Hmmm... I'm not sure where to start with this question, considering it has been around ten years since the time of starting Promethea. Basically I was working on a graphic novel called Son Of Superman at the time when I received a call from Scott Dunbier inquiring about my schedule. He was asking because I had been recommended to him By Todd Klein and Alex Ross for this new Alan Moore series titled Promethea. Of course I was thrilled to hear this. Scott quickly informed me that I was not their first choice because they had been looking for a more established artist that had a name known by the fans. At this time in my career I was not as well known as I am now. So I completely understood Wildstorm's position in wanting as high profile a talent as possible for Alan. However Scott said he had been convinced to give me a call. He asked if I could send along samples of work to him to forward to Alan. After looking at my examples, Alan told Scott that I was the right choice. Very exciting for someone like me during that time in my career. So when they officially offered me the project I thought about it for a few days and then agreed to take it on. The most gratifying compliment I received was about a year or so into the work, Scott Dunbier, the editor, said to me..."Jim, you know you were not my first choice for Promethea, but now I can't imagine anyone else drawing this project but you." That was such an amazing thing to hear, to have won him over so completely was very rewarding. It showed me that I was onto something unique with my work.
Early In the process, before Alan started writing, we had a few conversations on the phone about things we were both interested in and would like to see come out of the main concept. He asked a lot about subjects I was interested in and those sorts of things made their way into the details of the backgrounds and story points. As for the imaginative layouts, I drew the first issue based on his script details, which had a couple of interesting layout ideas. I took those and built a lot on top of this, after all, I was already into unorthodox page design by this point in my art, as seen here and there in previous projects. So I heavily expanded upon this and when Alan saw what I was doing it seemed to excite him. I remember us having a conversation about design specifically after the first issue was completed and told him I really want to push this design notion to further complexities. So from that point on he really started to gear the scripting more and more in that experimental direction in terms of the visual presentation. Over the course of the series he would put into the scripts all kinds of ideas, some I would use and some I wouldn't. Quite often I came up with things on my own. He always trusted me to do the right thing. The final result for the visual presentation of the page design layouts is about 50% my ideas and 50% Alan's. A true collaboration!
During the Qaballah Quest issues (13 - 22) I had told Alan I really wanted to take the experimentation even further by toying with the art styles themselves. We devised this idea because during the story the characters would travel from one different reality to another, from issue to issue. So it made perfect sense to communicate to the reader just how different each new world was by changing the look of the art dramatically to suit each new reality. Alan loved this idea for the visual context and we would have a conversation before he would write each of those issues, to figure out the art style it should be and then would write the script around that style. So everything was very cohesive. We were both so willing to take things as far to the edge as possible. To see just what was possible.
What kind of impact Promethea and working with Moore had on you as an artist and, in general, as an human being?
I'd say the most impact was the creative freedom I had. I was truly allowed to explore any artistic notion and this led to many discoveries on just what comics can do and what I could be capable of, particularly in something considered "mainstream superhero" comics. Before coming onto Promethea I was already getting experimentation into my work, but the creative freedoms that came with Promethea allowed me to explore this to a much fuller extent. It allowed me to show what I could do and what was possible for how a story can be told. Another way it was a learning experience for me was learning more about metaphysics. This was a subject that I was already interested before my work on Promethea. So the project was a natural fit for me and and allowed me to grow in those areas as well. Alan was definitely more thoughtful and knowledgeable than I was at the time. However, due to my prior interest in metaphysics, I was able to meet the challenges that the series was to bring head on. And basically I have continued with this ever since Promethea ended and apply this to many things in my life including all of my since.
Any "strange magical" anecdotes to share with us related to your long run on the series?
A couple things come to mind... when working on the abyss issue, where the characters have to cross a great dark divide in order to reach the highest forms of reality, they had to make it through a destroyed reality, Alan had called to warn me about possible physical dangers I might face while working on this issue. While he was writing this particular issue he had become very ill and became better upon completion of the script. He was convinced this was due to the thoughts on this negative reality becoming manifest physically. He actually experienced many of the sensations the characters did in the story. So he thought it best to warn me that strange things could occur while drawing. As I worked on the issue and got closer and closer to the middle of the issue where we show this black hole in the reality that leads to the inverse negative Tree Of Life, I began to not feel well and started having chest pains. The closer I got to drawing this black hole scene the worse my chest pain became, to such a degree I went to the emergency room to get looked at by a doctor. They ran an EKG test, among others, to see if maybe I was having a heart attack. After all of the tests were done the doctor couldn't find an explanation for what was occurring. During this time I had kept working on the issue. As I got past the drawing of the black hole scene and started to reach the end of the issue all of my chest pain and feeling bad went away without any further incident. When Mick was inking that issue I remember him saying that everyone in his house came down with the flu or cold virus or something. How's that for odd?
Working with Grant is always a pleasure. His stories are loaded with energy and one mad idea after another. His scripts are very surreal in a way. You have to kind of decipher them to get to the heart of it all. Quite an interesting challenge. He and I feel like we're on the same page in terms of how to tell stories. He is very open and gives me the freedom to do what I think needs to be done. I really enjoy Grant's surrealness. His ideas are always big and wild and mind bending. That is something I highly appreciate and I can grasp. Hopefully that shows in the work we've done together.
Working with Warren was challenging as well. Desolation Jones allowed me to explore different ways of storytelling much in the same way Promethea gave that freedom as well. Just in a completely different manner than Promethea, which was good to stretch my creative boundaries in new ways. Warren has this amazing way of telling a very darkly toned story that can point out the horrors of humanity without losing soul. There is always heart and soul in his grimmest work that shows you even more about being human than the horrific elements do.
You have worked both as a cover illustrator and a comic artist. What are the different challenges in those two different roles and how do you approach them? In particular, what is the process behind a cover illustration of yours?
Well the main difference with doing covers versus interior pages is that the cover doesn't always need to be story specific, and if you are going to do a story specific cover there are ways of designing it so it just isn't a giant story panel. There are a lot of covers that read as just a giant story panels to me and these are the least interesting to me. So my goal is to create covers that give the reader dynamic captivating imagery by using heavy design concepts instead that feature elements or ideas from the story. My process for this is very simple actually. I don't over think it and go with my initial idea. I approach covers ideas with an immediacy to design aspects in my thinking process. I know a lot of artists will do a few different sketch concepts for each cover before they choose what they are going to do. I will do that only once in a while. On most occasions, I will know what I want to do after thinking about it for a day or so and then do a very rough sketch for basic composition to show the editor. Once they approve the composition I will get started on the work based on any notes they may have. The end result needs to be a cover that can grab one's eye as they scan the shelves among the competition of other books.
Can you tell us anything about your creative process when you draw comics? How do you approach the pages? Your inking is very tight: do you lay down detailed pencils and then ink, or do you rely on the strength of your inking technique?
When I was penciling and working with an inker my pencils were pretty much as tight as finished inked work, but now that I do my own inking I don't do finished pencils at all. It is all sketched out using non photo blue pencil and pretty loose by my standards, so no traditional pencil work. A lot of details just won't be there because I know I can add that with ink. As an additional note: my page layout process is very similar to the way I approach covers, in that I don't over think what I'm going to do. I don't do any thumbnails, except for sometimes I will draw a little diagram of the rough panel shapes. So all of my design is on the board as I work. This gives me some flexibility to make changes if something isn't working the way I thought. It allows for the design process to be metamorphic and more spontaneous.
In this respect, you chose to ink your own work after collaborating with inkers. What were the reasons and what kind of improvement did inking your pencils bring to your pages?
The main reason I started to ink my own work was to expand my horizons creatively. It allows me to explore more variety of styles, to do things that are impossible to convey in just pencil form and expect an inker to translate things properly. This is the same reason for not doing full pencils anymore. It gives me freedom to change styles at will without worrying about it, giving my work a transformational aspect. I enjoy this greatly because I think I'm better able to convey what I think a panel, or scene, or sequence needs. I just couldn't grow as an artist being just a penciler, I was feeling limited. So that is why I've taken on so much more of the art chores. I'm doing this with color as well, to some degree, coloring certain panels, coloring my own covers and such. I feel I need to constantly expand my skills, to learn. By doing this, and thinking in this way, it opens up the possibilities of what I can try to achieve creatively.
How did you develop your style and its blend of photorealism tempered by a very graphic way of inking? Do you look at any other artist working in comic right now for inspiration?
I'd say that is my main style but currently don't feel limited to that and I think that shows in a lot of things I've done over the years. I'm not sure how the relatively realistic look developed other than trying to draw the things I see around me, from everyday life, applying that to telling comics stories. I think it helps to get the readers to believe in what they are reading, no matter how wild and crazy it might be when examined. I try my best not to be influenced by other artists, if possible. The only times I will let influence show is when I purposefully allow it because I'm really trying to gain a specific feel for a scene or character, and to learn something from that process as well. I also use that trick to pay tribute to different artists or art techniques or styles. But, even when I do that, I try to apply it to my way of thinking in terms of storytelling, such as layout and composition presentation, so I don't lose myself, so it has some of my signature storytelling tricks.
Do you feel like there are other people doing something similar to you? I mean, Sean Phillips, in a different context, seems to be working on a style which blends realism with a graphic approach. Anyone you feel in particular?
Yeah, I think there are quite a few artists, like myself, that come from a more realistic sense to the visuals. But each manage to make that idea uniquely their own. Besides Sean Phillips, there is Jae Lee, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Leonardo Manco to name just a few. However, I don't think that any of us are too similar, even though we come from similar modes of thinking in the way we approach drawing style.
How do you feel about Photoshop and technology applied to comics? Do you ever use the computer as help for your illustrations?
Phtotoshop is an amazing thing. It doesn't bother me at all that many artists that work in comics rely on digital techniques. There are quite a few that work completely digital. The only only real sad part of that is so much of the art does not exist physically for collector's. I try do most of my work physically on the board. I will use digital techniques for art changes if needed and for basic color work. But even with color I try to keep doing painting so my skills stay strong. But when doing painted work for covers or pages I will use Photoshop to enhance things if need be, alter textures or color adjustments, or for mixed media concepts.
Where do you feel your graphic style is going and where do you see yourself in 5 years time, say?
I really don't know. It's impossible for me to make such predictions because I like to keep myself open to new ideas. I'd say my main concern for the future is to keep growing creatively, to not limit myself in anyway, to keep true to fluid thinking. This is the main reason I've managed to do some of the things I have so far. I like challenges.
What can you reveal us about your upcoming comics projects or the things you are currently working on? Any Promethea-related? By the way, I loved your Jonah Hex’s issue, simply spectacular…
Oh, I'm glad you liked the Jonah Hex issue. That was extremely fun to do and would love to do more western themed comics in the future. I hope that opportunity arises someday. I'm currently working on Detective Comics with Greg Rucka, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein. Our run will be featuring Batwoman. I'll be doing that for awhile. Beyond that, I don't know yet. There are some creator owned things I'd like to do if the situation is right, we'll see. And for Promethea... There will be Absolute editions produced over then next couple of years. I'm contributing a lot of work towards those. Such as new covers, new design material, 32 new chapter head designs. The first volume won't have a lot in the way of extra material due to the page count but it will have an Afterword by my friend, Brad Meltzer. Volumes 2 and 3 will have lot's of fun things. Our goal is get everything Promethea in there. So we will have commission pieces and con sketches and stuff like that. It will be good stuff.
What’s your dream project in comics? Maybe you would like to write and draw your own graphic novel, wouldn’t you?
My dream project, or projects, are all creator owned concepts. I've been slowly working on a lot of things in the writing stages for a long time. I have an idea or two that I've been working on that I will be the artist for as well the writing. I also have concepts that I'd like to write for other artists, the way I did with the sorely missed Seth Fisher for Batman: Snow. Right now I'm in the middle of a second script draft to a 150 page graphic novel being written for Laurenn McCubbin. I'd really like to get my career moved into the direction of creating my own new material, but it's tricky getting publishers interested in my writing because they are so invested in my drawing, so it's a bit tough to get things going. Also, it has to be financially sound because I need to be able to make a living too.