Took almost three years to write this column.
The first time I asked Lee Ferguson for an interview, SBC had just given me this platform, and I was attempting to live up to my introduction, which promised that features with actual living comic creators would soon appear. This was ignoring of course that I didn’t have nerve yet to construct any, thinking the concept of any working professional devoting a couple hours to answering my interview questions completely ridiculous. So after approaching Ferguson, who was making a name for himself on the Event Comics boards as a promising up and comer, I was a bit relieved when it never came together. But that’s cool, because creators don’t scare like they used to.
The multi-talented Lee Ferguson aims to prove differently when FREAK, his graphic novella from Image Comics, debuts in May. The solicitation reads as follows…
by Lee Ferguson
We are blind. The things we see and feel are only a fraction of the reality in which we live. Humanity is just a small part of a world filled with forces beyond our comprehension, a supernatural domain most of us will never experience…
But Alex isn’t like most of us. He’s cursed with an unimaginable power that has taken everything from him and driven him
to the brink of madness. And without everything you’ve taken for granted, who would you become? Are you defined by what you have? By what you’ve done?
Is it really that simple..?
What if you could take a long, hard look at the real you? Would you like what you see? Would you be able to face yourself?
Sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Order Code: MAR041395
May 2004 – $6.95 – 64 page graphic novella
I tracked down Ferguson, which admittedly wasn’t very difficult (you’ll soon learn why) to pose a few more questions about FREAK, and everything leading up to it. He was also good enough to drop off some exclusive pages, from the novella hitting your retailer on May 19th.
Brandon Thomas: Your last high-profile assignment was the X-Men Icons: Chamber miniseries with Brian K. Vaughan. What have you been up to in the meanwhile?
Lee Ferguson: Heh…it’d be easier to tell you what hasn’t happened since then, man! The biggest thing would be that I finally got the heck outta Ohio. I now call sunny Florida my home, and I love it here! So what if they have all kinds of mutant bugs and can’t figure out how to vote, it’s great!
Professionally, I worked on a Mr. Keen: Tracer of Lost Persons miniseries with Justin Gray at Moonstone. That was really fun, and I had a chance to experiment a lot with my art on that, some of which worked out, some of which didn’t, but overall, it was a great experience, and I learned tons from it. As I was finishing that up, I got offered the chance to draw and color a Luke Cage series at Marvel with some guy. What was his name? Man, talented writer, but I can’t seem to recall…it’s on the tip of my tongue…
Great script, would’ve been a great project.
While I was waiting to start on that, I also had a story approved for Spider-Man Unlimited, which would’ve been my first pro writing assignment, and a big deal to me, personally. I grew up as a HUGE Spider-Man fan, so I was looking forward to taking a shot at writing, drawing, and coloring a story for the web-head. However, both projects tanked within a 24-hour period, pretty much convincing me that the comic gods hate me [smiles].
I was pretty inconsolable for a few weeks after that, but when I did bounce back, as I tend to do, FREAK was waiting, and I poured all of my energy into finally getting that ready to go. I think at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it literally kept me sane when everything else was going crazy around me.
So I pitched that to Jimmy V. at Image, and got it approved in October. I’ve been drawing and coloring that around the clock since…
Thomas: So who, what, and how is FREAK?
Ferguson: It’s a 64 page, full-color book from Image Comics, and it hits the shelves on May 19. It’s about a guy who is cursed with a horrible power, and what that power does to him, and to the people around him…
When the story begins, Alex Wyatt is locked in an institute for the criminally insane, and at the lowest point of his rotten life. His best friend is dead, maybe thanks to Alex, his fiancé is in shock, and Alex wants nothing more than to end his life. But he’s not gonna get the chance, because it would be a pretty short and boring book if I let him off the hook that easily.
Thomas: Image has FREAK billed as a sci-fi/thriller. Is this an accurate description, and how long have you been waiting to tell this story?
Ferguson: However Image wants to describe it is fine with me, because they know what they’re doing. Eric and Jim were a lot of help in figuring out how to properly package and sell this thing right from the beginning, and I think it’s sometimes easier for someone who is not as close to a book to categorize and describe it. I do think there are a lot of horror elements to it, and that’s where its deepest roots lie.
As for how long I’ve been waiting to tell this, well, about ten years ago, I wrote an eight-page story that I never got around to drawing. That was the start of it…
Thomas: Horror books are certainly on the rise, recently. Stylistically, what’s the most important factor that makes something a “horror” title?
Ferguson: I don’t really think it’s all that similar to a lot of the horror titles I’ve seen in stores recently. The most important thing to me is that it has to touch the reader on a primal level. It comes down to really being able to spook your audience, not just shock them. I don’t think you necessarily need blood and guts for a good horror story, the good horror stories are the ones that really creep you out, deep down inside, and stick with you for awhile. That make you think maybe there IS someone out there, watching you, or maybe there IS something hiding in your closet…
Thomas: Do you think after spending your career primarily as an illustrator, it’ll be difficult to garner respect as a writer too?
Ferguson: Since I’ve only been in the business about three years, I don’t really even feel like I’ve established myself as an illustrator yet, to be honest! I’m not sure that when a reader picks up a book illustrated by “Lee Ferguson” that they really have any preconceived notions. I do think this is the closest any of my pages have ever come to matching the pictures in my head, though, so maybe I can start to give people an idea of what they should expect from me.
As for writing, I have never really been aware of any division between writing and drawing a story. It’s all seemed like a part of the same job to me. I’ve been drawing my own home-made comics since I was about 4 or 5, so it’s always been about just telling stories as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’ll seem like I’m just another artist biting off more than he can chew to someone who doesn’t know me, but this is where I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve been fortunate to work with some really talented writers in my short time in this business — David Tischman, Brian Vaughan, Justin Gray, all good guys and strong writers — but it’s really fulfilling on an entirely different level to have the chance to tell one of my own stories. This is something I didn’t think I’d have the chance to do for a long time.
Thomas: FREAK is Lee Ferguson almost top to bottom. What made this a project that you needed to be involved in all aspects of the creative process?
Ferguson: It goes back to it being my story. I couldn’t imagine anybody else drawing it, y’know? I actually did take this to one of the guys I’ve worked with, a really talented writer, about a year and a half ago. I wanted to see what he thought of what I had, and if he’d be interested in co-writing it with me. He told me that he really liked it, and that he didn’t want to work on it, because he felt there was nothing he could contribute. That it was my story, and I should be the one to tell it. That sort of gave me the confidence that maybe it was time for me to start seriously looking at taking the next step.
Thomas: How are the pages actually put together, from the script level to the finished level?
Ferguson: Well, for this, since I have been writing this particular story for so long, I worked from a full script. However, that’s only because I had one ready to use. Honestly, I ended up changing quite a bit in the shot selection, and even in the dialogue, so I think the next thing I write and draw myself will probably just end up being drawn from a plot, with dialogue notes as they’re needed. When it comes time to actually draw the story, I always come up with better ideas, so I don’t see any reason to kill myself working out every shot in the script stage from now on.
As far as the art itself, I just draw everything in pencil. Really, really tight. It’s how I was turning stuff in to be inked, actually, and Adam Kubert eventually saw my pages in pencil form and convinced me to just drop the inking process altogether. So now I draw it all out, scan it in at a high resolution, convert all of the pencil lines to solid black, then go in with the airbrush and paintbrush tools on Photoshop to fill in all of the flat blacks, and tweak anything that needs tweaking.
After that, I convert it to channels, drop the line art out of there, and start coloring. As far as how I approach that, technique-wise, I just do whatever seems like it’s working. Since I’m self-taught, I probably do have some eccentricities to my style. I guess I don’t approach it quite the same way as some of the coloring houses, but I like the direction it seems to be heading in.
Thomas: Are there any artistic influences that have been very important in helping you develop?
Ferguson: When I was only handling the pencils, I followed the artists who I really liked for their storytelling and design, guys like Mignola, Quesada, the Romitas, Miller, Nowlan, Eisner, Toth, the Kuberts, Bachalo, Cassaday…
As I’ve started coloring my stuff, though, I’ve also really gotten into Mark Chiarello, Bill Sienkiewicz and David Mack. I love what those guys do with color. With them, it’s also about bringing out a mood or emotion, as well as focusing the reader’s attention where they want it, not just getting the sky blue and the grass green. I’m working hard to understand color choices and how they effect the piece, and hope someday to have the kind of control over all phases that those guy have.
Thomas: How do you think your approach has matured over the years, and was FREAK something you had to work up to?
Ferguson: I’m glad I DIDN’T dive into this a few years ago. I wasn’t ready to tackle something like this right away, as a writer or as an artist. My first couple of years were just me trying to keep my head above water, and hoping the editors didn’t hate the stuff I was turning in too much. Now, I’m really just doing my own thing, and I’m a lot more comfortable with my work, and much happier. I’ve learned that it’s not just about having a good story to tell, but it’s also about telling that good story well. Working with some of the writers I’ve been lucky enough to work with, I think I’ve learned a bit about pacing and drama, stuff that’s really helped me to bring out this story in the best possible way.
Thomas: Creative freedom is something that’s always been a staple of Image. Did you encounter any situations or scenes that you thought would definitely be a tougher sell if this were published through one of the majors?
Ferguson: I don’t think so. While I love to read over-the-top books like Wanted and Powers, it’s not really where I go when I’m given free reign. I can’t see anything that I’ve done here that would’ve given me a problem at another publisher. Then again, sometimes that stuff can be so arbitrary that you never know, right?
And I should mention that even though I think this is a book that could’ve been published anywhere, I am really happy that it’s at Image. I love it here, and sort of consider it my new “home.” The guys I have dealt with have been nothing short of great, and hopefully I will be doing books here for a good long time.
Thomas: With that in mind, what’s next for you after FREAK?
Ferguson: A ton of stuff. I have never had so much lined up…
Next is a 48-page black and white crime noir one-shot for Moonstone, which should be a nice change of pace after FREAK. After pouring so much energy into this thing, from top to bottom, I’m looking forward to just focusing on some black and white art for a bit. Let someone else worry about the story mechanics!
And I’ve also been talking with a children’s author who is interested in having me illustrate a book for him, too. I think that’d be fun, and since I have a seven-year-old son, I hope it’ll be something cool for him.
I’m also planning to illustrate a 5-6 issue comedy/horror miniseries with a writer I have been wanting to work with for several years. It’s a great script, and is right in line with the type of stuff I like to read. Should be lots of fun. We’re hoping to have a publisher for that figured out in a few months…
Somewhere in there, I’d like to do an online comic featuring one of the characters from FREAK, which will tell the story of how she copes with the things that happened to her in this particular book. I’d like to have that ready to go by Halloween, but who knows.
And, oh yeah, I’m going to be doing a 96-page superhero graphic novel with some guy. Lots of big, crazy action, lots of fun. What’s the writer’s name again? Man, for the life of me, I can’t remember his name…
Otherwise, I’m hoping to write and draw some more of my own stuff, I’m writing another script now, and if all goes well, maybe I can be drawing it before the end of the year…
Thomas: I’d like to thank Lee for coming by, encourage all of you to pick up FREAK on May 19th (order code MAR04 1395), and check out a special bonus pic for the project that Ferguson and I almost did for Marvel/Epic. I saw this and went absolutely nuts at how perfect it was. Would’ve been fun, I think.
The first five pages of FREAK can be read, free of charge, at this link