One of the more unique approaches to DC's new slate of superhero books, Dr. Fate not only gives the magical hero an ethnic, youthful approach from writer Paul Levitz, but the book features emotive, watercolor-drenched art by Singapore-based illustrator Sonny Liew.
The award-winning artist comes from a mostly indie-influenced background, with credits on books like Image's Malinky Robot and Vertigo's My Faith in Frankie. But with his debut on Dr. Fate, he's bringing a color palette and style that's a departure from the usual superhero look.
The comic is one of 24 new titles DC is launching in June, after the two-month Convergence break that appears to have opened the door for new types of comics from the publisher.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, the new Dr. Fate is Khalid Nassour, a med student who becomes the latest in a growing list of characters to don the helmet of Fate, which gives its wearer supernatural powers. Levitz told Newsarama in April that Dr. Fate's story plays with Egyptian mythology, while also being a "very human story and a very supernatural story."
Levitz, who's best known for being the publisher and president of DC Comics from 2002 to 2009, actually suggested Liew for the book. "He's a really smart, thinking artist," Levitz told Newsarama. "And he has a very interesting, esoteric flair for doing the supernatural, and a great flair for doing people. So I thought, you know, this could work. I suggested him.
"I very rarely have suggested artists in my current tenure as a writer, because I don't know that many of the new crowd well," the Dr. Fate writer said. "But this is a case where I knew somebody who I thought could work well. And they got excited about him and were able to make the deal work."
Newsarama talked to Liew to find out more about his approach, while also showcasing his technique for June's launch of Dr. Fate.
Newsarama: Sonny, what do you think of the way DC is bringing indie artists in to DC to shake things up visually, which is part of why you're on Dr. Fate?
Sonny Liew: I was as surprised as anyone else. I guess it all stemmed from a meeting with Paul at the Singapore Toys Games and Comic Con some years back. We'd kept in touch off and on, and he thought of me when he started the new series, and fortunately the folks at DC liked what they saw too.
Nrama: We talked to Paul a bit about Dr. Fate, and it sounds like he's really taking advantage of his knowledge of Brooklyn, particularly the diversity of the people who live there ‹ among which are Egyptians, which is the basis of your main character. How would you describe the way you're approaching the visual tone of Dr. Fate, the ethnic characters and its setting in New York?
Liew: I've been to New York a couple of times, but nowhere near enough to have a proper feel of the place, so there's been quite a bit of visual research required to familiarize myself with the various locales featured.
Tone-wise, it's a bit of a shift from The Shadow Hero, (the book Liew did with now-Superman writer Gene Luen Yang). I mean, stylistically, there'll always be things that I can't get away from, but I do try to adjust the cartoony-realistic dial according to the needs of a story.
For Fate, I'm hoping to give the main characters a distinctive look and feel, especially in terms of their ethnic background.
Overall, maybe something a little softer than what we usually see in superhero comics. Fate's powers are mainly magical, so I'm hoping it's ok for his physique to be a little less Olympian.
Nrama: Can you describe techniques you use to create the art for Dr. Fate?
Liew: I'm trying out pencilling the pages digitally for the first time. It doesn't feel the same as drawing on paper, but it does help speed the process up when you need to do corrections and adjustments.
I print out the art afterwards and ink on those, so the final product is still hand drawn.
I don't have a photographic memory - damn you, Kim Jung Gi! - so, yeah, endless visual references are needed. I've tended to be more old school in my approach, but I'm slowly catching up with what digital tools can help with, like laying out perspective grids in Photoshop.
Nrama: How would describe your background as an artist, and what were your influences?
Liew: When I started dreaming about drawing comics, it was probably all the artists you'd find in 2000AD: Simon Bisley, John Hicklenton, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bliss, Colin MacNeil.
Later on there was the great Bill Watterson, and more indie creators like Chester Brown and Daniel Clowes.
The details and craft of artists like Otomo and Geoff Darrow have provided aspirational role models too.
Ideally I'd like to be able to find some middle ground, stories that are challenging and experimental in terms of storytelling, but retain visual clarity and appeal.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell potential readers about your work on Dr. Fate?
Liew: I'll be shamelessly self-promotional and say that if they like it, do look out for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, out from Pantheon Books in 2016. But I do hope I'll be able to do justice to the Doctor Fate character, and ask for everyone's indulgence for any shortfalls.