When DC announced earlier this year that the Question would get his own Black Label limited series, the positive fan reaction was not only in response to a unique and oft-overlooked character getting the spotlight, but also to the group of comic book legends on the project.
The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage by writer Jeff Lemire and pencils by veteran artist Denys Cowan, whose acclaimed 1980s The Question run with Dennis O’Neil helped establish the faceless, noir hero in the modern age.
Bill Sienkiewicz, who also worked on covers for the ‘80s Question title, inks over Cowan’s pencils, with coloring by Chris Sotomayor.
The Deaths of Vic Sage story will take the character into multiple time periods - including the Old West - and, according to DC, will “explore aspects of Vic Sage’s past and present that have never been explored before.”
As the title suggests, the character’s investigation into a mystery will lead him to an untimely end - but apparently, a new beginning as well.
Newsarama talked to Cowan and Sienkiewicz to find out more about their work on the series, how they liked working with Jeff Lemire, and what readers can expect from The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage.
Newsarama: Denys, you had such a legendary run on this character, but I know your art has evolved since then, as any artist evolves. How would you describe the way you’re approaching the character now? Is it like an old glove you put on that still fits, or was there a bit of a struggle to get it to fit again?
Denys Cowan: All of the above. Really. The character’s familiar, so it’s one of those things where you feel, “oh, I know Vic Sage! I know him like the back of my hand. I don’t have no problems drawing Vic Sage!”
And then you start drawing Vic Sage and realize you haven’t drawn him, really, really, in 30 years, and you’re not the same guy drawing him, and you’ve got to go back and research it and figure out how to draw him again.
That’s pretty much what happened. I had to go back and look and go, how did I draw him again? What did I do?
It’s been a re-education process. It’s been a learning experience as you try to re-familiarize yourself with what you did.
Nrama: Bill, you’ve also had a history with the Question and working with Denys. What was the attraction of returning to both on this project?
Bill Sienkiewicz: Oh, the attraction was working with Denys! Just to work with Denys.
I love the fact that we’ve done the Question together - at least the covers. You know? There’s the whole series of covers.
Denys and I have worked together and collaborated many, many times, on many different projects.
Anytime there’s an opportunity to work with Denys, it’s something to jump at.
It also felt nice to take the trip down memory lane with the Question.
And there was something also about this - and I don’t know if this was a factor for you, Denys - the fact that it was with Jeff Lemire, who’s amazing, but also the format. The Black Label.
Sienkiewicz: It’s a different format, which is a very intriguing one.
Nrama: The new Prestige-Plus format DC Black Label is using. It's about 2 inches wider but an inch shorter than typical comic books.
Cowan: It is different. It’s a higher quality format. The literal shape of the book is different than the regular comic book format. There’s also that - it’s been different.
Nrama: Did that impact the way you drew the book? Was it a challenge?
Cowan: Yeah, at first, it threw me off. I wasn’t sure of how the pages were proportioned. The art boards that I had had been given weren’t really working for me - no fault to DC; they were great; it was just me trying to figure out how to make this work, comic book storytelling-wise.
And I had to make some adjustment inking it, because it’s a different size and different format.
We played around with how this stuff is actually working with the page. Hopefully we pulled it off.
The second issue, which is a Western issue, has been a lot easier. I’m used to it now. But the first issue took some adjusting.
Sienkiewicz: This is a four-issue series, so I was joking earlier to Denys that by around halfway through issue #4, we’re get used to the format. [Laughs]
Cowan: [Laughs] Yeah, we’ll figure it out. We’ll be like, oh, this is the way it’s supposed to look.
Nrama: The description of this story is so unusual, and even the title talks about the plural “deaths.” So are you getting to draw the Question in more than one time period and style?
Cowan: All the issues take place in different time period. I can’t spoil why that is. I don’t want to give spoilers for the story.
But the first and last issues take place in present day, but the second and third issue - one is a Western, and one takes place in the 1930’s or 1940’s.
So they’re definitely genre pieces, and they all come with their own particular challenges. The Western, you’re dealing with horses and guns and buildings that don’t look like traditional buildings. And you’re dealing with Western landscapes and a whole different feeling. They people dressed differently and they moved a little differently. Their reaction was different - everyone’s carrying around weapons and stuff.
So they all have different challenges.
Nrama: Same for you, Bill? Even though you’d worked together before, what it a challenge to then find the inks for this project? Or did you just kind of jump in and go for it?
Sienkiewicz: Yeah, the first issue was sort of jumping into it with both feet. Even though Denys and I had worked together a lot, every time we start on something new, even though there’s a familiarity on my part, or even a familiarity between the two of us that we have multiple collaborations under our belt, with any ne project, it’s like, we both have to jump into it brand new, in a way.
As familiar as working with Denys is, it’s still every page is a brand new page. It’s a way of interpreting something brand new again. It’s always a process of sort of rediscovery and reinterpretation.
So the first issue was pretty much standard pen and ink work, but when the Western motif came in for the second one, I think, before I even started - like, I’m actually working on the pages from issue #2 right now - the Western one.
The first cover I did, which you’ve seen, for the second cover, I actually used more gray tones and more air brush. And more spatter - it gives it a whole different feel. I tried to make it feel dustier, with a Western kind of vibe.
If it had been anyone else I was working with, I might be reluctant to try it, but I’m fortunate that Denys - God knows why - trusts me to sort of run with it.
Cowan: Yeah, God knows why I trust you! No, of course I trust him. A lot of artists trust Bill, and none of us complain. We’re all like, thank you Bill! Can we please have another?
Sienkiewicz: It’s funny you say that, because I literally feel like I’m taking what you give me, and it’s like, I’m going, like, "Oh God, I hope I’m not driving this into the trees." You know?
So to answer your question, it’s really me taking what Denys has done, and then, I use the expression of trying to “plus” something. You know, make it more than what Denys has done, and more than what I might do by myself.
Cowan: Right, like, if I would ink my own stuff, it would not look how Bill inks it. And when Bill pencils and inks his own stuff, it doesn’t look like how he inks on me.
Sienkiewicz: The other element is performing the service for the story and the character. So it’s kind of a juggling act.
Nrama: It sounds like you two love working together. But how was it working with Jeff Lemire on this story?
Cowan: Jeff is great. I worked with Jeff more than Bill did on this story. Jeff approached DC with the concept of doing The Question Black Label, and then he said he wanted me as the artist, which is awesome.
Then Jeff and I jumped on the phone and kind of kicked around story ideas.
He had the basic gist of the story. And we kind of riffed on that. And then he went off and wrote all four issues almost at once and turned them in. So we didn’t talk much beyond the preliminary stuff.
So It’s been a fantastic experience because he is a very visual, wonderful artist who thinks visually. He’s a writer who thinks like an artist, because he is an artist. So his scripts are really easy to do. You know? You can see the pictures that he’s trying to describe very easily. There are a lot of writers who don’t do that - they don’t think visually. They think in words. But that doesn’t always translate into a strong visual narrative. Jeff is extremely good at that.
Sienkiewicz: I’ve worked with writers where it’s literally a lot of talking, and then just trying to figure out the best way to tell this story.
For me, I haven’t had the script - I get the pages, and I go through them and see the story beats and everything else, and get taken by surprise. It’s like following along a silent movie. So in a weird kind of way, I’m the next person who sort of sees what the two of them have concocted in their collaboration. And then I let it sit, and I’ll look it over, and I try to figure out the best way to approach it to sort of amplify or capture and not ruin what these guys have come up with.
And then, you know, having the colorist - Chris Sotomayor - he’s phenomenal. It’s like a band, you know?
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you wanted to share with potential readers?
Cowan: We hope that they enjoy the Deaths of Vic Sage. We certainly enjoyed the process that it’s taken to bring it to the fans, and hopefully they dig it as much as we enjoyed working on it.