. We're friends.
It's the same way with Scott [Snyder, the writer], by the way. I will try to add stuff, and he will play ball with some of the stuff I'm doing. I will try to serve him, but sometimes he has to serve me when I meet something unexpected.
But yeah, I'm totally open to communication. In the past, I got not-so-great color on some projects, and I would very much try to impose what I want. But with Nathan, it's our understanding that he's able to come with stuff to me and change my view.
At the end, he always wins.
Nrama: I guess he knows that color stuff.
Paquette: Yeah, eventually I get convinced he was right.
Nrama: When I first talked to you, I think at some point you'd said you were on the book for maybe a year. But is the fact that you're sticking around past the year mark because you want to be part of the crossover?
Paquette: Yeah, you're right. You're totally right. I had thought it was 12 issues. But Swamp Thing has been very good to me, in terms of not only the reception of the public, but also artistically, just the freedom that I discovered doing it. And frankly, I didn't see what I could do that would be better.
Well... now I do see what I will probably do after Swamp Thing, eventually. But yeah, Swamp Thing is just so fun to do.
And I wanted to be there for the big "Rotworld" event. I mean, the entire first arc was about Alec becoming Swamp Thing. But in the background, there was this building story about the eventual collision of Animal Man and Swamp Thing.So it's a logical progression, and I want to stay for that. It's still part of the first arc, you know? It's, like, the consequences of it all.
And I was excited about it. It's exciting to do "Rotworld."
Nrama: I know you had worked in conjunction with another artist in the past. Will you be working with another artist on "Rotworld?"
Paquette: Yes, I will probably need to do that. I'm just not fast enough. I think I might not be able to make it through the end of "Rotworld," which ends with issue #17. We'll see. I would like to do it all, but I have to be realistic. So I cannot make that promise.
Nrama: You mentioned that you know what you want to do next. Do you know when you're leaving the book?
Paquette: No, no. I didn't say that. I do have an idea about what project I may be doing next. But nothing that I can say yet. Besides, things change so much, so I don't know for sure. But for me to leave Swamp Thing, it would have to be something special. I love working on this book so much.
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