Writing a man who doesn't speak much can be a problem, but how about drawing him in a confined space and primarily alone?
Christian Ward told Newsarama that drawing Black Bolt's initial setting in an alien prison was a challenge, but he took the restraints of the concept as a chance to develop his work - by "muting" it, as he calls it.
Last week, Black Bolt writer Saladin Ahmed spoke to Newsarama about this month's debut issue, and now we turn to Ward to discuss the illustration of those ideas and honing in on a style, from panel borders to building architecture and character designs -- with a few surprises from Marvel UK lore thrown in there.
Newsarama: Christian, Black Bolt #1 is out on stands right now, so how far ahead are you on the art?
Christian Ward: I'm finishing off Black Bolt #3 while I do layouts for #4 and #5. Saladin has been a powerhouse writer. It's been amazing, I have completed scripts all the way up to #7. It's been wonderful to be able to layout the issues so far in advance. It's a wonderful opportunity to plan ahead. He's so far ahead though it's putting me to shame.
Nrama: We spoke with Saladin earlier, but how has the build-up and anticipation for this been for you with fans, press, conventions, etc.?
Ward: It's really only the week of #1’s release that I've allowed myself to notice it. If I'd stopped to think about what we're doing I think I would have been crippled with stage fright. When I was working on ODY-C I remember this tangible feeling of “Oh my god, I’m working with Matt Fraction!” and I had to stress nap for a week. It's funny though, working on monthly comics is so deadline-driven that most of time you're just focused on the page (or pages) you have in front of you and you can't really think of anything else. It's like working in a bubble. You spend so long looking at your work that you have no idea if it's good or if anyone cares. Right at the moment your audience is your creative partner and in the case of Marvel, your editors. You're working hard to impress them. I wanted to finish Black Bol #2 before I opened myself up to the idea of a wider audience. I've noticed even just this week though the anticipation has really ramped up. Now I'm just excited/terrified to see what people think. Might have to have a stress nap.
Nrama: This isn't your first #1 – Infinite Vacation has that distinction - but what's it like having a #1 at Marvel?
Ward: Yeah, first Marvel #1! Woah boy. That's not lost on me. I have this newspaper cutting at my mom and dad's from when I won a painting completion as a young lad and in it I got interviewed and they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and right there in black and white was how I wanted to be a Marvel comic artist. In fact, from the same time I even have a letter from Marvel UK replying to my sending them my teenage scribbles. So now, some 25 years later I couldn't be more thrilled to living my literal childhood dream.
On a day-by-day, week-by-week basis I bounce between three moods. As much as I can I try to ignore it, for reasons I stated before. Your mantra becomes “It’s just a job, it's just a job” otherwise performance anxiety will find you and crush you, puny artist. Then I swing to mood two and the weight of doing a Marvel #1 of such a beloved character (who I also love) who just happened to have been designed by Jack Kirby weighs heavy. Your head just spins. Mostly though the idea of contributing to the Marvel universe couldn't make me any more proud. I love that Saladin and I have created characters for this series that, who knows, might go on and have their own adventures down the line without us. It's surreal and wonderful.
Nrama: I see very specific choices here in #1, especially when it comes to set design and coloring. How'd you deliberate and decide on what it would be?
Ward: Ask Matt Fraction - I overthink everything. I knew I wanted to 'mute' my art for Black Bolt. The book is about containment, and being locked up is a metaphor for Bolt himself. He’s always held back, always holding his powers in. So I wanted to keep the page structure and color choices more restrained. Panel borders become the cell bars and walls.
The first time we see Bolt break free is when the constraints loosen and I bring in more of what I'm perhaps known for on ODY-C.
Likewise, with the color there's lots of blues, greys, and greens but with electricity and power buzzing orange and pink within the walls. Foreshadowing the power that could be released at any moment. Bolt's character has a coldness to him and I wanted to have that coldness reflected in the color scheme, but what I want to do is have it get gradually warmer and more colorful as we go on to reflect his arc. We're really putting him through the mill, but one of the things I love about Saladin's scripts is how it's his humanity that shines through. He's a complicated character but hopefully this will remind people that he's also capable of being a caring hero.
Nrama: These tall archways really struck me - especially for a prison. Can you tell us more about this extraterrestial prison and your plans for it?
Ward: I do struggle with my backdrops and I had to work hard to get them right here. That being said, I knew immediately what the prison would look like. I wanted it to feel like a character in of itself; a monster from a horror movie who is glimpsed only fleetingly in the darkness. An M.C. Escher drawing come to life.
Wallpapering that with a healthy dollop of H.R. Giger and Tron: Legacy… A Daft Punk Nightmare. Equal parts gothic (hence those archways) and equal parts hard sci-fi. Fans of ODY-C won't be lost here. It had to feel intangible. Impossible. Ever-shifting but (hopefully) feeling like the same place. Somewhere that is alien even to Black Bolt where he couldn't get his footing. Not only does this serve the story but luckily it also made it a little more forgiving for an artist who suffers with representing reality.
Nrama: At the end of Black Bolt #1 you introduce a new (apparently) villain named in later solicits as the Jailer. He's in view more on issue #3's cover, but what went into the design of him?
Ward: What a thrill it's been to design such a horrendously evil being. He was a challenge to say the least. I find my look for most characters within a few drawings. The Jailer took around 20 designs before I got him right. There was lots of going backwards and forwards between me, Saladin and Wil Moss (our editor) as tried to nail down his look. There were designs where he looked like a Metal Gear Solid boss to some where he was like something from H.P. Lovecraft. Some I'd like, some Saladin favored and others Wil preferred. We worked hard to get him right. Like the prison he had to be a clash of gothic horror and futuristic tech more importantly he had to look like a threat to Black Bolt and he really is one. He's big and scary. Even at the end of Black Bolt #1 we only have a very small idea of what he actually is.
Two unused designs.
Nrama: Looking ahead again, I see Death's Head mentioned. You're from the United Kingdom - does he have any special place for you like some other UK creators?
Ward: Talking about childhood dreams, this really is another one! Death’s Head (along with another UK fave, Dragon's Claws) was my favorite book growing up. Drawing him holds the same value as drawing Batman to me. When Wil asked us if there were any cameos we'd like to feature he was my first choice. He's been redesigned by so many great artists but it's been great to put my own spin on his classic design. Man, it's just been so much fun. Maybe Marvel would let me do a Death's Head series!
Nrama: Getting back to the titular character at hand, let's talk about the tweaks to Black Bolt's design. The 'wishbone' becoming a design element is new, so can you talk about all your tweaks to the design?
Ward: I love what Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire did with Moon Knight and I wanted to have an element of that graphic design approach here. Lots of flat graphic shapes. Keep things simple. I wanted to return Black Bolt back to something that resembled his original Kirby costume (except without those weird suspender belts) and move away from his battle armor. Strip him down to his basics. Removing his armor made him more vulnerable. I wanted his tuning fork to be the focus of his design. Somewhere between those things you see on deep water fish and a crown.
Nrama: Big picture, what is your goals for Black Bolt?
Ward: I have ODY-C waiting in the wings but knowing what Saladin has planned I want to be around for as much of that as possible. He's planning such an amazing story and reading his plot breakdowns have been thrilling. It has a real beginning, middle and end. He's telling one big, the big Black Bolt story and I want to be along for as much of that ride as I can be. Basic goal though: Go loud. Go weird. Or go home.