Talking Comics with Tim | Jon Proctor on ‘Binary’
In 1987, writer Christopher Hinz released Liege-Killer, the first novel in his “Paratwa Trilogy,” although longtime comics readers may remember him for his work on the mid-’90s DC Comics/Helix series Gemini Blood. Now, more than 25 years later, Hinz has adapted Liege-Killer for comics, collaborating with artist Jon Proctor on the new graphic novel Binary, published by Ilfeld Comics.
To learn more about the project, I asked Proctor a handful of questions about Binary and working with Hinz.
Tim O’Shea: What was it about Christopher Hinz’s script that attracted you to Binary?
Jon Proctor: Binary is a graphic novel adaptation of Christopher’s novel Liege-Killer, which was first published in 1987. It went on to win the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel and earned a nomination for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It had a cult following for years, and even though I was unaware of the original novel I was familiar with a nine-issue miniseries Christopher did for DC comics short-lived, science fiction and science fantasy imprint called Helix. The comic, titled Gemini Blood, had similar themes to the Binary/Liege-Killer universe. Incidentally, it was also drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards, and I’ve always been a huge fan of his artwork. Stuart Moore edited the Helix mini, and he and I have been partners in crime for years. He thought I might be a good fit so he approached me with the idea for Binary. Committing to a 125-page full-color book where the entire production sits squarely on my shoulders was a little nerve-wracking, but the script hooked me on the first page. In other words, Christopher is a really talented writer! The science fiction aspect was one thing that attracted me to it but within the layering of the characters was something different and fascinating. For one thing, the idea that the main villain in the book consists of two assassins that share a soul was really something I thought would be great fun as well as a visual challenge to pull off, and it was! The script was just really fresh and the world it portrayed was enormous. I did a few pages as a try out for Christopher and our producer Etan Ilfeld, and thankfully they chose me to do the book.
When you delve into creating the visuals for what, in essence, is a new set of characters with the cast of Binary, how do you approach the process?
I suppose at first it was based on an amalgamation of all of my favorite science fiction characters. The look of movies like Blade Runner, Alien and Dune, to list a few, really factored into my thought process. Probably because I’m a child of the 1980s, and movies like that made such an impression on my young mind that I wanted the book to feel like a bit of a throwback mixed with a thorough attempt at a modern original touch. Christopher had fairly specific ideas as to what the wardrobes of the individual characters were to be but everyone involved also gave me a lot of leeway to go any direction I thought might work in a different direction. Things that I felt worked better visually or changes I made in the original script in the vein of clearer storytelling were few and far between but were considered thoughtfully as we went along throughout the process.
Again, on the design front, some of these characters have some unique powers. How challenging is it to decide on the best, most engaging way to convey that?
Jeez. Good question. It’s always difficult to convey the energy of those unique powers in two dimensions when special effects nowadays are so spectacular that when a real-world “thing” happens, it underwhelms. Case in point, the asteroid that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk earlier this year showed the Russian dash cams recording it barely seemed to register a reaction from the drivers! They may have been calmly shitting their Russian Toughskins after all, but I think with the whole “throwback” idea in mind, I consciously pulled back a bit on the effects with the exception of knocking some of the line art out to colors with light to dark color gradations to “heat” things up when needed. Usually for me, the most engaging thing about special effects in comics comes more from the angle of the camera or attack of the character. The effect in the inking and coloring should be secondary to a great angle or powerful composition.
Over the course of developing the story were there certain characters that you developed an affinity for drawing?
I really enjoyed drawing the main character Gillian. He’s got a ridiculous amount of emotional baggage that he hides behind hatred and loss throughout the book with a general lack of concern for authority. He and his partner Nick come from an earlier more savage time and it was fun to place them fish out of water into a more utopian setting. He’s sort of like a bull in a china shop. I also really enjoyed drawing the tech — the spaceship interiors, the ships, the modern architecture. It was a REALLY big candy store of ideas, and having a blank canvas to create a world like that from scratch can be awfully daunting or fucking “grab your nuts and go” awesome. I like to think I chose the latter attitude when illustrating Binary.
You colored yourself on Binary. Did you have a certain palette you settled upon before embarking on that stage of the process? Were there some scenes that proved more challenging to color than others?
The palettes were mostly very saturated regardless of tonality or the way the colors unified with each other. Too often in comics I see color that doesn’t make sense to my tastes. I realize that color and art style are purely subjective, but for me true color theory is a body of practical guidance to actual color “mixing”. Before vision science knew anything about how or why we see the colors we do the visual effects and specific color combination were understood by what naturally happens when you mix colors together. That informs how I color. My palettes can have colors that make no sense but they work in tonality because by using my color theories and using certain percentages of opacities the colors will always be in hue with each other (BORING, sorry). Basically when I color something I start with whether or not it’s a cool colored setting or a warm colored one. From there I look for a light source indicated by the art hopefully (though sometimes I still get it backwards) and go about rendering things to give them dimension. For Binary I wanted the color to feel a little bit jarring and acrid in some scenes and more subdued and backseat in other ones.
How helpful was it to you to work with a veteran editor like Stuart Moore on a project like this?
Stuart is amazing to work with. He’s talented in so many ways and so smart that it’s actually kind of scary. He’s a brilliant writer as well and one of my favorite guys in the industry, or elsewhere for that matter. Without him I’d probably be typing this interview from a burned-out car somewhere near a trashcan full of leftover containers. Seriously though, he’s helped me immensely throughout this project and many others. He’s got an eye for detail that’s unparalleled. Not to be unsung as well was the co-editing of Marie Javins. She also handled getting the lettering process finished and it all came out wonderfully. Marie REALLY kept me on track and on point. If anything at all looked wrong from composition, to storytelling to anatomy, she was on me like a hawk (still is, for that matter). Upon thinking back on it, I think any artist who has both Stuart and Marie editing their work simultaneously could literally take over the world. (I’m still waiting.) All in all I was a very lucky man to get the chance to work with two really fabulous professionals.
Any chance you would like to collaborate with Hinz again down the road?
If the opportunity presents itself, yeah. Any time, any place, any story. You bet.
What else is in the creative pipeline for you at present?
A TON of things. I HATE when I read interviews and the interviewee says that followed by “But I can’t talk about it, though.” So now I have to hate myself, but that’s the case here. Soon? something BIG. … The only name in the credits will be mine.
Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Just would like to close again with a special thanks again to everyone involved. Not limited to Christopher Hinz, Etan Ilfeld, Stuart Moore and Marie Javins. Thanks for keeping the lights on!