He might not even realize it, but Lee Ferguson is Miranda Mercury’s own personal secret weapon…
Without him, transitioning her from that one page shout sheet to a fully functioning project would’ve been impossible. You see, I once mistakenly believed that I’d figured everything out, but Lee’s input and infectious enthusiasm for Miranda is what really got things together. The ideas always sound good to me in their initial stages, but the real test comes when you put them in front of someone with no connection to the material and see what it all means. From just a few hundred words, Lee instantly understood what I wanted to accomplish, why I wanted it, and unsurprisingly, felt the exact same way.
We’ve been doing this dance for years now, ever since we were paired together on an ill-fated Luke Cage pitch for Marvel’s ill-fated Epic initiative. From that point, it’s always been mutually understood that someday in the near future we’d work on something together and that when we did, we’d make damn sure it was a pretty big deal. Even the trajectory of our careers (if such a word even applies) shares an uncanny resemblance to the other, with both of us being endorsed by one of the creative heavyweights in comics and having the opportunity to have work published by the majors shortly after. This was followed by a lengthy period where we unknowingly contracted a form of the Ebola virus and were not to be touched with twelve-foot poles. And just recently, we separately reconnected with a couple of long held contacts at DC and our first works there are being published about six weeks apart, with Lee’s already in stores now (Black Canary/Green Arrow Wedding Planner) and mine coming on October 24th.
Somewhere in the middle of all that we coordinated the upcoming Miranda Mercury takeover, and Lee quickly went from artist to artist/creator. His ideas and input have made Miranda a much better book, and with him there’s absolutely no ego involved in this creative process, both of us contributing story ideas, visual hooks, and at this point I’m starting to lose track of who thought of what first. Almost every single conversation we have is followed by a mutual rush of ideas and we’re literally keeping an open file of all the things we want to try over the course of the series. Right now, the focus is on making these first six chapters a success and solidifying the character and concept within comics, but if things play out the way we hope, there are certainly more Miranda stories to be told. And without Lee Ferguson, there’s no question they would be significantly less interesting.
Still though, when Lee told me after the book was signed that he wanted to essentially redraw every page of Miranda artwork he’d already prepared, I was a bit nervous. There was plenty of time built into our schedule to get the first issue completely wrapped (even without having a colorist signed), but DC commissioned Lee to illustrate the Black Canary/Green Arrow Wedding Planner and that essentially dropped a small grenade into the whole process that redrawing pages would only worsen. And naturally, I loved those original pages dearly, which clearly were amazing enough to get us signed up at Archaia in the first place. But he was of the mind that he’s a much better artist than the one who drew those first pages more than a year ago, and I can hardly dispute this sentiment, chiefly because I’ve never met a script that couldn’t stand a few alterations here and there. Especially the longer I’m able to hold onto it. And Miranda Mercury was something that stayed with us a long time before getting it signed.
This week we’re going to display the results of Ferguson’s labors and detail just why I’m SO glad he redrew the entire first sequence. He told me he was a better artist now and he was absolutely right. Only some of the evidence is displayed below, but it should be more than enough for you to realize that Lee Ferguson will soon be recognized as an artistic force to be reckoned with. We begin, of course, with page 1…
First thing that jumped out at me was the relative increase in complexity. The story calls for Miranda to be fighting over a dozen alien toughs of various size and emotional background, wading through them almost effortlessly until the last panel. In Lee’s newest interpretation that is truly delivered, by his decision to literally push Miranda out of the shot, while filling every conceivable area of open space with some incredibly detailed adversary. In addition, the number of sharpened objects has certainly increased, all of them cleverly pointed towards Miranda, to lead your eye to the image of this tiny woman, who appears to be completely overmatched, outnumbered, and soon to die…forced out of the first panel of her own book.
Also, for reasons soon to be revealed, it was imperative that the guys featured on the cover were also properly represented here, which is somewhat difficult to make out in the first version. Here, more of the aliens that jump out at you from the cover appear somewhere on this page or the next, preserving the feel that the cover and the first pages are actually depicting the same scene, which for us is vital.
The last shot was the one I was most nervous about because one of the elements of Lee’s artwork that I enjoy the most are his faces. You give him the right moment and he just crushes it and adds so much presence into the scene that just can’t be conveyed on paper. To me, Miranda looks perfect here, an undeniable badass completely unimpressed with these bounty hunters she’s been effortlessly kicking the crap out of. More than that, she’s all this without sacrificing one ounce of her attractiveness, which is an aspect that she chooses not to acknowledge, even if everyone else does it for her. That’s one of the great things about the relationship between her and Jack Warning, that he’s one of the few people that doesn’t notice how pretty she is, and defying conventional logic, isn’t one day hoping that she’ll notice him in some kind of romantic capacity. They’re the best of friends and that’s where it all ends…which says a lot about Jack, because who could resist a face like this? We loved this shot so much that we cropped it and turned it into the cover page for the entire pitch.
Lee redrew it and didn’t lose one ounce of its original effect. The second pass is actually more on point because it removes some of the roundness, that while cute, skewed Miranda’s age a little younger than it’s supposed to be. Now, she looks to be in her late twenties/early thirties, which will ultimately work better.
Bottom line, everything here just looks better and with one page, I knew Lee was absolutely right to redraw all of this, as the difference between the two versions is obvious, even from page one…
Ahh, page 2, which gave Lee terrible nightmares from start to finish. I liked the first one naturally, Miranda staring down the barrel of an oppressively huge gun in the hand of an incredibly small man, but Ferguson was tweaking this one from the beginning. Moving the camera back and forth, shifting the angle up and down, adding then removing background elements, etc. Nothing was left constant except Miranda’s general body language, again conveying a sense of concentrated disdain. The little guy’s name is Abraham and he has the best dialogue of any character in this sequence, a Yoda-sized intergalactic crime boss that only wants to be bigger all over.
In the new version, Lee flipped it, which gives the page turn a better flow and helps the dialogue read a little smoother, since Miranda has the first line. They’re very small, subtle things, but Abraham’s hair is drawn better, his suit looks better, and man does his gun look better. The big guy has apparently hit the gym recently, as his level of definition has gone up and that disc digging into his shoulder is going to look fantastic when it’s colored. Most of the background stuff wasn’t changed, just flipped to the opposite side, and I think Lee might be happy with this one.
Again though, it’s a good page made better with just a few minor nips and tucks.
Another of Lee’s fantastic close-ups of Miranda, which would undoubtedly stand as my favorite if not for the hint of perfection glimpsed on the first page. Most impressive are her facial features, because there was a TON of conversation between the two of us about ensuring that Miranda was actually a black woman with features to match, and not just a woman with brown skin. Only a couple close-ups available in this sequence, but Lee made the most of them and passed the ultimate litmus test…after my mother saw the pages, she delightfully remarked that Miranda looked black. Can’t remember if I ever told him that, but what’s funny is that Archaia originally had a similar concern about the series. Ensuring that Miranda wasn’t simply “black Lara Croft” and that her ethnicity would inform and/or influence a great majority of the stories we’re aiming to tell was highly important to them. Which really is a great question from a potential publisher, and one easily answered by the second story in this arc, “Miranda Mercury and the Doomed Glass Planet.”
Back on topic though, this page got a little attention here and there and provides the first decent shot of Miranda’s new zigzag part, strikingly similar to the one in the book’s logo. This was a welcome addition coming directly from Lee Ferguson, and as often happens with us I’ve already turned it into a relevant story point that’ll be used down the road. Every page that comes through has something that’s improved on the script or the general storytelling, or that features something I hadn’t considered. For instance, it was not indicated to turn the hand that offers the satchel to Abraham into a tentacle, but doesn’t it look much cooler that way? Lee also added a couple flourishes, placing Abe’s gun on his guard’s back and making the light source in the final panel a bit harsher. Since we signed the talented Felix Serrano to handle the color art the pages look slightly different to me, as I’m mentally placing the samples we received over these pages and trying to anticipate what he’s going to amplify or what colors he’s going to choose for certain elements. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing some of his work in the coming weeks, but there’s no question he’s going to take us to the proverbial next level.
First panel contains the “mystery of Miranda’s offset eye,” which has since been fixed in the inking stage. Still can’t figure if it’s the actual eye or the goggle that is slightly crooked, but something there is off. Fortunately, it’s the only thing that is, as this page marks the only instance in which Lee scrapped page layout completely and went with something else that proved much, more effective. The subtle tucks are still present of course, the better looking head butt, and Miranda’s outstretched hands in a more natural catching position. The real highlight is panel 4 obviously; Miranda’s gun leaping from her holster and rocketing into her palm.
Miranda’s gun is an heirloom from her grandfather James, which accounts for its very low-tech appearance in this very high-tech environment. But Miranda and Jack have made a few key alterations to the antique, and the concepts driving the one displayed in this shot are one part Spider-Man’s web shooter, another part “the Force.” When Miranda makes a specific movement with her fingers, the circuitry in the glove triggers the gun, which quickly snaps into her hand. Incredibly simple in a world of samurai genies and glass planets, and really just a throwback to a young spy that I created back in high school named Quint Black whose gun used a similar trick. Since Luke Skywalker escaped from that Wampa in Empire I’ve been pretty much destined to write this into one of my series and it just happened to fit perfectly here. Also, because it makes things far more interesting, this weapon has an extremely important revelation to trigger between Miranda and Jack that shifts the dynamic of their relationship. All will be revealed in the fourth installment that also introduces Jack’s ex-girlfriend Zamanda Rival, another character Lee and I are terribly excited to introduce.
While the pitch was being lettered, we came up with the idea of putting our names into Miranda’s laser beam, so they’re fired through the window. Yes, yes, I know…we are that cool…
The script called for the most complicated page that Lee has ever designed and I’m fairly sure this is that. Completely blown away when this first came through for a variety of reasons that I’m sure are fairly visible. This is just an excellent composition with the right amount of scale and depth I was imagining. Huge buildings, crisscrossing rail-lines, strange alien creatures, and one small, insignificant woman trapped in the middle of it all. This is pretty obvious symbolism here, because the image is really what Miranda Mercury is all about, one woman who for all intents and purposes should not matter in this universe. The worlds are too big, the problems too deeply ingrained, the adversaries too strong, and the principles too difficult to maintain. There is no one who can do anything about it, or any who even want to. It’s impossible to affect change, so we shouldn’t even try. But for some reason…Miranda Mercury does. And will continue to do so until the day she dies. Which of course is soon.
Only thing Lee changed in this shot is the size of tiny Miranda running across the top of the train, making her even smaller and more distant than the original. Continuing the theme begun on the last page where “BRANDON THOMAS & LEE FERGUSON PRESENT” is fired through the window, this page will have text on the train’s rooftop that’s literally chasing Miranda into the bottom corner of the page. But this is a true gem right here, and I’m almost afraid to put text on it for fear it’ll take away from “the most complicated page” Lee Ferguson has ever delivered. Suppose it’ll all work out in the end, because in the next issue I’ve asked for a two-spread that’ll make this one look simplified in comparison. If memory serves, I believe that one doesn’t have any dialogue on it…not yet, anyway.
And there we are, ladies and gentlemen…how five pages of Miranda Mercury only got better over time. Expect to hear from Lee directly after he extricates himself from the deadline madness that could only result from being asked to draw a page with forty something panels on it. Much more to come, especially when the colors start streaming in, which should give me enough material to do a piece on the many elements that went into creating the cover for our premier issue…
Thanks for dropping by, back soon.