The blog of colorist, writer, designer, and illustrator ART LYON

I’ve known Gene Ha and Lowell Francis for…well, let’s just say “a long time” and move on, before my lumbago starts acting up.  There was a stretch of a few years during which the three of us worked together developing ideas into presentable comic book pitches.  Many of these involved DC Comics characters,  because we all grew up reading comics, Gene had good relations at DC,  I had colored a bunch of Gene’s (and other people’s) work there, and Lowell had a lot of storytelling and editing cred.  (Eventually we all worked together on Project Superman, but that’s a story for another day.)

There were two ideas that reached a full pitch level, complete with conceptual art by Gene.  Lowell posted about Riddles: Edward Nigma, Consulting Detective (with comments and some of the illustrations) on his excellent gaming blog, Age of Ravens.  Riddles had a small cast of weird characters, and each issue was going to be an homage and send-up of traditional detective and pop-culture tropes and settings. It would have been a wild ride!  He also posted about the more recent, text-only pitch Lowell and I put together for a  revival of Warlord for DC’s “New 52″ relaunch.  Those posts by Lowell and the news about Fox’s  upcoming “Gotham” tv series got me thinking about one of our pitches that hasn’t seen the light of day…

Of all the ideas the three of us pursued in depth, Bruce Wayne: Ghosts of Gotham was by far my favorite.  It would have been part of DC’s  “Elseworlds” imprint, an alternate take on existing DC Comics characters, their connections, situations, histories, motivations, modi operandi, etc.  I kind of fell in love it, I think because of the fun and challenge of working out all those differences and new connection, because it was our own little version of the DC universe, and because of the chance to make more interesting a some characters who I normally don’t have much affinity for.

Initially it was a broad, sweeping thing that included characters from across the DC universe, including Superman, Lex Luthor, the Legion of Doom, and many more.  There was a whole alternate Teen Titans idea in there somewhere. Because of the scale it started feeling a bit like Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ DC mini-series Kingdom Come.

Eventually we wisely narrowed the focus to Batman’s usual stomping grounds, Gotham City, perhaps with the thought that we could explore the larger-scale ideas and implications in theoretical sequels.  Once we made that decision, the story really started to gel.  Lowell still loves our treatment of Edward Nigma (traditionally the real name of the classic Batman villain, The Riddler).  Once we started calling Green Arrow “Black Arrow”, I immediately thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (a personal favorite of mine), and wanted to have his background and story arc mirror some of  things in that novel.

The basic premise of Ghosts of Gotham involved the ripple effects of one simple change to a seminal event in Bruce Wayne’s childhood:

Instead of the classic moment in Batman’s “origin story” when a random thug with a gun senselessly murders Bruce’s parents before his eyes – setting Bruce on a disciplined path of revenge, justice, and a war on crime – in “Ghosts of Gotham” Bruce’s mother alone was shot and killed, and his father proceeds to beat the thug to death with a brick – as Bruce watches on in horror.

But I should let the pitch speak for itself.  These are the actual full pages of the proposal we presented, so you’re seeing what the folks at DC saw.  Text by Lowell, art by Gene, layout by me.  I have no idea how I would have colored this comic at the time, had it come to that.  Looking at it now, I would approach it very, very simply, since Gene was using a lot of blacks.  The background images behind the text are taken from Gene’s rough sketches.

Click on the thumbnails below for bigger, readable versions.

GoG cover GoG p1 GoG p2 GoG p3 GoG p4

Sadly, aside from any story problems that might exist, there were two sort of editorial problems that kept this idea from going to any next stage:

1. Apparently, in an Elseworlds story about Bruce Wayne, by the end of the story someone has to put on a Bat-costume of some kind.  It’s a rule or something.  I think we just didn’t want to force the whole bat-thing, and kind of wanted to explore a Gotham that didn’t have that.  Oddly enough, our original, larger-scale idea would have not been so focused on Bruce Wayne and would have gotten around that.

2. By the time we presented the idea, DC was kind of done doing Elseworlds stories, but hadn’t made a point of it publicly.  They were trying to refocus their brand, which eventually led to The New 52 version of the DC universe.

So, there you have it.  I still have the crazy dream of using this idea – or something stemming from the same altered turning-point - as the setting  for a role-playing game with friends some day.

In Search of…COMICS!

[note: I meant to post this the day I wrote it, but time happened.]

So, I kinda like comics. I like to read them and make them and think about them. To read them, though, I generally have to buy them first.

Poking around in the Comixology app on my tablet, I found a Marvel preview thingy that included, among other upcoming titles, a few pages from the new Moon Knight #1 by writer Warren Ellis, penciler/inker Declan Shalvey, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. It looked really interesting, and that’s saying something since I haven’t been reading many new comics lately. Here’s a little something about it , courtesy of Albert Ching over at Comic Book Resources. I thought I’d give it a shot, and so I did a search in the app for the series and got…


Buh? Weird. It seems to me I should be able to pre-order a digital copy of a comic from Comixology, or at least let them know I want it and get some kind of notification from them when it becomes available. I posted about this on twitter, and here’s what happened:


It was great that I got an official response so quickly, and that the support person had actual info for me, but ultimately I’m still stuck with a comic I want to read – preferably digitally – but can’t put in an order for through Comixology. Sure, I could write myself a note or put the release date on my Google calendar or something, but what if i want a bunch of comics that aren’t out yet? That’s gonna crowd up the Google calendar, or crowd something else with yet another list or shamble of post-its.

Thinking further, I decided to “search up” (as my kids say) the title on some of the better-known websites where one can order new comics. Here’s what happened:


I was a little surprised by this, since Amazon generally excels at allowing you to pre-order things. Oh well. What’s next…


Discount Comic Book Service was my source for new comics for a few years. I was very happy with their service, although their interface is a little clunky. But, sadly, no Moon Knight #1 there for me. Next!


MyComicShop was the next place I thought of. Don’t get me wrong – I’m positively tickled that I can choose ” ’70s Avengers” as my personal theme for their site, but….they got nothin’. But hey – at least #1 is listed there! I’m making headway! I click on the listing for #1 and…


Well, I can let them know I want it. That’s something. I’ll keep that in mind, but who else can I turn to?


Hmm. Fact Files, eh?

Ugh. Okay. Things From Another World, you’re up at bat. I turn to TFAW regularly for names of creators on comics, because they often have more info than even the publishers’ own websites do. Soo…


Ooo! I click on the listing for #1…


Yikes! Today’s my last day to order #1, at least through them. TFAW might be making some money off me today! I can’t help but notice that I can subscribe to it, “watchdog” it (whatever that is), and add it to a wishlist – all this for a title only one other site is even listing.

(Westfield Comics – who I also relied on for my comics many years ago – won’t let me see all the listings without signing in. It’s an adult content screening procedure which I appreciate in principle, but I don’t think I should have to register on their site just to see a listing.)

Comixology is missing a big opportunity here. I would have pre-ordered right then and there at the beginning of my search if the option had existed. I’m betting it would have cost me less, too. TFAW may get my money for being so thorough and so complete.

But you know what’s really weird?


Marvel’s own site doesn’t even list it. What the-?!


This week – today, even! – you can find these two lovely items at your local comic book store. I colored them, from Gene Ha’s mighty pencils and inks. Published by DC Comics.

All of DC’s “New 52″ comics this month are part of their “Villains Month” event, wherein all the comics in September feature stories focusing on villains common to each respective title – and ALL of them have 3-D covers! ALL OF THEM! This is a massive undertaking, and I commend DC on their bravery and glorious insanity!

3-D covers are quite complicated to produce, as you might imagine – both from an illustration and a production/printing viewpoint. Gene produced 3 illustrations for each cover with different dimensions and proportions than for a regular cover. I needed to assemble and color each illustration and provide DC’s production department with three separate, finished files for each cover. In a normal 2-D illustration you would not see things that are behind something closer to the viewer, but in 3-D you can sort of see behind objects, so that normally-hidden stuff has to be there as finished art.

Below you will see the three layers of line art Gene so magnificently produced. For Superman 23.2 I provided DC’s production department with two options: one with a colored background and one with a mostly white background. There was some confusion about how to execute these covers, I guess, and at one point near my completion of the Superman cover I was informed that the backgrounds needed to be white. So, I gave them both and let them work it out.

I finished the Action cover after I was informed of this white background thing, and luckily I had planned on making the background very light and minimal anyway, so I just went even further in that direction with it. I wasn’t happy with the background, but I thought it was what they wanted.

I guess there was some communication break-down or change of plans, because a different background was added. generally I’d say it looks better this way, although the color choices are too similar to the foreground and middle-ground colors, which kind of mitigates the “pop” of those colors. Of course, in 3-D getting the colors to “pop” is maybe not so big a deal.

I should stress that I don’t fault anyone at DC for any of the confusion involved. It’s a minor miracle that any comic gets into your hands without errors or mis-steps, there are so many things that can go wrong. This is why I bow before the good people in the industry’s production departments.

Go check out the covers this month – they are super-snazzy!

On July 27th, 2013, the Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, Indiana (where I live and breath) held it’s 6th annual 12-Hour Comic Book Day. Each year, young women and men between the ages of 10 and 20 write and illustrate comics of their own creation within a time limit of twelve consecutive hours.  MCPL’s Children’s and Teen Services teamed with our local comic book store,  Vintage Phoenix Comics, and provided art supplies, food, and surprises – like me! Prizes were awarded for every three hours of comics-making. Participants can work individually or collaboratively. Many of the resultant comics can be seen at the event’s Flickr site, here.  My kids and I are in photos 2-6!  My son created “Evil Limbs” and “Punch Me“, and my daughter whipped up “Aliens Attack!” and “Party Pooper”.

Those two pictures of me are from the presentation I did for the kids about comic book coloring.  I don’t know why I never contacted anyone about the event in previous years, but this year I did – albeit with little time to spare.  I figured most kids would know about the Justice League or at least some of that teams members, so I opened up the full, working file for Justice League #20 (written by Geoff Johns and published by DC Comics) pages 4&5 and got to work.  Those 2 pages are a 2-page spread of the JL battling some toothy, ravenous, mindless minions, but it had a lot of special effects and I thought it would be a good, big, simple way to show the layers of work involved in coloring a modern, mainstream super-hero comic book. I talked through each layer of art, from the initial black-and-white line art to the last streaks of rain. The kids were adorably and goofy and awkward and smart. They had good questions, and a couple of them hung around after my presentation to ask even more smart questions.

There are articles about the event here and here and here. Thanks to Chris Hosler of MCPL’s Adult and Teen Services for being friendly, helpful, and in charge!

Here are the images I used in the presentation. Click on the first one and then just click through the slideshow!

Sean Whelan and Jim Segulin host a DC Comics fan podcast called The Raging Bullets. If you like comics, you should totally give it a try. They go on at geeky lengths to discuss comics and comics-related media, always in a positive light.

I’ve been on the show several times to talk about my work as a colorist and comics in general, and about the Smallville tv series back when it was on. We were making arrangements to talk again, and I realized our plans coincided with the release of Man of Steel, so I kind of begged to be part of their inevitable discussion about the film.

Feast your ears!


Superman Earth One

published by DC Comics, 2010
136 pages, hardcover
written by J. Michael Straczynski
pencils by Shane Davis
inks by Sandra Hope
colors by Barbara Ciardo
letters by Rob Leigh
Eddie Berganza & Adam Schlagman, editors

 [This review is almost entirely spoiler-free.]

 I’ve read this graphic novel from 2010 only now because, to be perfectly honest, I had no interest in it when it was first released. I’ve read a lot of retellings and re-imaginings of Superman’s origin, and it seems like there’s been a lot of them in the past decade or so. On top of that, I didn’t care for the tone of the cover image: I had no interest in a brooding, laser-eyed, hoodie-wearing Clark Kent.

Eventually I got over myself and decided what the heck, it’s J. Michael Straczynski – how bad could it be? I became a fan of Straczynski’s because of his often ground-breaking mid-’90s science fiction tv series, Babylon 5. I first noticed his approach to examining and rejiggering origin stories during his run on The Amazing Spider-man (starting in 2001) and when I read the proposal (available online at he wrote with Bryce Zabel for a tv-series reboot of the original Star Trek series. What I like about his approach is that he looks at the established facts of said origin or back-story and asks “why?”: Why did the spider bite Peter Parker? Why did the spider bite Peter Parker? Why are so many of Spider-man’s enemies animal-themed, like himself? Why was the Enterprise sent on a 5-year mission? Why a 5-year mission? Why is there only one alien aboard? Why is that one alien a Vulcan? Why is that Vulcan specifically Mr. Spock? You get the idea.

This approach is a strong one when taking on the task of re-examining the roots of a setting or character. It opens up lots of doors, creating new opportunities for stories and depth. I dare say Spider-man is too “light” a character for this approach, but it definitely has its uses.

The thing is, the answers to these “why” questions need to be well-integrated into the story-telling. A clever answer to an insightful question is only kind of interesting if the characters stand around and explain the new idea, and Superman Earth One  almost overflows with just that.

There’s nothing wrong with JMS’ story: he hits the important Superman origin story beats and introduces all the important characters in ways that express what those character are all about. Unfortunately, most of it is pretty ham-fisted. The old rule in storytelling is “show me, don’t tell me”, but JMS feels the need to have his characters tell us nearly everything.

For example, coming up with an explanation of why Krypton exploded, and why it did so suddenly, is a really neat idea, but having the villain explain it at great length in very large word balloons is not. It gets worse when the explanation hand waves and glosses over details that really need to be addressed for this new insight to be satisfying. If this were an ongoing series, I’d assume that the details would be addressed in subsequent issues, but that would also require some indication that they will be addressed. There are many ways to indicate this, such as having a character wonder about one or more of these details and saying something like “I’ve got to find out!” There’s drama in that. There’s no drama in me wondering why all those curious details aren’t even referenced – by anyone. That’s just frustrating.

There are several scenes that fall into the trap of the “In Theory” trope ( ), wherein characters come up with explanations for the strange thing that’s happening in the scene and hey, what do you know, the story has to move along so they’re assessment is accurate! The story then proceeds with their theory being true. This trope seems to be popping up more and more in popular media, and its starting to really bug me. The chief way to reveal character in a story is to show us how people behave when their attitudes, plans, theories, and the like clash with reality. There are very few of these sorts of twists and turns in this story, so the whole thing feels like an exercise in getting to the climax so the “neat ideas” can be revealed.

Another pet peeve: there are many scenes wherein characters explain their own or another character’s emotions and motivations. I have a simple rule when it comes to reading, a simple request I make of writers: just tell me a story. Once characters start talking about what they themselves or another character stand for or are all about, you are no longer telling a story; you are telling me about your characters and how cool they are.

Speaking of characters, JMS introduces a couple of new ones to the traditional Superman milieu and they’re both smart choices, I think: a government-employed female scientist works to crack the mysteries of a piece of alien technology, and a powerful male alien with giant spaceships wants to finally complete his mission in life. The scientist nicely focuses into one character the interest any government or powerful organization would have in alien technology. The alien’s background is nicely woven into Superman’s origin, but the schemes he and his people perpetrated make sense only in a dumb, action movie kind of way and beg far too many further questions that, as mentioned above, never get answered or are even addressed.

In terms of the art, binding, trade dress and design and the like, it’s an attractive book. Shane Davis is good, although his anatomy is a little off here and there. I’ve seen better work by him, so I don’t know what to attribute that to. He’s not quite up to some of the demands of the story, namely designing alien technology and laying out dynamic action scenes. Just a little more liveliness and imagination would have gone a long way there. Sandra Hope seems a good match for Shane’s pencils. Barbara Ciardo’s colors are rich and moody, but in some places that approach keeps the story from opening up, visually; everything seems to be happening at sunset.

On the whole, Superman Earth One held my interest enough that I finished it in one sitting. I liked it more than I expected to. If you’re a Superman fan, it has some tasty meat on it’s bones. JMS’ heart and mind are in the right place, and he explores and has some intriguing and even exciting interpretations and insights regarding characters, relationships, and events in the traditional Superman origin story. However, a cannier, more subtle and layered approach would have greatly benefited the whole affair. Superman: Earth One doesn’t live up to the hype or needs of a modern, bold retelling for 21st century mass audiences of the Man of Steel’s origins.

FABLES #122 & 123


FABLES #122 & 123, by Bill Willingham, Gene Ha, Andrew Pepoy, Art Lyon, and Todd Klein. CoverS by Joao Ruas. Edited by Shelly Bond. Published by DC Comics, release dates October 24th and November 22nd, 2012.

Working on two or more issues in a row is nice: every new project is a whole new ball game, but by the end of the first issue I’ve worked out how I want things to look. The second issue becomes a new ball game within the game, where I deal in refinement, nuance, gloss over a few things that I’ve established or try to approach them in a new light, changing things up or upping the stakes here and there, throwing in some surprises and new takes on established stuff, and setting new challenges for my self.

Fab;es called for very clear setting and tonal shifts, and colorists love that, because it means you know where to shift gears and slap a new palette or approach to any given page or panel. Keeping things fresh is important to my sanity, and essential to storytelling.

I started something new for me on this project. There’s a very old practice in painting and other color illustration, of doing preliminary work in black-and-white, and then working in color on top of that, or with the b&w as a reference. This allows the artist to focus on fundamental issues of contrast and composition first, freeing them up to worry about hues and other subtleties later. I don’t multi-task well, and I had played with this approach some on The Shade, but I did every Fables page this way. Most of my decisions about what would be light or dark, including most of my rendering of highlights and shadows, was done in grayscale. Afterwards, in a different “layer” of the page’s file on my computer, I added what are essentially see-through colors on top of that gray stuff. I am super-happy with this process. I can focus on fundamental composition and details first, and then adding colors is (relatively speaking) a breeze. It’s really nice to have that second stage be easier than the first.

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Weekly Comic Book Review had very nice things to say about #122 and #123, and Silver Snail about both, as well. Comic Book Resources has peeks inside the two issues here and here.


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