There's something about artist Chris Sprouse that has attracted some of the most respected writers in comics. But right now, the artist's work on Tom Strong doesn't have a definitive home.
From Alan Moore to Warren Ellis to Brian K. Vaughan to Grant Morrison, Sprouse has worked with a slew of top-notch writers over the last couple decades, on everything from small, sci-fi comics like Ocean to blockbuster superhero stories like last year's Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.
But despite all his experience, Sprouse said loves returning to the series where he's the most "comfortable" — Tom Strong.
And right now, that's what he's working on. Even if the former WildStorm comic doesn't exactly have a home yet.
"I don't know what's going to happen with Tom Strong in the future. If they publish the one I’m working on now, which they assure me they are, it’s going to have to be a DC book," Sprouse said. "But I feel like I’m definitely at home with them. The most comfortable I’ve ever been drawing a book is the Tom Strong stuff. I designed everything, so I never need reference, and it just feels right."
If DC figures out where the title ends up, Tom Strong fans will get a new six-issue mini-series later this year by Sprouse and writer Peter Hogan, with the tentative title Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril. The characters were created by Sprouse with writer Alan Moore in 1999 for a series of comics released under WildStorm's "America's Best Comics" imprint. More recently, Hogan and Sprouse have continued the saga of Tom Strong, "with Alan's blessing," the artist said.
Now that the WildStorm imprint has been eliminated, most comics formerly published under the WildStorm banner are carrying a DC bullet on their cover. But DC hasn't indicated yet whether Tom Strong will be one of the new DC series.DC's March 2011 solicitations include the third Absolute hardcover version of Moore's Promethea, and it appears that book is being released under the Vertigo header. Since Tom Strong is in the same universe as Promethea, it may have a similar destination. [editors note: DC's April 2011 solicitations includes Sprouse and Peter Hogan's Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom trade paperback.]
When it's published, the Planet of Peril story picks up about eight months after the event of last year's six-issue mini-series, Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom.
"I guess I should say spoiler warning, but Tom’s daughter Tesla is pregnant at the end of Robots of Doom,'" Sprouse said. "So we picked up eight months later. She’s about to have her baby, but because the baby is a child of a lava man, whenever the baby’s upset in utero, it basically starts to boil Tesla alive. So they have to make a choice. Like, they have the dilemma of sacrificing Tesla and letting the baby be born or save Tesla and not the baby. They can’t do both.
"Tom has to figure out some sort of super scientific way of getting this baby born without injuring his daughter," Sprouse said. "So he seeks help from all of his other science hero friends. That's the main plot of the story, as he’s looking for help for his daughter from other science heroes."
Wherever the mini-series ends up, Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril will be ready for release later this year. After that, it's anyone's guess, Sprouse said.
"With the whole DC/WildStorm thing in flux, I don’t know if they’re going to do more Tom Strong after this series, which was instigated when WildStorm still was in existence," Sprouse said. "But I hope they keep Tom Strong going.
"I think Peter Hogan wants, if we do more, he wants to do occasionally some shorter things like a Christmas special or something here and there," he added. "It all depends on sales, or maybe we’ll just always do six issue event series, who knows?"
Despite his love for Tom Strong, Sprouse said he's enthusiastic about getting to work with another writer on something new. And with a career that includes projects with some of the best writers in the business, Sprouse said he enjoys the variety.
"It’s one of the fun parts for me is the different writers, just seeing how they write and what their differences are," Sprouse said. "They’ve all been good. There’s not one I’ve ever worked with that I would complain about or have anything bad to say about. It’s one of the things that keeps it fun for me. It’s not the same thing every single time and I’m still a fan, so it’s sort of that insight, that behind the scenes look for me. It's like, 'oh wow, this is what a Grant Morrison script looks like.' And that’s cool!"
In fact, Sprouse said Morrison's scripts are a lot different from the way Alan Moore writes, yet there are similarities.
"[Grant's scripts] are very loose, not a lot there," he said. "And I think quite a bit changed from when he wrote it initially to when I actually got the script. I actually got to change some stuff in there.
"For example, Andy Kubert designed a different costume from what Grant described in the script," he said. "Grant’s description originally had Batman making a scary costume out of deer hide and deer antlers and stuff — not this giant bat. And for some reason, Andy Kubert turned in a character design of Batman wearing a giant bat skin, and none of that was in the script. But Grant actually changed a lot of that. Now there’s, like, some giant bat-god thing going on in there. That all came about because of Andy’s character design. So there were a few changes like that."
But the biggest difference between Morrison's script and other, more standard scripts was that there was no dialogue.
"There wasn’t a lot of dialogue in the finished book. There was none in the script," Sprouse said. "Grant wanted to do all the dialogue after he saw the images, so he could match up or riff off the expressions that I gave him. So that was interesting, to not know.
"Like he would say, 'this guy looks angry.' And usually, I could put the mouth in the position of one of the words in the dialogue. But this time it was sort of like, well, I hope this works for Grant. So there’s a little bit of a kind of a lead that I had to make which I never had to do before," Sprouse said.
But whoever writes Sprouse's next script, he'll take whatever he gets, but he can't help hoping it's something within the DC Universe. "I’d love to do more DC characters," he said. "I’ve done so few, frankly. Justice League, a Legion of Super-Heroes, and Batman. That’s it. I’ve never drawn Green Lantern, for instance."
Would he like to draw Green Lantern?
"Possibly," he said with a laugh. "I like the science fiction aspect of that book, so yeah, I could do that. Or any of the New God stuff, because I love them. And more Batman. I had a good time with that, and I almost did a Superman book, which just got into the initial planning stages and I was just doing some sketches to try and get comfortable doing Superman when it was cancelled. I don’t know why, but it got me in the mood to do Superman, so now I think I’d like to do some Superman story along the way. I’ve never drawn him. I actually did a silhouette in the Return of Bruce Wayne, but I've never really done a story on Superman, just a few covers.
"Right now I’m under contract," he said. "So obviously, whatever I do, it’ll be with DC. I’ll do whatever they give me. And I have no problems with that. Like I said, I enjoy working with different writers, so I'm just looking forward to what's next."