The first Image panel of the Emerald City Comic Con weekend, aptly titled Image Comics Presents: Art!, focused on artists in regard to their styles, routines, and influences. Moderated by David Brothers, the discussion featured such artists as Ben Dewey, Nick Dragotta, Dustin Nguyen, Wes Craig, and Leila Del Duca.
Brothers began the panel by asking Dewey to talk a little about the high level of detail in his work on The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw - had this always been a part of his style?
"You know, the thing about approaching work and having detail as a way to get people into the narrative can be a drawback in some ways because you're articulating aspects of that for them. In part, the reason why there is so much detail in what I do, is that I don't know how to do it efficiently. It's really just a matter of making sure your approach fits the context of the narrative."
The discussion turned to artist Goran Parlov and his incredible economy of line, which led Brothers to ask the panel, "How do you know when you've nailed an emotion, or a line?"
"I think you start with the eyes," said Dragotta. "If you don't get the eyes right, you're probably off. And you know, too, when you do that first gesture. If that gesture isn't right, the image won't be alive. There's something to get in that lively line."
Craig and Del Duca were asked how they approach scenes with high levels of emotional anguish, as are frequently featured in their respective comics.
"It took a lot of experience for me to get to the point I'm at with emotions and body language," said Del Duca. "For me, it's a mix between the body stance and the expression. I really like to over-exaggerate the emotions a lot. I just recognize my own style more, which makes it easier to draw now."
"If you draw in a semi-realistic style it's hard to know exactly the line of exaggeration," added Craig. "You know, where the mouth is screaming but it doesn't look like the person's jaw is broken or something like that. Also, if you're drawing a grimace and your face is grimacing, that's a good sign."
Nguyen was singled out next, with the observation that the emotional potential in Descender is fairly limitless, having a cartoony style and also working with a kid robot main character.
"It helps me cheat a lot," Nguyen joked. "Sometimes I'll just draw a silhouette. No, but I think the easiest people to show emotion with are the really young and the really old. That's why superhero comics were always a little tough for me, always drawing beautiful people that don't have lines on their faces. The more grotesque is easier."
The floor was opened up to questions from the audience, with the first question regarding how the artists chose who they want to work with, and how long it takes them to get a sense of whether a book team will work or not.
"Once you get into freelance, if you end up doing a project that takes up a year of your life, and it's not exactly what you want to do, you get to a point where your health is suffering… It better damn well be worth it," said Dewey. "So I would advise anyone - even if it's an 8-page story, make sure you value it. Say something that speaks to what you think is important for the world to have."
"It also depends on where you are in your career," stated Del Duca. "I took a lot of projects early on in my career that I would never take now. You can pick and choose when you get to a certain point."
Craig mentioned that he was a big fan of Remender's work before they got together, saying "If a writer talks to you and you're into their work, you kind of have faith in them. Deadly Class wasn't thematically what I would go to if I was writing something, but I had faith that he would produce something cool for me to draw."
"Me and Wes were just talking about this," added Dragotta. "We are so fortunate to be drawing comics at this time, with this kind of creator-owned boom. Thank you for supporting Image Comics, because with that you're making a better industry and you're educating all of us up here to the business of comics."
A fan asked the artists to speak to whether or not they had a say in the colorist on their comics, and furthermore if they give them much direction in regards to their work.
"Everyone on this panel chose their own colorist," said Brothers. "Image doesn't do any assigning, so it's what they think fits the story the best."
"Can I gush about my colorist first?" asked Del Duca. "Shutter is colored by Owen Gieni, and he is so freaking talented. I work in different styles some times, and my colorist matches every new style I introduce with an entirely differently style of his own. I feel like it's really rare to get to choose your own colorist outside of Image, so it's a real treat."
"Well I color my own stuff," said Nguyen. "And you start to appreciate what a colorist does, because all of us have probably done a pin-up here and we colored it and thought 'Oh this is easy.' But to color a book and make it move from page to page and have a cohesive bond for each scene is insanely hard. I'm learning a lot just doing it myself. It's just a choice I wanted to make."
"I think colorists are like the new inkers or embellishers," added Dragotta. "They're finishing a lot of the art now."
The next question from the audience was on how the artists developed their own style when they are learning from example.
"For me, my style sort of came out of copying the work of the artists I liked most," said Del Duca. "The more I delved into comics, the more artists I admired, and I kind of changed a little here and there to fit what I loved seeing in their style. So style for me was a mix between melding my influences and time."
The final question from the audience was about keeping the work/life balance, and how the artists found the best way to maneuver that.
"I still haven't," replied Dragotta. "I have a beautiful wife and two children, and there are two weeks out of every month when I just disappear. And I feel like I have to find balance. It's tough because we love what we do, so it's hard to walk away from the table."
"I've gotten to a point in my cycle of aging where it's much harder for me to think of an all-nighter as romantic," finished Dewey. "There is nothing romantic about staying up until four in the morning with bad proteins accumulating in your brain. I had to actively make that choice to take time apart."