Interview With Providence Artist Jacen Burrows

Jacen Burrows - photo via Burrows Facebook page
Jacen Burrows – photo via Burrows Facebook page

Artist Jacen Burrows was kind enough to take time out from completing Providence artwork to do an interview for Facts. The interview was conducted earlier this week over email. We’ve added links. See also our earlier essay page: Pickman’s Apprentice: An Appreciation of Jacen Burrows which includes links to a couple of additional Burrows interviews that touch on Providence.

BACKGROUND

Facts: Do you read a lot of comics? What were your favorite comics growing up? What are some of your favorite comics now?

Burrows: I don’t read as many as I used to when I was younger. I just can’t afford to have much of a comic habit, honestly. But I do try to pick up trades a few times a year and I look for bargains and interesting new stuff at conventions.

I’m really enjoying a lot of Image stuff right now: Wayward, Rat Queens, Revival, Southern Bastards, Saga, Manifest Destiny, Sex Criminals. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on at Image. I’m a big fan of Terry Moore‘s Rachel Rising book. He’s always great. And I try to keep up with everything written by Garth Ennis, Joe Hill and Kieron Gillen, in particular. And I buy just about everything from the Hellboy universe.

WORKING ON H.P. LOVECRAFT

Did you read a lot of HP Lovecraft before you started doing the art for Lovecraft stories: The Courtyard, Recognition, Neonomicon, and Providence? What are some of your favorite Lovecraft stories?

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Del Rey edition of The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, cover image by Micheal Whelan

I read “Cool Air” when I was pretty young. It was bundled in an anthology of horror stories and it was the only one that left an impression, really. I eventually got my hands on all the Del Rey editions with the creepy Michael Whelan cover art which gave me a pretty good foundation with the major stories.

During my time working on Neonomicon I made a point of reading or listening to audio editions of a lot of the more obscure stuff. I always liked the Dream Cycle stuff for its oddness. The stories aren’t very horrific in the traditional sense but the idea of being lost in a land of dangerous living nightmares always stuck with me. I’ve always had very vivid dreams myself.

Are there other artists whose visualization of Lovecraft Mythos inspired yours? 

I try to look at everything: movies, books, fan art, rpg art. Take it all in and let it simmer, see what comes out. A few of my favorites are Bernie Wrightson‘s monster work, often times Lovecraftian. Mike Mignola, of course. Zdzisław Beksiński, who just exudes creepy surreal horror. There is a guy named Don Kenn who does tons of really creepy, stand alone monster images that are inspiring in their variety. My single biggest influence when it comes to otherworldly alien monstrosity stuff is always John Carpenter‘s The Thing.

WORKING WITH ALAN MOORE

You’ve worked with a lot of successful comics writers: Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis to name a few. How is working with Moore different than other writers?

Plenty has been said about the details of his scripting but there is also a unique kind of self imposed pressure that comes with knowing that his readers are far more meticulous in their examinations than average comic fans. There are layers of meaningful detail and unspoken storytelling throughout the compositions and when you know people are actually looking for it, it creates a lot of pressure. Hell, there is a lot of pressure in general to try to live up to the writing and the work of his amazing collaborators of the past. But all you can do is try. And the stress can actually help you evolve and do some of your best work.

How do you work with Alan Moore? Do you talk on the phone? How interactive is the process? How much of the full 12-issue story arc did you have in advance of drawing issue #1?

I believe he was on issue 4 or 5 when I started drawing the first one. And he finished writing the last issue when I was up to the 4th issue, I think. I went to visit him a couple of times, early in the production, where we discussed a lot of the themes, characters and our approach but once it got to actually making the thing we have haven’t had much need to contact each other except around approvals and occasional editorial tweaks. It really is all in the scripts. I pass inquiries through editorial to keep intrusions respectfully minimal and professional.

PROCESS FOR WORKING ON PROVIDENCE

Clearly there is a huge amount of research that goes into Providence, from streets to fashions to furniture. Tell our readers about your research process. About how many weeks or months was it after you started researching before you began to draw Providence pages?

It was certainly slower going in the beginning. The 1919 setting was totally new to me, nestled between the first world war and the roaring ’20s, I had no idea how to visually define it. I bought clothing books with catalog images, watched movies and TV shows about the period and tried to learn as much as I could about virtually everything.

Luckily Alan did a ton of research already and could point the way. But every issue had a ton of unique research challenges, from a historical barber to looking up moon cycles to get the phase right on specific nights. No detail was too small if it added to overall feel. It is a bit insane, sure, but I figure when am I ever going to get another project like this?

Tell us about how you work: What are the steps: thumbnails, pencils, inks? What kind of pencil, pen, ink, paper do you use? How much retouching do you do? What is done on paper, what digitally?

I do very little digital work. A few tweaks here and there but I am mostly traditional. It is all fairly standard except I generally do a couple of passes on thumbnails to get all of the pieces in place, details hammered out and the perspective laid out accurately. Since every panel is a wide angle shot, usually with multiple speakers and detail requirements, I have to pay a lot more attention to the accuracy of the environment than I might normally.

How long does it typically take you to do the artwork for an issue of Providence? In one week, how many pages would you pencil? In another week, how many pages would you ink? How long does it typically take to draw and to ink a cover?

It is hard to say. For the first few issues I was also drawing a lot of covers for Providence and the series God Is Dead, basically splitting my month. But as a general guide I try to get 3 or 4 pages drawn and inked every week, whether they are interiors or covers. I’m not the fastest artist out there, particularly with work this detailed but I try to keep a steady pace.

Providence 7 regular cover - art by Jacen Burrows
Providence 7 cover art by Jacen Burrows

How far along is your work on Providence? We’re writing these questions in January 2016, issue #7 is coming out soon. What part of Providence are you working on? Do you have all twelve issues sketched out?

Issue 8 is being colored now and I’m about to dig into issue 9 pages. Issue 7 is a real trip. I can’t wait for it to get into people’s hands.

How do you work with colorist Juan Rodriguez? Do you, and/or Alan Moore, give him a lot of directions regarding what color specific things should be? Is it iterative – do you or Rodriguez do a preliminary colored version that you proofread to make sure it is good to go?

There are color instructions in parts of the scripts, and where there isn’t I generally try to write up suggestions for tone or for specific details and props that get forwarded to him. There is usually a first draft that gets viewed by Alan and myself for possible adjustments. I pass on a lot of the references I save from the internet to save time but he generally gets the tone we’re looking for out of the gate.

AFTER PROVIDENCE

Once Providence is done, what’s next for you? What projects can your fans look forward to?

It is still too far out to even really be thinking about it but I am looking to do something different just because I enjoy mixing things up. I’d love to try some genres I have’t gotten to work in yet like sci-fi. Something with a lot of action so I can try some different things stylistically. But who knows.

The writers I work with always have something interesting lined up when the time comes!

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