Designing the City of Dust - Artists Zid & Chng Spill

City of Dust #2

Steve Niles' City Of Dust: A Philip Khrome Story combines horror and science-fiction into a tale of old world fear terrorizing a society of the future. With brutal violence, detailed architecture and cutting edge design, City Of Dust pushes the envelope of both genres with the art and the scripting. The result is a powerful, challenging story about myth, censorship and human need for imagination. We crashed the lab at Radical Publishing to have a talk with Zid and Brandon Chng, the lead artists on City Of Dust: A Philip Khrome Story, about the challenge of science fiction, working with a mind like Steve Niles, and the many influences they're using throughout the series.

Newsarama: Tell us about how you started down the path to sequential art.

Zid: I grew up in a country where comics are strongly rooted. Growing up with that material makes you want to draw. In school I started drawing my own comics in the back of my exercise books and then my friends told me I should grow up to become a comic book artist. Here I am now.

Brandon Chng: I started out when I was young, reading comics. I wanted to inspire people the way comics inspired me.

NRAMA: For City of Dust, what were your biggest influences?

Z: Blade Runner. Minority Report. There’s some pulp fiction material as well. We wanted to use as many things as possible so that people didn’t say “this is another Blade Runner ripoff”. We also referenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula because I’m a huge fan of that film and that genre. All of those things contributed to the process of creating City of Dust. There’s also the cyberpunk material like Ghost In The Shell. Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City was influence as well. Gothic architecture. Post-Modernism. In this script the city is split by class and we wanted to represent that in the depth and details of the design.

BC: Japanese Manga. Adam Hughes. My goal was to tighten the artwork and give the colorists more freedom to express themselves in the artwork.

NRAMA: Where can we as readers find the effect of those influences?

Z: The ghosts and the goblins truly arrive in issue two. Nosferatu shows up deep in issue 2. From that point on, the designs come fast and furious so there’s a lot for the readers to enjoy.

BC: The gothic architecture carries a lot of detail. When the monsters begin to show up, there’s an interesting blend of past and future in the design of the whole series.

NRAMA: There's an impressive amount of design in City of Dust. How meticulous is the process of designing the look of the world?

Z: It was very meticulous. It was a matter of Steve (Niles) approving the designs. We would just lay them out and then Radical and Steve would approve. We started with the world, and then we followed up with the characters and the monsters. Steve had a clear vision from the beginning, so it made our job easier -- or maybe I should say the challenge is always executing his vision in the best way possible.

NRAMA: How did you approach Steve’s scripting?

City of Dust #2, page 1

Z: The story is cinematic, but you still have to make it an effective comic book. It’s about the balancing of cinematic influence inside the sequential art. I try to put myself in the shoes of the fans and decide what the best experience would be for them, you know? What is the best image I can use for this panel? The best angle? While I’m doing that thinking I’m constantly checking to make sure readability is there too.

BC: My job is the tightening of the line work. Keep the lines clean and make the characters expressive. My style is very manga, so I had to adapt to the style of the book. This is my first time working with Zid, and he’s a great guy.

Z: Issue one was entirely me and my assistant, but after issue two I branched out with more of a team and the process became more efficient. With the team managing details I could focus on overall consistency.

NRAMA: In the story, Steve involves classic characters, redefined. Tell us about the opportunity to visually re-define these classic archetypes.

Z: Steve was very rooted in the classics, except for Frankenstein. He wanted to keep the designs simple, very close to the classics. Nosferatu, for instance, remained very close to the original Max Shreck interpretation. With Frankenstein, we did refer to the Robert De Niro designs from the Kenneth Brannaugh film Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Since these weren’t organic monsters, but rather droids in City of Dust, I spent a great deal of time on the inner mechanics, the construction of these robots.

NRAMA: What visual moment are you most proud of in City of Dust?

Z: I love the establishing scene that happens early in issue one. We really put our best into that issue.

BC: Across the series there’s a great deal of detail in the design and I agree with Zid that issue one really laid the groundwork for the rest of the series.

NRAMA: There's a lot of emotion in the expressions and gesture of the characters in City of Dust. How, through artwork, are you able to convey the range of human emotions?

Z: I look at real people to see how they would react, and make note of their expressions, their gait, their gestures. Real life provides the best reference.

City of Dust #2, pages 16-17

BC: Agreed. I also look at a mirror and make faces (laughs).

NRAMA: What has been the most challenging aspect of working on City of Dust?

Z: Frankly, everything was challenging. The hurdle is falling in line with the vision of the script, and once that happens everything else unfolds according to that principle.

NRAMA: Art and writing collaborate in the sequential storytelling of comics. What do you think is the role of the artist in the process of creating a graphic novel?

Z: It’s equally as important as the writing. The writer uses his/her imagination, but artist gives that vision. The visuals speak first in the experience. With City of Dust, the script could stand on its’ own, but the art adds that much more dimension to the experience.

BC: It’s a balance. Some aspects of the story could be related by the script alone, but there are sequences where the images move the story forward.

NRAMA: Finally, why should people continue to pick up City of Dust?

Z: Because in issue two things start happening, and thing go very, very wrong. The stakes are raised by the events of issue two.

BC: The real meat of the City of Dust story happens in issue two, and there are surprises throughout the rest of the series.

City of Dust #2 hit stores this week.

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