Guy Davis is one of those artists' artists, who's not only loved by the readers of his comics, but by most working professionals in comics as well. He first garnered critical acclaim with his creator-owned series Baker Street; but many comics readers (me included) first discovered his work through Sandman Mystery Theatre, which ran for around 50 issues or so in the mid-90's from Vertigo. But Guy's probably most famous as the regular artist on the popular book B.P.R.D., nine volumes of which have already been published, with the tenth in the works. He also drew The Zombies That Ate The World, now being published in English for the first time by Devil's Due Press.
Guy is a pretty extraordinarily nice guy, as his consent to this interview is ample evidence of. Thanks for sharing some time with our readers, Guy!
GUY DAVIS: Thanks for the wonderful intro, Dustin!
DUSTIN HARBIN: You've got one of the more distinct, recognizable (and much admired) styles in comics--where did it evolve from?
GD: I don't know--how's that for an honest answer! [laughs] I didn't read a lot of comics growing up, and when I started drawing comics professionally back in '86, I remember that one of the things that people would nail you on is if you swiped an artist's style. So my style, for good or bad, is just something that probably evolved by trying to do my own thing and have something that was unique to me.
DH: Wow--I won't say it came out fully formed, but it was different right off the bat for sure. I thought for sure there was a lot of European influence--I think I thought you were French until a couple of years ago.
GD: My style definitely switched gears when I discovered European comics! At first I had a really heavy animation, japanimation type style going on--especially back around '86 when I was pencilling a fantasy series called The Realm. But when I started doing Baker Street a few years later, I discovered Tardi, Moebius and Schuiten and that really inspired me to where if you look at the 10 issues of Baker Street I did you can see my style change the most between those issues.
DH: Oh man--that Tardi reference totally makes sense. I'm super-excited about that new series of Tardi translations coming out this year.
GD: I can't wait to start being able to actually read these Tardi books! I've been picking up his work over the years in French, and his style and storytelling is tops but it will be nice to actually read the whole story!
DH: You were already pretty distinctive when you were on Sandman Mystery Theatre--I think I was sold as much on how the art supported the whole period setting of the story, as I was on the story itself.
GD: Thanks! Sandman Mystery Theatre was a lot of fun to draw and work on with Matt [Wagner] and Steve [Seagle]. I love old movies and pulp stories, so I was happy to have an excuse to use a lot of reference I had gotten along the way for the 30's and 40's. It was a huge learning experience too, my first mainstream work-for-hire job and the deadlines were crazy and tight on that series. So I learned to make art choices quick and turn work around fast to meet the deadlines--and looking back I probably made a lot of the wrong art choices along the way, but learning from mistakes is still the best teacher to me.
DH: Well, you've certainly done enough pages since then to learn from... which ties in nicely to my next question.
I'm not trying to be too flattertatious or anything, but B.P.R.D. is one of those books that EVERYBODY reads, from superhero fans to indie fans to whomever. What do you think the appeal of this book is, outside of its ties to Hellboy? What keeps it fresh--not only for readers, but for YOU, drawing hundreds of pages of B.P.R.D. stories over the years?
GD: Thanks! As far as the appeal goes--Mike [Mignola] has come up with a great cast of characters from Hellboy and Abe through the rest, and I was a fan of the first BPRD: Hollow Earth mini-series before I was lucky enough to get to work on it.
For me personally working on it--both Mike and John [Arcudi] keep it fresh and entertaining with all the great ideas and storylines they come up with. Whether it's wendigo's or frog monsters and the Black Flame--who would complain about getting to draw all that! And for me, each storyline had a different feel from the last--so Garden of Souls was different in tone and feel to what I would get to do on The Warning or Killing Ground.
Also John really makes these characters come alive, so after drawing them for a few mini-series now it's been nice to get to draw how they've changed in their relationships and interaction with other characters.
DH: Is there an untapped audience out there for frog violence?
GD: Definitely--we're your one stop read for all things frog violent!
DH: How much input do you have into the design of things--your art is so crammed with texture and detail, not to mention all the architecture and clothing and uniforms and so forth.
GD: The initial designs I do are shown to Mike, John and Scott Allie who all chime in before the finished version--but most of the final designs are worked out between me and Mike. Usually I get a series outline or script to an upcoming storyline and work up some initial designs for characters or settings and then I send those to everyone for approval--sometimes it pretty much works out with the first sketch, like on the character of The Black Flame and other times it will go back and forth with me trying different things and Mike sending sketches with ideas like we did with the Victorian cyborgs in Garden of Souls.
Most of the other smaller stuff, background architecture and settings come out just in the pencils and if something needs to be reworked I change it before inks.
DH: Okay, I know it's obligatory, but I have to ask you about the tools that you use. You're a nib guy, right?
GD: Yeah, I ink pretty much everything with a [Speedball] 22B nib. I really like the look of brushwork but I don't have the steady hand for using it on finer details, so I use a #3 or #4 brush for things like hair, trees, rocks or to spot in shadows. But the rest is all quill.
DH: What do you think a nib gives you that a regular disposable pen (a Micron or brush pen, for instance) couldn't provide?
GD: Early on before I used the nibs, I tried a technical pen but hated how it skipped alot. I'm not a slow inker (as it probably shows) so the quill lets me work more fast and expressive, it also gives me more variety of line weight. I like sketching in pens and I do convention sketches using a pen and markers which feels nice and flows easy, but I never tried it for finished work~ probably just out of habit really and more personal preference for how it feels to work with each. I'm not a tool snob, if someone wants to use tech pens, brushes or markers and it works for them~ that's great! All that really matters is how it looks printed, and I use a lot of white out to prove that point!
DH: Do you use a lot of white-out in your art? You have such a loose style, I guess it makes sense that you'd go out of the lines sometimes.
GD: I do use it pretty freely. I don't set out to make mistakes, but everyone does and I change my mind and try different things out on the page as I go--and if it doesn't work or I screw up then I just white it out and try it again. For other tools of the trade type talk: I pencil using a B lead, which is soft and lets me get loose with the pencils and more expressive. Paper wise I pretty much use what Dark Horse sends me, but I guess if I have a choice I'd pick a smooth surface for inks. Black Magic ink and Pentel pen-white for the white out!
DH: Wow, I think there’s enough info in those three paragraphs to start a career in cartooning!
Okay let’s change the subject, or I’ll quiz you about nibs and brushes and ink all day. This new book of yours, The Zombies That Ate The World--that was originally published in French, right? Through Les Humanoides? I haven't read it yet, but I've looked lovingly for months through my copy of one of the French albums.
GD: Yeah, the Zombies books were done for Les Humanoides Associes, originally it was a short story written by Jerry Frissen that saw print in an issue of their Metal Hurlant around 2004, but they liked the idea and how it turned out and that short turned into a serial and then it started coming out as original graphic novels with the fourth volume that saw print last year.
DH: Is it a one-time thing, or can we expect to see more after this initial series ends?
GD: That fourth volume had an ending but left it open for more stories to follow. The four French volumes are being reprinted in English now, broken up into 8 comic issues.
It was a really fun series to draw, Jerry has a great and twisted sense of humor and it was fun to draw the series in a different more cartoony style than I do on BPRD or The Marquis.
DH: Okay, don’t kill me, but I've never read Baker Street OR The Marquis before--which one should I read first? I need more Guy Davis!
GD: Well, I know what comps to bring you at the next Heroes Convention! The Marquis and Baker Street are pretty different, if you want devils and madness horror stories go with The Marquis. If you want a punk retelling of Sherlock Holmes type mysteries, then there's Baker Street.
I would push The Marquis since I'm currently working on new stories and also so I can plug that The Marquis is now at Dark Horse and a huge new collection of the existing stories is slated to come out in September. It's called The Marquis: Inferno and it's a monster at over 300 pages, and includes a new 54 page sketchbook section along with a full color cover gallery--all the guest covers and foreign edition covers, great covers to Danse Macabre that were done by Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner, Teddy Kristensen, Kelly Jones and Charles Vess. The book is purposely done in black, white and greys--but Dave Stewart came on to recolor the Hell scenes that were just a red plate before. I'm really proud at how the books shaping up and Dark Horse is really putting a lot into this edition.
And hopefully all that will lead to more new Marquis graphic novels starting in 2010; I really want to finish off the Marquis which had 3 more series plotted out that tells the whole story. But alongside all that I'm already gearing up for the next BPRD mini-series after Black Goddess along with some other side projects at Dark Horse that I can't really hint at.
DH: I’m putting Marquis on my “must-buy” list right now, Guy! You’ve already given me too much stuff already! I’m looking forward to seeing you again at HeroesCon. You’re going to be there all three days this year, right?
GD: All three days this time~ sorry I had to skip out early last time, but I had a great time last year and I'm really looking forward to going back.
DH: I can't wait. One of the great crimes of HeroesCon is that we invite all these great artists and writers, but none of the staff ever get to hang out much because we're all so busy running around!
GD: I want to see you sitting behind a table one of these year so I can dig through your portfolio!
DH: One of these years Shelton will wise up and fire me, and then I'll finally have the time!
Hey, I’ve got one last question that Mark Burrier sent us through Facebook (if you don’t know Mark’s work, he’s an AMAZING cartoonist and illustrator). Mark wants to know: "How do you feel the market for your art has changed over the years?"
GD: Great stuff~ now Mark's a guy who knows how to use a brush!!
That's a tough question really, I've gotten a lot more interest for my work since BPRD started, and besides the connection with Hellboy which is a lot more high profile, I think BPRD has given me an opportunity to do more of the type of comics I wanted to do. I mean I'm a monster-art type of guy and I like horror and surreal stuff. So early on finding an outlet or work-for-hire type job was a lot harder because editors didn't really know what to put me on; It seems like the market itself has grown to accept a lot more diversity and I've been lucky to carve out a small niche and hang on through the years.
DH: Well, if that market ever dries up, Guy, you can always come work here at Heroes. And by “work here at Heroes”, I mean doodle on stuff for us all day. In the mean time, thanks for taking time out of what must be a PACKED schedule to talk with us! Looking forward to chatting in person at HeroesCon!
GD: Thanks Dustin! See you at the show!
You can find out more about Guy Davis at his website. And of course, you can meet him this summer at HeroesCon, June 19-21. If you've never met him before, Guy's a pretty shockingly friendly guy, for someone who draws demons and frogs and zombies all day.