Hand Of Vengeance: Cliff Chiang talks "Crisis Aftermath: Spectre"

Sun, February 12th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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Cover to "Crisis Aftermath: Spectre" #1

As announced yesterday at Wondercon, in San Francisco, DC Comics' new "Crisis Aftermath: Spectre" mini-series will be illustrated by fan favorite Cliff Chiang (which was also reported last week in "Lying In The Gutters"), with writer Will Pfeifer onboard. This is first major Spectre project in some time and with the classic hero getting a facelift, expectations are high. CBR News caught up with Chiang to learn more about the series and how he became involved.

"Like many projects, it was a case a being in the right place at the right time," admits Chiang. "I've worked with editor Matt Idelson before, when Judd Winick and I created "Josie Mac" for the 'Detective Comics' backups, and he was looking for an artist after a schedule change altered the original creative line-up for the book. I read the pitch and it sounded like a cool idea. I've also admired Will Pfeifer's work ever since he wrote 'Finals' for Vertigo. As a fan of 'Gotham Central,' I also thought it'd be nice to dip my toes into that universe as well. It would have been great to work on an issue of Central before it ended, but unfortunately the schedules never lined up."

The Spectre, as God's right hand of vengeance (and recently of redemption), has been a character whose ghostly appearance has been meant to inspire terror, and Chiang is aiming to pull in the reader from the first panel. "Coming off 2 issues of 'Detective Comics' and 'Nightwing,' I liked the idea of doing something a little more street level. Though there's plenty of supernatural stuff, much of the book needs to be grounded in order give context and contrast.

"Overall, I think my approach is to try and give this as much mood as I can. Keep the artwork heavy, but not lose too much detail. Big chunks of black ink. When you think of creepy, moody stuff, you can go a few ways. There's the classic, rendered Berni Wrightson horror aesthetic, and then there's the starker Mignola line and shadow. In my own work, I like the elegance and economy of the latter.

"I should also mention that David Baron is providing colors, and he does a fantastic job of accentuating that feel. He adds texture and a wonderful sense of light and color that absolutely brings the linework to life. We really worked well together on our first outing on Detective, and we're starting to hit our stride here."

"I think that, historically, the Spectre has been drawn with a more rendered style, but I find that for me, the less rendering on the Spectre the better. He's an agent of God, the Spirit of Vengeance. I want people to feel that religious connection, as opposed to the more ghoulish interpretations I've seen. I don't want people to see him as a half-naked man in a cloak. He should be like a moving marble statue, that kind of power and stillness.

"I'm trying to evoke something epic and biblical. I want a slight glow around the Spectre -- the idea is that he's always illuminated by a light from above. It's a constant reminder that as powerful as the Spectre may be, he still reports to a higher, otherwordly authority. It reinforces the fact that he's on a mission. And I like the notion that he's being watched."

While Chiang's work has graced the Batman books and he did illustrate the heavily promoted "Beware The Creeper" and "Human Target" series from Vertigo, this is easily Chiang's biggest project to date. "I don't feel it's changed my approach here, but it's good to know that people are interested in the character and the book," says Chiang of the stress. "No one wants to put their best into something only to have it disappear on the shelves. But it's best not to think about that stuff; it'll just drive you crazy. I'm trying to just focus on the work."

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"Spectre" Page 1 "Spectre" Page 2"Spectre" Page 3

If it seems as though you haven't seen as much of Chiang lately, that may be because,"I've probably done the same amount of work this year that I usually do, but I've jumped around on a few different titles. The benefit of doing a monthly like 'Human Target' is that people know where to find you. Fill-ins come and go quietly."

Not one to sit still, even while working hard every month, Chiang's been trying out a new style of penciling, a natural evolution for him, and while some call it "rounder," he has a different way to describe it. "That's an interesting way to describe it, as I actually feel it's sharper! I find that I'm more interested these days in lighting and shadow details than I used to be. I began working in a tighter style for the 'Gotham Knights' covers, and it kind of culminated in a Fantastic Four pinup I did for last year's HeroesCon program book. It had a little bit of an Alan Davis vibe to it and I think that people were pleasantly surprised by it. Howard Chaykin was joking with me, saying "Hey, you can actually do this!" because it was the most "mainstream" piece I'd ever done. He was acknowledging that I'd chosen to draw the way I did, as opposed to it being the only way I could draw. It made me realize that I could also choose to change things up. Sometimes, you can build up a whole bunch of arbitrary rules for yourself and the best thing for your growth is to break it all down. It's not a revolution, by any means, but I do feel like my eyes have opened up a bit and I'm having fun with it.

For the recent issues of 'Detective' I wanted to push the superhero aesthetic, so there's an obvious debt there to Davis, Kevin Nowlan, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. The intent was to marry my graphic sensibilities with more traditional superhero drawing. My favorite compliment is from Brett Lewis (writer of Wintermen): "There's a lot of muscles on that guy!" I'm still working it out, but it was a challenging and rewarding learning experience."

Being DC exclusive isn't a restriction for Chiang, who loves many of the established characters in the DCU and opportunities in both Vertigo and Wildstorm. Still, there are a few character he'd love to illustrate and explains, "It's a pretty big stable, and with the right story, you could work with any of the characters. Look at Adam Strange, the Shadowpact characters, or the Seven Soldiers minis -- all great examples of putting a new spin on old characters. And of course I'd love to do some creator-owned work as well. I like the emotional investment you have in something you've created, and the energy it brings to the work."

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Chiang's "Fantastic Four" pinup

Fans often hear writers hear about how the market has changed, in terms of reader expectations and demands, but it isn't often than artist comments on the situation. So what does Chiang think about how the market's changed in recent years? "That's a great question, and I wish I could really answer it," he replies. "I think it's a very tough market, and it keeps you on your toes. There are a lot of great people working now and DC's output is as stylistically varied as it's ever been. I've been working for enough years that people kind of know what to expect from me, the downside of which is they start pigeonholing you. Like anybody, I don't want to be told I can't do something and I like to think that I'm pretty versatile. Mostly, I think the market responds to sincerity. There's work out there that I'm not fond of, but is clearly done with a lot of love and readers can feel that."

Even with the Spectre looming large, Chiang has a lot more projects up his sleeve, as he reveals, "There are a few projects in the works, maybe some Batman. Everything's in development, but in the meantime I'm grateful for the opportunity to work on interesting books and with interesting people. I'm also doing a couple covers for some unlikely projects: I recently finished a Red Sonja cover for Dynamite, and I'm doing some work for the ACLU on a comic they plan to distribute at college campuses.

"The only problem with drawing is that it's so work intensive. With a little more time, I'd like to do some more writing. When you read Eisner, Frank Miller, Darwyn Cooke, or Paul Pope, there's a clarity and unity of vision that permeates every panel. There's never any cross-purposes. I've been lucky in that my collaborations with writers have all been pretty seamless, but I'd also like to see what I can come up with by myself."

And now you can discuss this story on CBR's DC Universe Forum.

The following art is from "Detective Comics" #815-816

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