Ethan Van Sciver - Behind the Lanterns' Looks

The Road to The Blackest Night

As the artist on The Flash: Rebirth, Ethan Van Sciver has his hands full this summer, redefining the Flash universe with his frequent collaborator, writer Geoff Johns.

The project is the second "Rebirth" effort from the two creators, having previously resurrected Hal Jordan in Green Lantern: Rebirth. And it was that "rebirth" that also gave new birth to the ideas now spinning toward Blackest Night, the DC's headline summer event.

Starting with Green Lantern: Rebirth, readers first saw the concept that fear was behind the "yellow impurity" that had hindered Green Lanterns for years. Then that idea led to the creation of a much broader concept – that emotions have energy that can be harnessed, and the energy of those emotions is represented by colors besides just green and yellow.

That idea became the driving force behind the 2007 Green Lantern storyline, Sinestro Corps War, which culminated with a prophesy that is now coming true.

In this second part of our two-part interview with Van Sciver, we talk more about his contribution to the concepts and visuals that are now coming into play in the Green Lantern universe. While we talked to Van Sciver Thursday about the symbols he created for the corps in the War of Light, today we get into a little more detail about the costumes, characters and weapons of the lanterns that are dominating the stories on the road to Blackest Night.

Newsarama: Two years ago, when we were first told the prophesy of the War of Light, did you know more about how the power is utilized? Like how the Blue Lanterns were there mainly to support the Green Lanterns?

Ethan Van Sciver: Yeah. In some cases. There was one huge, big discussion that Geoff Johns had with me – the one that went until 3 or 4 a.m. when I kept waking my wife up and saying, "Listen to this!" But during that conversation, I think we realized the rules for these characters and how they affected each other. You could almost think of it as a role-playing game. You can add plus-4 to your long sword or something like that and it does more damage to an orc. I don't know – I haven't played Dungeons and Dragons since I was 11, but something like that.

But I like the idea that you have this Blue Lantern, and his ability is to instill hope in others, which powers his own ring and also aids a Green Lantern's willpower. We've seen already in the rules that Geoff set up, a Green Lantern must overcome fear, which is the yellow power, in order to make their green rings work effectively, in order to become Green Lanterns. So yellow does have a detrimental effect on green. Likewise, something like hope would certainly aid willpower. Fear would detract from willpower, right? If you had a desire to do something, and you were going to get something done, then suddenly you were overcome by terror, you'd slow down in your efforts. But if you were aided by hope, my God, you'd be that much more determined to accomplish your task.

So I think we ran through the gamut. We said, OK, what is greed? Was does greed mean against compassion? How do these colors affect each other and help each other? And it became this great exercise in creating a rule book. It just all made sense.

I couldn't be more pleased with the whole thing. It really does make sense. It's really organic. I think the fellows who created Hal Jordan and Green Lantern would be proud of it. They'd think it was a great idea too, because it just fits in with where they started.

NRAMA: Looking at the designs you first did for the War of Light spread for Green Lantern #25, which I know we talked about once before, but you couldn't really talk freely...

EVS: Are you going to mention that? You need to mention it. You ran that article where I basically said, "Uh... no comment," and I suddenly became like Spiro Agnew or something like that in a press conference. I think it upset a lot of fans. And I think they should know I was willing to put forth a lot of information, and Geoff, rightly so, stopped me.

NRAMA: I wonder why he didn't want you to spoil his whole next year of stories?

EVS: [laughs] Yes. I couldn't talk then, but I can spoil it all now. I'm here to ruin it all for everybody. A big spoil sport.

No, but that article ran and a lot of people were upset. They were like, why are you even talking to him if he can't say anything? And I want people to know that I was willing to spill it all.

NRAMA: But now we can talk about all of it because the last year of stories have been written. You designed several Red Lanterns who first showed up in that spread you did in Green Lantern #25, right?

EVS: There are a lot of Red Lanterns in that spread. There's the two-headed kid who's vomiting on poor John Stewart. Somebody did ask me about the two-headed kid the other day and said, "when are we going to see him again?" I said, "I don't know!"

Shane Davis Talks Red Lanterns
Shane Davis Talks Red Lanterns
There was no real assignment there for the Red Lanterns. We had come up with Atrocitus already, but we didn't know what he looked like. So Geoff just said, "Somewhere on the spread, show me Atrocitus." He was the only one who needed to be established. So for the most part, my job was to sort of come up with good, solid ideas, if possible – ideas that I can explain to people. Not, like, lizard man in a blue outfit. But the more substance and the more substantive, unique and exciting aliens you can devise, the better.

I really love Antipathy, who is the Red Lantern woman with the scissors. I love her. But I can't convince Geoff and Pete, with the power and persuasion of my own personality, to use them and bring them to glory. All I can do is offer them in the drawings – in the corners of double-page spreads – and hope that they will dust them off and use them. But I think the idea of a woman with scissors is scary! I always have. I think she has a lot of potential. Now, the fish guy that Hal Jordan is stabbing in the face is named Abyssma, and he is a guy that I had in mind for a long time. I think I would have used him as an Aquaman villain, if I had ever gotten around to that. But that happens a lot – remember that I came up with Karu-Sil as a Ghost Rider villain. So you just have to put these ideas down on paper. And of course, we have the kid with two heads. Two heads that hate each other's guts. Get it? Ha ha. OK, anyway...

NRAMA: When did you come up with the idea for the red energy to just come out of their body that way. Was it early in the process, or was it as you were drawing this?

EVS: It was as I was drawing. I tend to spring a lot of nasty surprises sometimes on Geoff, and I don't tell him until I actually do it. And at that point, I figured he'd either tell me to get some Whiteout or he'd like the idea of Red Lanterns vomiting. I thought it was really funny.

NRAMA: Did you see the Rage of the Red Lanterns issue that Shane Davis did? It was just covered in red.

EVS: I know! He showed me the first few pages in pencil at a convention, and I said, "Shane, the key thing here is vomit. As much vomit as you can possibly draw." And he was keen to do it. Actually, I'm not sure he was keen to do it. He's a good fellow with good, wholesome, Midwestern values, and he was not thrilled about drawing devilish characters vomiting. But I convinced him it would help his career. And it has, I think.

But yeah, I was watching the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies. And I like the idea of getting some sort of virus and becoming rabid and having goo come out of your nose and eye sockets and your mouth. It would just make my day to happen to me. And it's a lot of fun to draw. So I thought, boy, if you put on this red ring, I think what would happen is that it would be like a case of the rabies. It would be like 28 Days Later, and you would start spitting out the red energy, instead of it being a controlled thing that you would exercise from your ring, it would be something uncontrollable, like rage is. It would come out of every orifice and would be a mess.

So I drew Abyssma vomiting all over Hal Jordan, and I said, "Hey, look, Geoff, they vomit!" And Geoff's reaction wasn't too keen at first. But then I think he thought about it a lot, and he thought it made sense and found a way to work it into the story.

NRAMA: Let's talk about the Orange Lanterns. We're learning about them now, but can you tell us anything about the way you designed them?

EVS: Before I say anything, I have to say that Philip Tan's Orange Lantern designed are primo. I know Philip is doing a lot of articles for Newsarama where he's showing sketches of the ugliest aliens I've ever seen, and next time I see him, I'm going to give him a big kiss right on the forehead. He is tremendous. He's got the concept down and he's running with it. And it all kicks ass.

But yeah, the Orange Lanterns are hideous, ugly, scaly, unwashed, filthy beasts. And they're greedy, which is what you see. I had to show things very simply. I wasn't necessarily sure that Geoff was going to run with all the ideas that I put down. But what's the simplest way that you could show greed in a sky full of aliens shooting the heck out of each other? I really just had monsters collecting different rings. Now, do the Orange Lanterns collect rings? I don't see why they would. But maybe the do. I don't know what Geoff's doing. But that seemed like the most transparent way to show greed and avarice.

NRAMA: We have really covered the Sinestro Corps and the idea of fear before, so let's skip to the Blue Lanterns, who we just met.

EVS: Saint Walker! You know, Saint Walker is the greatest name. Saint Walker was a drawing I did at an airport, just to draw an alien. And Blue Lanterns were the first costumes I designed, so I just put him in costume. And I showed it to Geoff just as a way to demonstrate the suit. I said, "Don't worry about the alien. He's no big deal." Geoff loved the alien and said he was going to come up with a name for him. Now, i thought he was going to come up with some goofy alien, fake comic book name like Bleech or something like that. But he called him Saint Walker, which to me, is divine. I never would have thought of it. I need to ask him where that name came from. I'm dying to know.

NRAMA: In this spread, the Blue Lanterns are not firing at other people. What direction did you have when you drew them?

EVS: I didn't know for sure how their power would work. I thought Blue Lanterns probably were the opposites of the Sinestro Corps because they would be particularly effective against them. The fact that they are just a supporter of the Green Lanterns was Geoff's idea, and it's a good one.

But my thoughts on the Blue Lanterns as a visual are that they needed to be soft or round aliens. They couldn't be harsh or cruel or tough guys. Every one of them needed to look like the alien equivalent of Superman, where they just radiated hope and kindness and goodness. So no crocodiles or snarling animals. And Saint Walker is that. Saint Walker is the kindest looking alien that you could possibly imagine. I said they should be aliens of peace, and I guess there's a ganesh type of elephant now, and that's good. No hard edges. Even if you look at their costumes, as opposed to the jagged Sinestro Corps costumes, I used rounded edges on their collars and their sleeves and everything. It's the opposite of fear. It's smooth. It's comforting. They say that the most appealing shape is a circle, or round edges. So that's what I used to create the Blue Lantern suit.

NRAMA: We haven't learned a lot about the Indigo Tribe. Geoff apparently decided they were called the Indigo "tribe" as opposed to "lanterns," and I'm sure that's inspired somewhat by the way they look.

EVS: My ideas for the Indigo Tribe may or may not get used. We had discussions about them early on, and things change, I'm sure, as the story gets more concrete and Geoff introduces characters. But my thoughts about the Indigo Tribe were that they were the opposite, obviously, of the Orange Lanterns. The way to achieve the ability to use that power is to give all of yourself, so you would abandon everything and devote yourself to compassion. So that's why their costumes are so basic and look that way.

NRAMA: Why the staff?

EVS: I think my initial thought was that I didn't want them to look commercial in any way. I wanted them to look lovingly handmade by people who had better things to do than make themselves look good. So I thought they'd be carved from stone or wood, and then I thought they'd look good on a stick. And I thought that about hot dogs too. And Chicken McNuggets. So that's just my train of thought.

And I showed the staff to Geoff, and Geoff thought that was the greatest thing ever. I know that those staffs are going to stay in play. I saw an action figure that made my design look a little sexier, which wouldn't be what I would do, but I can understand the reasons for why. And they still have the staff.

NRAMA: They have some kind of tattoo or body paint, right?

EVS: Yes. That was Geoff's idea. So we'll see where he goes with that. I thought the idea was swell. I agreed.

NRAMA: The “Violet Lanterns” already existed, so you couldn't do a lot with them, right?

EVS: The one thing I did was I put them back in something closer to the original Star Sapphire suit, because Ivan designed a much, much sexier version for the new Star Sapphire. While I thought it was cool, I thought it would be really hard to translate that suit to a man. At the time, we weren't sure that violet lanterns were going to be able to be men. We hadn't determined that yet.

NRAMA: Well, the leaders are female, so that's probably why it's leaning that way.

EVS: The Zamorans, right. We just weren't sure at that point. I don't personally think the violets should be all women lest we suggest that men are incapable of love. And I know that's deeply untrue. So I would like to see male violet lanterns. It would be tricky to do a costume spin on that kind of sexy Star Sapphire outfit and make it for men, but I bet I could do it. And as I told you earlier in the interview, I am going to wear a violet T-shirt from now on.

NRAMA: We've seen a little bit of your Black Lantern designs so far.

EVS: Yeah, my beautiful, beautiful drawings.

NRAMA: They're all zombie faces.

EVS: They're all dried out, mummified looking zombies. I like it. There's nothing more fun than drawing zombies. There's just nothing more fun. I pity people who don't get to draw zombies or don't want to draw zombies. It really is a blast.

And we're going to do it right. It's not Marvel Zombies with the whole tacky thing they do, where you see Peter Parker like, eating Aunt May. You just want to shower and cry and go talk to your minister. We're not going to do that. This is all organic and all makes sense with the story. It's all really happening in real DCU life, not in some alternate reality.

I saw a preview of art by Doug Mahnke, who has always been one of my favorite artists. And to see him drawing Martian Manhunter – that was a treat.

NRAMA: The costumes they're wearing? Where did that design originate?

EVS: Yeah. That's true. And I think short sleeves need to be brought back into the superhero costume. But it was mostly inspired by, obviously, the brilliant redesign on Black Hand. It was great. And again, keeping things all organic so it's consistent and keeps it all together. So when I designed the Black Lanterns costume, I figured I should use the Black Hand costume as a baseline. There were a lot of elements drawn from that costume. The hand motif is everywhere. If you look at their capes, they're big, giant hands, which I love. Their capes are scalloped into fingers. When I did that, when I came up with that idea, I realized that it didn't matter what my detractors said about me anymore. I really had come into my own. I was so proud of me.

NRAMA: Are you doing any work for Blackest Night besides the Black Lantern designs that you did? Or are you just totally caught up in the Flash universe now?

EVS: I'm doing covers. Variant covers. As many as I can. They're very secret. But I'm sure that one of them will pop up in the next month or so as we get closer to the date of the release of Blackest Night #1.

But my focus now is on Flash. They have such an amazing team of artists working on Blackest Night that they truly do not need me.

NRAMA: I know you don't know every little detail of what Geoff's doing, but can you give us any general impression of what's going to be happening in Blackest Night?

EVS: I know a very, very loose outline of what's going to happen, unless Geoff has completely changed it. But even if it's close to what we spoke about a couple years ago when these plans all started, then you should expect the Green Lantern story to end all Green Lantern stories. And at this point, I'm just like everyone else. I've contributed what I'm going to contribute. I've washed my hands of it. And I can sit back and enjoy it with the rest of the Green Lantern fans.

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