A Comic Artist’s Journey From Heroes To Villains – David Rubin On Sherlock Frankenstein
by Hannah Means Shannon
This week, a new series kicks off at Dark Horse that’s set within the Eisner-award-winning Black Hammer universe created by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston. This series is written by Lemire but drawn by David Rubin (The Hero, Ether), and follows the life and times of one of Black Hammer’s villains, Sherlock Frankenstein. It seems he holds the secret to many mysteries, if only Black Hammer’s daughter, Lucy Weber, can track down the villain and get him to talk.
If you’ve seen Rubin’s work as an artist before, there’s no further sell necessary. He captures mood and atmosphere in his line work that’s remarkably sensitive and subtle, and yet his work also seems infused with an irreverent sense of humor that can shift seamlessly into deeper emotion and out again at the service of the story being told.
David Rubin joins us here today on Comicon.com to talk about his work on the new series Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil.
HMS: Do you see a difference in style demands between illustration and comics? We’re entering a period in American comics where people are finally starting to realize that comics can be drawn in any art style and about any subject, but did you experience any constraints in the past or when making decisions about your own art style as a cartoonist?
David Rubin: Illustration and comics are two distinct disciplines for me, and I try to approach them differently, when I can, but they do have points in common, which I try to unite through my art style.
I see comics as a narrative medium, while illustration is more of single image where someone can spend more time looking at the details of the art. The language of comics seeks sort of the opposite goal; there’s a story and it moves forward, and the reader does not stop to focus on a single illusion in a panel as much–at least in the first reading experience. I slightly reduce the level of details in the interior pages of a comic book so that the reader can move forward more easily.
Our job as artists lies not just in the drawing, but in the skill necessary to help move the story forward through the art.
HMS: I’ve read your amazing two-volume book The Hero, which seemed immense in scope to me, really grappling with the idea of mythology and with who a protagonist is within a story. What made you tackle the subject of Hercules, and how did you find your way through such a big project?
DR: I’ll be honest; in 2009, when I started to write The Hero, I thought it would be my last comic. I had been publishing for years and I could not earn enough money to live off of the books I made.
With that in mind, I tried to put everything into that book, since I thought it would be my last. I wanted to make it a modern graphic novel, full of energy.
I wanted it to be an ode to the superhero genre and show it as one of the best genres that exists in the medium of comics. I also wanted to mix in the three great influences on my own work: Western superhero comics, the European science fiction bande dessinée, and Japanese manga.
Luckily, thanks to this book, sales began to rise and offers began to come knocking at my door, and, as a result, I can live exclusively by creating comics now.
HMS: Ether is a really magical book in many ways, beautiful, funny, irreverent, harsh at times. Even though we’re dealing with fantasy, there’s a realism to the emotions in the characters you depict (whether human or not) that is very powerful. Did you have any favorite characters to draw in that comic so far, or favorite scenes?
DR: Thanks for your kind words! Ether is the perfect vehicle for me to get to do everything that I love and want to do in comics. Every single script that Matt Kindt sends me is full of new ways to approach the characters and the scenes, new environments, and landscapes, and new challenges for me as an artist.
I love to work in that world and with the funny and complex characters in it. I love the mix of crazy and kinetic action scenes.
And, of course, my favorite character to draw is Glum!
[Glum (left) and Boone Dias (right) in Ether by Kindt and Rubin]
HMS: Can you tell us a little about what tools you use to create your linework and colors on your projects? Also, could you talk about your use of color, and how you make decisions on color based on story?
DR: I was usually work pencil and ink on paper and then I do the colors on a computer—I did this with the first Black Hammer one-shot.
Sherlock Frankenstein is the first comic I did completely digitally, from the roughs to the final colors, and I think that helped me grow as an artist.
I’m working right now with a digital tablet and it gives me a lot of control and freedom. I can’t wait to show you some of the new pages in the second arc of Ether which are digital, unlike arc 1. They’ll be fun to compare.
Color is an element that’s very important to me. I try to use color in a narrative way; color can show time passing on a page, it can add intensity to emotions within the characters, and all kinds of other wonderful things.
HMS: Finally, getting into Sherlock Frankenstein territory, it seems strangely well-rounded that having spent a lot of time studying heroes, you’re now approaching a villain as the focus of a series. How did you develop the look and mood of Sherlock’s appearance and wardrobe?
DR: Sherlock’s character design had actually already been created by the great Dean Ormston, not by me. I designed a few other villains like the new Cthu-lou and Cthu-Louise, but not Sherlock.
I love Dean’s design for Sherlock and I tried to be faithful to that character design when I had to draw him across different time periods from the Victorian era to 2017. I did feel free to change a little bit about Sherlock’s look here or there in those different time periods. It was really a lot of fun.
HMS: You also get a chance to draw a lot of classic-style heroes in Sherlock Frankenstein, particularly in flashbacks about Spiral City, with a sense of energy that infused early superhero comics. Is this new territory for you as an artist, working with comics history as well as story?
DR: I love the superhero genre, and I really love old-school superheroes.
I’m a big fan of the superhero comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages. Golden Age too, for sure, but I really love Silver and Bronze–there are so many crazy ideas from those eras!
I know the genre very well because I’m such a big fan and I love it, and it was really fun working with those kinds of characters and old-school styles.
Big thanks to David Rubin for taking part in this interview!
Make sure to check out Sherlock Frankenstein #1 when it lands in comic shops this Wednesday, October 18th, 2017.