Rahsan Ekedal: It All Began With A BOOM!A comics interview article by: Steven A. Wilcox
I've mentioned the book Echoes before, having reviewed the hardcover of the book by Top Cow, and I've had the pleasure of asking the series writer, Joshua Hale Fialkov, some questions in a quick interview. I recently had a chance to chat with the other creative force behind the critically acclaimed horror comic, artist and Echoes co-creator Rahsan Ekedal.
Beginning his career in 2007 for BOOM! Studios, he has since gone on to be published by Dark Horse , Image/Top Cow, and DCs. Rahsan chatted with me about his work, his inspirations and hinted at what's around the corner for him.
Steven A. Wilcox: I guess to get the ball rolling, I'll ask how you broke into the industry. And what was your first published work?
Rahsan Ekedal: Let's see, my first published work was Warhammer: Forge of War #1 over at BOOM! Studios. That was in the early days of BOOM! before they exploded (pun intended). The company was literally just Ross Richie and maybe four other people. I showed Ross my portfolio at just the right moment before the show floor opened at WonderCon 2007, and within a few weeks I was drawing Warhammer. I was in the middle of a semester at the Academy of Art, plus working a full time day job! Thankfully, the teachers and director at the Academy were very understanding and let me slide on my normal assignments so I could hit my first deadlines.
Wilcox: From Warhammer you went into Cleaners, is that right? That's where you first began working with Joshua Fialkov. Mark Wheaton was the creator/co-writer of the book. How was that experience different than working on the BOOM! Book?
Ekedal: The Cleaners was a fantastic book to work on. It was a creator-owned, passion-driven project, so a very different experience than working on a licensed property (Warhammer is owned by Games Workshop, a UK gaming company). The Cleaners was Mark Wheaton's baby, and he's just a mad genius, so full of ideas. He's a screenwriter and novelist. [Side-note: Rahsan has done several covers for Mark Wheaton’s novels.] Josh helped him develop the concept for the comic page and get it set up at Dark Horse. You read The Cleaners and, of course, it's brimming with strange ideas and intense themes, but man, I wish we had the chance to do the sequel. Where Mark had this thing plotted to go in the second arc -- you have no idea. It was insane. Maybe someday we'll get that chance, I sure hope so.
Two other great things came out of working on The Cleaners -- I developed a wonderful friendship with Shawna Gore, the sweetest person and greatest editor in comics. And secondly, Josh and I began our friendship and he and I have since collaborated on many awesome things together.
Wilcox: Josh said he wrote Echoes with you in mind, and I cannot imagine those insane layouts, the details and the pages being done by anyone other than you. What was it like working on a project of that scope with him? Whereas before, with The Cleaners, I viewed him more as a co-plotter, and The Crazies issue was just one story in a mini-series with various creators. To bring a book from the idea stage to the critically acclaimed book that it was must have been something, especially considering that your body of work is still relatively small.
Ekedal: Yeah, developing Echoes was very challenging and intense. It snuck up on me in a lot of ways. I didn't expect the experience to be so epic, I guess. I mean, all of the core ideas were there in the early synopsis that Josh had written when he first approached me about drawing the book. But I didn't know how personal the whole thing would get for me. I was very affected by the process, by the story, by the characters, and I hope that is reflected in the artwork.
I drew Echoes in a vacuum of sorts. Top Cow decided that they'd have me draw all five issues before they even solicited the first one, so through the entire process, the only people seeing the pages and giving me feedback were Josh, Filip and Phil at Top Cow and my girlfriend, Shannon. Normally, you're getting fan feedback and reader response while you're still drawing the later issues of a series. So I really had no idea how everything would be received by the public, or if anyone would even get what we were doing. Echoes is a pretty unusual book.
But the creative process with Josh was so mutually rewarding that for those eight months or so, I really didn't care anyway. I was totally invested and committed.
Wilcox: I cannot imagine drawing that entire series without any feedback. Seems like the way Top Cow handled it paid off.
I'd like to switch gears a bit and ask you about your artistic influences growing up. Were you a comic book reader, and who were your favorite writers and artists?
Ekedal: Oh man, there are so many great artists I could name. I know Herge was a big influence. I devoured every Tintin volume I could get my hands on. Herge is truly in a class of his own and looking at his best work is like taking a master class. Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix was another of my favorites. I know some people think you're either a Tintin fan or an Asterix fan, but I loved both.
I also loved Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest series, and I'm surprised to this day when I notice a Wendy Pini face or hand or something in my own work. She's definitely one of those subconscious influences that I don't even realize is there most of the time.
But I can't overlook the massive influence of Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Greg Larocque and really the whole DC Comics look of the early 90s. That stuff was my defining influence as a kid. I'd stay up late reading and re-reading every issue of Batman, Detective Comics and The Flash that I had. When I was a little older, I moved on to Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons and other more mature stuff, but I can't overstate the impact those old DC comics had on me.
Wilcox: So you went from working on Echoes to a run on Solomon Kane with writer Bruce Jones. What was it like working on another licensed character after such a personal project like Echoes?
Ekedal: Kane was my first work on a Robert E. Howard character, something I'd wanted for a long time. I still have my sights set on a run on Conan at some point, but it was definitely a thrill to adapt “Red Shadows” with Bruce. He is a legendary writer and extremely kind. It was a really fun change of pace, going from the dark story and intense workload of Echoes to a fast-paced action book. It was just pure fun. Bruce wrote Kane in a sort of classic Marvel mode, so I made this version of the character more superheroic than some might have expected, but it seems a lot of fans enjoyed that spin.
Wilcox: You did some work on the Creepy anthology. I loved your work on those stories as they were in black and white, and I love your work without colors. I love all the grey tones and shading you're able to use.
How do you approach a page that's going to be in black and white and how do you do it when it's going to be in color?
Ekedal: The difference is really in the level of finish. When I do a black and white story, I'm responsible for the exact image that the reader will see on the page, so every line and every value (darks and lights) needs to be perfectly finished and ready to go to print. I do the inks traditionally, on paper, and then I do a few subtle things in Photoshop to finish the pages before handing them off to the letterer.
When I work with a colorist, I'm leaving areas open for them to fill, so my pages are not as 'full' as when I do ink-and-tone for black and white. My pages for color are still very tight, but you'll see more open spaces and less ink or pencil shading. I don't do much, if any, Photoshop work on these pages, leaving that up to my collaborator.
So the practical difference for me is that doing a black and white book takes WAY longer than doing a color book!
Wilcox: Recently, you teamed up with Josh Fialkov again for The Test, an entry to the 2011 Pilot Season initiative. Now, Josh has won one of these Pilot Seasons before, and the two of you are still getting raves for the Echoes series. What was it like teaming up with Josh again, and how much of the series is planned out in case it wins?
Ekedal: I've heard from a lot of fans who love the cliffhanger ending of The Test and are aching to find out what happens next. I know that Josh and Matt have it all planned out, so I really hope we win the vote and I can deliver the next chapter.
The Test is really fun to draw. I love high concept stories with a contained setting and cast. It sort of focuses the storytelling and allows me to hone in on the characters and the details of the environment. And that's one of Josh's strengths. He writes the hell out of characters who are trapped in one way or another. In Echoes, Brian was trapped in his illness and in the shadow of his father. In The Test, these six strangers are literally trapped in this domed, sealed town and apparently the world outside has been utterly destroyed. So there's a connection running through the stories Josh and I do, and it makes it very easy to pick up our collaborative groove again even if we've been off doing other projects.
Wilcox: Your work together, even that issue of The Crazies you two did, always seem to delve into the human condition and push the characters to their limits, both mentally and physically.
In an interview I did with Josh and in some of the comments I've seen, he mentioned that he had an idea with where he'd go with Brian should there ever be a volume two of Echoes. Do you have any other ideas for Brian's life you'd like to delve into?
Ekedal: Well, I don't want to ruin the suspense if we do get the chance to do the sequel. But Josh and I are both interested in pursuing the continuing theme of legacy that drove much of the dramatic tension in Echoes. Brian's struggle with his father's legacy was central to the book. Is a man defined by his father's genetic and personal flaws? Can he escape them? There's a way of continuing this thread that Josh is very keen to explore and that I'm aching to draw. And we want to investigate the further impact on Brian's wife and baby, who were left in a very difficult situation at the end of the final chapter.
Wilcox: I'd like to ask you about Shorthand. You've teamed with writer Jason McNamara on the project. What can you tell us about it?
Ekedal: Jason is a brilliantly talented writer who, for some insane reason, has not been snatched up by the big publishers, even though he's been publishing incredible books for years. We met back when I was still in art school, and he came in to lecture on the trials of writing and self-publishing. He writes the funniest, sharpest dialogue, and creates these very layered characters that you just can't help but fall in love with. His stuff is like a Judd Apatow movie -- hilarious, but smart and human and heartbreaking, you know?
Shorthand is about this little old man named Oscar. He's a WWII vet. He lives by himself in this dusty, cluttered little house. He's strange, cranky, and gets on your nerves. He's on probation and wears an ankle bracelet because he's been arrested multiple times for interfering with police investigations. See, he fancies himself a private detective. He tracks local crime patterns and then goes out and solves them, to the great irritation of the local sheriff's department, which can't seem to keep track of him.
Oh, and Oscar is 12 years old.
That's all I'll say now; it's better to just read it! I think it's amazing, and I'm really, really proud of it. Jason released a self-published exclusive edition of the first issue at APE in October to build some buzz, and we're hoping to continue the series soon. So far, the response has been amazing. James Robinson called it "quite simply wonderful".
Wilcox: Sounds very intriguing. You should write the copy for the solicits. Love the "Oh, and Oscar is twelve years old." And if it has the James Robinson stamp of approval...
Ekedal: Ha! I should write the copy, huh? It's really just because I'm passionate about the character and I want people to get interested in the book.
Wilcox: You seem to have a lot of stuff coming out. What can you tell me about The Nightcrew?
Ekedal: The Nightcrew is an independent action film that has been in development for a couple of years, and I'm attached as a conceptual artist for the project. It comes from the very talented team of Christian Sesma and Paul Sloan. Christian is a director and writer. He directed Shoot the Hero starring Danny Trejo and Jason Mewes, which is on Netflix and on demand and stuff. And Paul is a badass action star and writer, from movies like The Scorpion King and Stiletto. The Nightcrew is their baby -- an action movie about bounty hunters on the US/Mexico border with a supernatural twist. We might even do some comics as prequels or tie-ins once the movie gets off the ground...
Wilcox: You also did some work on DC Comics/Vertigo's anthology The Unexpected, (again with writer Joshua Fialkov). How did working on this story come about, and are there more short stories I can expect from you in The Unexpected?
Ekedal: I'm not sure if Vertigo is going do another issue or not, but I'd certainly jump at the chance to do another story for them if it does happen. I believe this came about because Vertigo had asked Josh to write a short for the anthology, and then he suggested I draw it. It was a fun little gig. I'm not entirely satisfied with the way my art came out. I guess I'm never really satisfied. But it was a thrill to work with Jose Villarrubia, one of the great colorists working today.
Wilcox: I think we've covered pretty much your entire career. Forgive me if I've missed anything. What's next for you? Are you working on something right now?
Ekedal: Well, I'm definitely hoping that Josh and Matt and I can return to The Test in 2012. But at the moment, I'm drawing another limited series at Top Cow. It's not officially announced yet, so all I can say is that Matt is writing it and that it will be coming out under the Minotaur Press imprint, like Echoes.
Also, I'm drawing something short for Ian Brill, a talented writer formerly of BOOM! editorial (he edited one of my Warhammer books). I'm looking forward to that. I can't say much, but it's a cool change of pace.
Wilcox: Funny, I just found my Warhammer FCBD issue last night. You've come so far since that series, but I can still see your style in the work.
Ekedal: Yeah, I saw that same Warhammer book recently and thought it was a trip how much I've grown. I feel very restless as an artist all of the time, never satisfied. I think in one way it causes a problem for me, as I haven't settled on one consistent style. At the same time, I know there's strength in that eagerness to grow. I feel like I'm reaching for something, and hopefully I'll get there. I'm hoping to really stretch myself and make some leaps forward in the coming year.
Wilcox: Well, I'll definitely keep my eyes open for announcements on those two projects. Good luck on The Test. Competition is pretty tough this season from what I've read.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Rahsan. It's been a pleasure getting to talk to you about your work.
Ekedal: Thanks, Steven! Good to talk with you.
And thanks for your patience!
Wilcox: And thank you for your continued friendship. It's always a pleasure to chat with you.
Steven A. Wilcox is an aspiring comic book artist whose work has appeared in various small press books. He has been a comic book fan for as long as he can remember. His favorite part of doing interviews for Comics Bulletin is that it gives him an excuse to talk to his favorite creators. He can be contacted via Twitter at @StevenWilcox72 or on Facebook.