As the Green Lantern universe enters a new era this summer, artist Billy Tan is not only getting to introduce readers to a different side of Hal Jordan — but he's also introducing a new villain called Relic that's leading Green Lantern into its next major storyline.
Tan comes to Green Lantern after working for years as an artist at Marvel Comics, including a stint on the high-profile New Avengers and Uncanny X-Men series.
Now the artist, who was born in Malaysia, is helping guide the future of the Green Lantern universe after the departure of the popular creative team of Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke. Working with writer Robert Venditti, Tan is introducing a new slate of Green Lantern recruits, as well as the much-hyped new villain, Relic.
Newsarama talked to Tan to find out more about his visuals for Green Lantern and his design on Relic.
Newsarama: Billy, you're getting to draw Hal in a different role than he's usually portrayed. How would you describe the Hal Jordan you're drawing, and how do you approach his character knowing his new role in the Green Lantern Corps?
Billy Tan: The Hal Jordan I am drawing now is the new leader for the Green Lantern Corps. But he took the leadership unwillingly. Although he is now the leader, he is still doing things his own way. We will see that his decisions will have an effect on the life and death of the Green Lanterns. So you are seeing a Hal Jordan that is carrying great responsibilities that he has never faced before.
Nrama: In the first issue of your run, you immediately introduced some new characters. What were your thoughts behind them as a group?
Tan: We wanted to give them the appearance of youthfulness and inexperience. They look like a group of unlikely candidates to join the Green Lanterns, as if the rings chose the wrong barriers this time. I think this is great. We will get to grow up with these characters as they're molded to become worthy ring bearers. But will they succeed? Only time will tell.
Nrama: Can you describe how some of them look, and why you chose that visual portrayal for each character?
Tan: Here are roughly the descriptions I got:
- Gazzl is a "Grey" like alien with three antennas, so he is pretty easy to portray.
- Nemux is an alien with two antennas. I designed him to be small and chubby, so he would look cute and helpless.
- Two-six is an alien who came from a world where math and equations are their life. Her life is all about equations. Therefore, I gave her some tattoo of geometry shapes and a pattern that's constantly changing. The idea is to make her way of interpreting the world reflected on her tattoos.
- Lastly, there's an alien that Rob didn't even give him a name, because he got killed pretty quickly in the plot. In the script, Rob just refer to him as "nobody."
Nrama: Poor Nobody. So let's talk about Relic, since he's so important to what's coming up in the Green Lantern universe. What direction were you given for the way he looks?
Tan: Relic is a scientist. He is huge and he is ancient. Relic has existed for a long time and he has developed or collected technology of all sorts throughout the universe. Matt, my editor, was thinking of some techie scaffolding stuff on his back. That's where the idea came from.
We ran through lots of different designs on him, from a total creature look to a god- or saint-like figure. He is an alien, but I wanted to give him enough human features so that we could sort of relate to him. Though he is huge and has three humps on his head, he's still very human-like.
Nrama: Carol Ferris seems to be playing a role in this book as well. What are your thoughts on her character?
Tan: I haven't drawn too much of Carol Ferris just yet, but my first thought is how much sympathy I have for her. She's been on and off with Hal for quite a number of times now. I could imagine this is tough for her. Loving someone so much but with great uncertainty. That's not a good feeling.
Nrama: What about these new Templar Guardians? Anything you can tell us about drawing them? How are they different visually from the previous Guardians, and what are you incorporating into their look?
Tan: I was referencing them off Green Lantern Annual #1, which was drawn by Ethan [Van Sciver]. I think they're cool, and I haven't changed anything from the design. They were trapped in time, so they have an ancient, mythical feel to their appearance. They look sort of like Dwarf warriors from Lord of Rings. If there's hand-to-hand combat between the two guardians, I think Templar Guardians would out-muscle the previous group.
Nrama: Let's back up and talk about your background with Green Lantern. I think I read somewhere that you'd never read a Green Lantern book. How much of an adjustment has it been to get up to speed with the characters?
Tan: I know I need to get familiar with the characters fast. I did a lot of research online, bought the Green Lantern DVD, to familiarize with the story and the feel of the character. Matt, my editor, also sent me the new 52 Green Lanterns series for my readings. That helps a lot for the catch up.
Nrama: Who's been your favorite Green Lantern to draw over the first few issues?
Tan: Kilowog! He's the cutest chunk of muscle in the DC universe. I'm not sure why, but he is just fun to draw. I love how Rob gave him some funny moments in the book too.
Nrama: The teaser image in issue #21 had a few new-looking characters. Are you getting to design a lot of characters for this title, and is that one of the benefits of working on Green Lantern?
Tan: Yes, I do get to design many new characters in this book. That's the fun part of the book. However, with the deadline always looming, sometimes I don't feel I have time to give all of them a proper turn-around design. I have to focus on the more important ones. For some of them, I am actually doing the design as I am drawing the pages. Good that the editors understand it and go easy on me. Part of the fun drawing comics is to get to see your creations come to life. And with this book, there are plenty of them.
Nrama: Is there anything you want to point out in that teaser image — perhaps visual clues we might find?
Tan: Nope. you'll have to pick up the issue to find out what happens.
Nrama: Fair enough. How has it been working with Rob? What makes him unique among the writers with whom you've worked, and what do you think are his strengths?
Tan: It's great working with Robert. He's such a brilliant writer — very humble and very easy to communicate and work with. I think his pacing is great and he covers all things you want from a comic book — great storyline, characterization, drama, action, humor. He has it all.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about what you've got coming up in Green Lantern?
Tan: There is tons of stuff happening in this series. Lots of new character developments. If you have never read a Green Lantern series before, this is a great time to jump on one. This is a huge shoe for us to fill talking over after Geoff and Doug, but we will try our best to make it a great one. Thank you all for your support.