n part 2 of the interview, John brought up the dynamic duo of David and David, and I couldn't wait to bring them into this conversation. As always, my job is at its best when I get to work with those talented souls we call artists. David B. and I got started early on doing a lot of character development for the comic series. For me, visually strong and identifiable characters are vital to a comic, and we wanted to spend some time making sure we really had these guys nailed down. When I first contacted David B. to do some character development for this project, I had no idea things would go the direction that they did. All I knew is I wanted to tap into his genius for character development and create some cool and identifiable characters for the story that Bob and Geno were writing. Let's dive into this next part of the interview so that you have a sense of how things unfolded.
David, how did the character development process go? Weere there any characters that you really found challenging or fun?
David B.: It was smooth, or at least as smooth as character development goes! Luckily enough, the flow of information from you gave a really solid basis to start from, not to mention Bob's and Geno's script. More often than not you start from much, much, much less when it comes to character design, so a solid background really helps. And from the very beginning it was clear that you, me, the writers—everyone involved—were in a nice kind of sync when it comes to what matters in character design.
As for the characters themselves, I found myself enjoying particularly the work with Teirflin—easily, the most conflicted of our main cast. Not that the rest were not fun, but the edge—that chip on his shoulder . . . that was FUN to try to tap into.
Can you tell me a little bit about your creative process for developing the characters?
David B.: I always start the same way. After I study the reference, I put it away for a while, not forgetting it but allowing it to inform from the background in this first phase. And then it's all faces, faces, faces.
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Tentatively, perhaps a very loose full-body doodle to get a feel for body language, but it's this part of faces and attitudes that gets me closer to the character and closer to know him or her. What's his attitude? What are her ideals? How would he or she react if in panic, if having fun, if presented with a dilemma? What two or three words would define them? What actor would play him or her (not thinking of likenesses, but of the actual acting, which to me is far more interesting)? Once that part is nailed, I just run with it. When you know the character, you can begin to decide what and, most importantly, WHY would they wear this vest or pick that sword out of everything that their cultural and social background would let them choose from. That's the cool way to tell it. Then there's the honest way to call it, which is "sketch, man."
We had a surprising twist during the preproduction process of the comic, when I suddenly asked you to consider taking on the pencils for the production of the comic in addition to the concept work you were already undertaking. To make it happen, we decided to use a technique of "enhanced pencils." I like the quality of line that it is giving us! Can you tell our fans a bit about that process, what makes it unique, and what difference it makes in the look of the comic?
David B.: It's basically a reinterpretation of pencils as final art, instead of as a (more or less detailed) blueprint for the inks. Inking, contradicting what a very popular movie has turned into commonplace, is not simply tracing. It implies a reinterpretation of pencil into a completely different craft. So yeah, enhanced pencils imply a cleaner pencil, but also changing the mind frame when it comes to placing and use of black patches, feathering, textures, lines . . . because you don't have the safety net of the inks to get all that through. Also, it means the pencil has a completely different relationship with the color stage.
The cool thing about enhanced pencils is that, when done right (and I hope we are doing it right), it carries a warmth, a freshness, and a dynamism that's hard to match and that I find particularly suits this series.
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I recognize that the comic medium has its own rules and challenges, and the market has specific expectations—and they are quite different from the traditional tabletop RPG market. I think you did a really great job taking our traditional painterly property and transitioning it over to the comic medium. Were there any specific challenges to that process?
David B.: One in particular was my main worry. Dungeons & Dragons has basically defined the looks and feel of heroic fantasy from the field of RPG. I think "painterly property" is a perfect way to describe it. It's detailed, it is rich, full of nuances and light and shadow, it puts a lot of tools at work to completely define things that belong in the field of imagination to make them feel real. But the comic medium happens to go exactly in the opposite direction. Comics are, by their very nature, an exercise of graphic synthesis where literally less is more. To translate detail into synthesis is very, very tricky. Plus, it's not a minor worry—you have to move those characters through twenty-two pages and five issues, and they can only be so heavy in detail! This is not only because you need to finish the page in proper time, but also because you need dynamism in the page and overdetailing the designs will probably slow the pace down in the eyes of the reader. But yes, keeping the D&D look recognizable was basic. Not only because, you know, it's a D&D/Forgotten Realms series, but because it is such a rich, defined, well-known world that it has to be reflected in the characters and their development—and I do not mean that only when it comes to the motifs in their armors. I think that we did a good job getting a streamlined version of the D&D look—one that really translates the classic look and feel of the games and novels, and can carry all the emotional load of the story.
Bob and Geno love action sequences in their writing styles, and the comic medium is a great space for this style of writing. As such, there is tons of action and movement in the series. This makes for some really great opportunities for page layout and interesting compositions. How is this style of comic working for you? Is it as fun for you to develop as it is for me?
David B.: Oh, I'm loving it. When it comes to action (or rather, to confrontation . . . and there's quite a bit of that in the series, and not only physical and with swords), I go for the classics. There is, most definitely, a cinematic feel to the scenes as described by Bob and Geno. The whole first issue is a constant confrontation, be it in fight or in the constant defiance between characters. To me that meant that I could easily go into one of my favorite masters of narration in confrontation, and that's Sergio Leone. Granted, movies and comic books are not the same medium, but many of the lessons taught by Leone can be easily translated into the page, and they are AMAZINGLY effective. I think you can tell that in the first three pages of the issue! From there on, I can build up. And I'm enjoying it. A lot. It's so fun when you have well-defined characters right there in the script, and you can count on their reactions and just dance around them with the camera and feel the fight . . . and not just show the hits.
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One of my favorite aspects of the character design for this comic is the emotional range the characters have. You really get invested with the characters very quickly, and their emotional states and attitudes read really quickly. I know we worked hard to get the initial look right on these guys, but this level of investment goes well beyond the initial design—this really has to do with the way you depict the characters, the point of view you use in your panels, and even the pacing of the panels. Is there anything you can share about your creative process and how you create such an emotionally charged visual presentation?
David B.: To me character design is as much as defining the look of the characters as the feel of the characters, particularly when I didn't know that I was going to do the art of the series. I really wanted to get some character sheets that not only defined the clothes and weapons, but gave a clear idea of how the characters would react and act and behave. And the script helped a lot because the very, very cool thing about this book is that, yes, there's action, and fights, and swords and arrows and whatnot—but that's not the point. The point, to me, is conflict. The point is that every single action and reaction in the book is directly generated by a character's conflict or desire to create conflict, and it was pretty clear from page one, issue one.
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That means that the fights are there not only for the sake of a fight but as the consequence of a conflict. It develops the conflict, affects the conflict, and therefore not only do we have to make the fight look cool and be clearly understood, but we have to get through what the fight means to the characters. How they see it, how they feel about it. It is, to me, a very Shakespearean series (yes, Shakespeare and Sergio Leone in the same text!): family, legacy, hatred, envy, honor, good, evil . . . I loved it from the very beginning because it got in touch with what I really like of character design. When I got the art duties of the series, I had a lot of work done. I knew the characters inside out, I knew how they would react, I could dance around them and see them do their thing and narrate them doing it.
Regarding the camera setting in the pages, and the pacing and creative process—and this has a lot to do with the book building up around and about confrontation—I'll give up one trick for the first scene of the series to get all that information through to the reader. We used three points of view (as opposed to the usual one or two, at best): From inside the fight; from the fight's observer; and from the reader's point of view. And if you look carefully, even the lights change depending on which point of view we're using. By the way, kudos to master colorist David García, who is doing beautiful work. He knows that, when it comes to sequential art, color is not only about filling the whites but it has a narration quality. He very much lights the pages, as opposed to simply color them.
Thanks for the segue over to David G.!
David, can you tell me a bit about your process and how you find your direction in the imagery?
David G.: First of all, I read the whole script and try to imagine, with David's layouts, the situations, shading, the lights. Depending on the moment of the day, light can have variations that completely change the meaning of a panel. You can emphasize one particular expression just by changing the position of the light source. Basically, I try to face the book with the mindset of lighting a movie. One of the good things of working with Baldeon is that, since he's not using big patches of black, that allows me to let my interpretation loose and just try new stuff. Many of my references come from movies, video games, or video clips, and I try to have that reference close at hand.
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One of my favorite aspects of this comic is the tension and drama you help accentuate with your use of color and lighting, both in individual panels and within the page layout. Is there a method to your madness? How do you go about setting up your narrative palette?
David G.: Palette choice is very important to me. One wrongly picked color makes the reader focus on something not central in one particular panel or page. Colors convey emotions, and I try to keep that in mind. Red can enhance rage or violence, while green soothes it. Actually, if the colors in a particular scene have to be consistent with a previous page or pages, I try to stress that kind of feel with a slight turn of the established color toward, say, red.
David B. spent a lot of time talking to me about the conflict in the comic, and I thought that was a great distinction to make about the comic. There is a cinematic quality to the conflict and it goes well beyond just fighting. There is conflict between characters, and within themselves. You do a great job of pumping up that conflict through your use of color. Were there any challenges that came from dealing with this much conflict? Did it affect the way you approached the comic?
David G.: No big trouble for me here! David B.'s work was the toughest in this regard. When the pages got to me, the work was so well done that interpretation was automatic.
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Is there a favorite scene or character that you love playing with?
David G.: No doubt about it, my favorite character is Doum'wielle. As the story develops, she gains more and more depth. Or maybe I'm getting to be more fond of her. She's quite laid back, but she never loses that dangerous quality. I really like that strange partnership she forms with the sword. It is really interesting.
One of my favorite scenes is the initial fight between siblings. I tried to use the color and light to make it feel as poetic as possible. Along with David's pencils, it really looked and felt like a dance of death.
Another favorite scene of mine is in the second issue, so I'll keep it under wraps for the moment.
And speaking of wraps—it's time to wrap this article up. I hope you've enjoyed checking out some of the action that takes place behind the curtain, and make sure you head to your local comic store and pick up Cutter in April!
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.