Drawing The Standard: An Interview With Jonathan Rector

April 28, 2011

If you’ve seen last week’s preview for The Standard #1, and the great collection of original artwork that’s been cropping up on this blog since it began, you’ll already know how important the contribution of Jonathan Rector has been to The Standard.  The incredibly talented Canadian artist has worked previously on Kord & Harley for Arcana Comics and Political Powers: Joe Biden for Bluewater Productions, and his art will soon be seen in Jamie Gambell’s superhero upcoming comic The Hero Code.  But in my biased opinion, he’s been producing some of his best work ever for The Standard, and even if the story hasn’t grabbed your interest, I’d still recommend you pick up this comic just to marvel at the stunning artwork Jon has delivered for this comic.

Jonathan Rector has agreed to take time out of his busy schedule (I know his schedule is busy because of I’m the one making him draw all these pages) to do an interview for this blog.

John Lees: Okay, we’ll start with the boring biographical bit that I’m sure is asked in every interview ever.  What made you first decide you wanted to be a comic book artist?

First, thanks for the interview John!   It’s been a wild ride working with you, and everyone on The Standard.  I fully agree with you, I’ve been having a blast working on the project, and seeing it to fruition is a great feeling.

As for what made me get into comics, it’s a little long, so I’ll try to shorten it up.  When I was younger, my family and I moved back to Windsor, Ontario.  My mom and I were walking around the small little town of Tecumseh, and we stopped into a comic book store.  I remember buying something like 10 copies of X-Men.  The one with the 4 page fold out cover, drawn by Jim Lee.  It wasn’t so much as the comics that made me go back, but the environment.  The “nerds and geeks” people called them.  I called it a second home.  My brother and I made a lot of friends there, playing Magic the Gathering, and leafing through comics from the shelves.

I think that’s great, having a sense of community with comics.  When I was young in Glasgow, comics was like the dirty little secret you hid from your friends.

Yeah ha ha! It totally was.  I didn’t care what many people said about comics back then.  When it was home time, my brother and I would head to the comic book store until like 8-9PM.  Great memories.

But, things started to get really serious while I was attending College (For animation).  I was working my part-time job as a gas attendant, which was great.  I was able to sketch while people pumped gas.  Long story short, a local Marvel artist flipped through my sketchbook, and helped me out for a couple years.  Those years changed my entire outlook on comics, especially the “big two.”  Since then, I’ve meet a lot of great people, including yourself.  I would still love to work for Marvel or DC one day, but right now, I’m having a real blast working on creator own/indy books. I think they are really rock and roll.

Were there any particular artists that made an impact on you? 

Way too many for me to mention them all.  To drop some that coming to my mind right now, Jim Lee, David Finch, Eduardo Risso, Mike Mignola, Frank Frazetta, Andy Park, Akira Toriyama, Greg Capullo, Jack Kirby, the Capcom artists, Ryan Ottley, and especially, ESPECIALLY Joe Madueria.  Man, I’m not sure if you ever read the comic Battle Chasers?  That was one of the best comics I read at the time.  It was especially a draw for me, because of my interest in Video Games.  These two mediums I find, have a familiar overlap.  Great stuff.

So, let’s talk a bit about The Standard.  What was it that first attracted you to the project? 

First and foremost, the script.  I finished reading it, put it down, and talked to my girlfriend Angela.  Something about it sung to me.  Yes, especially the first issue, is “somewhat” dark.  But once I got to the last few pages, I couldn’t stop.  Once I got back to my desk, I re-read it, and still got the same feelings.  I then got back to you John!  On a side note, script 2 (which at this time, is the latest script I have read), simply destroys issue 1’s script.  So grateful to be on this project.

Thanks, Jon!  I made a conscious decision to try and make each issue of the series better than the last.  There’s a TV term I’ve heard called “pilotitis”, where all the best stuff is crammed into the first episode, then the rest of the season can’t live up to it.  I always think it’s better to have a sense of build throughout a story, and end on a high if you can.

Totally.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the issues.  It’s funny.  I have so many questions that I want answered, and I get to find them out in stages.  It’s weird.  I can ask you for all the scripts right now, but that energy I get when I read a fresh script for this project, I find, carries into the pages.

Visually, did you have a clear idea in your mind what kind of tone and feel you were going for when you first started on the comic?

Yes and no.  When you first got to me, and we were bouncing the ideas around, you wanted there to be a clear style distinction between the “old” days, and “today.”  Towards the end of the first book, and especially in the second book, the styles are sort of merging.  One thing I will say, is this book is giving me a lot of play with shadows.  There are some serious moments, especially at the end of page 17 in issue two, where I’m trying new things.  Things I have not yet done to this degree.  Yes, if you’re reading this after reading the books, it might look like something that I’ve done before, but being able to play with shadow work is giving me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Once you were onboard, the first things you drew were character designs.  How much does a character take shape in your mind in the design process? 

Design is so important.  Whether I have passed or failed, is up to the reader.   But before starting thumbnails or anything, design/concept art is a very important stage.  Characters need to fit together.  They all need to seem like they belong.  Nothing is worse than a poorly designed character, surrounded by plenty of well thought, and well designed characters.  If you think of some of your most favourite movies, comics, video games, they most likely have some solid design work.  Nothing looks “cheesy”.  Unless you’re looking for that, ha ha!  As for how much does a character take shape in my mind, that’s always different.   Always depends on the initial information provided by the team.  Some projects just want you to do whatever you want, and some have very strict molds to fit in.

Some early concept art for The Standard.

More Standard character designs. On the right is the first time Jon drew what would become The Standard's final costume.

Once all the characters were designed, the next step in the process was thumbnails.  Now, I already had an idea of how thumbnails could be useful in figuring out the layout of a page, but something that really impressed me was just how much of a page’s atmosphere is hammered out in the thumbnail stage, and how similar the final page ends up being.  Do you want to share your thoughts on thumbnails?

Sure! I think a lot of starting out artists, whether it be comics, movies, illustration, tend to dive right into the final image. Just like with figure drawing, it’s essential to start out with a gesture. Or, a thumbnail. Thumbnails are so quick, that the time needed to create them, pales in comparison to the time needed to redraw a failed illustration.

On this topic of time, we’ve talked quite a bit about the work you’ve done on The Standard, without yet getting to any of your actual sequential work on the series itself.  I think that’s something worth discussing further.  When an artist comes onboard with a project, it’s not a case of them immediately hammering out pages.  There’s this feeling-out process where the artist go back and forth on character designs, and pages are roughed out.  How important do you think this period of getting to know a world before diving into drawing it is?

Tough question! Sometimes, there’s some really solid ideas and creations that come out of diving right in. Most of the projects I work on, only require important characters, somewhat fleshed out. There is a lot that can be said about just diving in. You could spend years creating the world and all of the people and things that exist in it. But a huge negative to this, is that the project will never get done. There needs to be a defined time frame in your mind, or the projects outset that establishes this. Taking a year, five years, heck even ten years is fine. Just make sure you’re in it for the long haul. When working on things by just diving in, you’re at the whim of things not meshing well together. Things may seem just “thrown” there.

I totally get the point you’re making.  It’s similar with writing.  Sometimes, the best thing to do when you come up with an idea is just start writing it, even if it’s a bit crap.  Because the more you think about it, and try to expand it in your head, the more you start questioning yourself, and picking it apart, and it’s almost paralysing.

Absolutely! There are some sweet things that happen there. But like you said, can prevent you from even starting. Unless I’m personally on a deadline, talking about personal projects for a second, usually I like to break the stages into 2-week, to 1-month chunks. For the first “script”, then the concept art stage, then full production of the book. Honestly, I find a couple months for a script is ideal. However, Lord of the Rings is a fantastic story. Using that and many others as proof, I still say sit on some ideas. Let them hatch over time!

Jon's original thumbnail for issue #1, page 5.

Page 5 pencilled and inked.

Okay, so now we get to your gorgeous interior art for The Standard.  Right from the beginning, the work you were producing was great, but around halfway through the first issue, you had to take a hiatus from the series for a couple of months while you finished off another project.  Now, I’ve told you this before, but when you resumed art on The Standard, it seemed your art had taken a leap forward and you were already on a whole other level from the Jonathan Rector who started the issue.  And as the artwork for issue #2 rolls in, it seems like you’re getting better and better with every page.  Do you see yourself as still evolving as an artist?

Man, thanks again. It’s always great to hear that people see your art is improving. Whether it’s drawing, or writing. I can bounce it back to you John, that between issues 1 and 2, I can see a clear improvement. Not that one is better than the other, but clear improvement. So kudos to that! I do see myself “evolving”. Talking to a lot of other creators, made me start questioning more and more about how I work. The biggest jump, especially in issue 2, I made the big switch to working 100% digital. We could go on and on about that, but to me, it’s almost an entire new way of working.

That was actually going to be my next question!  What would you say have been the pros and cons of the switchover from pencil-and-paper to digital?

Well, not to plug, ha ha, but my buddy Charlie Harper and I recently started a new podcast, which you can find at http://www.sketchbookpodcast.com . In episode 2 we talk about working digitally, so you guys can check that out for sure! Getting back to your question, I want to say from the outset, that I have never “inked” my work before. I’ve always had to do things in Photoshop to darken the lines, and all the clean up. I did some looking around and found a huge chunk of artists doing comics in Photoshop, Manga Studio and many other programs. Some pros in my opinion to working digitally? There are quite a bit. First, there’s no scanning. Not a huge problem, but if a client ever needs to see where or how far along a project is, I can instantly show them. There is no mess. No paper, or pencils or ink. It’s basically immediately ready for print. I find the process quicker. I’m able to do things like draw with white. This is really great because it opens up an entire world of textures and lines that I couldn’t have done in my old way of working. Reference is as easy as opening Google. Perspective is increasingly simple, no more rulers and tape. Things can be reused if necessary. For example, any drawing I’ve ever done digitally of The Standard that John may want for a print or anything, I can simple copy the layer into its own document. No fuss at all. Very quick changes as well. Like I said, I could keep going with this. And once more, I’ve never used an ink pen, brush or anything for comics. A lot of my views may be jaded because of this. But, digital is just another tool in the comics war.

You touch on something I’ve been thinking about lately.  With the rise in digital art, do you think the traditional role of the inker is in danger of becoming a dying artform?

I don’t think so. Essentially what I think is going to happen (if it’s not already), is that “pencillers” are going to be selling themselves as both. There are TONS of artists out there who prefer to work in pencil. I’ll be honest, for a lot of my personal work, I like to work with pencil and paper. Gives me a fresh break from working on the computer all the time. If there is one thing that I can say about pencil/traditional inks, is that you can hold it. You can’t hold pixels. Even if you printed them out as prints, it’s not the same.

One final question on The Standard: what character from the series would you say is your favourite to draw, and why?

Loaded question!

It was either that, or “Why am I so awesome to work with?”

Gilbert Graham is a favourite of mine. Especially Gilbert as an old man. Working with all those wrinkles allows me to play around more. But if I had to choose, probably Bill Finney. He’s so much of a jerk that it’s fun. His expressions are a blast to work with.

I love the stuff you do with Bill Finney!  It’s great when you add in little touches or character beats that weren’t even in the script: they’re a nice little surprise, but they’re totally in-character.

Yeah! It’s something I’m trying to spend some serious time with. Emotions. In comics, it’s one of the most important aspects. Most of the time, I get to draw beyond real muscle men. I love it. But, those scenes are so far and few between, you really should study emotions and body language. If you figure 75% is people talking, and 25% is action, that is a lot of real estate you could screw up. Epic poses are great, but the people are what sell the story.

As well as your body of work, you’ve established a prolific online presence.  This began with Scribbles with Jonathan, your series of instructional videos on Youtube, which morphed into the live show that runs on Ustream at 10:30am every Monday and Wednesday.  What was behind your decision to launch these shows?

Yup! And now a podcast! Now…I only need to start selling more comics, and we can finally buy that island in the middle of nowhere, and make comics all day! I decided to start a YouTube channel as a sort of Video Blog. Drawing and talking for myself. I slowly started to see a lot of people looking for tutorials and just wanting to talk about drawing and comics. That’s my big agenda with these shows. Just to get people talking about more about drawing and comics. The BEST part for me is the LIVE! shows I do on Ustream. When people come in and start asking questions about anything, I’m really appreciative about that. All in all, I’m trying to pay back what I’ve been told and learned from others. Trying to add more fruit to the community tree.

More recently, you’ve also began recording the weekly Sketchbook Podcast with Charlie Harper, which you mentioned above.  I’ve listened to every episode thus far and enjoyed it.  But, comparing this show to Scribbles, what are the differences between the two?  What do you feel a podcast can offer that a streaming video show can’t, and vice versa?

Well, both are done differently. With the LIVE show, people can come in off the streets so to speak. There is an immediate reaction that can happen. A podcast generally talks about a certain topic for 30 minutes to an hour. I find many people listen to podcasts while doing something else. House work, shopping, and maybe drawing. With streaming, most people come in to hang out. All in all, having your finger in as many pies helps. As freelancers and or independents, we are fighting a huge army up hill. Getting your word out there is a big deal.

We’re about ready to wrap this up, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know!  But before we do, do you want to tell us about any other projects you’re working on?  Your art duties on The Standard should take you through the summer, but do you have any plans lined up for after that?

Sure, I’m also working on a project with Jamie Gambell called The Hero Code. More details will be rolling out with that. I just recently released an artbook for sale through my website.  I posted on YouTube going from cover to cover (you can find that video here) so there’s no surprises for those interested. Everything else will roll out as it happens. I’m trying very hard to get some personal comics out there. I have a few in the works right now including a Mini-Comic and another story which should be finished by the end of the Summer as well (I hope!). Follow me on twitter (@artbyjar), or through my blog on my site for more updates.

Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Jon.  It was great talking to you!

It’s been great John, thanks for the interview!

The Art of Jonathan Rector is now available to buy from IndyPlanet.  To learn more about Jonathan Rector, visit his official website at www.jonathanrector.com.

2 Responses to “Drawing The Standard: An Interview With Jonathan Rector”

  1. […] on from a recent interview I conducted with Jonathan Rector, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the creative […]

  2. […] Drawing The Standard: An Interview With Jonathan Rector […]

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