Supernatural detective John Constantine gets a new look in June, as DC launches Constantine: The Hellblazer with art by well known indie artist Riley Rossmo.
Working with writers James Tynion IV and Ming Doyle, Rossmo gives the well known British character a new edgy look, just as the title adds "Hellblazer" to its name — the name Constantine's comic carried for 300 issues at Vertigo, DC's mature readers imprint, before it ended in 2013.
Rossmo comes to Constantine after compelling an impressive body of work at Image Comics, including Proof, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Green Wake and Rasputin. The artist's debut on Constantine: The Hellblazer is one of the many new looks DC is giving to its books in June, showcasing artists whose styles were formerly rare in DC superhero comics.
Newsarama talked to Rossmo to find out more about his background, his approach to John Constantine and what it's like for the artist to be drawing Constantine: The Hellblazer.
Newsarama: Riley, you have a huge body of work on projects for Image, but your style seems to change a bit for different projects.
Riley Rossmo: When I get a new project, I try to tailor what I'm doing to best serve the story. Sometimes that means my work gets more expressive, like Cowboy Ninja Viking, and sometimes it's much more restrained, like Wild Children.
Nrama: There have been so many different artists that have worked on John Constantine over the years. What was your approach to him and the rest of the cast?
Rossmo: Before I start working on pages for a new project, I do some research into the history of the character to look for a visual starting point to build the look of the central characters and the world around them.
I collected images that I thought might be appropriate to design John — the character Michael Pitt plays in Boardwalk Empire was the inspiration for my first iterations of Constantine and of course, I send stuff to the rest of the creative team to get their input.
Once I have a main character, I build the rest of the cast around them and try to make main characters as different from one another as possible in body type, hair, and clothing style.
Nrama: Would fans of your earlier work see similarities between your approach on Constantine: The Hellblazer and any of the other stuff you've done?
Rossmo: There are bits of my earlier work I've borrowed for Constantine: The Hellblazer and bits of Green Wake's atmosphere, I think there are some similarities between John Constantine and Rasputin's dispositions.
Nrama: Can you describe techniques you use to create the art for Constantine: The Hellblazer? Do you use digital? References?
Rossmo: Making Constantine: The Hellblazer has been all about layering. I read the script over a few times, then start on digital breakdowns. I try not to use too much photo reference for figures, but usually have environmental reference around any thing I might need to make an environment believable.
I try to get the figure as close as possible to where they need to be, then output it on 300 series Strathmore Bristol. Then I tighten all the important bits of the page (mostly faces). Then ink all the lines with a brush and quill. At this point, all the drawing is there but there are no mid tones. I build these up with a splatter screen, a tooth brush and a stamp pad. Then scan it all in and clean up any weird drawing artifacts and add a half tone and send it off to Ivan to color.
Nrama: OK, let's back up and talk about your background. Are you self-trained? Any influences? How did you first get interested in drawing comics?
Rossmo: My first memory of making any kind of comic images is lying on the floor in front of our TV and copying Frank Miller, John Byrne, and Bill Sienkiewicz comics.
At 19 I started attending the Alberta College of Art and Design. I took some fine arts and eventually finished a degree in Illustration. I did a lot of editorial illustration and advertising work during and after college, which I think was extremely valuable experience in dealing with art directors, clients and deadline.
Tons of artists and illustrators have influenced me over the course of my career, the big influences are Egon Schiele, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Mignola, Bernie Wrightson, Aubrey Beardsley, Robert Valley, Ralph Bakshi, Guillermo Del Toro, and Hayao Miyazaki.
Nrama: What's it like getting to draw Constantine: The Hellblazer?
Rossmo: I love building Constantine's world and I love designing monsters and doing magic effects.
Drawing Constantine: The Hellblazer is a bucket list project for me, I'm a big fan and so many great creators have worked on it including Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Peter Milligan, not to mention all the amazing artists I really admire Richard Corben, Lee Bermejo, Simon Bisley, Sean Philips, etcetera. In some ways, there's a lot to live up to.
Nrama: Then are there any last words you want to tell potential readers about Constatine: The Hellblazer?
Rossmo: The creative team on Constantine: The Hellblazer is amazing! Ming, James and colorist Ivan Plascencia are great to work with — and fans of the Vertigo incarnation and the DCU version will love the book.