INTERVIEW: STEPHEN DOWNEY ON HIS ATOMIC DINER WORK
With the second issue of Noe: The Savage Boy is on its way, I decided to ask Stephen Downey about his Atomic Diner work from Jennifer Wilde to The Black Scorpion and on to Noe.
Starting with Jennifer Wilde, given the setting of the book, it seems like it would involve a lot of research for you and writer Maura McHugh. I’m thinking of the fashion and the backgrounds. You put a lot of detail into the backgrounds. You kind of set out your stall on page one with Jennifer’s studio apartment. Were things like that in the script or were they something you decided to do yourself?
It’s really a nice blend of what comes from Maura, and what I add myself. Maura was quite descriptive for the opening scene as she wanted to show Jennifer’s personality in a visual way. I’m pretty sure Maura asked for the easel, wine bottle and gramophone, and I added some decorative elements and saxophone model. Maura asked for big glass windows and I added rafters.
Your Oscar Wilde was spot on for me. Was it tricky getting the balance between having him looking like the real life figure and fitting in with the world you created?
It was a little tricky. I used a few photos at the early stages, but Oscar has quite a unique face, with his small brow, round chin and flowing locks making him look like he was designed for an artist to draw.
How much input did you have in the design of Jennifer Cavalier?
Maura and Rob simply asked her to be a young woman in her 20s, with short black hair and flapper-esque dress sense. They sent a lot of 1920s fashion reference, which I was able to pull from to design Jennifer’s dresses, coat and general look, and went for a hairstyle slighter longer than a flapper-bob to make Jennifer Stand out as unique among the supporting characters.
I loved the “ghost effect” you used for Oscar. How did you achieve that?
Most of the book was drawn in black ink with either ink wash or digital tone, but Oscar was drawn and shaded in pencil, with a little Photoshop white airbrush to add to the glow.
You also did The Wilde Hunt one-shot with Karen Mahoney. What was it like working with a different writer?
Working with Karen was lovely. Both Karen and Maura have similar script layouts and even their panel descriptions are about the same length, so the change wasn’t that great from a workflow perspective. In the Wilde Hunt Karen focuses more on the fantasy and folklore aspect of the concept which was fun to draw, and so far Maura has told the story of how seeing ghosts affects Jennifer and the real world, so it was a nice to be able to draw both.
The flashback sequence in the woods really impressed me. I compared it to JH Williams in my review. Was that in the script?
All Karen mentioned was that she imagined the flashback to ‘JH William’-esque, so I came up with the idea of having the story shown between the branches of a great tree, and circling around as if the characters were almost lost in their own world.
Looking at those pages and a lot of things you did in The Wilde Hunt, it felt to me that you seemed to be growing in confidence as an artist. Would you agree with that?
My confidence as an artist grows and weans depending on the day of the week, but I definitely feel comfortable trying out new things with Atomic Diner books as Rob gives me a lot of freedom and encouragement to try them.
Issue one of Jennifer Wilde is now on ComiXology which must be exciting for you. I was wondering what the process for that was like.
I went down to Octocon this year and stayed with Rob Curley, so we spend the early hours of the morning setting up the Comixology account and uploading PDFs. Setting up the account is fairly straightforward, but there is a lot of work creating all the logos and assets to be the right size and format. It’s great to see Jennifer finally available all over the world though, and it was even selected as ‘New and Noteworthy’ by the folks at Comixology.
Moving on to another Atomic Diner book, you provided the art for The Black Scorpion one-shot. Robert Curley created Jennifer Wilde but wrote this one himself. What was it like working more directly with him?
When Rob came to me with the idea of working on a Black Scorpion one-shot, I asked him if we could work almost Marvel-style, so Rob would explain what should happen on each page, and supply the dialogue, and I would that down into individual panels. It is a lot of fun and freedom, and I think it allows the artist more freedom, but it’s also exhausting having to breakdown all the action into workable panels.
It’s another period piece. This time the setting World War I. It had a darker tone. How did you achieve that?
I purposely went darker with this books and used a lot of spotted blacks. Where in Jennifer Wilde, a lot of the shading would be done in greyscale, I used solid shadows and harsh lighting to portray the sombre tone.
The book had a lot of action including superheroes. That must have been a nice change of pace from Jennifer.
It certainly was. I love character work, but Black Scorpion certainly scratched an itch I had to draw masked heroes kicking people in the face.
The Legion Britannia also feature in the book. Did you have a hand in designing those?
Yeah, I designed all the Legion Britannia based on descriptions and reference from Rob. I even did quick concept design pieces for each member. I hear on the grapevine it won’t be the last you have seen of them either…
Royal Agent concept art
Bulldog concept art
Blue Flame concept art
Queen Bee concept art
Lady Durga concept art
Moving on to the first issue of Noe. It seems like another book that requires a lot of research.
Yeah, finding decent reference for Algerian pirate ships – Barbary Polacres, specific to Muat Reis – took a lot of work.
How much input did you have in the character designs?
In this case Mal came up with the idea that Noe should chop his hair off in #1, to make him stand out as a sort of 16th Century Punk. The rest was up to me.
Writer Mal Coney gave you interesting action sequences to draw. I’m thinking of the pages with a huge number of characters attacking the village. That must have been time consuming.
Those scenes actually weren’t to bad, and sometimes an action scene is easier to draw because the exaggerated action doesn’t have to be as natural as two people talking. Again, Mal and I worked Marvel-style, so every panel I added was my own fault.
Issue two’s release is eminent. What should we expect from it?
Issue 2 is all set on Captain Murat Reis’ boat, with a little bit of flashing back to the Baltimore raid.
Looking back at all your Atomic Diner work, you had quite a variety of characters and settings to portray, what was your favourite thing to draw?
I always love drawing the first page of a new project, so #1, pg 1 is always a highlight. Others include the pirate double page spreads from Noe. The library double page from Jennifer #3, the establishing shot of the manor from The Wilde Hunt and the Black Scorpion Cover.
A double page from Jennifer Wilde issue #3
What else will we be seeing from you in 2014?
You’ll be seeing the conclusion of Noe’s origin in Noe the Savage Boy #3, which I’m working on right now. I’m also starting comic work very soon, drawing one of the world’s biggest franchises, but you’ll have to wait a bit before I talk about that…