When Jonboy Meyers was hired as DC's Teen Titans artist, the "Rebirth" event gave him the freedom to redesign everything about the series, from the costumes to Titans Tower itself.
Whereas the series itself launches September 28 with Teen Titans: Rebirth #1, the cover for October's Teen Titans #1 by Meyers not only shows off some of those redesigns, but establishes the high energy approach to the book by Meyers and new series writer Benjamin Percy.
In an effort to understand his process - and to find advice to aspiring cover artists - Newsarama talked to Meyers about his design of the cover for Teen Titans #1. And we found out more about how he's approaching the team, what goes into making a cover work, and why listening to the editor is so important.
Nrama: Jonboy, before you even start the cover, what's the initial inspiration? And what was it in the case of Teen Titans #1?
Jonboy Meyers: Usually when I'm approaching a page or cover or whatever, I'm also using the script as a reference point. In this case, I'm working off of my most excellent Teen Titans writer Ben Percy's script. I also talk to my editor, Alex Antone, to see if he has any thoughts or if he has anything he really wants to see. (Key point here homies, if your editor has something in mind, try to work it in. It'll save you a lot of tweak time and revisions. In the publishing game, it's all about hitting that deadline as much as possible.)
With most covers, the best ones tell a story and are reflective of what is inside the issue, or reflect a moment in time in the book. Normally, I really hate doing covers that have nothing to do with the story. After all, if you do action shot after action shot on a cover, over time, well, all of them blur together and nothing stands out. You want to make each cover unique and memorable.
Though, in this case we have an exception! We wanted to have an overall sense of action and excitement and didn't want to spoil anything in Ben's story on the cover, so we opted for a nice team shot in action, each doing their thing.
Nrama: That makes sense for a #1 issue.
Meyers: It's got to be something that is reflective of the team and can read well on the stands and can be cool enough to get you excited to pick up the book, thumb through it, and buy it.
Nrama: OK, so you knew it needed to be action, but what inspired the angle, or the look of that action?
Meyers: My main inspiration for this cover was the current Teen Titans GO! cartoon. I really love the idea of them racing at you and looking super bad-ass. I really wanted to capture that sense of character, action and excitement the show has and put it into the cover.
I didn't want to do a head-on shot, so thought a profile shot of the team would really read well and feel unique and would up the sense of action. Profile shots aren't used as often on covers and using a camera angle not common to covers, if done well, can help the book stand out.
I used a Dutch Angle on the cover so they read at more of a 45 degree angle instead of a boring right to left.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about the first image here that you've called the "rough." Can you walk us through this step in the process? And how many different "roughs" do you usually make to arrive at one cover?
Meyers: I go through lots of roughs usually, but for this particular cover I already had something in mind.
The key to any cover, especially a team cover, is giving every character their due and sense of space. I wanted to make sure each character is doing something that’s in-character and also doing something epic.
I knew that Robin would be the main feature of this current arc, so it makes sense to have him leading the charge and being more front and center, reading more prominently than the other Titans. But just because Raven is in the background doesn't mean she's not important! Kid Flash should be looking confident, cocky and running. Starfire needs to be majestic and, if you notice, she's actually the one out front and center and leading the team. Raven is back doing her magic thing and, well, Beast Boy… he's flying high as an eagle.
Nrama: You gave advice for your "homies" about listening to the editor up front. Any advice for up-and-coming artists about this stage of the process? As they come up with the rough?
Meyers: Just, if you can do something that gives you a break drawing-wise and still looks epic, do it! It's a time saver and a bit of a cheat, but use it as much as you can. Capes as well - they can be used to partially cover a figure and add some mysterious sense of epic to the character and can act as a break between the action. You really want a sense of directionality and a balance of rest and action going on. Too much busy stuff on a cover destroys your sense of focus and makes a reader feel like "what the hell is going on," so keep it a bit simple and take your breaks where you can.
Nrama: OK, the second image, you're calling "the clean up." It's still kind of a digital version, but much more detailed. At what point do you start doing this version?
Meyers: Once I have a rough I’m happy with. I send the rough to my editor Alex and he either gives me the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." He makes some suggestions, and from there I'll do a more cleaned up pass over my rough lines. This gives a more finished idea of how it's going to look. Any final input is given and any final tweaks are given here.
Nrama: Then comes the pencil stage. What can you reveal about the process at this point?
Meyers: I start penciling it up based off of the cleaned-up rough. Here's where I'll tighten things up and do all my noodling and do my best to make it look as good as I can. So, meh... looking at these pencils all I see are the mistakes! But it's good enough for this stage and the show must go on - and I have a deadline to hit!
Nrama: And then the ink stage. Wait, is this digital inking?
Meyer: I'll never ink traditionally because, well, I'm not super-confident inking traditionally. But what I do is scan this in at 600 DPI and take it into Manga Studio or Photoshop and ink it digitally. Yep, I'm lazy like that.
But it gives me the freedom to try different brushes, textures and effects that I would normally have no idea how to do traditionally. And I can always go in and edit digitally and change things around and resize in case I need to. It's just a tool, but I try to make it work for me and my strengths.
Once it's inked up, I'll send a quick snapshot to my editor to let him know I'm on the job.
Nrama: Then comes the stage you're calling the "color swatch." Is this something you usually do?
Meyers: For me I try to swatch out all my stuff before I move to final color, even if I'm not coloring the final cover. I try to share what I am thinking with the colorist or with myself. It's easier to show rather than tell, and if you’re working with a colorist, showing them what you are thinking will help you as the artist feel better about what you're getting as an end product. It gives the colorist a clear idea of what you are going for. If you're not happy with your colorist, don't necessarily blame the colorist! Are you providing a swatch? Are you talking to the colorist? If you're not, then what you get in return is what you get. They color; they don't read minds. Help them out if you have something in mind.
So, color swatching does help immensely and it lets me play around with ideas or effects more and I can see what reads and what doesn't and what might blur together. If I want to try some other color schemes or ideas I can try them here, since it's digital, so why not?
Keep in mind that you want to think about where on the racks your book will be located and what other titles you are stacked with. What can you do with your cover and colors that will help you stand out from the rest of the books around you? Keep in mind, a great image needs color to make it pop and stand out. So try to keep that in your thought process as you create.
Nrama: You can see how much your swatch stage led to the final covers, in which you've got more variation in the colors and more shading. And that's the final stage.
Meyers: Once it's all said and done, you get a really nice cover/pinup or whatever. I will say that a lot of the thinking was done in the color swatch process and the final will pretty much follow your swatch guide after adding effects, gradations, etcetera. And it looks cool - well, hopefully. You're happy, your editor is really happy - well, hopefully - and hopefully retailers and fans will be happy as well.