J.G. Jones' Hangman designThis week, DC Comics has been revealing designs and cover images for the upcoming characters for J. Michael Straczynski’s Red Circle miniseries, which will introduce the Red Circle characters into the DC Universe. Together with Red Circle cover artist Jesus Saiz, J.G. Jones has been working on redesigns and tweaks for the classic characters,
Newsarama: JG, let’s start with the ubiquitous first question -- how did you get involved with the Red Circle properties in the first place?
J.G. Jones: I was just hanging out on my usual park bench folding a roll of tin foil into a nice hat to block the Aliens' messages, when this guy with a mustache ambled by and asked if I wanted to redesign some old characters that Archie Comics once published.
NRAMA: We’ll take it to mean that Dan DiDio asked you. So were you familiar with them from their original versions, or from their Impact re-imaginings, or was this the first time you'd run into them?
JGJ: I had no clue that these characters ever existed. I thought that they had been recently plucked from an alternate dimension, possibly as a result of the events of 52 or Final Crisis.
NRAMA: What were your "marching orders," for lack of a better term? Was it a blanket, "see what you can do" for all of them, were there already ideas for them when you came on, or were you in on the earliest brainstorming?
JGJ: Yeah, my marching orders were, "see what you can do," but each character came with a well conceived and detailed origin synopsis from Mr. J. Michael Straczynski. I like having as much detail as possible when designing a character's look. Their personality and the situation will give me cues so I can come up with something appropriate to that character.
NRAMA: Not to seem overly simplistic, but why do it? All of these characters had designs that were....well, okay. Bigger-picture-wise, why was there a need to go and re-touch and redesign?
JGJ: The man with the mustache offered me a sandwich to do it, so I said OK. We redesigned them for the reasons I just mentioned. We needed polished new looks to go with their polished new origins stories and to bring them up to date. Make them contemporary.
NRAMA: Inferno really stands out as having the most radical redesign. The original, Golden Age version saw the character in a red and yellow suit, while this version, in "activated" form looks like Dan DiDio. Was this tweak and change something that came directly from JMS?
JGJ: Inferno you can blame partially on me, partially on JMS. I read the origin synopsis and, not to give too much away, it was clear that Inferno was a man on the run. It didn't make sense to me that a man trying to lay low would run around in a shiny red and yellow spandex costume. It wouldn't exactly help him to blend into a crowd. My idea was that he would change his look constantly; always be in disguise, depending on the situation. The two hallmarks that would remain the same would be the red shirt and the torch pendant around his neck. I took the torch symbol from the chest of the original costume and made it into a pendant on a chain.
J.G. Jones' Inferno designIt was J. Michael Straczynski's idea have only two 'looks' for the character: one regular, and one "activated."
NRAMA: In re-touching/tweaking these characters, what is at the base of your design sense? Is it the look, functionality as a costume....what?
JGJ: First I ask myself, "What would Leonardo DaVinci do?" Then I look take a couple of things into consideration. Who is this guy (or gal)?
Why are they doing this thing, and what would this character wear while doing running around punching folks he doesn't know without any law enforcement training or legitimization from any local or national government.
Then I try to do something functional. I look at some costume designs and think, "You can't be serious." That's why I gave Black Widow sports soles on her feet instead of those high heeled boots she used to run around in. She's not Wonder Woman, she's mortal, and would break her ankle trying to land on rooftops wearing those heels. Not to mention the noise they would make when trying to sneak up on the bad guys. You'd hear her coming a mile away.
The Web was really tough. I must have done twelve or fifteen versions of that costume. It was very complex. The costume had to provide a number of functions, and J. Michael Straczynski was very particular about what he wanted here. The Hangman took us a while, as well. I was pretty close to what he had in mind, but had to keep throwing until I hit the bullseye. The sketch you see was done very quickly after having done about a zillion designs late at night, sitting at the dining room table. The drawing itself is pretty weak, but the costume hit the target.
NRAMA: But speaking of functionality - how does the Hangman prevent his noose from being pulled by an enemy during a fight?
JGJ: It's a holographic noose made of ectoplasm and has no realm existence on this plane of reality. Dude, that's the first thing I thought as well, but when you read the origin story of the character, it makes perfect sense. Trust the JMS. He's the man.
NRAMA: Gotcha. Also, I noticed that you didn't do any design for The Shield - why not? What was it about his outfit that made the original work just as well now as it did then?
JGJ: You noticed wrong, but it's not your fault. I did a number of redesigns for the Shield. DC simply did not release all of the sketches. In fact, he's the first one I did. After a lot of effort, J. Michael Straczynski decided that the original costume was fine and decided not to change it after all.
NRAMA: For you, was there anything that stood out in the designs of the costumes as they were originally made - for example, do these costumes utilize elements and approaches that have fallen into disuse now, or are the basics the same that have been handed down from decade to decade
JGJ: Some of the originals looked pretty dated and awful. Inferno, for example, looks like a Flash villain from the forties. The original Web was loser-land, but some of his subsequent incarnations were pretty sweet, and I tried working some of those ideas into my design. Hangman originally had a very Batman vibe, which ain't so bad to this day.
NRAMA: When designing these, how much did the ease of repeated drawing enter into the looks you chose? That is, you design the look, but Jesus has to draw it for 22 pages... Was that an issue?
JGJ: I'm much more considerate of that aspect when it's me who has to draw the character for 22 pages, but Jesus is a strong young man, and he can handle the abuse. No, I really worried about that, especially with the Web's costume. It was tough giving JMS something he could live with while at the same time remembering that some poor bastard has to draw the thing repeatedly.
NRAMA: Finally - favorite member of the group based on look alone?
JGJ: I hate to say it, but my favorite designs ended up on the discard pile. The Web went through a number of revisions, and based on looks alone, I liked some of those quite a bit. It wasn't just about what I thought looked cool, though. It's my job to flesh out the writer's ideas and I was trying to tailor designs to the needs of the story.
Can I have that sandwich now?