Sunday, July 02, 2006

INTERVIEW: Dustin Nguyen

An Edco Exclusive!! Dustin Nguyen rocks the comics page with a crisp and delicate line. From small time showcases like WildStorm's Jet to a spotlight run on DC's Batman, Nguyen pounds out the pages with a distinctive style that's caught many a reader's eye. His growing body of work also includes defining issues of Wildcats 3.0 and The Authority that let him cut loose with blockbuster action and tight character drama. It's my personal opinion that he also draws really hot women.

With his first original creative effort on the shelves -- Manifest Eternity-- Dustin offers thoughts about his new book and the work that goes into it.

EDCO: Manifest Eternity #1 is out on shelves now. The story sets the stage for a violent conflict between two core sensibilities, science and magic. The premise is ripe for telling with an opportunity for keen visuals, but give us the scoop on what the book is really about from the creator's view.

DN: For me, it's really about, not the merging of sci-fi and science, but the separation of the two. How one can be completely organic compared to the hard-edged, constructed world of the other. And with that, not just visually, but also story wise as Scott (Lobdell) has done it. We get to create this entire new galaxy of characters, and also those in the magical realm... and...Basically, it comes down to getting to draw cool ships and hot fairies, haH!

EDCO: Until now you've been in the vast throng of work-for-hire artists on both major and minor titles. Where did the itch originate for doing something of your own? How did the project solidify from an idea to a scheduled book?

DN: Ever since I’ve know Scott, we've always toyed with the idea of doing something in this genre. And only in this genre I think, would I even be allowed schedule/art-wise to do what I do in the style that I chose for the book. I love being able to keep my versatility and when given the chance to jump around on different books, this was one of the best opportunities to try out something new. I know sure as hell I wouldn’t be allowed to pull this stuff on a mainstream you know?

EDCO: You're pulling some major art chores, but more on that in a bit. First, from a storytelling perspective, what have you laid out for the book, and what is writer Scott Lobdell bringing to the page? How did he get involved?

DN: Scott's pretty much the main idea house behind the book, I come up with characters I think will make his ideas come to life better. Though the book is creator owned, the great thing is that it's still done thru Wildstorm and with it, we have the editing knowledge and know how of my Wildcats and Authority editor Ben Abernathy. He really brings it all together at the end of the day, and he has about as much input into the book as me. The guy can actually explain why space ships don’t need wings and the ones that enter atmosphere do... what a nerd.

EDCO: What are some of the storytelling influences that are helping you bring this world into view? What about artistic influences specific to Manifest Eternity? (Dare I say I see some Shirow lurking about?)

DN: Storytelling wise, I’m just really going with what I’ve known and used in the past, maybe something new, maybe something different, but its the same pacing and panel work I’ve always done. I think that’s the one part of me I can’t really change or want to. There might be some accuracies where Scott will want things a certain way for dramatic of theatrical value, and I'm happy to incorporate that. It's really fun since he's got all these crazy ideas and I get to translate them to picture, the times it works, it's awesome!

I get mentioned about Shirow a lot, but I’m actually more towards the Terada end. Last thing I saw of shirow was the original ghost in the shell movie which kicked ass. Maybe it's still in me consciously. With the MAIN storyline though, I lean towards using ROBOTECH as a reference a lot. With its cast of characters that are related and their kids and such. The Max/Miriam/Dana Sterling family was my favorite. Also the rebels in the 3rd generation. But anyway.

EDCO: The art in the book I would describe as dark, but lush. There is a careful gathering of rendering styles mixed with specific color palettes. Is there any pen reaching paper for this project or is it entirely digital?

DN: Artistically, I’ve been very influenced by the likes of the animations I’ve watched over the past few years. I am nowhere near a real comicbook colorist, so I do my best when going thru sequentials. There’s a huge difference between coloring a cover or a pinup, and coloring pages panel by panel. I got a lot of tips and tricks/ advice from some of the WSFX coloring gurus Randy Mayor and Adam Archer as well as Jami Noguchi from Udon (had to give credit to those guys in here somewhere!) to help me make the art flow from page to page.

I went for more environmental/event lighting and atmosphere than I did on individual characters and such. Most of the time, I am trying to bring the characters more together in a shot than make then stand out unless they needed to. I also went for sort of a dreamy eerie feel. Sometimes it works, not always. haha. Issue 1 I REALLY messed up; I accidentally colored the entire thing in RGB... then at the end had to convert to 4 colors and redo a lot of it... the rookie colorist in me.

For this particular book, I was really inspired by Disney’s ATANTIS and TREASURE PLANET. Mainly treasure plant with the atmospheric feel in every panel, the 70/30 ratio design principle of old/ new in the design of the visuals. I tried my best to keep the formula going, but I strayed a lot. In the end, I figured whatever was fun, works.

EDCO: You've mentioned before about incorporating 3D work into your 2D pages. Traditionally this is a difficult process for artists to integrate. Some of the set pieces in ME are certainly on the fantastic side, one can only wonder which were built and rendered in 3D. But they fit extremely well, what is the method here? Any fancy sketch filters applied to your renders, or perhaps just lots of Photoshop?

DN: For issues 1 and 4 which take place in the more shiny, well polished end of the timeline, I used a little 3d to help keep it well constructed and... Well, shiny. haha. For the rest, I gave it more of a natural, off grid/proportioning to keep it different. I still use 3D the same way I did for the early WC3.0, issues where I build models for reference and complicated angles and repetitive use. Eventually, I transfer the wireframe to pencil lines by hand (tracer!) so that it doesn’t distract from the normal linework, then I color it in photoshop. I rarely even use the actual models on the actual page and I cant render for crap.

Most of this is only when time permits. Building a 3D model of something that will only be seen once is really not worth the numbers of hours to build it. Not for me at least. The big ship in the first issue's spread was actually the pencil/concept art for the ship I wanted to build in 3d, but I never got around to making it, so I just cleaned up the linework gave it a slick paintjob. You can tell you...if you look closely... the construction of it is soooo off.

EDCO: When you are responsible for the entire delivered page from pencils to colors, how does that affect your workflow? Do you still approach it traditionally one step at a time, or do you like to get a sequence or page complete before moving on?

DN: Doing all the art myself has made me REALLY appreciate my past team of inkers and colorists, and production crew. Though I try to approach it traditionally, I always stray and sometimes for the bad. And in the end, who has to pick up the slack for the penciller's sloppiness? Me :(

EDCO: What is the Dustin Nguyen "stamp" on Manifest Eternity? That is, what is the artist signature that you'd like to associate with the book that separates it from past works like your recent runs on The Authority and Batman?

DN: Hopefully, I’d like to have Manifest Eternity look NOTHING like my work on Authority and Batman. The book is in different genre and I’d like it to feel that way as well.

EDCO: What is the final goal for Manifest Eternity? A collected edition, offshoot miniseries? Is the world something you want to come back to every few years or is it just a story you need to tell for now?

DN: I’d really love for Manifest Eternity to just keep going if possible, but if not, we can visit it every once in a while. The great thing is that it's ours and we can do whatever we want with it. Scott's got TONS of stories, characters we want to introduce, worlds we want to visit.

EDCO: Okay... Batwoman. Spill it. Just give me something!

DN: Batwoman? thats crazy talk.
hehe, thanks Ed.

And thanks to you, Dus! Be sure to pick up Manifest Eternity, published by WildStorm! And if you're inclined, stop by Dustin Nguyen's Blog.

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