The evocative, stylish art of Tommy Lee Edwards has appeared in comics,
magazines, and on posters. He's illustrated for Lucasfilm Ltd, Paramount
Pictures, Sony, and Warner Bros. on projects including
Star Wars, Men in
Black 2, and
Batman, Daredevil, The Shield, and many
others have felt his brush's touch in comics.After studying film
and illustration at the Art Center College of Design, Tommy moved from Los
Angeles to Chapel Hill, NC with his two children and wife Melissa, an artist
herself who has colored such comics as
Earth-X, Disavowed, Static Shock,
Scoop caught up with Tommy and talked to him
about his upcoming DC Comics six-issue mini-series
The Question, created
with writer Rick Veitch.Scoop: Do you have any background with
the Question as a fan? If so, what?
Tommy Lee Edwards: Ten years ago, I
had my first exposure to The Question. It was a story I found in an issue of
Charlton Bullseye #5
from around the mid-seventies, drawn by Alex Toth.
Like many illustrators, I'm always on the search for every Toth story on the
planet. So without being very familiar with the original Question material,
Toth's short story became my definitive version of the character. I had seen the
series of the nineteen eighties, but it never really grabbed me.
It wasn't until a little over two years ago, when I was offered the new
series, that I went back and researched and fell in love with
the greatest version of them all, Steve Ditko's. Scoop: Out of the
many artists who have taken on the character, there have been a couple
distinctive interpretations of the Question. How would you describe
Tommy Lee Edwards: Boy, never thought about that. There will
definitely be no mistaking my version of The Question for anyone else's. The
entire book is very designed. I see the character as taking place in the time
Ditko originated him. Often I'll get into a mind-set and think of a comic as a
live-action feature film. For me, as I work every day, I imagine that The
is a film shot in 1963, staring Cary Grant as Vic Sage (the
Question), and Audrey Hepburn as Lois Lane. The Question is a modern-day story,
taking place in Metropolis, but has a sixties feel to the way it's drawn,
composed, and paced. It's not only my way of tipping the hat to Ditko, but I can
also let some of my artistic influences of that period visit my brain a little
more than usual. Scoop: What do you like about the
Tommy Lee Edwards: My favorite thing about The Question is his
anonymity. He's literally just a featureless "face" in the crowd. It's also fun
to push the contrast between the Hero side of the Question, and his altar ego,
Vic Sage. Vic is a celebrity crusading news journalist. He's very handsome and
My favorite thing about this particular
series is that Rick Veitch's script is so smart and so
extraordinarily original, while staying very true to the concept of Ditko's
work. This thing is easily one of the top three scripts I've ever gotten my
hands on. Working on this series is always something I look forward to because
of the script. Scoop: How fast do you work?
Tommy Lee Edwards:
I'm always working on four or five projects at once. Therefore, it's hard to
gauge exactly how long I spend on an issue of The Question
. Each issue
has taken months to complete because since I've started it, I've also completed
work for various short comics, movies, video games, and animated
Today I actually finished drawing six pages. I've got four more to
finish by Saturday. Then I start scanning and coloring. That's the other thing.
I usually work on several pages at once and get them to varying degrees of
completion. I also have a tendency to work out-of-sequence. Scoop:
What's your work area like?
Tommy Lee Edwards: My studio is about forty
yards behind the house. The downstairs work area is about 24' x 24'. Due to all
the various projects usually on-hand, there's one desk devoted to painting, one
for drawing with ink, one for the computer stuff, etc. The rest is packed with
books, reference, supplies, and Godzillas. Upstairs in my studio is where I keep
all the books I've done, original art, cameras, and costuming equipment. You
can actually view my studio by visiting http://www.tommyleeedwards.com
The pictures are a year old- but you'll get the idea. Scoop: Do you
listen to radio or watch TV while you work, or do you like silence?
Lee Edwards: I can't listen to anything when I'm doing layouts, because it takes
all of my concentration. While on the computer, I can't listen to music with
lyrics. I definitely don't watch TV, but I put in and "listen" to a lot of DVDs
and laserdiscs. Sometimes the project I'm working on dictates the background
music. The Question
usually calls for a lot of Bernard
Herman.Scoop: What's an average workday like for you, or is there
such a thing?
Tommy Lee Edwards: I attempt to make the average day a
nine-to-six or so.... It seems to help productivity, and helps me make sure to
spend enough time with my wife and kids. That's one of the reasons I have the
studio "out back."Scoop: Who are some of your artistic
Tommy Lee Edwards: The biggest influences on my work were
definitely the teachers I had as a kid and in College at Art Center. I had great
illustration and film teachers there, such as Harry Carmean and Burne Hogarth.
Like I mentioned before, many of my favorite artists of the early sixties are
inspiring The Question all the time, guys like Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, Noel
Sickles, Al Parker, Austin Briggs, and Coby Whitmore. Howard Chaykin and Alex
Toth are made a huge impact on my storytelling techniques. Scoop: Do
you bring influences aside from the visual into your artwork?
Edwards: We mentioned music. I'm influenced by everything: the weather, my kids,
a friends' work, etc. The source-material for a job is the initial influence and
inspiration- be it a movie I'm working on, a comic I'm drawing, or a video game
I'm storyboarding. Scoop: You don't do a ton of comic projects. How
do you pick which ones you do?
Tommy Lee Edwards: I can't to one thing
for too long. I think it gets me bored and makes my work look boring. The more I
do, the more I grow. Therefore, I don't do comics to make a living. For the past
five years or so, I've been trying to do only the kinds of projects that really
interest me. The main factors are the timeframe and subject matter. I also
usually do all of the art (and sometimes story) myself. That's my favorite thing
about comics- creative expression and freedom. If I don't have that freedom, I
won't do the comic.Scoop: When you get a script, do you read the
whole thing through a couple times or just start illustrating?
Edwards: Yeah, I read it once pretty fast, then again very carefully. I read it
a third time while laying out the panels and indicating the balloon placements.
Read #4 happens while I'm working on the finished pages to make sure I'm
executing the acting well enough, etc.Scoop: What's the toughest
thing about comics?
Tommy Lee Edwards: I think that the toughest thing
about comics is the business-aspects of them. The toughest part of creating a
comic is the storytelling. The layouts. That will kill your
brain.Scoop: What's the best thing about them?
Edwards: The storytelling. Coming up with the layouts and killing your brain.
Funny how that works out. Scoop: Since the Question's mask has no
facial features, do you have to put in more detail on the rest of the figure to
make that stand out?
Tommy Lee Edwards: Not usually. If I want him (or
anything) to stand out, I'll use a certain composition or colors. His acting
without facial expressions relies pretty heavily on body language, though. I'll
actually hint at a lot of the form under The Question's mask while rendering in
color.Scoop: Do you have a favorite Question story from the past? If
so, which one?
Tommy Lee Edwards: I couldn't really pick a favorite, but
Mysterious Suspense #1 has a lot of great stuff in it. Charlton's Blue Beetle
has the best Question stories in it- especially #3.Scoop: You're
working on a lot of things outside comics. What can you tell us about
Tommy Lee Edwards: I recently wrapped up designing characters for a
video game at 3D Realms, as well as a ton of concept art and an animatic for an
upcoming military-sci-fi game at Electronic Arts. The other newer stuff includes
box art for Hasbro's Command and Conquer
, all the Star Wars
book covers for Wizards of the Coast, a series of licensing illustrations for
, and the same type of thing for Star Wars Episode
. I'm currently working on an Episode III
children's book for
Random House, and a series of covers for Dark Horse's Star Wars: Empire
is taking precedence over most things now, since the
first issue is slated for November. I'm wrapping #3, and have three issues to
go. Scoop: Is there anything different in your approaches to
illustration for the various mediums?
Tommy Lee Edwards: The medium is
decided upon by figuring out which approach best-suits the project's needs. A
comic's primary objective is to tell a story. Sometimes other things, like a
poster, need a singular eye-grabbing image. I may decide to paint that. My
storyboard work is usually done with black pencil and charcoal- mainly for
speed. Many of the pieces I did to promote the first Harry Potter movie were
done with a brush and ink. The interior Question
pages are primarily
drawn with markers and nibs. I'm hand-painting the Question
interior color is done with Photoshop. We've even used 3D Studio Max to build
models of certain Metropolis architecture. Comics are by far the most unique,
because of the storytelling aspects. Whatever works best. Scoop: What
was your first comic work? What's changed since then?
Tommy Lee Edwards:
Technically, I guess my first comic was done in high school. It was a sci-fi
piece of crap I self-published by writing, drawing, running the printing-press,
binding it, etc. When I got it in some stores, I had to charge seven bucks to
actually make a profit. That was back in 1991. My first "mainstream" work came
from places like DC, Milestone, and Valiant back in 1993. Since then, my work
has obviously evolved into something much better. I've also had an easier time
getting to come out with projects I'm happy with. That primarily comes from a
publisher trusting you to do your job the way you see fit. Scoop:
Your art book came out from IDW. How has the reaction to that been?
Lee Edwards: The reaction has been great. It doesn't get a ton of exposure,
because it's (unfortunately) not really solicited for bookstores. When people
see the book, it does great. I've been selling $45 versions of the book through
my website, which include an original ink-drawing on the inside front cover.
The Art of Tommy Lee Edwards
book is fun because it groups together so
many of the projects we just touched upon. A lot of people had seen just my
comics work, or just Star Wars
, Men in Black
, Harry Potter
or my storyboards, or whatever. Most people think that an illustrator can do
just one thing in one medium. It's been fun to break that stereotype with the
art book.Scoop: Anything else you'd like to add?
Edwards: Well, I guess I'd just like to reiterate how proud I am of The
. Rick and I have come up with, what I think is, the most unique DCU
book to come around in a long time. Within the confines of staying true to
Ditko, and having the story take place in Metropolis. We've come up with new
characters and a whole new underground of crime that only The Question can foil.
This stuff perfectly intertwines with all of the major Superman cast as well.
Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Superman play a major role in this
Question story. After The Question
, I've got plans for a creator-owned
comic that I've wanted to do for about ten years.