Comics: Dirty, Sexy Storytelling Secrets of Animal Man

DC previews new series while detailing creative process

By , Columnist

Animal Man #1 cover by Travel Foreman and Lovern Kindzierski

With the launch of the New 52 ongoing titles from DC Comics but a few weeks away, it’s not too surprising that The Source, the company’s official blog, would be previewing some of those titles. After all, that’s why those things exist.

Still, what many might not have expected was a nearly week-long series of posts detailing how a typical mainstream comic is put together.

But that’s exactly what The Source focused on for the week just past (Monday, the 1st through Thursday, the 4th of August, 2011), providing a juicy preview of the forthcoming new Animal Man monthly that also serves as a revealing look at the basic creative process that every comic goes through, from conception to completion.

Monday’s entry presents the Animal Man series proposal, a written document outlining the basic approach and scope of the book as envisioned by the series writer, Jeff Lemire. Sure, it’s missing some major information; after all, they don’t want to give everything away before the first issue’s even shipped. But there’s enough there to give a good, solid feel of what the celebrated young cartoonist intends to say and do with his run.

As demonstrated in the justly-celebrated Essex County trilogy from Top Shelf, and the post-apocalyptic survival tale Sweet Tooth published monthly by Vertigo Comics, DC’s sister imprint, Lemire’s work tends to focus on families in all of their dysfunctional glory.

And if the script fragment from the first issue, showcased in the blog’s August 2nd post, is any indicator, it seems that Lemire is a perfect choice for Animal Man, AKA Buddy Baker, the faded hero who is trying to revive both his marriage and his reputation simultaneously. True, we’re shown only four pages of script from midway through the first issue. But they are tightly written, filled with specific details and moments, yet rich with visual possibilities.

Animal-Man-1-page-10 pencils.jpgPossibilities brought to life by series artist, Travel Foreman, in his highly detailed and dynamic drawings. This is one of the points in the process that amazing new perspectives can unexpectedly present themselves, all the result of mixing the ideas and impressions of the script with those of the artist in the mental cauldron of his imagination. It is here that most of the visible storytelling that makes for a fine or not-so-good reading experience is laid down, the outcome dependent on how the creators are able to communicate and work with the other’s ideas and capabilities.

The next stage is inking, which gives the art a real sense of weight and dimensionality, evenAnimal-Man-1-page-10 inked.jpg while visually enforcing the subtle and more obvious storytelling built into the panels and the page layout. It’s particularly impressive how Foreman’s inking infuses the characters with a sense of emotional life, even as it separates them from their surroundings.

Finally, colorist Lovern Kindzierski adds tones and tints to the page, heightening the emotions and motions of the players ever while underscoring the visual/verbal narrative. There’s a whole essay on what makes for good coloring revealed on these pages, alone.

Animal-Man-1-page-10 colored.jpgThe only vital part left out of this series was lettering, the step where a calligrapher either physically or electronically lays in the dialogue, narration, and other typography on the page.

Even given that, ultimately this kind of behind-the-scenes presentation is a win-win situation for all involved. The company gets to preview one of its forthcoming books in a way that gives a lot of added value to a wide variety of potential customers, including the casual reader, the dedicated fan, the wanna-be creator and the hard core process junky.

And spreading that kind of goodness around gratis can’t really be all that a bad thing, now can it? 

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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