Time for another entry in the Creating a Cover series, this time featuring the most recent issue of Young Justice, #9.
As usual, the process starts with concept sketches so a cover idea can be agreed upon, and again this was being done before I had seen a full script for the issue. I was told that the story would feature Captain Atom sending the team to investigate a murder mystery as part of their training, which was fun since Greg Weisman (co-writer of the YJ comic and head writer for the animated YJ TV series) had worked as a writer on the early run of DC’s Captain Atom comic. In fact, the first time I ever worked with Greg was on a comic that featured Captain Atom encountering a pastiche of Disney’s Gargoyles characters, the property with Greg is perhaps most associated.
I was told that the story the Young Justice #9 and #10 would feature several supporting characters from the era of Captain Atom, including the villain The Cambodian who Greg was planning to rename. I often referred to him at this point as “the villain formerly known as the Cambodian.”
The actual first step in creating the covers then was to figure out our comics’ design for The Cambodian. Greg made it very clear that he preferred the dark gray color scheme of the Cambodian as seen on the cover of his first appearance in Captain Atom over the orange and red color scheme seen thereafter, and I thought the design looked a little blocky and didn’t fit well with the aesthetic of the Young Justice series, so that all led to a design process that I’ll detail in a separate blog entry soon.
Once a design for The Cambodian was agreed upon, I set out to create cover concept sketches, once again building over the Young Justice cover template I had created so I could plan for the masthead and logo elements.
Sketch A: So without a script, I was told that the story was full of happenings and intrigue including infiltration of the Pentagon, Robin and Miss Martian finding murder victims and more, I didn’t feel I could really depict any of that without more information about those scenes. I was told that the main action of the issue was a confrontation with the (former) Cambodian and the team members who actually fought him in this issue were Miss Martian and Superboy. There was concern that there had been a lot of Superboy-centric covers, so my first thought was this image with our villain taking a swipe at Miss Martian with his energy sword.
Sketch B: I thought something playing with images reflected in the sword would be fun, but this had challenges. I felt like I couldn’t get too tight on the Cambodian’s face or you’d loose all the detail that made him an interesting looking character. Also, his sword has a blue glow to it and an odd little rod to the side of the blade, and I was worried that if you didn’t see some of the hilt and handle you understand that it was a sword you were seeing in the cropped image.
Sketch C: I tried another version of the same idea with the sword held vertically and only Miss Martian reflected in the blade, but it didn’t work much better.
Sketch D: Next I tried more of a full figure shot of our villain confronting the whole team. I have the (former) Cambodian in profile and kind of twisted around so you can get a good look at him with the team coming at him in the background.
Sketch E: Another composition around the same basic idea, this time with the villain turned away from us. With the dark armor making him almost a silhouette and the glowing sword raised over his head this one could have been interesting if refined as the final version.
Sketch F: Finally a design that doesn’t feature the villain at all, but rather Captain Atom symbolically charging the team with their mission in a classic “Uncle Sam – I WANT YOU!” pose. I think I recall the idea being suggested by Greg, my apologies to my editor Jim Chadwick if the idea was his! It was my idea to include the reflections of the assembled team. I took care to distort the reflected image a bit as Captain Atom’s body isn’t a flat mirror, and the image is of course reversed, as most noticeably evidenced by Robin and Superboy’s costume emblems.
Pencils: Sketch F was the lucky winner, so here’s the pencil version of the cover. The sketch had been pretty tight, so going to full pencils was pretty simple and straightforward. Poor Aqualad’s face is hidden, but the image of Captain Atom left very irregular spaces to fill with a reflected image.
Inks: Here are the finished inks. I tried to use bolder, brushier lines on Captain Atom’s hand and arm to push it into the foreground.
I had a very specific idea in mind of how I wanted the linework to be interpreted as far as the highlights and shading of Captain Atom’s chromed surface, and I also wanted to clarify what were reflection elements that should be somehow separated with color from the lineart of the Captain Atom figure itself, so I created this guide for our colorist, Zac Atkinson.
And here’s what the finished color looked like. The addition of the glow to Captain Atom’s eyes give them a piercing quality that I love. Note the ample room left for the inevitable cover text to the left of Captain Atom’s head, and the UPC Code box was expected to be placed in the lower left corner.
I was often frustrated during my run on The Batman Strikes! with cover art being saddled with text that I felt was pretty insipid. This is a rare instance of getting EXACTLY what I expected and hoped for when I drew the artwork. “Captain Atom wants YOU!” indeed. I was a little surprised that they let Captain Atom’s head cover part of the logo. I’d expected it to run behind the logo, but that’s why I try to be really precise with my layouts, making sure that two elements like that overlap a little, but not too much, and not be edge-to-edge.
So that’s the story of another cover. This is the current issue of Young Justice on sale, and you can buy it at your local comic shop or in digital form here.
I’ll be posting an article about the redesign of The Cambodian soon, as well as a “commentary” on the art for the issue. Stay tuned!