Thursday, June 24, 2010

Buffyfest Interviews Spike: The Devil You Know Artist Chris Cross

So Spike has his own comic.  Maybe some of you reprobates have heard of it?  It's called Spike: The Devil You Know.  The first issue came out last week (buy it) and it's host to the man himself plus our mysterious blue demon boy, Eddie Hope.  It's written by Bill Williams, whom you know and drawn by a man who you may not: artist Chris Cross.   We thought it would be a crime to let the lack of association stand and so, without further ado, our interview (completely unfiltered) with Chris Cross.

Buffyfest: You've been in the business for a while. How did you get into comics?

Chris Cross: Not just a while, heh… almost 20 years! And I’m just getting started! Time flies. I got into comics during my tenure in the School of Visual Arts In Manhattan in the nineties. An old friend of mine named Brian Marshall told me of a company that was looking for new talent to do some of their books by the name of Milestone Media… a new upstart African-American owned publication and they looked to be ready to turn the market on its ear by producing some books that recognized the cultures of the characters that would be prime focus on the books themselves.

I had gotten a couple of pages of art published in small press up to that point and I was busy taking up animation and painting in SVA among other things, and I wanted to get into the medium as soon as possible. So I got my work and set up an interview with the office manager Christine Gilliam in the Milestone offices during one of my breaks in-between classes. And after a few funny shenanigans that happened, I wound up getting work from Milestone. And the rest, they say, is history. So, Kiddies, when there’s an opportunity, go get it!

Buffyfest: What comics have inspired you as an artist?

Chris Cross: Well, that’s way too exhaustive a list. I think the first book that got me wanting to draw comics was X-MEN 121. After I saw that book, I was hooked. Comics were hard to come by in my neighborhood and a kid I knew had stacks of them. And he pulled out The Uncanny X-men 121 and I must have read that thing 5 times in one sitting and just stared at the art. I had never seen anything like that.

So that’s when the hunger started. After that, I was a John Byrne/Terry Austin nut, then graduated to Jack Kirby… going backwards in time and then forward to Neal Adams…. And everyone else after that. Then I discovered Manga and then it was over. My friend, Buzz, a great artist in his own right, introduced me to the world of Ma Wing Shing in the early nineties…. or Wing Shing Ma in his country, and I had more to absorb. No one has caught up to that brother yet. And there’s a ton of European artists that inspire me also. So there’s a plethora of inspiration to drag and fuel from. You can guess that my mind is never at rest with all of that zooming in front of me. I, like most artists, have this fear of growing stale, so I inundate myself with tons of new material weekly. So I’m always looking to let my work evolve to the next level. Never happy with it, but I sometimes get a chuckle when it does something I never expected.

Buffyfest: Tell us a little bit about your technique. Do you prefer drawing character stuff, backgrounds?

Chris Cross: My technique. I think you can’t just decide if you’re a true storyteller, if you prefer characters to backgrounds. I like to say to myself that the backgrounds are as much a character as the characters themselves. You can’t have mood or juxtaposition in storytelling if there are no backgrounds. They sell the story. Sure, you can have flashy costumes and great faces, boobs and booty in slinky outfits.. but if you can’t draw a car or a building, why are you drawing sequential art in the first place? Even if it’s a box with holes in it and some round circles for wheels, It has to fit in the context of the art and the style in which you’re telling the story. My friends tell me that my work is American manga. I’m cool with that! A lot of people think that Japanese manga is full of big eyes, small mouths and limited expression… but these guys really know anatomy. And you have to know anatomy in order to distort it or to caricature. And you can never discount the Japanese artist’s ability to do great backgrounds. But I also learned a great deal from European artists such as Mobius, Brian Bolland, and others. I also buy and search out tons of architectural reference. A cityscape or a dystopia or a galactic sprawl has to have a definitive look to pull off why characters are what they are and do what they do. It’s as much the behavior as the character’s behavior. It can tell why the character chooses to rebel or why that character chooses to protect and add to that area’s greatness. It’s all about what the writer intends and what I can pull out of his/her head and mix it with my vision. Otherwise, it’s incomplete.

Buffyfest: How did you get the Spike comic gig?

Chris Cross: I had a hole in my schedule and I was looking for something different to get my hands into. And the Spike gig was open. Seems I keep getting these vampire assignments lately…. LOL.

Anywho, The world of Joss Whedon has a rich environment and I’m really surprised that it translates so well to comics. And the cool thing is that I did the first Angel cover that kicked off the series and full circle, I’m doing one of the minis. It’s a lot of fun, and tedious at times with all the reference I’m trying to use at my command… sometimes there’s such thing as TOO much ref….but I’m doing my best to make it more than just a vampire book. And I hope I’m achieving it.

Buffyfest: Was it tricky getting down the likenesses of Spike and Illyria? Is it easier drawing Eddie Hope since he's not a real person?

Chris Cross: Anytime you have to constantly do a person’s likeness, you run the risk of losing the likeness when you have to make that character act. Facial expressions and pre-supposing what that face would do in any given situation is headwracking. I miss and I hit, but I get that the fans will get the gist of Spike subconsciously when the action hits. I think they’ll get it when the character does his thing. Eddie is easier to draw, but not necessarily because he’s made up. His face and likeness takes less hassle, but I still use ref to make him look familiar to the strange eye. That way you can still identify with him. When he hits the demonform, it’s a little tedious for me because of all things, the ridges in his tail and horn. Then again, the markings on his face is a hassle also. But, it makes him who he is…Illyria is the easiest to draw for some reason. And it’s great to fall in love with drawing Amy Acker. Who doesn’t want to look at THAT face all day??

Buffyfest: Did you watch certain episodes for visual reference of Spike's persona and to figure out how to dress Spike? In other words, is there a certain Season of Buffy or Angel that you use when drawing the character?

Chris Cross: No. There was a whole website of stills that Bill and Mariah hooked me up with that had tons, I mean TONS of pictures, images and stills from all the Buffy and Angel shows. And dressing Spike is easy. Essentially, you’re drawing off of Billy Idol as a vamp. Black leather, black shirt and denim jeans. Honestly, the man has no concept of pastels or animal prints. You put that man in some Enyce, Ecko, Sean John or CStar, and now we’ve got a fashion bull. Any vamp can do black, homey. :D

Like I said, though, there was SO much reference that it took literally hours just trying to figure out what was fodder and what was butter. Kinda reminds me of the Humanoids work I did when I had to compile a ton of Egyptian reference… some 250 megs worth. Trust me… that is a LOT of photos and images. And multiple folders in my external hard drive.

I did have to watch an episode or two to remind myself of how James Marsters face moves and his body positioning is manipulated to try to mimic some of who he is when he’s doing his thing. But that was the easy part. Redrawing over and over his face eventually led to losing some of what made him Spike… at some point I wanted to just make Spike the comic character more important than just redrawing James’ face or it would start to become harder to adjust to the flow of the scripts. I wanted Spike the character of the comic to be an extension, not just James Marsters. Although, if I had James and Amy around to take tons of expression pics at my beck and call, things would look even better. But I hope what I’ve done is enough for the fans to adjust to. And I hope that the action and fun in the books itself hold up more and add to what I’m doing with Spike.

Buffyfest: Tell us about your working relationship with [Writer] Bill Williams and [editor] Mariah Huehner. How much communication is there between all of you during the process of putting this book together?

Chris Cross: Well, Mariah is the hawt-editor-cutey-little-pocket-person that allows me to just do my thing. If I’m appearing to take advantage of it, which I try never to do, she has no problem setting me back on course again. She knows her job and she’s not an ego to let it get in the way of the artistic process. Bill is pretty much the same thing. But he’s pretty intense in his scripts. There’s a lot of reference that can either break you or make you. Kinda reminds me of Christopher Priest in the amount of detail that he wants to expound in his stories. Only Priest actually had footnotes in the back of each 40 page script he sent me. Bill is lenient in that way. :D...But then, Priest was a madman. Heh…

If I didn’t understand a certain thing, I can always call Mariah or Bill to pick their brains, which is a great thing. Not being able to get in touch with an editor or the writer when I’m in a pinch can be frustrating and annoying. But I don’t have that problem with either of them, for the most part. I usually prefer dealing directly with the writer so I can understand his pentameter. Otherwise, I’ll miss out on the writer’s nuances when I add my thing.

Buffyfest: Were you a fan of Whedon's work before you worked on this story? Did you watch the shows when they aired?

Chris Cross: I’ve watched every single episode of every single series that he’s ever done. From Buffy to Dollhouse. And he knocked it out of the park with Dollhouse. And pulling cards on society. I think that series was too much for Fox and the viewers to handle. Way ahead of its time and completely original in a time where there are too many regurgitated ideas. Great job, Joss. Anytime you wanna team up on something with me, you let me know. I like to work with great thinkers. :D

Buffyfest: So, who's your favorite character? What is your favorite Whedonverse episode and/or season?

Chris Cross: Come on…. It’s Echo from Dollhouse!! Every episode. Truly a great series.

Buffyfest:  What do find interesting about the cast of characters and why do you think they resonate with the fans so much?

Chris Cross: Well, all of Joss Whedon’s characters have this quirky humanity to them, even if they’re laser-serious. He understands the concept of drama and has an even keel of comedy mixed into it. He can truly lighten a dark mood in the middle of a dark mood. Make you laugh in the midst of a desperate situation that he’s poised for any of his characters. And he can write for teens. Not a lot of people can do that without adding some outrageous hip-hop language and using certain present-day ethics that will beat people over the head. He truly understands his own medium and doesn’t write outside himself and his characters. I take lessons, trust me.

Buffyfest: What about Spike, what do you thinks drives the love for his character?

Chris Cross: Well, he’s essentially Billy Idol without the music, to me. He does what he pleases and has this intolerable sneer about himself. He doesn’t worry about much and he usually gets away with a ton more than Buffy would or even Angel. And women love bad boys for some reason. And nothing says “bad boy” like bleaching your hair, painting and chipping your fingernail polish and wearing leather.

Buffyfest: Which character would you love to draw that isn't in your story or maybe isn't even in IDW's books?

Chris Cross: Nowadays it’s usually whatever the project is. I like to mix it up a bit. Of course, Shazam would be the ultimate character to draw. Some would want Supes, but I’ve always been intrigued with the power of Captain Marvel and the dynamic with Billy Batson and his adult alter-ego. Who wouldn’t want to scream SHAZAM! in the midst of a stressful time and just jet to parts unknown? And who can beat that flashy entrance? There is no superhero with an entrance like that.

Buffyfest: Do you have any story tidbits or hints you can share about Spike: The Devil You Know?

Chris Cross: Nothing except that I hope that the fans like what they see and that the word of mouth gets people to buy plenty of issues. I hope it gives them something that the other Spike books didn’t and that they have lots of fun with it.

Buffyfest: Are there any upcoming projects that you'd like fans to know about?

Chris Cross: Well I’m also doing an issue of Marvel Adventures featuring Captain America for Marvel…and a ton of other things that I can’t talk about yet. I’ll sound off when these other things drop.


Anonymous said...

What a disappointment. Mr Cross just exhibited the fact that he has no idea what makes us love Spike.

It's not the bad boy image, it's how much love he had in his heart, even as a vampire, when he wasn't supposed to be able to love.

Anonymous said...

Not all of "us" Spike fans feel the same way as you. I happen to love bad boy Spike and enjoyed this interview with Chris Cross.

Becky said...

I thought it was interesting what he had to say about Dollhouse. It's rare to find someone who names that as their all-time favorite series by Joss.

Anonymous said...

Chriscross' depiction of Spike is the best Spike has and ever will be drawn.