Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fireside Chat with Michael Walsh from Comeback - Part 1

It's time once again for another of our lovely Fireside Chats.  This time around, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Michael Walsh, artist extraordinaire for Image Comics' Comeback, whose third issue hits comic book shops everywhere today.  Having already perused the issue, I can say with confidence that it's well worth your reading time.  While speaking with Michael, we covered a great deal of ground, so our chat will be divided into two parts.  Today's offering includes such gems as how Michael collaborates with Ed Brisson and Jordie Bellaire play out, his philosophies on page design, things he's learned from working on the title, and much, much more.  So please take a load off and join us by the fire.  We'll be waiting for you on the other side of the jump.

Comeback is Michael Walsh's first comic released by a mainstream publisher, but you would never guess just from looking at it.  The man knows his way around a comic book page, as he's repeatedly shown on in such venues as his tumblr or his contribution to Ed Brisson's Murder Book.  He's been working hard at his craft these past few years, and it looks like he has a promising future ahead of him.  Seriously.

Grant McLaughlin: For Comeback what role did you play when it came to the creation of the world and the story?

Michael Walsh: I think initially Ed had a pretty solid idea of the aesthetic that he wanted for the world. In terms of the actual machinery and technology he basically said, “I don't want this to be too flashy or too new-aged. Make everything look a little bit run down. Make it look gritty.” He didn't really give me anything too specific in terms of design, so I just kind of went wild.

For example, when I went into designing the actual time travelling room, in my mind I thought of how it could exist and how there would need to be a power source, so there would need to be a small air-proof room built around this power source, and the idea for the room came out from there. I also wanted the power source to be a nice, bright light source, so I designed that pillar with transparent glass so you can see inside that there's something that powers up that gets brighter and brighter and then, after the bounce forward in time and as it powers down, the light fades.
Power sources in action.

So I guess I kind of made a story in my own head that I've never talked to Ed about.

GM: I'm looking at the issue as you say this and I see exactly what you mean. I didn't even notice it before you mention it, but yeah, it does exactly as you say.

Walsh: It's a small detail, but I feel that it kind of dictated the way I designed the room, and then in terms of the actual control panels and stuff, I was just going for – not really corny – but kind of a 70s low-budget film control panels with lots of levers and kind of crazy scientist stuff, while also making it look as realistic as possible.

GM: On a similar vein, does Ed leave you with a lot of freedom when it comes to your design and layout of the book's pages?

Walsh: He does. We talk pretty much every day as I'm laying things out, and we're bouncing ideas off of each other and he usually tells me what's coming up in the book. I'll tell him if there's something I want to change in the script or if I think that the script layout of a page could be changed in a way to make it more dramatic or more narratively taut. We have a very open working relationship where we're constantly bouncing things off of each other. It's good, I think. It's healthy.

GM: Certainly the results in the comic are there to recommend the practice. You mentioned the way you layout pages, and I find that you have a really dynamic layout where no matter what's going on, things look interesting. Even your conversations between characters have a lot of movement to them through the way that you place the focus in panels. Where does that come from for you? What motivates that?
A lot of movement here.

Walsh: After the first script, I knew that the first, maybe, two and a half issues were going to have a lot of dialogue in them and only a few small scenes of action paced throughout, so I was trying to figure out a way to make conversation interesting where it wasn't just talking head after talking head after talking head.

My approach was to try to have characters act as real people would. You know, if you sit in a room and have a conversation with someone, you don't usually just sit there and stare at them as you talk. People fiddle around with things. They drink their coffee, smoke their cigarette. For example, they have to light that cigarette, so while they're talking I'll draw that into the conversation so that you have something to focus on besides just the words on the page. I'll zoom in on objects. I'll try and find something that I can have fun drawing in the scene, because when you have fun drawing something, I think that comes across to the reader and they'll enjoy that sequence more.

GM: I have issue #3 in front of me, and the hotel scene towards the end of the issue strikes me as the perfect example of this. The way you have it all moving around makes the scene feel as tense visually as it is dialogue-wise.

Walsh: Right. I really like that scene. I remember that Ed had said in the script, “This is three or four pages of dialogue, so if you can find a way to make this interesting, go for it.” He had the layouts, but they were very basic - “Back to Seth. Back to Mark. Back to Kelly.” For that one page, I thought it would be cool if we could build up the suspense by having Seth try to light his cigarette but the lighter's not working, and the frustration that he's getting through there plus the intense dialogue of the scene would coincide to build this really anticipation-filled page for the reader. Hopefully it succeeded. It sounds like it worked, but we'll see I guess.

Our "heroes".
GM: Well, it worked on my end! Switching gears, let's focus in on our two protagonists for a moment. When it comes to the character designs, how did you come up with Mark and Seth?

Walsh: Me and Ed had talked a little bit about what we were thinking for their actual designs and a lot of times we would talk actors or casting but nothing be too specific because I don't want to model anything after an actor.  Personally I find that takes you out of a story if you're reading a book and you're like, “Oh, there's Samuel L. Jackson.”

So I took the idea of their personalities. They're kind of close in age. They're not really that far apart in terms of their personalities. I mean, they are but they aren't. They're buddies, but I wanted to make them different, so one's dark and one's light. They're both wearing suits, but Mark has the military lapels on the shoulders and he's got the tie – a cleaner look. There's a lot of suits in it, so I had to find the small differences to separate them.

GM: Looking at the pages of this issue, who is doing the sound effects for Comeback? Is it you as the artist or Ed as the letterer?

Walsh: I think that 99% - well maybe not 99% - let's go with 85% of the time, it's the letterer who does it; 15% of the time it's the artist. The first issue all the sound effects were Ed, but I've always wanted to do the sound effects myself. I had actually attempted to do them the first issue, but I wasn't liking how it turned out.  But then in the second issue there was a point where I did something and I liked it, so from there on out, I did all of the sound effects myself. Some of the stuff in issue #2 is me and some of the stuff is Ed. In issue #3 all of the SFX lettering is me. Ed's lettering is amazing and it was not a slight to him at all. It was purely that I wanted to learn how to do that and how to do that well so that, in the future, I have that control over my own work and the way it comes out.

Krak, indeed.
GM: Yeah, now that you mention it, there is a bit of a transition in the sound effect stylings as the book progress. It seems like the early instances have a bit more of a polished look to them, visually speaking, whereas the ones in issue #3 seem more--

Walsh: Organic?

GM: Yeah, that's the one.

Walsh: Yeah. Because I'm doing all of the SFX lettering traditionally by hand on the paper, when I scan it it's going to look like it was inked on the page, but if the SFX are done digitally, they usually have that kind of illustrator gleam to them [like in issue #1 of Comeback].

GM: For the series itself, what has been the fun most fun part to draw?

Walsh: I like to draw – and I'm trying to phrase this without sound too weird or creepy – but I like violent action scenes. It's fun to draw the blood splatting around and gunfire and evasive action, so there's a scene at the end of issue #4 that's very action-heavy. It goes from almost kind of a chase to a shootout and there's a big, long scene in that issue that ends with something very unique that I don't know if it has been done in a comic before, to be honest with you. I haven't seen anything like this done in a comic – in terms of the way that said thing is rendered. So that was fun just because I was creating something new that I had never seen before. I'm also very curious to see what the reaction to that is. It hasn't been coloured yet, but I'm excited to see what Jordie does.

Turned out pretty well, no?
GM: I believe it. And how does the collaboration work between you and Jordie? When it comes to the colouring do you just hand it off and leave it to her or--?

Walsh: For the most part. We are very open with each other, as well. I Skype with Jordie quite a bit while she's colouring the pages in case she has any questions or in case I have anything I want to add in. Pretty much if there's anything I had a specific idea for, I would give her a vague note saying, “I think that the time machine power source light would be a nice bright blue.” That was kind of my only note on those pages [from issue #1]. There's a scene in issue #3 where they're in a studio apartment for three or four pages and my notes to Jordie were: “There's no lighting in the room. The lights are coming from a strip club next door from behind the blinds.” I guess I was looking for some kind of garish neon strip club light sign and Jordie just killed it on that sequence. I love how it turned out.

Usually my notes are very small. Most of the time I don't really have notes for her. She just goes crazy and does an amazing job.

GM: Yeah, no kidding.  I hadn't registered how much work she does before seeing her in Comeback, but now I see her work everywhere, and she's always killing it.  When I spoke with Ed, he mentioned that Jordie is a bit more active when it comes to working on the covers for Comeback. Could you elaborate a bit on that?

Walsh: Well, the thing with the covers is that they're so graphic and flat that the colour plays a big part in them, and I don't think that people realize that. Most of these covers are just a single figure with blocks. So if that was a black and white cover, it would be pretty unimpressive. The original art for them is not that visually appealing. It's just black lines, squares, and one figure, so when I was showing off the original art for them, it didn't have the effect of the print cover because it didn't have the colour. So for the covers, I come up with the layout and design for them, but Jordie will often send us three or four samples of different ideas of colours, and we'll kind of go back and forth with Ed to see what everyone thinks and what colour palette everyone feels is the most suitable to the atmosphere of the issue. I'd say covers at 50% me and 50% Jordie, because the colour is just so important.

GM: Oh, definitely. And where did the idea for these really parred down and aesthetically simple covers come from?

Walsh: We had been talking briefly before we started the series that we wanted to do something pretty design heavy with the covers, and in our initial attempt we kind of went overboard. It wasn't overboard to us - we liked it - but I think in terms of marketing the book it might have been hard. It was super graphic, almost verging on a book sleeve cover. It didn't even really look like a comic at all. So we kind of parred that back and we kept the graphic approach, but we made it more appealing to someone who would be looking at a comic on a shelf from two people they've most likely never heard of. I wanted it to pop off of the shelf.

After we did the first cover – it wasn't my number one motivation at the time – but after we did it, I got to thinking that each of these boxes could be Mark going through time.  Almost like an x-ray effect of moving back through time. He's trying to grab that hand on the first cover to take them to the future to save their life, right? Each subsequent issue I just kind of played off the idea of the boxes being part of time and reality, along with the characters on the covers. Each issue cover actually is pretty telling of what's going to happen in that issue or the next issue, but it's very subtle and very vague so you have to read the issues to understand how it plays into it.

GM: Makes sense to me. What's your work process like on this book? Do you get complete scripts when you work on it?

Walsh: Not for the most part, no. Mostly, I've been getting the scripts in chunks from Ed. I don't think that's a preference for either of us, but with our workloads and with Ed lettering so many books that's how it's worked out. But I don't think it's been detrimental to the process in any way. If anything, I don't think it's a bad thing to layout pages in clumps of four or five, because then the next time you layout pages you've got a fresh mindset and you're going to try something different than you did in the earlier pages.

So I usually try and work scene to scene, or if scenes are really short maybe two scenes. I'll lay it out, send it to Ed, we'll talk about it and make sure everything is cool on both ends, especially if I'm changing something from the script where he might need to change dialogue or something like that. So we'll talk about that, and then I'll go over and pencil it. I do all of my penciling on a tablet and then I print it out onto an 11 by 17 paper.  I ink everything traditionally, scan it back in, get Jordie and Ed to approve, and then send it to Joride where she does her work. Usually I send Jordie the issues in halves so, like, 11 pages and then 11 pages. It seems to be the best effect that way. She gets a clump to colour halfway through the month and at the end of the month she'll get another clump.

GM: Cool. So does that mean that there was a point in the process where you didn't know how the story ended?

Walsh: Yeah, I think there was a point that we were working on it where Ed might not even have known how it ended. He only had a vague idea. I think we both had a vague idea, but as we've been writing, it's been fleshed out and there have been changes to the story that weren't initially there that just kind of went with the flow of the project and kind of seemed organic with how everything was going and where the characters were moving. I don't want to sound cliché, but sometimes you can't control the way that your own characters are going to act. You start writing or working on something and as you get going it organically changes and you just have to adapt to how you think it should be.

GM: Yeah, you realize that what you planned out just doesn't feel right anymore and you just have to roll with it.

Walsh: Exactly.  So I do know how it ends right now. I'm working on the fifth and last issue as we speak, so I'm kind of sad and happy. It's nice to have something like this finished and under my belt. I'm doing design work for the trade at the moment as well and that's kind of exciting, so when the trade comes out that will be all my creation. All the design work. A full package.

I finalized the trade cover today and that turned out pretty good. I think it should be solicited either this month or the next.  We had an initial design that was done probably a month and a half ago and then just in the last week I really started to hate it so I retooled it quite a bit. I'm pretty happy with it now. Well, I'm happy with it today, we'll see how I feel tomorrow.

GM: Well hopefully it stays good in your mind.

Walsh: Yeah. (laughs)
To Be Continued...
Come back tomorrow for more of this discussion as we verge into talking more about Michael's creative process, background, and history.  There's still lots of interesting stuff to come, so we hope to see you back here tomorrow as we keep bending Michael's ear about all things comics.  Feel free to let us know what you thought of today's part of the chat in the comments, should you feel so inclined.  Are you picking up Comeback right now?

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