Creating New Worlds
Tartarus is a new sci-fi comic series published by Image, and created by writer Johnnie Christmas and artist Jack T Cole. Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows caught up with Cole recently to talk exclusively about it…
TRIPWIRE: How did you come on board the series?
JACK T COLE: Johnnie approached me wanting to collaborate on a project with him as writer and me as artist, and after discussing what we wanted to do and after our schedules lined up we got started on Tartarus!
TW: What was it about Christmas’ story that appealed to you as an artist?
JTC: Johnnie came up with a great cast of characters that made designing them and figuring out how to convey their expressions and emotions really fun and engaging. He also created a world with a very strong frame, but one that was also very flexible in how it could be built. For me this means that I can design things that I know are going to have significance and make multiple appearances and get good use, but also gives me the freedom to experiment and control a significant amount of the visual style of the series.
TW: How closely did you collaborate with the writer?
JTC: Pretty closely! Johnnie and I discuss a lot of the series, especially what we’ve been thinking about or reading lately as it applies to the story, and what we’d like to see happen. After that Johnnie goes and figures out all the script, then hands it to me!
TW: He is an artist as well as a writer so did this throw up any challenges for you as an artist on the series?
JTC: I think more than anything it gives him a solid idea of what is possible with the medium, and what to expect from an artist. The spot that I think would be the challenge though is that Johnnie has a different visual storytelling style when he draws than I do. He is an immaculate draftsman and knows how to compose a page to draw the eye to all the points that it should be at, and to keep the story flowing and avoiding superfluous information while maximizing emotion. I like drawing backgrounds and when left to my own have a habit of inundating the page with details, so I think the part that would most count as a challenge in that regard is that a scene that might be relatively straightforward for his style, I end up picking time-consuming choices in search of spectacle when the scene probably could use a little less.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Image for the amount of freedom you get working on a series.”
TW: What made Image the perfect place to publish this?
JTC: I’ve always wanted to work with Image for the amount of freedom you get working on a series. One of the things we’ve had the flexibility of doing too is adding a page or two here and there over the usual 22 count for when we want to play a moment out in the story longer, or add more action to a fight scene.
TW: It’s a very ambitious series. Did you create the look of the characters and the different alien worlds before you started drawing it?
JTC: Johnnie gave me a list of the main characters before we got started and I figured out what they would look like, along with several exploratory drawings of what the world would look like. Surka is exactly the same as she was in the first drawing I made, everything else had a significant evolution before they made it to the page. Especially Tartarus the city. Otherwise I keep a sketchbook beside me while drawing the pages to come up with ideas, concepts, and solutions that best fit whatever page I’m working on.
TW: You have a very European style as an artist. Science fiction seems to lend itself so well to this sort of art. Have you adapted your style here when compared with your work on The Unsound?
JTC: With The Unsound, Cullen Bunn’s scripts are pretty well composed with how close the characters are to the viewer, and what sort of sights are in the background, which due to the location of the story are largely confined to the surreal interiors of a supernatural psychiatric hospital. With Tartarus we are in a new location pretty much every couple pages, and Johnnie’s script doesn’t specify character location in the same way Cullen’s did, so as a result I end up going environment heavy like I did when I was illustrating Epicurean’s Exile. As far as adaptation of style going from horror to science fiction, it’s been more of a difference between the designs of the characters and objects, and which colours I use to convey mood.
TW: Image have called it Breaking Bad meets Star Wars. Can you offer any more details about the story as it progresses?
JTC: As the story progresses we go deep in to the city of Tartarus itself, which is labyrinthine and filled with all variety of types and characters, whose lives and drama Tilde ends up entangled with. There are gangs, there are bounties, and there is a dangerous religious order of miners turned mendicants and martial arts masters.
TW: How far ahead have you drawn the series?
JTC: I’m working on issue 5 currently.
Tartarus is out now from Image Comics with #1 out now and #2 out in March.
Read our exclusive chat with Tartarus’ writer and co-creator Johnnie Christmas here