Judging books by their covers is typically a no no, but if you want to break protocol and analyze Top Cow's upcoming "Magdalena" series by acclaimed illustrator Ryan Sook's cover art alone, you're bound to be impressed.
Sook is the monthly cover artist on "Magdalena," the April-releasing ongoing series written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Nelson Blake II. The artist is hardly a stranger to the spear-wielding Patience, having previously illustrated her adventures in the pages of "First Born: Aftermath" alongside Marz. Thanks to his work on that one-shot, Sook happily agreed to provide monthly covers for each issue of "Magdalena." Speaking with CBR News, Sook revealed his process in crafting the covers for "Magdalena," including how he starts and finishes a cover, the tools that he uses and the most important ingredients to making a cover stand out.
CBR News: Ryan, can you tell us how you jumped on board to illustrate the covers for "Magdalena" and what approach you took with your style?
Ryan Sook: After drawing a Magdalena story for "First Born: Aftermath" with Ron Marz - which I really enjoyed - Ron and Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik inquired about doing covers for an upcoming series they'd been planning for Magdalena. I thought that sounded like a good opportunity to do some really striking imagery, so I said yes! I then set out to come up with said striking imagery by frustratingly scribbling out, with clenched teeth and fists, undirected possibilities that led nowhere.
Exasperated, I called Ron - "What the heck do I draw!?" - and Ron sent me his outline for the series and shared some of his thoughts, which thankfully got me on track with some good ideas and hopefully some good covers.
Magdalena already has an established look. Did you have freedom in re-imagining her for the covers?
Magdalena's physical features are well established and I wouldn't call this a redesign by any stretch, though I did have liberty to play around with "my version" of the character, which to me was less about exploiting the dynamic design of her costume or being a hot super babe of sorts. While her image already possesses all those qualities, I wanted to give all those elements a purpose and use them to create images that give insight into the character of Patience and the adventures she is currently a part of. That was the only way to approach the covers without regurgitating something you've already seen before.
How did you decide on the look for the "Magdalena" covers, and how many drafts and concepts did you play around with before finalizing the covers?
In order to create a look I wanted to see on the "Magdalena" covers, I read all the existing material on the character and looked at a bunch of existing works to narrow down what I wanted to do and what I definitely did not want to do. Afterwards, I just sat and doodled with the costume and with concepts while taking Ron's script and suggestions into consideration. At this point, I showed a batch of doodles to the guys. Their feedback really pushed the covers to their final look. Each "Magdalena" cover evolved through at least several very loose sketches into a full color sketch that maps out the final image.
What do you think of first when designing a cover - the character, their action or the environment?
The first thing I think of when designing a cover is, "Don't forget there's a big logo up there on top of this thing and a huge barcode at the bottom. Don't forget that! Never forget that!" After that, it could either be the character, the story, a theme or the environment. Hopefully, you capture a good blend of all these elements for a pretty picture.
But more important than the first thing I think of is the last thing I think of – does this look good? As long as it looks good and I know I've done the best I could with whatever I'm working with, I'm satisfied. If you nail all the elements of a dynamic pose, a focus to the story, an unbelievable environment or the perspective exactly right, but if it doesn't look good all together, none of those matters. That's really the thought from beginning to end.
Have you encountered any challenges while working on the "Magdalena" covers?
The biggest challenge in designing covers for a series like "Magdalena" is similar to the challenges you face in designing covers for any book series with a title character. It can be tricky to design several images with the same character in her signature black, red and gold without seeing redundant palettes or design motifs on every cover. It's challenging, but fun at the same time.
What tools do you use to craft these covers?
These days, I seem to only draw with a 5MM mechanical pencil with a fairly soft lead in it. That goes for sketches and finished pencils alike. Occasionally, as shown in the attached piece, I'll draw with a full-sized pencil on white bond paper and then transfer it with a light box onto Bristol. This allows me to be really loose in the drawing and erase a million times and be decidedly carefree without destroying the paper surface I'm going to ink on. It also allows me to keep the image itself from becoming stiff or static while being confined to border restrictions.
And other times, I'll just grab the Bristol and draw it right on there, and that works too. Every cover has the opportunity to see me experimenting with something a little different. After, I'll ink the designs with Speedball Superblack India ink with a Leow Cornell #4 or #6 ultra round watercolor brush. Rapidograph tech pens are great for ruled lines or small hatching and details. Then, I color the line art scanned in Photoshop CS2.
What other projects are you working on right now, Ryan?
Currently, I am working on several covers for DC Comics - single issues and their books. I'm also prepping to draw an issue of Grant Morrison's "The Return of Bruce Wayne."
"Magdalena" #1, written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Nelson Blake II with a cover from Ryan Sook, hits comic book stores on April 28, 2010.