Empress #1, the newest Millarworld series, premieres this week at comic stores everywhere and on digital platforms like Comixology. It tells the story of Emporia the wife of a high-tech dictator in Earth's ancient past who's fleeing her husband in order to protect their children and escape the violence of his reign. We've had a chance to take a look at the first two issues and they are a splendid combination of a new, beautifully presented science fiction universe, stunning action sequences, and compelling family drama striking at universal themes. That's no surprise coming from this creative team though.
Every person contributing to Empress is a modern comics all-star, and we had the opportunity to speak to each of them at ComicBook.Com. Follow along as we ask 10 questions to everyone who helped make this stunning new debut what it was, finding out how it came to be and what to expect next.
Wade von Grawbadger - Inker
1. Would you care to provide some insight into your process of inking on Empress #1 and how you approach a freshly pencilled page?
Wade von Grawbadger: Well, each project is different so the approach is usually modified somewhat from the last project. In this case, Stuart was going with some specific influences for a look he wanted. He was interested in moving away from the dense, cross-hatch heavy line work that we had done on the previous project and into something more open and actually more Asain influenced. Not that it should look like traditional manga or anything to that extreme but that it should include some of that style's sensibilities; specifically more delicate line work which would include a more subtle transition of lines from figure and object contours to interior line work.
2. You've worked with a wide variety of artists each with their own styles. You and Stuart have worked together for some time over a variety of projects. How has your collaboration developed over that time?
von Grawbadger: If a penciler and inker work together enough you hopefully get an understanding of what the ultimate desired look is for the finished project. I say hopefully because this doesn't always happen. The main component for me is time. Stuart and I have worked together so long that I have the basic idea of what he wants but the exciting thing about working with him is he is a perfectionist and changes his approach often from project to project which keeps me on my toes. It's always recognizable as Stuart, but there is a twist as in the example I gave in the last question about the approach to Empress.
3. In preparing to help tell this epic, science-fiction, family drama, were there any sources of inspiration or guidance you sought out?
von Grawbadger: Since my contribution is mostly subtle and more technical than narrative, my influences tended to be the same. As I mentioned in a previous question, we were focusing on more open art style that allowed us to be expressive in a way subtly different than in previous projects. To that end, one of main sources for inspiration was Lampo by Ueyama Tetsuro. I've learned a lot about the delicacy of line work from it.
4. Empress is a series based in an immersive world packed with detailed characters and settings. Inks can help make certain details stand out. What did you find that caught your eye and the attention of your pen?
von Grawbadger: As with a lot of the projects that we work on, it's the depth of field that Stuart portrays that usually strike me first. The expansive auditorium at the beginning of issue one, the hanger the ship is landing in toward the end of the same issue. Such depth and a real sense of the immensity of the area. I love that stuff! There's a shot at the beginning of issue two(teaser!) with the reader looking down on a crowded street bustling with tourists and markets in a down pour that I just loved working on. There's a great amount of detail and it just sets up the scene perfectly!
5. That immersive quality also lends a lot of depth to the world with wide open vistas of space and jam-packed urban markets as just two examples in the first couple of issues. How do you approach those big, splash images to ensure readers can take it all in?
von Grawbadger: With the 'wide open vistas of space' it depends on the focus of the panel. If it's a ship sitting static in space, the ship is rendered in tight detail but the stars and space might play a bigger role so a nebula, for example, may be present in the background to convey the just how far out into space and away from everything they are. If there is a battle scene, the stars may be more generic so that you focus on the action at hand without getting taken out of the environment.
With the intensely detailed crowd scenes it's all about cleanly giving all the information with very subtle distinctions between planes. As a reader and budding artist growing up, I always loves those kinds of scenes and poured over each detail to see every little character and what they were up to.
6. A lot of the drama and comedy in Empress rests in the humanity of the main characters and their "acting". How do you ensure something subtle like a smirk or raised eyebrow is clear to readers?
von Grawbadger: We have a process where Stuart and I will go over the inks after the initial draft is completed. There are times when I've approached something a certain way that isn't quite getting the job done and we'll change it then. Other times, after seeing it inked, Stuart will decide he should have done something differently and we make alterations. Either way, we just want the best we can do to be what the reader sees.
7. Every collaboration and story is a chance to grow as an artist. What lessons have you taken away from your work on Empress so far?
von Grawbadger: Empress has definitely given me the opportunity to really study more Asain inspired art. It had been a while since I really took a meticulous look some of that stuff and it really helped to get me on track for what we were trying to do here.
8. Speaking of lessons learned, what have been some of the most unique or challenging factors you have encountered in inking the story?
von Grawbadger: In my case, it's all about the approach of the inks in this book. Having been doing this as long as I have, I have developed a default to which I always start from and work from there. This approach to Empress is counter to some of what my default settings are and I had to keep reminding myself not to fall back on the old way of doing it. For example, I'm more used to making the distinctions between planes more obvious. A thicker line weight on a character or object in the foreground to break them away from the background. The approach we're taking doesn't call for that and in the beginning of the series, I would catch myself drifting into thicker lines or Stuart would spot it during our draft critiques, and I'd have to reign myself in a bit. It wasn't anything too egregious, but it would happen. I think I have it under control now(crosses fingers).
9. What components of this story, specifically your own contributions, are you most anticipating having readers finally see and respond to now that the series is being released?
von Grawbadger: Wow, how to answer that? I'm eager for the readers to see the new (for us anyway) approach and see what they think. With social media, I wont have to wait long. Though the art is still done on boards old school style, I used more digital effects to compliment it than I have on books previously. Though if I did my job right, the reader wont notice and respond to that specifically. So I guess I'm eager to see what they didn't notice as much as what they did and enjoyed.
10. Last thing, would you mind sharing one particular panel or sequence from Empress #1 with our readers that you enjoyed working on and what you think it displays about your work on the series?
von Grawbadger: I guess it will be pretty obvious when seen by everyone but it's hard not to love the double page splash(Pg 6-7) with the Dino-rider, as a fan myself! As far as what I think displays my work....page two in the auditorium was fun; not a lot of textures but a lot of detail. To be honest though, I think it's going to be the breadth and scope of Empress as opposed to a single image or page that grabs reader.
Empress is available April 6, 2016 from physical and digital retailers of comics.
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