The collected edition of That Hellbound Train came out a couple weeks ago. Added to the book are numerous pages of sketches that show my process in creating both the cover for issue 1, as well as some of the interior story pages. I wrote this text originally to accompany those pages. It wasn't included in the book, but I took the time to write it, so I thought I would go ahead and share it:
This is the story of how I draw the pages. Wait, where are you going? No, it's interesting, really. Really? Maybe not. Let's find out together!
First thing's first: research! Ugh, sounds terrible. But actually, it's kind of fascinating. Although it can be time consuming. That Hellbound Train is a period piece, spanning several decades from the Depression-era thirties up to the swinging sixties. Such a period piece, especially one that spans such a large amount of time, requires lots of homework. This is when I get down on my knees and thank the gods of technology for the internet. The magical World Wide Web can be a serious time waster, but in this instance it really streamlines the process. As long as you know how to use it. Every visual aspect of this story had to be researched: clothing, hairstyles, furniture, buildings, automobiles, props, interiors, exteriors, a couple historical figures and, of course, the trains. There are various photo galleries online, and especially for the 1930-40s material, the Library of Congress, (yes, your government) has an amazing array of photographs from all kinds of aspects of everyday life. Even when I'm not working, I just like to look at the stuff.
Next comes the part where I actually start to put together the pages. I sketch rough thumbnail layouts in the computer. I basically am just trying to get a general idea of the panel layouts, blocking and story flow. I set this in the background on a very light opacity, create a new layer and proceed to sketch a more detailed page, all still on the computer. This is where the research comes into play, as well as occasionally some photographs of yours truly taken to portray certain body movements or facial expressions accurately. This phase usually ends up looking like loose pencils, even though I don't actually touch pencil to paper. I print this file out in blue line directly onto the art board, then ink right over it. A lot of the 'drawing', all of the detail work and shading comes in at this stage of the game. When finished, I scan the page back into the computer, I drop out the blue lines, tweak the levels, and my work is done. The pages are sent off for approval and on to the colorist.
That's it for the process. As for my goals, I wanted to convey a classic kind of horror vibe. Something you might see in an old EC comic, or one of the old black and white horror mags of the seventies. It was important to really nail the day to day life, the realism of the characters and setting, so that when the supernatural stuff happens you know it really means something. For me, horror works best when rooted in the real world, when even the most supernatural elements resemble the world we live in, but are askew just enough to make us uncomfortable. Hopefully, that's what I've accomplished here. That's for you to judge.
By the way, there's a reason why you're scratching your head asking "who the hell is this guy?" This is my first work for a larger comic book publisher. It's been a wonderful experience and I hope the guys here at IDW like me enough to offer some more work down the road. Big thanks to our colorist Alfredo for putting up with my notes and bringing the pages to life, to EIC Chris Ryall for taking a chance on me, and the mighty Bobby Curnow, my editor, for spotting my work at San Diego Comicon and for being awesome to work with. Now let's all go to hell.