Talking Comics with Tim | Steve Ellis
All this month, the creative team of High Moon has been celebrating its third anniversary of entertaining folks. Robot 666 is joining in the celebratory fun today by interviewing artist Steve Ellis. In this email info exchange we delve into the series moving away from ZUDA and growing its audiences through different digital platforms. While he was unable to go into details, I think fans of High Moon will be happy to learn there will some more Western horror in the High Moon creative team’s future.
If you’ve not read High Moon, at their blog the creators posted where to find High Moon: “The first three chapters of High Moon were collected last October by DC Comics. You can order the print collection through your local area comic book shop, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Borders.
The entire series is also available digitally through Comixology’ Comics or DC Comics apps for the iPhone and iPad Operating System. You can also download the issues from here – and read them on your computer or import them them into your ipad or iphone. The first issue is free — and every additional issue is just 99 cents!
And finally, for those of you savvy comic reading gamers our there — HIGH MOON is also available through the DIGITAL COMICS store on the Playstation Network for your PSP.”
Added bonus at the end of this interview, instead of answering a question, Ellis asks the readers a question.
Tim O’Shea: This month marks the third anniversary of High Moon. Looking back at the past three years, what have been some of the high points for you?
Steve Ellis: The first high point was meeting David at NYCC and starting the whole process of collaboration and building the working friendship that we’ve built. The rewards of working in comics come in different forms, but the collaborative process is one of the greatest parts of it.
Other highlights include winning the first competition, which while everyone else seems to say was a foregone conclusion didn’t feel that way while we wee in the thick of it. The third major high point is getting to know the fans, building a visual style all my own and really finding an audience that responds to that vision.
Last but not least, being nominated and winning the Harvey Awards. There is nothing more flattering than to be acknowledged by your peers for the work you’ve been dong. So often comic artists work in a vacuum, only interacting with the biz on Wednesday when you go to the shop. Having your work chosen for an award by your peers is an excellent reward, and makes all the studio work even more worthwhile.
O’Shea: How daunting is it for the series to be moving on, with the end of ZUDA as an entity?
Ellis: I don’t know if I would describe it as daunting, it’s really exciting. Watching how well High Moon has done with the new audiences it’s found on the iPhone and PSP has given me more belief in the digital format these digital format and that when we come back with the new material we’ll have an even bigger audience waiting for it. I will miss Zuda for its community of fans though. I think that was one of the highlights of that format. The direct interaction with the fans. It seemed that every day people were coming to the site, reading and commenting and having conversations about the story points, giving their opinions on the weekly events in the comic and really being a part of the series. I think Zuda fostered a wonderful group of fans and contributors and I think in some ways the comics industry is a bit less for its end.
O’Shea: Did you know Drawbridge was going to post some interpretations of the HIGH MOON characters or was that a complete surprise?
Ellis: That was truly awesome. Simon Fraser, who arranges the drawbridge blog, dropped it on me the day they were going to do that as the topic. They put out a new topic everyday on Drawbridge and most days I can’t get my head together to do a piece for it. By the time I figure out a piece I want to do, it’s already the next day. So when Simon told me they were doing High Moon, I found out that morning. It was all I could do to get a piece in there. I have a couple of Drawbridge sketches sitting in my drawer because I was too busy to get them done.
The Drawbridge guys and girls are a fantastic bunch of creators, and it’s really an honor that they’ve asked me to contribute.
O’Shea: What else are you working on?
Ellis: Well, David, Scott and I are still producing the thriller comic, BOX 13, and after some interesting meetings we had at NYCC 20, it seems we’re going to have a lot of new and interesting projects with High Moon coming up.
Plus, there looks like there will some more Western horror in our future very soon.
O’Shea: In a recent tweet of yours, you acknowledged that films sometimes serve as inspiration for your comics. What films influenced High Moon?
Ellis: Oh wow … the first season of High Moon was influenced by Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Films like The Good, the Bad & The Ugly, High Plains Drifter, The Italian version of Django is also great visual influence on High Moon especially for Mac’s tartan. The widescreen format of High Moon was made for the western. You can get those nice long “pans” across that mimic those long epic shots in Leone films. Not to use pretentious film words, but with High Moon I really tried to keep the same sense of mise en scène from the Leone world.
As the comics have been moving forward, Conroy has moved across the ocean to Victorian England and new influences have come in to play. For visual style I’ve been looking at films like the recent Frankenstein (by Kenneth Branagh, not my favorite film, but the set designs are great), as well as The Prestige, From Hell and other films of that era.
Strangely enough, I haven’t really delved into many monster films for this one, mostly because I don’t want my monsters to be too influenced by other peoples work.
O’Shea: In what ways have you and collaborator David Gallaher helped each other to evolve/improve as storytellers?
Ellis: David and I have spent countless hours sitting in my studio, or in the local coffee shops going over our projects panel-by-panel, page-to-page. It’s a very different work relationship than the traditional comic model. We both have a lot of say in what the other guy is doing. David will sometimes have a very specific vision for how he wants a scene to visually play out and I will have changes or additions to story points and storytelling.
I’ve really learned a lot about story structure and developing character and putting characters through their paces. When we begin working we tend to start with a solid outline, but as the story builds and as we develop pages and the drawing/writing process has begun, there is a lot of back and forth, and frequently the stories take on a life of their own. The final product still has the themes and high points of the outline but the details have often changed somewhat. Usually, when I’m done with a season, I have to immediately go back and read it again because I feel like every season is a journey and by the time I’ve gotten to the end I’ve forgotten where I began.
O’Shea: How has the 31 Days of High Moon gone so far?
Ellis: It’s been great, we’ve been talking to a lot of fans and putting up new art and things from the series and the repines has been fantastic. It’s great to see the outpouring of support we’ve gotten for the book and the continuation of the series.
O’Shea: Were you able to generate a great deal of interest and fun with the High Moon print you all offered at NYCC?
Ellis: The print was a great success. Every one who saw it was really excited about it. I haven’t worked on High Moon in a while, so pulling out The High Moon color palette and going crazy with the ink was great fun. I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into the next storyline.
O’Shea: When did you first realize how much enjoyment you got out of drawing monsters (as evidenced by High Moon, as well as your How-To book, Scream)?
Ellis: I’ve always been the “scary” kid, though, I think I really figured out that I was good at drawing monsters when I started working for White Wolf games on their Vampire the Masquerade line.
Monsters are just a blast to draw. I went to the morgue and studied anatomy in college and would come home after drawing cadavers and twist the anatomy into weird freaks of nature in my sketchbooks. Also, I love to look through books of animals and those crazy deep-sea creatures for inspiration. There’s nothing like big teeth, claws, fangs and weird anatomy to excite the imagination.
Monsters have always been a great way to deal with often real issues in a fun, scary, but not “real” way. I think Monsters often personify something we don’t like about ourselves or the world around us and play on our primal instincts. In movies and comics in the past monsters have been used as metaphors for social issues and personal fears. Just look at the way George Romero uses zombies to deal with race, religion and consumerism. The Werewolves in High Moon represent different things to the different characters that interact with or are them. For Mac, the Werewolf inside him represents his fear of losing control, whereas Conroy is more at home with his monster within. He accepts it and uses it, rather than trying to suppress it. For Bell, the monster he becomes is a dark reflection of his gentlemanly self.
Writing and illustrating Scream: Draw Classic Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, Monsters and More, was a fantastic way to share my love of monsters with students who like to draw. Drawing monsters well can be tough, because you need to be able to draw the real world and represent that well enough so that when you twist the world into a monster, its still as realistic and well drawn as when you draw “real life” things.
O’Shea: You’ve been answering all these questions, now you get a chance: What would you like to ask your fans?
Ellis: I want to do a special High Moon piece for the end of the month; so, I guess I’d like to ask them what monster they want Conroy to be confronting on that piece.
Also, I’d like to thank all the fans of High Moon who supported us through the competition and really became a part of what made High Moon great for us and to let them know that more is coming.