Interview w/ Artist John Paul Leon
JP, how did you become involved with DMZ? Did you know Brian Wood prior to becoming the cover artist?
Got the call from Editor Will Dennis. Will and I had worked together briefly while THE WINTER MEN was still with Vertigo. I didn’t know Brian, but had always admired his covers for DMZ. They always stood out. Bold design and a more magazine style sensibility in relation to type on the page.
You’ve worked with some very iconic characters from both DC and Marvel, what draws you to a series like DMZ?
There is something utterly contemporary about Brian and Riccardo Burchielli’s world in DMZ. I could not resist the opportunity to be a part of it. Brian established a look on the covers that was very attractive to me. Many of his images had the feel of contemporary poster ads that you might see on the NYC subway or posted around the city. I think that my work is part of a more traditional illustration school, but I’ve always been attracted to the abstract qualities of literal imagery and the relationship between the ‘literal’ and the ‘iconic’ in art – particularly in comic book art where there is such a strong tradition of iconography.
What’s your general approach to cover composition like? Do you ink and color your own work for the covers?
I do pencils, inks, and colors for all the covers. It’s another reason I jumped at the chance to do this. For a long time, I’ve been primarily a B&W artist. I love B&W more than anything, but I’ve also wanted to do more color work. When I color my own work, it affects the way I approach the B&W. Just like when I first started inking my own work, it affected the way I did pencils. Generally, I work out a solid composition in the sketch – print size. Once that’s approved, I’ll move on to a finished piece.
Did that process differ with DMZ, considering that Brian is an artist himself and had created the covers for the first 30 issues or so?
I’ve always felt like Brian and Will have been very receptive to experimentation. The freedom to attempt something different is very stimulating, and also, working digitally on colors presents you with an endless amount of options (literally, at your fingertips), and this can’t help but change the process.
What is collaboration like with Brian? What’s a typical conversation like about creating a cover?
Usually, Brian will submit a paragraph or so describing where the story is going, what this particular story arc will deal with, and a rough description of what he sees as a cool cover image. I’ll work up some sketches and submit the one that I think works best. Sometimes, I like a few different directions and I’ll throw in more than one idea. I often prefer this, because it opens a dialogue with Brian and Will. This can float away into theory, but it’s fun and somebody always brings it back down to Earth, usually Will.
I know that as a writer, Brian tends to think in story arcs, even altering trade dress and covers for each arc (such as for NORTHLANDERS). That said, do you create covers issue by issue or will you consider a full story arcs as a “set” when designing covers?
Brian thinks very much in terms of arcs, and I always try and design the covers to correspond to story arcs. “M.I.A.” is a good example of this that began simply by Brian suggesting I do the title lettering by hand on each cover. Something as basic as that helped tie the images together. “Collective Punishment” is another one. The main event in that story arc is a five hour bombing campaign over Manhattan. I really wanted to break up each cover into five equal sized horizontal panels and alternate the DMZ logo, previously locked in that masthead position, throughout the page. This began organically when I sat down to lay out the issue 55 cover. The paneled sequence of bombs being dropped on the city worked better for me than a single image.
Not always successful with this – sometimes, what seems like a cool idea for a series of covers gets diverted or peters out. This last arc is a good example. After submitting a batch of sketches and talking it over with Brian and Will, Will had what I think was the really cool idea of doing a series of covers in the spirit of Stieglitz’s photos of early 20th Century NY, only using our bombed out NYC. But the covers have taken another turn in the execution, and I think it’s for the better. So sometimes a really cool idea may end up not “fitting” once you put pen to paper. On the other hand, this could just be a lack of discipline on my part!
Was the idea of you working on interior art for DMZ ever discussed?
Not really – only as a contributor to issue 50. Riccardo Burchielli has created a very believable sense of place in DMZ and his characters have gotten bolder. He reminds me of Eduardo Risso, only wilder. I love his work!
Do you have a favorite cover that you designed for the series?
Don’t know – probably issue 63.
I’m a big fan of your book THE WINTER MEN. What’s next, what else are you working on? Any plans to collaborate with Brian again in the future?
Thanks, Justin. Right now I’m working with Kurt Busiek on a four issue Batman story called BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT. It’s the companion piece to SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY. If I had to guess, I’d say it will be out sometime next year . I’d love to get together with Brian on something. I’ve really enjoyed the experience with DMZ and his writing, like all good fiction, it’s both challenging and entertaining.