Exclusive Interview: Jon Davis-Hunt

Imagine getting the chance to pick up the mantle of one of the all time, Hall of Fame greats. How would you feel? Overwhelmed? Confident? Scared silly? Well, Jon Davis-Hunt, who has been doing some amazing work at the behest of Jim Lee for the new The Wild Storm book, was gracious enough to answer let our readers know exactly what that is like .

According to Jon’s own website, (where you can see a ton of amazing splash pages):

Jon Davis-Hunt is a Video Game Designer and comic book artist. While working in the video-game industry he most notably helped to create the award winning GRID, DIRT and FORZA HORIZON series. He started drawing comics in 2008, working predominantly for 2000AD on JUDGE DREDD, AGE OF THE WOLF and DANDRIDGE.

 

DC Comics News: You are a video game designer and a comic artist. Do you have a “favorite child?”

Jon Davis-Hunt: That’s an incredibly hard question to answer as they are so different. Game design is predominantly a written and verbal discipline. You are writing design documentation, overseeing a team, communicating out to (at times) a large studio. It’s a hugely collaborative experience and often, you are working on an idea that takes several years to finally reach fruition. In the recent past, I’ve worked predominantly for Microsoft and Playground Games as a Lead Designer and I’ve had the good fortune to work with an incredible bunch of people on some amazing games.

Making comics is far more personal. You get an even greater level of creative control, as it’s normally just you, a writer, colourist, letterer and editor, and you get to see the results far quicker. And obviously, you get to put pen to paper and actually draw stuff.

In all honesty, I enjoy both almost equally. They both scratch a different creative itch, and I feel like I’m just incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to do both of the things I always wanted to do as a kid, as an actual job.

DCN: Were you classically taught or are you self-taught?

JDH: A mixture of both really. I always enjoyed drawing as a child. Once I finished my A-Levels (the equivalent to finishing High School over here in the UK) I went to Art College, then onto University to study design. But I feel like I’m constantly learning. I’m always trying to improve and I still feel like I have a very long way to go.

DCN: What comics do you read for fun? What did you read when you were a kid?

JDH: I read a wide variety of stuff. When I was young, it was the Chris Claremont/Marc Silvestri run on Uncanny X-Men, followed by Jim Lee’s incredible run that really got me into comics. I was a big fan of the Breyfogle Batman run too. At university, I started reading a lot of Vertigo stuff and then after Uni, I discovered French comics and Otomo’s Akira, which has probably been my biggest influence. At the moment, I’m reading all sorts of stuff. I pick up a lot of the translated Humanoids books, which are always fabulous. I’m loving a lot of the Rebirth stuff, as well as the Valiant books. The new XO Manowar is amazing. My favourite comics at the moment are probably a close tie between Doom Patrol and Seven to Eternity.

DCN: Who was your inspiration? Who are your comic heroes?

JDH: Katsuhiro Otomo is my absolute favourite artist of all time. I just recently managed to get a copy of his KABA 2 book from Japan, which is amazing. I just love his style and design sense and obviously, he’s not just a great artist, but a fantastic writer too. I also love Frank Quietly, Arthur Adams, Jim Lee, Moebius, Juanjo Guarnido, Paul Pope and Fiona Staples. Writing wise, Warren was probably my favourite writer, which has made working with him such a surreal thrill. Planetary is probably my single, favourite comic run.

DCN: You have been doing comic art professionally for almost 10 years now. How long did it take you break in? Where there any other artists who helped you along the way? Is there a secret cabal like group of comic artists where the first rule of Art Club is not to talk about Art Club?

JDH: Haha – if there is, I am definitely not in it. I was pretty lucky, as I kind of ‘got in’ relatively quickly. I was working as a designer for a games company called Codemasters and shifted studios to start work on a new game. Quite by chance, my new desk was right next to that of a new concept artist who had just started – a chap called Lee Garbett (who as everyone knows is the fantastic artist of such hits as Loki and Lucifer).

We almost immediately became friends after discovering we both harboured a huge love for American comics. Both of us dreamed of ‘breaking in’ and so over the course of the next year or so, we’d frequently pop to the pub after work and discuss how we could find our way into the dark and secretive world of ‘professional comic book artists’. We were both pretty clueless, but eventually, through joint encouragement, we decided to put together portfolios and seek out some editors at comic cons here in the UK. Lee managed to get his done first and found instant work, with a small imprint called AP. Seeing his success spurred me on to get mine sorted, and by the time it was done, Lee had already started working for 2000AD and so dropped me the email of the editor there. I sent off some work and just by pure chance, did so at the exact time that AD were in need of an artist for a brand new series, which I was lucky enough to get. That makes it all sound incredibly easy, but it actually masks the months and months of preparation, scribbling away well into the night after coming home from my ‘main’ job. The first few years, I was working in games full time, then doing comic pages at night and at the weekend, so I pretty much went without a holiday for two or three years. At one point, I was actually getting up at 4am, doing half a page, going to work, then coming home, finishing the page, then going to sleep for 6 hours, waking up and repeating. That was a bit knackering.

While I was at AD, I also got to know a group of really great artists and writers, people like Ben Willsher, Leigh Gallagher and Alec Worley. We still keep in contact now, and it’s great to have friends who also work in the industry, to bounce ideas off and chat with.

Through out this time, I was working in games more than comics. It wasn’t until Shelly Bond saw my work in AD and gave me my first real break in the US that things changed. She gave me the gig on Clean Room with Gail Simone which was a fantastic experience. Shelly was really incredible, offering encouragement, advice and inspiration at the point where I really needed it.

DCN: How familiar were you with WILDCATS before you joined the The Wild Storm?

JDH: I was a huge fan of Wildcats, Stormwatch and The Authority. The Authority and Planetary are probably my two most favourite comic series (along with Akira), so when the offer came through to work with Warren on a reboot of the universe, it was quite a surreal moment.

DCN: Was there any trepidation on your part taking over characters that were not just drawn, but created by Lee? How much license do you have alter the way some classic characters look?

JDH: Yeah, I was initially pretty terrified/overwhelmed actually. But everyone at DC has been great. Right from the beginning, it was made really clear to me that this was in no way meant to be a continuation of the original series. They wanted a full re-imagining and Warren, especially, had a really clear idea of what he wanted the book to look like. I just kind of ran with his initial ideas and tried to almost forget everything that had gone before, just kind of design the characters from the written brief as opposed to looking at the visuals of their previous incarnations. I was expecting more push back with certain characters that I changed significantly (e.g. Void and The Engineer), but everyone seemed to be really on-board and it just kind of flowed naturally. Because of that, I think the pressure really dissipated early on. It’s been a really fun and creative experience and I’m actually looking forward now even more to getting to do the same to the next batch of characters that will be turning up in the 2nd arc.

DCN: What is the process you and Warren Ellis have for each issue? There are a lot of pages without words, that really move the story along. They are all so well done and striking.  Does he write each panel or does he let you have at it with a rough outline?

JDH: Well I received the first 6 issues in one go, which was great as it allowed me to really get a handle on the character designs. It also gave me time to think about the big elements that would crop up through the first arc.

Warren and I go back and forth with character designs and cover ideas, but once I get started on an issue, I just go from the detail and descriptions in the scripts.

As well as specific details regarding the setting, mood and body language of the characters, Warren will also write specific notes that illustrate the pacing of the action within a scene and that really allows me to think about the way time breaks down between panels and across scenes.

Often as well, I’ll spend quite a bit of time setting out the geography of a room or environment, so that when we hit an action scene, I know exactly where people are going to be, or how the action affects the wider environment. In issue 3 for instance, when the Razors storm the bunker at Camp Hero, I actually drew out a detailed plan of that room, so I knew exactly where cover would be, how objects would be placed pre- and post-explosion etc.

DCN: Based on the way each cover looks, are we to assume there is a 24-issue arc for this book? Will we see spin offs?

JDH: Yeah, it’s definitely going to be 24 issues and there will also be spin-off series that expand the universe, which Warren is also curating.

DCNWhat is next for you in the DC Universe? You have this and Clean Room. Would you like to do any other DC properties either in Young Animal or the tentpole DC Universe?  

JDH: For now I’m pretty busy on The Wild Storm and will be for the foreseeable future. I’d be happy to just keep drawing that forever, but obviously, it’s going to stop at #24.

I’ve been very lucky to have gotten to work on two very distinctive, and diverse books that have both allowed me the opportunity to bring a lot of character design and world building to them. I think the design element is something I really enjoy, so going forward, I’d like to try and develop that further.

But really, I’m up for anything that DC might offer me in the future. It’s been awesome!

 

It has been awesome indeed. The Wild Storm is a wild ride, full of mystery, action and intrigue. Luckily for us, this ride has just started and we 20 more books to see what amazing work Jon and Warren have for us.

 

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Tony Farina

A bit about me... Favorite Robin: Tim Drake Favorite Green Lantern: Jessica Cruz Favorite Flash: Barry Allen Favorite Batgirl: Barbara Gordon Favorite Batman: Duh, There can be only one