By 6:30 pm, Room 1A23 smelled terrible. Just awful, like sweat incubated in an ass. That didn’t stop a healthy crowd from turning out to see Image Publisher Eric Stephenson moderate the Drawing the Line panel, featuring some of Image’s best artists: Saga’s Fiona Staples, Non-humans‘ Whilce Portacio, Perhapanauts‘ Craig Rousseau, Nowhere Men’s Nate Bellegarde, Legend of Luther Strode’s Tradd Moore, and Battlepug and Revival’s Mike Norton.
Stephenson described Marvel and DC as having reduced the importance of artists to ‘greeting card artists,’ cogs instead of vital parts of the creative process. He praised artists on creator-owned works who don’t slot in fill-ins for scheduling’s sake, saying that it offered “a better experience for the reader.”
Stephenson then led each artist through a brief summary of their process, accompanied by slides of their work in various stages. Of the group, only Tradd Moore works entirely in physical pen-and-paper media. Norton, Bellegarde and Staples all praised Manga Studio in particular.
Portacio emphasized, as someone with a 25-year career behind him, the importance of efficiency in his process, saying that his routine was geared so that if something interrupted him, he could pick up later still knowing exactly where he planned to go. He also talked about moving into painting digitally, saying “You should never think that you’ve figured it all out. Art is huge so you should always be learning.’
Rousseau described himself and Perhapanauts writer Todd Dezago as being “much happier” at Image than Dark Horse. A 15-year vet, he’s long since stopped doing thumbnails, which Norton echoed as helping to rob work of its energy. He uses his 8-year-old son as his sounding board, saying “If he can’t figure out what’s going on [in a drawing] I’ve done something wrong.”
Norton, who is almost exclusively digital now, said it’s why he can do two monthly books, but noted that thanks to a lack of physical pages to sell, “My art dealer hates me.’
Staples described her collaboration with Brian Vaughan on the look of Saga’s covers as being inspired by Retro sci-fi, namechecking Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. She was given nearly total freedom to design the characters, and singled out the vaguely Asian appearance of male lead Marco coming from a “serious lack of Asian leading men in comics–and all North American media.” She also noted of Saga being her first ongoing title that “I don’t think Marvel or DC would ever [have taken] a chance on [me].”
When Moore was singled out as the only one not working digitally, he offered that it “could be because I’m young and not, like, jaded yet.” He also praised the learning experience of working without a net.
When Stephenson asked about how working digitally helped, Norton said that it “saves me time in a lot of little cheating ways,” and that photo reference helped him avoid giving everyone “clunky Kirby hands.”
Bellegarde talked about using digital media primarily to lay pages out and help smooth it his ink drawings, especially on a book like Nowhere Men where he wants a very precise style. He also described the occasional panic over maintaining a high enough level of detail, which Norton dubbed “the crying phase.”
During the Q&A session at the end, Bellegarde teased projects he would be writing for other artists that are “not quite ready to pitch,” and Norton announced that he and Revival writer Tim Seeley would be switching roles in an upcoming issue.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.