Catching Up with "Encyclopedia" Van Sciver

Reading "Encyclopedia" Van Sciver
It was San Diego Comic-Con 2007 when Newsarama first caught writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver conspiring about something they would only call "Bl...."

Sitting at Van Sciver's table, Johns was whispering and describing something epic to the artist long before readers were informed of the story's existence a few months later at the end of Sinestro Corps War.

Ever since then, Ethan Van Sciver has been like an encyclopedia of knowledge about the looks of the characters running around Blackest Night, many of whom he designed, including the costumes worn by the Black Lanterns themselves.

Newsarama has gone to that well of knowledge several times. Not only did we get a detailed view of what the artist is like when we profiled him for our Behind the Page feature, but we've talked with the artist about everything from his design of the various colored Lanterns, to the ideas behind Sinestro Corps War, to our  many discussions with him at conventions, not to mention the discussions he's had with John Siuntres on Word Balloon.

(And yes, we linked those so all you Blackest Night readers who are new to the party can get drunk on information overload.)

But now we're back for more, following up one more time with "Encyclopedia Van Sciver" about his variant cover for Blackest Night #1 that hit comic shops this week. Some fans have wondered if there's a significance to the characters who were chosen to be on the cover, or if there's a meaning behind what Black Hand is doing.

So Newsarama decided to catch up with the artist to find out more, and to find out the status of his work on The Flash: Rebirth.

Newsarama: Was the design of the Blackest Night #1 variant cover your idea? Or something that was directed to you?

Ethan Van Sciver: Well, it's funny because, no, I actually just came up with it. Geoff actually asked for something a lot different, or maybe it was editorial who wanted it. But I was told that I was supposed to draw Hal Jordan being attacked by a whole lot of zombies and being pulled underground or something like that. And I thought that was a cool image, but it seemed more like an interior image to me. I didn't think it matched the sort of huge scale that I think we were trying to suggest that Blackest Night was going to be. And I wanted to also match the covers that I'd done before for Sinestro Corps and Green Lantern: Rebirth, especially Issue #6, where we had the Lanterns all in a row, and in Sinestro Corps we had the Lanterns all in a row again, but in a dire circumstance, and then the villains all lined up and looking cool and powerful and untouchable.

So the original version of the Blackest Night cover that I did is actually going to be used as another variant. I did a Green Lantern version of that cover, where the Green Lantern corps is flying in instead of the JLA. And they said, no, put the Justice League members in there instead of the Lanterns. So we did a quick patch and changed a couple things and put it out that way.

But to me, the cover is meant to suggest that this is going to be a big, big scary book that makes Black Hand into a much more substantial villain than he was in the past. Plus, you have to think about the title of what this is and how you can represent the title of the story with a single image. And I thought the idea of Black Hand silencing the power battery with his hands, covering the areas where the light streams out, making it black, making it nighttime, was so cool and belonged on the Issue #1 cover. It could mean the end of the Green Lantern Corps. This could suggest that. I've always felt that the whole point of the Green Lanterns is they light up space, they light up the dark corners of the universe with their light. And to have death come and snuff that light is an unsettling image.

NRAMA: How did you come up with the designs that you did for the Black Lanterns?

Van Sciver: With Green Lantern, everything's got to come from somewhere, something familiar. I was fortunate to have a pretty cool Black Hand design that was put together, I think, by Pete Tomasi and Geoff. So by the time I drew Black Hand in Green Lantern #5 or #6, I'm not sure which one, there was already a really nice design put in place. And it was original, because I think he had short sleeves, or at least one sleeve was short. It looked cool. It was something superheroes don't usually have. It was kind of cool, and it looked fresh. So that, and the little triangular shape with the "hand" and the riveted thing for the forehead -- these were all things from the Black Hand design that I just plucked and altered a little bit and turned into the Black Lantern uniform. I feel like, just the same way Star Sapphire accidentally stumbled upon the violet religion or lantern thing, Black Hand's uniform would be a primitive, accidental version of what the Black Lanterns would end up looking like. So that was my ground floor of thought.

And yeah, from there, it was fun. I had a straightforward Black Lantern uniform. And then it was just a matter of blending that with whatever the resurrected superhero wore and what his original costume looked like. It couldn't have been more fun. I did a half dozen or so examples of some of the main Black Lanterns that Geoff was planning on using, and then just letting it go.

One of the privileges of working on Green Lantern is you get to wield that kind of creativity. Geoff will say to you, hey, let's do a Black Lantern version of, and I'm trying to come up with someone who couldn't possibly become a Black Lantern, so he might say, let's do a Black Lantern verison of Lex Luthor, for example, and you can take Lex Luthor's big green armored suit and merge it with the Black Lantern costume and come up with something really exciting. So every creator who's going to work on Blackest Night is going to have that opportunity. It should be a total blast, especially if Geoff is able to find more and more examples of room temperature characters to use.

NRAMA: In this variant cover, it looks like the Green Lantern battery that Black Hand has. Are there more symbols in there?

Van Sciver: Of course. I always do stuff like that. There's a Black Lantern symbol in there.

NRAMA: Is there a meaning to that? Or is it just to look cool?

Van Sciver: It's just to look cool. I do that sort of thing all the time. It just gives you something extra to look at. And in the variant cover to Blackest Night #3, I put the whole spectrum in Firestorm's flaming head.

NRAMA: Is there any significance to the JLA heroes chosen for the front?

Van Sciver: I don't know. They gave me a list. Again, this is how little I know about it. I assumed that Blackest Night, the main title for which I'm doing variant covers, was a Green Lantern book. But it turns out it's not just Green Lantern. It's the whole DCU. So my initial idea was to keep it Green Lantern focused. But they said, no, no, no. There's a little something for everyone in this title, and they gave me a list of all the heroes who should be on the front.

I think somebody said to me that most of the characters who are on that cover have been dead and returned. Is that true?

NRAMA: I think you're right.

Van Sciver: Was Wonder Woman dead? If not, I guess we could kill her really quick and bring her back.

NRAMA: Maybe that's why you didn't get to have the new Batman on the cover, since Dick Grayson hasn't died.

Van Sciver: [laughs] Not yet. There but for the grace of Dan DiDio goes Dick Grayson, as we all know.

NRAMA: I know you were part of the early planning for this "trilogy" that Geoff's doing in first Rebirth, then Sinestro Corps and then Blackest Night. Are you aware of where this story of Blackest Night is going to go?

Van Sciver: No. I'm not! I mean, when we first started talking about Blackest Night before Sinestro Corps, Geoff very quickly came up with a rough outline of where he wanted the story to go. And he had a lot of really bold choices, including an ending that I thought was absolutely spectacular and daring of him. He wasn't sure about it. And I said, Geoff, this is your Green Lantern show. Everybody's following you and everybody believes in you. You do whatever you want that is going to make a great story. And I haven't talked to him a whole lot about it since. [laughs] He answers questions, but I really haven't had the nerve to say, Geoff, what's the ending? How has it evolved? Where is it going now? Mostly because I want to be surprised. I'm going to read it with everyone else! I'm excited! I've seen a bunch of Ivan Reis' pages and they are spectacular, as I knew they would be. But also, I'm so focused on Flash and I'm trying to think about the future of Flash: Rebirth and how to help this property along that I don't want to get too distracted with Green Lantern right now. It's in good hands.

NRAMA: With Flash, I remember hearing at a comic convention, when someone asked which Flashes are going to be in Rebirth, you guys said, "All of them." And I thought, they're not really going to have all of them. You've got speedsters people haven't even heard of before!

Van Sciver: We didn't lie, did we? We have all of them and then some. And there are even some special surprises to come. But yeah, the idea, like Green Lantern, we approached that in a similar kind of way, where there are a lot of pieces and elements that have been spread around in different Green Lantern issues and stories over the decades that haven't really been strung together to form a cohesive whole, in my opinion. A lot of things were suggested but not proven by the stories. The reason Green Lantern is succeeding is that Geoff did a fantastic job of taking all of those things and making the mythos make sense, including everything.

Flash is the same way. Throughout 60-70-some years of DCU history, there have been lots of little pieces and hints and clues about what the speedsters are or where they come from or what they mean. A plucky couple of creators could get together and put those clues together to mean something much bigger. And that's what we're attempting to do.

So Flash: Rebirth is what Green Lantern: Rebirth was in the sense that we're trying to get all of our ducks in a row here and prepare for the much, much bigger story that will come from it. And that's got to include every single Flash character.

NRAMA: From a research standpoint, you've got all the Rogues, just about every speedster, and while I know you were a Flash fan before, but you must have done tons of research on costumes and history.

Van Sciver: Oh no, no, no. Don't misunderstand here. I don't have to do a lot of research because Geoff is a walking DC Encyclopedia. All I have to do is call him. And not only that, but there are some things I want to alter just a bit, to make them work better and smoother visually with the Flashes.

Some people have already noticed that Bart Allen's boots are different from the wonderful Mike McKone designs. And the reason for that is, I just think that simplifying some of these designs and making them more similar so a sense of uniformity is represented even though they all have different costumes, is helpful. It just makes things smoother and easier and makes more sense.

But at the same time, I really want to bring the Flashes back to where I thought they worked best. I personally like a younger, longer-haired Bart Allen. Maybe it's because I kind of grew up drawing Impulse for DC Comics, but I always thought he looked so much better with that simple, kind of wide-eyed look on his face with that floppy long hair and slightly outsized feet, and I want to bring that back to Kid Flash. I want to restore that to the character and make him that way again. I think something got lost when that disappeared.

So it's things like that. I don't know how important they are to other people, but they're important to me. I want to get all my toy soldiers lined up to, I think, their most effective statuses. And then push them forward from there.

NRAMA: What's the story behind the increase in issues from five issues to six issues for Flash: Rebirth?

Van Sciver: We were hoping for six issues all along. I think Geoff was planning for six issues. And DC was hesitant to give us the sixth one because they really wanted to make sure the book would work. And we said please let us prove it to you. And the first issue went over well enough, and the pages were coming over at a fairly fast clip, so they said OK, you can have your sixth issue. But we were hoping for it anyway. I think we would have fought for it. We wanted this series to match the Green Lantern: Rebirth series, which was also six issues in length. It was important, and I'm glad DC saw it our was and gave us the extra issue.

NRAMA: Is there anything you want to tell people is coming up in the next issue of Flash: Rebirth?

Van Sciver: Yes! Major heroics and fireworks on the part of Jay Garrick and Bart Allen, who have never been made to look this kick-ass before. They're going to really get their moment to shine in Issue #4. It's fantastic stuff. It's a big action issue. It's good. It's scary.

NRAMA: What's the status of this Plastic Man series that you and I have been discussing off and on over the last couple years?

Van Sciver: Plastic Man is going to be used more in the DCU, from what Dan DiDio says, and I hope he'll watch over how he's presented.  For now, at least, I'm having a good time drawing Flash, so I guess my Plastic Man book will have to wait for another day!

NRAMA: What about your column? Your fans here on Newsarama would like to see more of those, you know.

Van Sciver: More "Your Time is Now Mine" for Newsarama? Oh, I should get back to that soon. Let me get Flash: Rebirth back on schedule, and then I'll write more of my hard-hitting and relevant columns. 

NRAMA: Do you have specific plans for what you're doing after Flash: Rebirth?

Van Sciver: I hope I'm going to be still allowed to work in comics after Flash: Rebirth. [laughs] I hope my career at DC Comics doesn't come to a screeching halt after Flash: Rebirth. But we'll see what happens. DC's very cool, and they've given me a choice of three or four different projects. And there's always the option to invent my own. But I'm pretty sure I know where I'm going to go after this. And I hope people enjoy Blackest Night. It should be the start of a wonderful summer for DC and fans. And be sure to pick up Flash: Rebirth #4 the first week of August!

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