THE COMMENTARY TRACK: "Steve Niles' Strange Cases" #3

Fri, January 18th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

Welcome back for the sixth installment of The Commentary Track. This is the regular Friday feature at CBR in which we invite creators to stop by and talk about their most recent releases, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It'll be just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.

"Steve Niles' Strange Cases" is an Image Comics series in the slimline format. Each issue is a complete story told across sixteen full-color pages and features a group of paranormal investigators getting caught up on some very, well, strange cases.

With us this week to discuss "Strange Cases" #3 – on sale now -- is series writer Dan Wickline and artist David Hartman. The two join us to share all the behind-the-scenes stories from the issue, including character origins, writer's intentions, artistic backgrounds, and classical influences.

Additionally, Hartman was kind enough to share a umber of his rough sketches, design pages and other production materials, too, and you'll see those sprinkled throughout the commentary.

WARNING: there are some scary SPOILERS in this text. If you're sensitive to those, read the issue before you read this commentary.

Story continues below

Artist thumbnail, line art and final cover

David Hartman: Since I'm doing all the art for this book I tend to do a lot of the work in the computer. I started with a rough thumbnail and then drew all the elements on separate pages and then compiled them in the computer. This made it easier for me to compose the actual layout for the cover and have control to make an element smaller or larger.

PAGE 1

Dan Wickline: The gentleman at the door is based on Ludon Lee from D2C Games. Ludon had made a joke about wanting to appear in a comic, and he's had this almost unnatural fascination with Ivy since her conception, so having him show up for a date seemed perfect. Though when I first showed him the script, he asked to be made into a hockey player or something tough, but I convinced him that nothing is tougher than a video game executive.

DH: For my day job I work at Disney as a director on the "My Friends Tigger and Pooh" show. I wanted to throw a little something in the pages to show this so I drew a little bear on the doorknocker.

Different colothing and design choices for Greg

PAGE 2

DW: I knew I needed a character to go with Greg and to be his foil, so a cute and reserved doctor seemed like a good idea. When I'm creating a character, especially a limited use one, I will just look around the room or think of people in my life to borrow names from. In this case I had been talking with a lovely young lady named Alena about Wonder Woman so I borrowed her first name. Well Alena is a friend with comic artist Jacen Burrows who I had just met and hung out with in San Diego so the name meshed together.

If it's a character I'm going to be using for the long term, I try to put some kind of meaning to it like with Sloan; I chose the last name Sloan because of Edward Van Sloan who played Van Helsing in the original Dracula movie.

PAGE 3

DW: Greg's trunk is a tribute to my friend Wendy, who always had whatever insane thing you suddenly needed somewhere in her trunk.

PAGE 4

DH: I used to do all my pages on Bristol board with coquille pens but it slowed me down and anymore I have several projects going at once and need to keep the speed up to stay on schedule. Since I am doing a lot of the artwork in the computer I draw very loose pencils on crappy copy paper to set up the composition and then go right into using a brush pen for the main art. If I screw a panel up I'll draw a new one on a separate piece of paper and then drop it in place in the computer.

Hartman created different looks of Ivy for his fellow creators to choose from

PAGE 5

DH: I love drawing monsters, corpses and girls and this series has them all. I remember Dan and I emailing back and forth about what the following issue would be and Dan asked what I would like to draw. I brought up it would be great to do a yeti issue with several of them attacking in the snow. I was surprised when Dan sent the script and actually wrote that up and made a great story to draw.

I have drawn tons of pictures of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Skunkape and the Yeti and was really excited about doing this issue. When I was a kid I loved the yeti-like Neanderthal in the movie "Caveman" with Ringo Starr -- I know this is a completely obscure reference -- and I wish it had its own movie. I based the colors I used on the yeti, the blue face with whitish/gray fur, off the look they had in that movie.

Work in progress. Page 6 is shown here before any colors were added or borders drawn

PAGE 6, PANELS 1-3

DW: I don't know if anyone else uses this now, but I came up with doing a panel like this back in the '90s when I was self publishing. I wanted to have the artist showing motion without speed lines or the multi/lightened version of the object. So in a script I describe the background that will go across all the panels as if it is just one big panel. Then the moving object is repeated in each of the individual panels. I use this first to show a stake being shot across a crowded auditorium in my series BLOODLUST, but I've probably wrote this into most of the other books I have done since. Dave did a great job of pulling it off here.

PAGE 8

DW: I needed a motivation for Dr Burrows and sometimes art imitates life. My mother-in-law was actively dying while I was writing this script and my frustrations and helpless feelings were channeled into this character.

PAGE 9

DH: Dan and I have worked really well on this series and had similar ideas on storytelling. The first issue was already written before I joined the team and had a slightly different feel to the page layouts than the last two issues. I really wanted to have the opportunity to do some larger "splash" panels in this issue and Dan really worked that in. Thanks Dan!

DW: I always loved in the "Die Hard" movies that John McClain knew just how absurd all the stuff he was doing really was. So I try to write action heroes that are just as surprised when they come up with a good idea or do something amazing as the reader is.

Character reference lineup by Hartman

PAGE 11

DH: The hardest and most time consuming part of the book for me is laying in the base colors before I start adding in lighting, shadows and atmosphere to the pages.

For this issue I got my wife Kathleen and friend Bill Bronson to help with the coloring and lay in my "flat" base color for me as I kept drawing the pages. Once the palette was set it made it a lot easier to keep the pages consistent.

PAGE 12

DH: I always wanted to have an excuse to draw some meaty corpses frozen in the ice. I know it is weird, but one of my favorite things on this issue was painting in the icicles on the dead body.

DW: I like twists. And I felt a pack of yetis in the hills was a good idea, but it needed a reason to be there. But a pack of wendigo -- much easier to explain with simply a group of people trapped and cannibalism. Yes, cannibalism made my storytelling easier. And I got my twist.

Sample of rough thumbnails of page layouts

PAGES 13 - 14

DH: This is a page where Dan let me have some fun with the action. When I was inking up the drawing I added in the yeti getting his arm blown off at the last minute. I just thought having a one-armed yeti was a lot of fun and helped the idea that Greg could take one of these on in the following page.

DW: One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to shut up and let the action take over. Unless you are writing "Spider-Man," there is not going to be dialogue in every panel of a fight scene. But as a writer, you feel obligated to put words in. It's a tough balance.

The other tough part is coming up with sound effects. When I first started writing, I thought the letterer came up with them. Nope. Jason Hanley does an amazing job on these books, but he doesn't help me one iota when it comes to the sound of a dagger going into a wendigo's skull.

PAGE 15

DH: I absolutely hate drawing cars and I really suck at them. I tried to hide the car in the panel framing as much as possible so the sucky drawing wouldn't distract from the action.

DW: It's a good thing we're stopping at issue #4 for a while; because now that I know Dave hates drawing cars, issue #5 would have been about a possessed SUV that was running down motorists.

We end it on that sad note. Let's hope we see issue #5 at some point in the future.

In the meantime, thanks again to David and Dan for stopping by to talk about their latest work. You can follow Dan Wickline's work on his blog, and David Hartman's work on his website, SideshowMonkey.com.

Keep an eye out for issue #4 of "Strange Cases" in the months ahead.

If you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, drop us a line. If you're a creator with a book due out soon that you'd like to stop by to talk about in detail, let us know. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

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