Just wanted to send out massive props to my amigo Stephen Thompson, who has landed a righteously high-profile gig at IDW Publishing: The art for the John McCain bio-comic that the company will publish as part of its “Presidential Material” set of books for this upcoming election, due out in October.
Stephen’s work caught my eye back when he was penciling Beneath The Valley Of Rage for Fangoria Comics–but when the imprint unexpectedly folded, seemingly overnight, I recruited him to come work for the line of Star Trek: Second Stage premiere titles I was putting together for IDW. It’s nice to think that I hooked him up with a regular assignment right after he had been screwed over by industry factors and random circumstance…but, the truth is, with his level of ability he wasn’t going to stay out of work for long. I was just lucky that I called him up first.
He’s got a great visual style, strong paneling skills, a rock-solid work ethic and the experience to pull off small but extremely difficult rendering techniques–the kind that aren’t immediately obvious to those easily dazzled by flashy pinups and shiny objects, but which remain essential to good storytelling.
For example, I set him to work on the Star Trek: New Frontier series from Peter David, based on the successful line of novels Peter had created and written for Pocket Books during the past decade and the official continuation of the Excalibur crew’s story. Peter’s script called for a character to simply roll his eyes at one point–the type of thing we see all the time in real life, but which is actually quite a challenge to draw in a static panel and still convey the moment without the character looking like he’s in a diabetic seizure.
Stephen nailed the panel so effectively that it actually eliminated the need for the dialog that followed, which at that point would have oversold the moment. And when an artist’s work successfully encourages you to delete dialog from Peter David–well, that’s saying something. (For the record, PAD agreed–he thought it played great.)
For the interiors of the book, I asked Stephen for a darker style than you’d normally see in Trek, to go with the nature of the story–more intense close-ups, stronger use of dutch angles and chiaroscuro–and Stephen really delivered.
Since the series would kick off the Second Stage line of titles, which featured some of the top names in Trek TV, novel and comics storytelling, and would also mark the 10th anniversary for the New Frontier franchise, I wanted to do something special for the cover. First, Stephen persevered through a fully-painted main cover that I requested; then three other covers for the new “Quad Cover” Retailer Incentive format I developed as a special feature to launch the Second Stage line; and then-because in a past life I used to beat small children in an orphanage when they asked for more food–I emailed Stephen for a special fifth cover, to be used as an ultra-limited-edition incentive variant.
I wanted to surprise Peter with something to thank him for working New Frontier into his already unimaginably busy schedule, and for being so instrumental in working out an exemption to his exclusive contract with Marvel so that he could write the series for us. Peter’s the J.K. Rowling when it comes to New Frontier fiction, and we simply wouldn’t have considered doing it without him.
So, I suggested to Stephen a cover in which we featured “Captain Peter David” in the command chair of the Excalibur, the bridge staffed by Ensigns Kirk and Picard, and with a special guest appearance by Fallen Angel, Peter’s creator-owned character from another series that I edited for him at IDW. Despite all of this extra work, in addition to the regular interior pages for the book, Stephen delivered one of the best Retailer Incentive covers we’d had for the entire Star Trek line.
And then I sent it off to Peter…and he graciously informed me that since we had last met, he’d lost close to 100 pounds.
Back to the drawing board for Stephen. Literally.
So, really, Stephen ended up drawing five-and-a-half covers for me, his reincarnated editorial child-beating orphan-starver, all without missing deadline and without a single complaint. Peter loved the new version, which suddenly made him realize that he looked like Julie Schwartz and I thought reminded me of Dick Cheney. (Judge for yourself; Cheney, right?)
Which, of course, brings us to the John McCain comic. Stephen hasn’t been able to release any of the artwork yet, though you might have caught a bit of it when it was featured on CNN. The issues have also earned coverage from the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Time Magazine, and even The National Enquirer and Conan O’Brien–probably firsts for IDW for at least half those news outlets (not to mention all of the outlets like the NY Daily News and The Herald-Tribune that picked up the wire stories).
The covers are by fan-favorite artist and IDW partner J. Scott Campbell, and Stephen’s McCain issue will be written by comics veteran Andy Helfer, former scribe on Justice League (among many others) and who was instrumental in the development of the graphic novels Road to Perdition and A History of Violence, both of which ended up on the big screen and with Oscar nominations. Helfer had been the mastermind behind the Paradox Press imprint from DC Comics that radically expanded comic book readership with eclectic and original products (such as the wildly successful “Big Book Of…” series), and has already penned autobiographical comics for both Ronald Reagan and Malcolm X, so he’s in well familiar territory here.
I remember an autobiographical comic of Pope John Paul II that Marvel produced back in the early ’80s. It sold biblical numbers–hell, even I bought it, and I’m an Atheist Jew–so I think both candidate books are going to move like gangbusters. Credit IDW Special Projects Editor Scott Dunbier for coming up with the idea, and tapping Stephen for the McCain book. It’s going to be a huge hit.
Stephen, meanwhile, now has a high-profile series after the McCain book lined up for Marvel, called House Of Ideas. Like I said: I was just lucky that I called him first.