Back in the Saddle Again: David Michael Beck on Jonah Hex

David Michael Beck on Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex #40

This week’s issue of DC’s Jonah Hex plays things a little differently for the title which usually tells its tales in one issue.

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by David Michael Beck, issue #40 is part one of the two-part “Sawbones: A Grindhouse Western."

We spoke with Beck about the issue, which introduces Doctor Zimmerman, a doctor who hungers for knowledge, but has this unfortunate little thing with torture…

Newsarama: David, this is your third foray into the world of Jonah Hex. What keeps you coming back to the character?

David Michael Beck: My first attempt at sequential work was a 6 page story for Wicked West (with Vokes, Tinnell and Livingston), that led to doing sequential art for Jonah Hex #11 and #24. My efforts were very well received at DC by with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Later, I was asked to do the “Sawbones” 2 part story by Jimmy and I accepted. I’ve had a great love for Western genre art books and movies since childhood. The opportunity to work with two of the industry’s finest writers again made my decision all the easier. Jimmy, Justin and I have a great professional chemistry and friendship.

page 1

NRAMA: As you mentioned, this is a two part story, though Jonah Hex is usually a “done in one” style book. What’s going on in “Sawbones: A Grindhouse Western?”

DMB: I would equate Hex to a horror Western, and this is a story of torture, murder and revenge.

NRAMA: How do you normally approach drawing a comic book, do you go for the flashy pages first or do you work in chronological order?

page 2

DMB: I break the story down into chronological order, drawing very rough small thumbnail sketches panel by panel, that provides me with a general guide for visually plotting the story. I follow by collecting reference, shooting models, and shooting additional secondary reference. I approach my sequential work in much the same fashion as my illustration in process and execution. I consider and design each panel and page to flow with the emotional pace and mood of the story as well as set design.

NRAMA: There’s a sense of surrealism to your work and yet it is subtle as if looking at a world that is slightly skewed. Is this a technique you apply to Hex based on the script or is it how you see his world?

page 3

DMB: The writers and editors have given me a great deal of freedom to visually evaluate Hex as I saw fit in style direction. I wanted to give the art the same sense of drama, and mood as you would see watching a stage play, or in one of the all time great westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. I focused on good cinematography in the selection of lighting, perspectives and point of view in the panel designs. There is much surrealism in my editorial and personal work so I think that filtered through as well.

NRAMA: What’s your process like during the creation of a comic?

DMB: My first consideration is to grasp the overall emotional tone of the story taking notes as I read through it. I then proceed as previously described. I did not send layouts of the pages to the editor or writers…I simply went to finished art.

page 4

NRAMA: Jonah Hex, while having a cult following and largely positive responses from critics, hasn’t exactly been a big seller. And yet this is the fortieth issue and there’s a film in the works. What do you think is the appeal of this disfigured cowboy that allows him to survive in such a difficult market?

DMB: Every genre seems to have it’s cycle,…I think western themes were due to come back in popularity when DC decided to revisit this character. Jonah Hex is a heroic tragic figure… brave, tough, hard fighting, direct, and in your face. People love characters of this sort. Jimmy and Justin were a perfect fit to write for this title - they both love the genre. When the book first launched in its “stand alone story” format only one artist was executing the sequential work. Afterwards, there would be a host of invited artists to contribute. The consistent strong storytelling laced with an array of strong visual approaches found acceptance with fans. The Hex fans are as passionate as any I’ve seen, and I’m very proud to have been a part of this title run.

page 5

NRAMA: Let’s get back to talking about you - what is your background in art and illustration?

DMB: I’m in my 33rd year as a professional illustrator. I’ve worked in the commercial, editorial, institutional, entertainment, and publishing markets. Currently, I’m also working my way into illustrating for young adult readers and children’s picture books. I study a wide range of art, artists, and techniques.

NRAMA: Do you have a dream project in comics?

DMB: Yes. My favorite all time comic character is Batman, closely followed by Thor, Conan, and Tarzan. I think a project book would be a great challenge. I would also love to have a long running monthly painted cover gig for a prominent title.

Twitter activity