Breakdowns: Joe EismaA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Joe Eisma
We here at Comics Bulletin have been big fans of Morning Glories since it started and a large part of that is because of the excellent work of interior artist Joe Eisma. Morning Glories is a series that is to a certain extent about a group of kids forced to grow up quicker than they otherwise might, so it's fitting that the comic itself has showcased Joe's own development as an artist. We asked Joe if he'd be interested in writing an essay about his experience growing as an artist through Morning Glories and we're extremely excited to share that with you today in a new feature we're calling Breakdowns, wherein creators talk about their developmental process. Enjoy!
Hindsight is 20/20, as the old axiom goes.
I was asked by the team at Comics Bulletin to share my thoughts on how I've evolved as an artist over the course of the year on Morning Glories. It's hard for me to believe that Morning Glories has been on store shelves for more than a year. But it seems like only yesterday that Nick Spencer and I had those initial conversations about developing the series.
Morning Glories is the longest stretch of time I've ever worked on a comic, and the most successful. I started out in small press, like pretty much everyone. After my graphic novel We The People was published in 2009, I caught Nick's eye. He sent me a message asking if I'd read his pitch, and the rest is history!
I will say I greatly underestimated the scope of this book starting out. I read the script, and like many of our future readers, was just knocked out by it. It was nothing like I was seeing on the stands, and really appealed to me. Nick hinted at the scale this story would take--that he just couldn't do it unless it was an ongoing. I've never worked with a main or extended cast this big!
With that said, I think that is one of the earliest things I struggled with--coping with the large cast. I'm not unaware of the early comments and reviews saying you couldn't tell the kids apart and that they were all "pretty." My only regret about that is that I wish I'd taken more time before we began production to sketch out the characters a lot more--like, daily--to get a better handle on them right out of the gate. In many ways, I feel I'm still coming to grips with them, and trying to impart their own personalities.
Another thing that I think I've gotten better at is general linework. Early issues are always hard for an artist to look at, but for me, I cringe at the messiness of my art. I began a hybrid digital pencils/traditional inks technique with this project, and it took me a lot longer to hone that than I'd anticipated. It kind of bugs me when I'm listed as "penciler" in reviews or whatnot, as many just assumed by the state of my lines that they were just pencils and not inks. I've worked to contour my lines better and pay attention to line weights, and to clean things up.
'Messy messy messy!'
The aspect of my art on this book that I've always been proud of is the storytelling and facial expressions.
Storytelling is the most important aspect of comic art to me--way more so than style or flash. I may not have the pizzazz of some guys, but I like to think that I pay better attention to how characters act than others do. Caricature art was a big influence--taking a basic expression and just exaggerating it to really drive home a story point. This ties in to me getting to know the characters better as well. As we've gone on, the personalities of the kids have gotten more developed, so now I feel I know how they would "act" in any given scene. Anything from extreme emotions (pretty much anything Jade)...
...to subtle things (like Hunter rubbing his neck, Casey's subtle sexiness, etc.).
Backgrounds are something else that I think have gotten better in my art. As I said, initially, the scope of this book kind of overwhelmed me. I think I let some details slide in the background, but somewhere right around issue 5 or 6, I believe I began to get more comfortable. I was really proud of the pub sequence in issue 6--I created that entire pub out of 3D models I made myself in 3D Studio Max.
I've often said I'm never bored in drawing this book, since we shift locations so often. At first this was kind of scary, but now I embrace it as a challenge to draw something new, so that I'm not stuck drawing classrooms all the time.
The "montage" sequence of issue 13 is a particular example of this. It spanned different times and settings, and was both exciting and challenging to draw.
Another thing I've gotten better at as time has gone on has been speed. When I first started drawing comics, I was averaging about 3 pages a week. This is while continuing to do my day job of freelance game development. I still do that job, but I've gotten better about managing time (did I mention I have a very precocious 3-year-old son as well? I juggle!). Not a knock to Nick, but I don't always get the full script, and not always on time. It's been up to me a lot lately to make up that time. I can do 2 pages a day pretty easily now--3 if I push it. The trade off is that when I do more pages per day, I'm able to do fewer traditionally inked pages; I have to make cuts somewhere. It's strangely invigorating, though--it makes me think on my feet. I have to draw the main cast one second, and the next I'm drawing the Salem With Trials era.
Through it all, I'm extremely proud of the work I've done on this book. Sure, I had some stumbles at first, but we can't run without getting the hang of walking first. There were times I felt intimidated by the gorgeous covers Rodin Esquejo did for the book--I felt like I couldn't compete with that. I'd say I've found my place in this book, now, and am much more confident with what I bring to the table, and I believe it shows. I'm most proud of issues 3, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13 and 15. Not to say that I dislike the other issues--it's just on those particular issues, I feel things really clicked.
I'm grateful every day that I have the opportunity to draw a book like this. I am eternally grateful to Nick & Jim Valentino for the opportunity. Most of all, I'm grateful to the fans! I hope my skills continue to grow as we go forth on this wild and twisted adventure together.
The Morning Glories Volume One Deluxe Hardcover Collection is out now from Image Comics.