For an artist, translating a TV universe onto a comic book page for thousands of fiercely loyal fans sounds daunting. But artist ChrisCross (aka Christopher Williams) makes it look easy.
ChrisCross, who has his own set of loyal fans from his work on books like Firestorm and Welcome to Tranquility, is working with writer Bill Williams on Spike: The Devil You Know, a four-issue mini-series that just started from IDW.
The takes the success of IDW's Angel and Dark Horse's Buffy to focus instead on charismatic vampire Spike, one of the fan-favorite characters from the "Buffyverse." Spike is a one-time killer of Slayers yet former lover of Buffy, and in this mini-series, he works with demon Eddie Hope to prevent new Hellmouths from opening in Los Angeles.
Reviews of the first issue have not only hailed the characterization of Spike, but the artwork by ChrisCross, who has a knack for drawing characters' facial expressions as well as cool-looking monsters.
Newsarama caught up with ChrisCross to find out more about his approach to the series.
Newsarama: What attracted you to doing the Spike project? Were you a fan of the character and/or the Buffyverse?
ChrisCross: What attracted me to the Spike project…. I think it was just a kismet thing. It’s weird. I did a mini-series project sometime ago that never left the ground for the now defunct company Big City Comics that involved, of all things, vampires. If you would have told me I would be doing that again in another mini-series, I would have scratched my head! “It’s a conspiracy!” I would say look over my shoulder.
I hit up IDW when I had a hole in my schedule and I talked to Chris Ryall about doing some stuff. We had been talking awhile for years, ever since I did the first Angel cover, that we should do something together or for the company. Spike was the one that got offered. And, me being no respecter of persons or businesses, you got a funky project? I’m down to draw it. Which I’m going to town with.
Although, I’m not too proud that he doesn’t look like James Marsters all the time. That being said, I decided to just have fun with the book.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the story you're telling in Spike: The Devil You Know?
ChrisCross: As I understand it… and if I get it wrong, Bill will sue me….
Spike is having a great time at a bar with a woman named Andrea (whose image is literally based off this woman on Facebook named Andrisbel Mariafernanda; when I saw her face I knew that was Andrea) half drunk off his mind and hugging up, smacking up, flipping and rubbing down Andrea on the way to an industrial car garage when he is attacked by vampires on their way to Andrea’s car. Or was it his? I gotta be careful. I can see Bill tapping his pen now.
This happens after Andrea takes a pendant from Spike’s neck that’s rumored to be the key to something. In the distraction of Spike kicking the unliving tar out of these vamps, Andrea has slipped away with the medallion, where Tansy Fry, another vamp from Spike and Angel/Angelus’ past, has been creating Hellmouths in Los Angeles for a purpose that I have yet to figure out.
This leads Spike into an investigation that eventually has him up against Andrea again, and bumping into Eddie the blue ice demon-dude. And they partner up to stop whatever Andrea and Tansy have up their sleeve.
I hope I gave but didn’t give too much away. I want people to have fun with this book.
Nrama: How are you approaching drawing Spike? Did you have to adjust your comic book style to be more realistic?
ChrisCross: Well, I went semi-realistic about drawing him, but I left opportunities for his face to fluctuate into something else and still keep him essentially Spike. Not my normal take on a character so well-known, but with the ton of material I was given, I can see myself just going insane trying to keep up with all of the megabytes of images that I was given through screenshot sites and the like.
But I wanted an homage of James Marsters and Billy Idol. Billy likes to sneer a lot, and I wanted to pull that off in one or two panels of the first Spike book. The rest is just long black leather trench, black shirt with gothic style tees and blue jeans punching and clawing through Vamp hordes — or whatever he’s fighting in this mini.
Nrama: You get to draw a big blue demon in this comic. How are you approaching Eddie's character?
ChrisCross: Actually, Eddie is the easiest to draw because he doesn’t have to look like anyone in particular. I try to pride myself in making faces of characters that appear that you actually met this man somewhere, that you’ve truly could have talked to this person. A familiarity. I want characters to make a home in your mind.
So I make him do off-the-wall expressions that will work with the story and also I add my personal touches to his form and the rhythm of his movements to create some kind of personality that will jive and jibe at/with Spike. Create some Tango and Cash atmosphere. Maybe even some Rush Hour spirit.
Nrama: What other characters have you been drawing from the series?
ChrisCross: I’ve had to draw some of the demons that trickle from the Buffy and Angel TV series. Illyria is one. Some I can’t say because those issues aren’t out yet. But It’s like an urban demonic Star Wars bar. Drawing monsters and demons and humans — oh my! — is the ultimate of what it means to tell stories. You have to really push your imagination to make sure that what you want to convey comes off as original and varied. Don’t want all the people to be bored with minutia or the lack of imagination.
Nrama: How would you describe the overall style of the book? Your art has plenty of realism, but it feels like there's some attitude here too.
ChrisCross: It’s — pardon the expression — SPIKE TV’S movies that men like to watch! It’s an urban cowboy fight. It’s literally Bill just saying, “I want to create something that just is. So here it is. Enjoy.” You got demons, vampires, portals, women, poker — you’ll see — dimensionally corporate headhunters, bad girls... Who wouldn’t want to see that in a show? Now, it’s in a book.
Nrama: Are you getting to do a lot of action scenes? Is there a lot of artistic choreographing going on?
ChrisCross: Well, Bill has a lot going on. So I have to make sure that it’s seamless. Which means making sure that the image of where they’re fighting and how they’re going to interact will prevail in my head. Most importantly, where they will be anchored when any situation that produces that action sequence blows up and ignites that kind of entertaining smackdown I’m looking for. Some stuff I add, some I shuffle, some I combine.
But I never take anything away from the writer’s script. Never My job is to push the script to get what I want. Not let ego take over and work against or rewrite circumstances. I don’t like it when artist do that to other writers and I would like writers to know that when working with me, I aim to push their scripts to the most it can be.
Nrama: You keep talking about Bill Williams — how has it been working with him?
ChrisCross: Unfortunately, I’ve only talked to him once. He and I are super-busy, but I called that one time to get in his head. And I can only hope that he continues to like what I’m doling out here, which, from various emails, is exactly what he’s liking. But the scripts are pretty straightforward, for the most part. And anything I don’t get or understand, I talk to him through email or call up Mariah Huehner, resident IDW editorship royalty.
I hope I got her last name right. Or she’ll slash me. She said that one time. Yup. Mh-hmm.
Nrama: Well, we wouldn't want to get you in trouble. Let's stop while we're ahead and just finish up by asking if there's anything else you want to tell fans about Spike: The Devil You Know?
ChrisCross: Go out and buy it, have fun with it. Even if you don’t think it looks exactly like James Marsters, just know that the spirit of Spike, (which he doesn’t possess) is in the pages.
ChrisCross invites his fans to check out his blog, The ChrisCrosser, at ChrisCross-EternalKick.blogspot.com or his Facebook fanpage, and encourages readers to let everyone in IDW, including the writer Bill Williams and the inker Marc Deering, know on their forums and social networking pages how much you like the comic.