That morning I awoke to the obligatory sunshine, which, as someone from the North of England will always attest, is something of a rarity in that neck of the woods (I can fully understand the melancholy mood of the Conan books set as they are in the fictitious mist shrouded hills of Cimmeria. Which is a funny thing to think of as I write these words as that morning I had turned on the TV in my hotel room to find myself watching the new Conan kids cartoon, which had not yet started to air in the UK by then.
I remember seeing how the US cartoons and in general TV shows differed I the way they were surrounded by the ads. Thinking the show had finished I had just gone to have a shower at what I thought was the end of the cartoon when low and behold back on it came, but only for the titles. Now here in the UK we have the titles following the epilogue of a show to tie up looses ends, so that when the break happens we see more adverts, but then the start of another show.
After Breakfast I returned once more to the office, with the infectious end soundtrack of Conan going through my mind. I was getting quite used to my working here by now. I sat at the board and began to finish off the War Dancer pages. They didn’t take long and were finished before Lunchtime. Janet had worked on some parts of the pages and it was my job to ghost her style so as to make anyone reading it believe one person had done the painting, that way there are no jarring effects to the storytelling.
Lunchtime came and this time the office was ordering from a deli, having had pizzas the day before. I remember receiving a wonderful Caesar salad and sitting out on the terrace with Greg, Grey, Janet and some of the other office staff.
I looked across at the Empire State Building as I ate my lunch and began to put it all into perspective…I was in New York living and working amongst other comic creators…I was eating my lunch on a terrace fourteen floors up in the shadow of one of the tallest and certainly most well known buildings in the world, working on comics…life didn’t get much better.
Six months earlier I had no idea I would be in the States working on some terrific new comic books for a new company formed by Jim Shooter and working with some of the best guys in the business.
During lunch the folks on the terrace asked all sorts of questions, about what I had worked on, my then young family, the UK and particularly the part of England I was from. I found out lots about them too, as I asked similar questions. Things were becoming much more relaxed for me, as I continued to settle into the groove that was the New York comic scene.
After lunch I left some of the guys on the terrace still discussing things and returned to the drawing board and Dark Dominion. Page two was the first sequential page and was the first to see Joe leaving out details, which we had already discussed and which I would paint in without any pencils. I was able to add more steam from the manhole cover in panel one, reflections to the windows, Times Square buildings, signage and folks passing by the windows, all fully realised in colour. This meant Joe and I had to work closely together on the pages with discussions as Joe pencilled the book, with me over looking his shoulder and getting Joe to leave out that detail and that one there, as he progressed on each page, until it became second nature to us both, with Joe knowing what to leave out and me knowing what to add.
It helped as well because before the pencils had begun there had been an inordinate amount of photographs of New York above and below ground taken. The ones underground in the well known under-city dwelling area frequented by an entire part of society in New York for real had been taken with special security along whilst the photos were taken, for fear of attack from the folks living below. It sound like something out of a film, but it was true.
The process Joe and I were using of us working very closely together brought to mind the way John Buscema, Ruby Nebres and Peter Ledger worked on the Warriors of the Shadow Realm books with writer Doug Moench in 1979 and here we were working in a similar vein and much different than the process of producing the artwork on the other books, which seemed, once the books were published, to be picked up by the fans, whose letters sang high praise of the unique look we were achieving.
I have recently looked at the originals and compared this particular page to the comic and have found the printing to be a little off. Quite a bit of the detail has been lost on the page, but then the technology we are using nowadays is so much more superior that I sometimes forget we are quite spoilt in the reproduction values we get back now.
That said the look of the book was totally different and back then it just looked so significantly different that folks seemed to latch onto the book. It was helped enormously by the inking of Mike Barreiro, Bob Downs, and Charles Yoakum the latter two of whom, as time went on, became great company to me, when burning the mid-night oil again and again. It also helped that the story was written by the legendary Len Wein (of whom I will speak in a later Blog in this series) and brilliantly lettered by George Roberts, whose mannerisms and speech always reminded me of Huggy Bear of Starsky and Hutch fame.
Below: Page two of Dark Dominion Issue one:
As the afternoon closed on the office I rang home and spoke to Margaret and the children again, wishing them a goodnight, before their Mum tucked them in. I finished the page and was joined by Janet and Joe, pretty much as I was doing so and they said they were going to take me down to the South Street Sea Port for a meal at one of the nearby restaurants.
By the time we arrived having gone via a couple of shops on the way, before catching a ride in a cab, my first ride of any distance in one, the light from the sun was dimming a little as it began to sink beneath the horizon. A myriad little white lights twinkled and reflected off the water of the Hudson River as it lapped against the moorings and water’s edge. We stood on the jetty and stared out across the river somewhere over there was the UK and home.
It was a beautiful balmy evening and we sat down to eat in a fantastic nearby Japanese restaurant. I had never had Japanese food, but I have always loved trying anything, so I was keen to go along when they asked if I like their food.
The restaurant was beautifully decorated in traditional Japanese designs and sculptures. There was a lot of black I remember and we sat below the table in little recessed trench like seats, having taken our shoes off at the entrance.
What was served amazed me. I had become accustomed in my short stay in New York to the large servings of everything, but the starter was humongous and had just about every type of sushi going.
It was finger food, so there was no problem, but then it came time for the main courses and of course the traditional and obligatory chop sticks…and I had ordered Teriyaki Chicken and Boiled Rice…what was I thinking?
I guess that was one way to learn fast, how to use them, as I realised both Joe and Janet could use them and despite the fact the starters had been a large portion I was looking at crumbs, so to speak, if I didn’t get my act together and quick.
Joe and Janet persevered with me until I was quite the oriental whiz kid with them and was not only able to eat the chicken, but also the rice, and not a grain at a time, as I had been trying to do. By the time we had all stopped laughing at my efforts, the remaining food was cold, but still delicious.
We walked a little to walk off the enormous oriental meal, before catching a cab back to the hotel where Joe and Janet then went their separate ways into the New York night and I returned to my hotel room.
Below: South Street Sea Port at night:It had been another great day and I realised there was one full day tomorrow, before I would be flying back to the UK once more. I was preparing for a rather busy return too, with me attending UKCAC 93 (UK Comic Art Convention) in London over the weekend and going on holiday with Margaret and the kids from Monday onwards for a week in a little cottage in North Wales.
I read a couple of comic books I had bought, watched a little TV and then retired to bed. I wondered what tomorrow would bring and felt extremely lucky that I had been able to work here in New York, just like I had dreamed of doing so many years ago, when I was a young boy, when I first realised I wanted to be a comic artist.
Joe had mentioned about going into the village again tomorrow to check out some more comic books and a place near the Empire State Building called Jim Hanley’s.
But I’ll share that in my next Blog.
Until next time have fun!
May 18th 2009