The GeeksverseTalking With Zach Howard

Talking With Zach Howard
Published on Monday, June 13, 2011 by

The Cape artist talks with us and shares pages from his new creator owned series.

The Pryde: How and where did you get your start in comics? Have you always wanted to work in the industry?

Zach Howard: When I was a teenager, yeah, I thought I was going to be a comic book artist. However, life took me other places after high school. First I was a Marine and then I ended up going to school for ceramic sculpture. It wasn’t until my thesis year that a professor convinced me to try and get into the comic book industry.

At first I couldn’t get any notice except for a gaming company called Steve Jackson Games. I worked for them for two years before I landed the Hellboy Resource Manual gig. I did a 5 page comic in that. About the same time I did a couple of Image titles – basically learned how to draw comics as I went. I also got a crash course in the downsides of doing indie books rather early in my career.

The first work of yours I had seen was The Cape with Joe Hill and Jason Ciarmella from IDW. How did you wind up working on that project and at IDW?

Chris Ryall, of IDW, asked me to do another IDW book. I hadn’t really done interiors for them since my Shaun of the Dead mini 5 years back. I love doing indie stuff (it’s where my heart will always be), but it seldom pays well. So for me to leave the safety of the big companies, I wanted the project to be special.

So Chris offered me a few things and eventually The Cape came up. That one stuck with me, not to mention I really liked Joe’s work. So I signed on! I’m extremely happy I pulled the trigger on that one.

What drew you to The Cape?

Well, Chris was a huge fan of the story – not to mention that I was a fan of the author (although I had never read the short story in 20th Century Ghosts). Chris gave me a basic rundown of the property and I was sold. Then I was floored by the script. I can point to very few projects in my career that had a script that was so engaging and well-written. Jason and Joe knocked it out of the ball park.

Your style is extremely interesting. I think it fits the tone and world of The Cape perfectly. I really enjoyed the Cobra Civil War covers as well. What do you think are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?

I guess I never even think of my style other than how dark and dirty I need to make it to match the current story. My strength is mostly derived from my need to see proper design and storytelling. Everything I do is to set up those two elements. I was also a big fan of Frank Miller and Mike Mignola growing up – so I also like to see a lot of black on my pages.

Which became tough for me on the Civil War covers since they are without backgrounds. I normally hate to have any drawing of mine not have a background, but IDW wanted very stark portraits for the covers. So I focused on the character personalities and designs. I tried to make the characters interesting enough to make the viewer forget about the lack of background. Luckily Nelson Daniel helped me fill that void!

When creating the CCW covers, what were your motivations for the compositions of the covers?

Basically I just sat with each individual character bouncing in my head until I got an feel for them. Then I just sketched them out in different poses until something stuck. Early on I decided to have each character holding the Cobra Commander mask too. That became a burden, but worked out very well in the end. That element really brought a striking feel to every cover – something simple that tied them together.

From there, I just had to make certain that I didn’t repeat poses or camera angles. All in all it worked out quite well. I was nervous because I had to crank them out so quickly, but it came together none the less!

Two of the CCW cover characters, Viktor Khakikhan and Doctor Vargas, had very little “screen” time prior to the covers well others, like Krake and Odi Santori, have very little to go by. How did you get to know new characters like them?

For most of the characters I had the editor send me rundowns on each of them. We also chatted on the phone about them. For many of the characters I was designing them from scratch. I just did what felt right for their personalities. I’m sure I torqued off some of the die-hard GI Joe fans because I interpreted them incorrectly, but like you said, I had little to go off of. That and I’m not overly involved with their universe. So I’m very ignorant of many of the characters and their storylines.

However, my job is to make them look cool in their each individual way. I just pulled the trigger on the ones that didn’t have a rich history to draw from. I guess I got lucky in some cases.

Which of the nine covers was your favorite and why?

Hmmm, I’d probably have to go with the Baroness. I have a feeling she’s most people’s favorite. She’s an interesting character to draw – tons of textures and quirks. Not to mention she a hot broad! It’s hard not to notice a good looking lady. Especially when she’s holding a bloody knife. Sexy!

You did Outer Orbit with Sean Murphy. How did you and Sean meet and what was the colloboration like? Is that a project you’d return to?

Sean and I kept bumping into each other at cons when we were both trying to get steady work in the industry. We just became friends over that time and eventually he moved into my basement when he wanted to get away from Hollywood.

During that time, I got him hired on a Vertigo book I was doing to ink my pencils. We did that until the project crapped out. However, while we were toiling away on it, we basically came up with the idea for Outer Orbit. The genesis of that book was pretty much us asking ourselves, “If you could do anything you wanted with a comic book, what would you do?” We then toyed with the idea for a bit and eventually put a pitch together. I guess it says a lot about us having space dildos in our “dream” book…

It was bumpy at first, but we were running very smoothly by the last book. We really had to learn how to let the other person play to their strengths – which was difficult at times because we both have very stubborn personalities. Although we see a bunch of mistakes in the series, I think we both can look back at it as a positive experience. I’m sure we’ll make a sequel one day. However, we are both so busy with other crap at the time being. So the three to five Outer Orbit fans out there will just have to wait a bit!

Who are your influences and who would you like to work with someday?

That is a tough one to answer. However, I will always be in awe of Toth. That man was one of a kind, and was incapable of being anything other than an amazing storyteller.

As for modern comic artists – Mignola, Murphy, Nolan, Johnson and Robinson. I’m always looking at their work in awe.

As for working with others, I guess I’d always be partial to work with Frank Miller on something indie. My heart will always be entwined with the first couple of Sin City books.

Honestly, there are a ton of guys I’d like to work with. Some known better than others. Some I’ve already worked with and will again. Both writers and colorists are on that list.

You mentioned the “downsides of indie books”. What are the downsides and are there any positives?

Basically the downsides are the low pay and the minimal fanfare. Indie companies don’t have a ton of money so they can’t afford to break the bank on any one artist. Not to mention, the sales on indie books are almost always very low compared to the big two. So that means less people see your work. So less fanfare. If I worked on a major character for a major company for a year, I’d have 10 times the fans as doing years’ worth of work for the indie guys. There are always exceptions, but very few and far between.

Positives – you really get to take the leash off and explore the medium of sequential storytelling. That’s just something that gets me hot and bothered. I love trying out new things – it’s much tougher when working on a mainstream title to have that freedom. I’m sure some people will argue that, but they are wrong. And suck.

After The Cape, what is next for you?

I immediately will be working on my creator owned series coming out through Th3rd World next year. It’s called Wild Blue Yonder and is written by Mike Raicht. I’m stupid excited about it. It’s fun and very different from most of the stuff out there.

What is Wild Blue Yonder About? What’s the format?

Wild Blue Yonder is basically Mad Max, but with planes. It’s about a group of people just trying to survive in a world that is too polluted to live on ground level. So people take the air and life above the pollution. Mike created a wonderful world for me to draw. I get to draw all sorts of neat aircraft and scenery. Not to mention the characters are very tangible, witty and exciting – I think people will really have fun reading the story.

It’s probably going to be three 32 page books, but we might change that. I’ll know as we get closer. However, I do know that we will have a preview out FCBD in 2012.

How did you and Mike Raicht come together on the project?
We worked on a Marvel book together a few years back, and he asked me if I’d be interested working on a creator owned book together. Once I read the script I was in. since then we’ve just been trying to find the time to do the darn thing. It’s wonderful to know that it’s finally coming together!

What would be your dream book to work on?

Anything that I at least partially own and someone pays me to produce. Creator Owned work is, and will always be, my favorite thing to produce. Well, there’s that and a story about Aquaman punching fish for 22 pages I want to do some day…

Now that is an Aquaman story I’d read.

We’d like to thank Zach for talking with us as well as providing us an early look at the upcoming Wild Blue Yonder.

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