Sketchy Details: A conversation with illustrator Loston Wallace

Trevor Hogg chats with illustrator Loston Wallace who provides a personal tour of his commissioned artworks…


“I’ve been drawing since I was four years old,” states American Illustrator Loston Wallace whose fascination with comic books, cartoons, science fiction, and horror films, such as the Universal Monster classics, is reflected in his artwork. “My formal art training came from attending the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Art where I met my wife Carolyn.” The native of Clintwood, Virginia began his professional career by illustrating role-playing games such as Deadlands: The Weird West, Battletech, Indiana Jones, and Shadowrun. “In 1998, I began freelancing for the DC Comics Licensing Department, where I illustrated children’s books based on Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series.” The job would last for 12 years and during that time Wallace produced books for Krypto the Superdog and The DC Super Friends. “In 2001, I was one of a handful of professional artists chosen by comic strip artist, Jim Keefe, to provide guest art for the famous King Features’ Flash Gordon comic strip. In recent years, I’ve managed to find time to pencil or pencil and ink several comic books. The first comic I penciled was Cavewoman: Klyde & Meriem, a 40-page one-shot written by James Robert Smith and inked by Kim DeMulder. In the mid-2000 era, I penciled Elvira, Mistress of the Dark stories for Claypool Comics and worked with the talented writers like Richard Howell and Janet Hetherington, and great veteran comic inkers Bob Wiacek and Bob McLeod. In 2011, I did the lion’s share of the artwork in Lorna, Relic Wrangler, a comic conceived by Micah S. Harris and published by Image Comics.”


“Commissions are a good way to keep your income rolling along between publishing projects, and they can be a lot of fun,” believes Loston Wallace. “Some of my best works of art are pieces done as commissions. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you in this article, introducing each one and talking a little about the challenges they presented. Some are recent pieces, some are a little older, some of them were more challenging than others, but they were all fun to do in their own way.”


THING COLLAGE

“This piece was drawn for Steve ‘Brokenhill’ Funnell, a fellow artist who is the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Ben Grimm [A.K.A. the Thing from Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four]. Like me, Steve is a fan of classic comics, so I set out to produce an illustration that featured the Thing prominently, with a tip of the hat to the classic Fantastic Four comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. When I sit down to draw any illustration, I usually work up a thumbnail sketch or a rough drawing where I work out all the details. This piece was different though, because I just jumped in and drew the figure first, without having any sort of preset notion about how to approach the background. I think I was just excited to be drawing ol’ bashful Benji Grimm! I first penciled the figure of the Thing on a loose piece of 8.5″X11″ copy paper, and then I tightened it up by going over the pencil lines with a Pitt Artist Pen. I did my own interpretation of the classic Ben Grimm/Thing character, keeping in mind as many cues from the art of Kirby/Sinnott as I could recall. I came up with a pose that I felt was dynamic and visually interesting. Ben Grimm is a scrapper; he’s a character who grew up fighting on the streets, so I gave him a pose like a boxer. That really seemed to work well, and I liked the dimension I was able to achieve with the figure. Ben is not the easiest character to draw because of his rocky skin and one-of-a-kind good looks, but I did my best to do Jack proud.


I redrew the Thing onto 11″X17″ Bristol board with pencil, keeping the details pretty much the same, and I inked the figure using a Raphael Kolinsky red sable brush and Super Black India ink. For the background, I decided to do a collage of floating heads featuring important characters from the 1960s Fantastic Four comics. For the sake of contrast, I decided to leave the heads drawn only in pencil, which allowed Ben to remain the focus of the drawing. Ben’s friends and family members like Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, the Human Torch are prominent, as are some of the great villains like Doctor Doom and Galactus. My concept was that the floating heads represents the mythos of the original Fantastic Four comic series. All the heads are above Ben Grimm, you may notice, giving the illustration a top-heavy look; that was actually by design. Ben Grimm is a character that carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, so I liked the notion of the visual symbolism. I gave Ben a long, black shadow stretching out in front to help balance the overall composition. This piece was a lot of fun to do because I connected with the subject matter. As a kid, I loved the Fantastic Four comics, and Ben was always one of my favorite superheroes.

Two wonderful comic book colorists have lent their talents to my Thing Collage, creating two beautiful images.

The first version is by Steve Downer, who colored my comic book story in Lorna, Relic Wrangler. I love the way Steve went ‘old school’ on the floating heads! I always enjoy collaborating with Steve because our styles mesh so well together.


Matt Webb, colorist of the horror graphic novel Flesh & Blood, provided the second version. Matt provided a retro style coloring, choosing the same sort of color palette and k-tones that would have been used on the ’60s Fantastic Four comics. I love the depth Matt achieved; the way Ben pops away from the background!”


ZATANNA AND A COUPLE OF BOOBS

“This was another recent commission piece, featuring DC Comics’ sorceress Zatanna casting a gender-bender spell on Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Skeets. Zatanna is always fun to draw. It was done as a black and white image originally, but I liked the piece enough that I digitally colored it. The color version of this illustration recently made Comics Alliance’s Best Art Ever weekly list and has garnered a lot of attention online. I enjoy drawing humor, and it was fun drawing the characters in the Batman: The Animated Series style. Back in the late 1990s, I worked on B:TAS children’s books for DC, so the style is very familiar to me. I inked the piece using traditional brush and ink methods. I created the background texture using an ink stamping method where I dipped terry cloth into ink and patted it against the board. The colors were done in Adobe Photoshop, and I found that stage to be the biggest challenge. Steve Downer gave me some great advice about how to approach some of the background color elements, and I was very happy with the results. It’s a nice drawing, and I’m proud of it.”

SUICIDE SQUAD COVER COMMISSION #1

“The Suicide Squad, A.K.A. ‘Task Force X,’ first appeared in DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold in 1959. When art collector Bill Cox commissioned me to produce an illustration evoking the old Suicide Squad covers, he thought it might be fun to depict the Squad members in an animated style. I’m always happy to draw things in the style of Batman: The Animated Series, but I decided that I would add a little extra detail to the figures and surroundings. What works well in animation doesn’t always work as well for illustration, and vice versa. In animation it pays to keep the details simple, but in an illustration there is more room for lighting, textures, and other details. Bill requested that I draw in the old DC Comics and Suicide Squad cover logos, and he wanted me to draw the Squad fighting a giant snake in Paris. The Squad was always fighting some sort of giant monster on the covers of their comics, and I love drawing monsters, so I knew this was going to be a fun commission from the start. I also knew it was going to be complicated, and something of a challenge to pull off.

I envisioned the giant snake wrapped around the Eiffel Tower. This meant that the snake was going to be HUGE! The challenge I had to overcome was how to show that the awesome size of the giant snake threatening our heroes without making the heroes look like ants in the composition…no easy task! My solution was to draw the scene from an overhead ‘bird’s eye’ point of view. This meant a lot of hard work, as I would have to draw the Eiffel Tower, one of the most complicated structures on Earth, in perspective with a giant, angry snake wrapped around it! However complex this was, it was worth it, because then I could have the Suicide Squad parachuting down from overhead. It made sense. It would be a dramatic scene, the threat would be there, and the issues of scale and composition would be met. So I started drawing out the Eiffel Tower with the snake coiled around it. It was an incredible pain to draw! I couldn’t find good reference of the Tower from an overhead shot, for starters, but I did manage to find a few photos above the Eiffel. They weren’t from the same angle I needed, but it was still helpful. I carefully gridded out the structure of the Tower, then I added the snake.


Moving on to the step of adding in the Suicide Squad characters, I suddenly realized that my idea wasn’t going to work! There just wasn’t enough room for the characters and their parachutes. I’d have to draw the heroes much smaller than I had wanted. Ugh. I had already gone to all the work of laying out the Eiffel Tower and giant snake. I had to figure something else out. Immediately I thought of having the Squad wear jet packs, but then I remembered those hovering platforms in the opening credits of the Jonny Quest cartoon series. I found out that those things really existed! In the mid-1950s, the U.S. military developed the Hiller Flying Platform. It was basically a giant fan that lifted a soldier off the ground. They weren’t practical for military use, so they never saw active duty, but here was my answer. The time period was right, and the Hiller Flying Platforms seemed tailor made to be used by the Suicide Squad, so my problems were solved.”

I’m extremely proud of this particular commission because I didn’t settle for ‘good enough.’ I solved some extremely tough challenges, and produced a composition that is one of my favorites.

I asked Steve Downer to digitally color the Suicide Squad commission, and what he came up with was perfect!”


NIGHTWING OVER BLUDHAVEN

“For people who might not be familiar with Nightwing, he is Dick Grayson, formerly Robin the Boy Wonder, all grown-up and moved out of Wayne Manor. Older, wiser and more experienced, Nightwing now protects the streets of Bludhaven, just as his former guardian protects Gotham City as Batman.

I am a huge fan of Batman. My very first comic book ever was a copy of Batman, and I’ve been a fan of the character ever since. I grew up knowing about the Dynamic Duo, and I enjoyed seeing the Dick Grayson Robin come into his own as the leader of the Teen Titans in the early ’80s. His transition to Nightwing was a little awkward at first, but during the 1990s Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel seemed to figure things out. I’ve drawn Nightwing for DC Comics a few times, but not often enough for my taste, so I loved penciling this illustration.



Working in licensing for many years, I was often called to draw things in one style or the other to suit a particular product line or television cartoon. Even though I like drawing animated style artwork, my true personal style is more of a traditional comic book approach. My favorite artists were talents such as John Buscema, Wallace Wood, Jack Kirby, Doug Wildey, Dave Stevens, Neal Adams, and Don Newton. I produced this image of Nightwing as part of a Christmas art swap with another artist, which gave me the opportunity to draw in the style I like best. I enjoy a little more realism in my artwork, but I’m not into photo realism. I still like pulling things from my imagination and drawing dynamic figures and action. This Nightwing piece was a joy to do. It’s just me having fun with a pencil! My favorite part was coming up with an interesting leaping pose. I love foreshortening figures and using dramatic lighting in any drawing. Lighting adds depth and dimension, and helps to create mood and atmosphere. It was also fun to give Nightwing an expression that conveys both serious concentration and a sense of playfulness that I think fit the character well.”


ZOMBIE IN THE GRAVEYARD


“This is an older commission illustration from around 2001. The client approached me with an interesting request. He wanted me to draw a zombie digging himself out of a grave, and he wanted me to draw it to look like something that EC Comics artist Graham ‘Ghastly’ Ingles might have drawn, or the kind of horror that Bernie Wrightson was well-known for in the 1970s. Being a fan of both Wrightson and Ingles, I was excited to have a chance to draw a nice zombie. I had been drawing zombies and other monsters in the ’90s for role-playing games like Deadlands: The Weird West, so zombies were nothing new to me, but I had never tried to draw anything like Wrightson or ‘Ghastly’ Ingles before.

I knew that Wrightson’s own work had been influenced by Graham Ingles’ EC horror work, so I flipped through a few EC reprints, and several of the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing comics before I started in on the drawing. I penciled the illustration in a single night and inked it with a brush the next day. I incorporated dry brush techniques, which both Ingles and Wrightson often used in their horror art. I added extra textures and line work to the drawing, but I was careful to leave plenty of negative space, and I spotted black shadow shapes to give the drawing more depth. One of my favorite aspects of the drawing is the zombie’s head–especially the drooping eyelids and his dangling ear. I also liked drawing and inking the rotted tree, dripping with Spanish moss.


The client was very happy with this commission, and it has been a favorite of mine for many years. I still get emails regarding it, and I even use the image of the zombie’s head on my business cards. It’s been over a decade since I illustrated this piece, but it has held up well, I think.”

CIRCE

“Phillip Anderson is an art collector who has artists providing single illustrations in large, 11″X17″ art books, with each sketchbook having a different theme. Phillip commissioned me to contribute an illustration to his mythology-themed art book, letting me know that I was one of the first artists he’d asked to contribute. When I opened up the book to take a look at who else had drawn pieces, I was delighted to behold a magnificent double-page title spread drawn by comic book artist/illustrator Mark Schultz. Mark created the comic series Xenozoic Tales and recently illustrated The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian for Ballantine Books/Del Rey. He is one of the best illustrators working today. I’m proud to claim him as a friend! His double-page illustration featured the death of the Titans from Greek myth, and it was an incredible piece. Simply stunning, in fact! It was going to be a very tough act to follow, and I knew I couldn’t draw anything that could surpass his piece, but I was determined to draw something nice enough to allow me to hold my head up with pride.

Phillip left the subject matter completely up to me; he assured me that as long as it was something from mythology, he would be happy. It took me a while to figure out what to do. There were so many mythological options to choose from Egyptian, Norse, Teutonic, Greek, Native American; it was a lot to think about. Finally, I decided to stick to Greek Mythology, and I settled on doing a drawing of Circe the Witch, a minor goddess who changed men into beasts from Homer’s Odyssey. Circe is described as being ‘the loveliest of all immortals,’ and living in a mansion in a woodland clearing on the island of Aeaea; all around her house prowl wolves, lions and other large cats, victims drugged by her magic and transformed into animals.


I wanted to show a more human side to Circe; I envision her as being more than just an evil sorceress. She is a scornful, vengeful and angry character, but she is also isolated from the world, something of a social misfit. Her father is Helios, god of the sun, and her mother is Perse, an Oceanid. I see Circe as being a very lonely sort of character. She has transformed her victims into animals, and they have, ironically, become her only companions. I set out to capture Circe as being both beautiful and lonely. I was concerned with drawing her as a ‘sexy babe’ pin-up. It was a more elegant sort of beauty that I was after. Is there anything more elegant or classical than the line of a woman’s back? I dressed Circe in the trappings that a woman of wealth might have worn in Ancient Greece, with a hairstyle to match. To show a human side to the character, I drew her holding a piglet in her arms in a manner that shows that she cares for it. I added a stalking leopard behind her as a reflection of Circe’s own deadly nature, and of course to show another of her victims. The wine jug and incense bowls I added primarily for the sake of composition, but they also represent objects that would have been commonplace to a lady of her wealth and stature. Finally, I added the circular Greek key design in the background to tie the scene to Ancient Greece. It also allows the viewer’s eyes to focus their attention on Circe.
When I showed Phillip the piece I’d created, he was extremely pleased with what I had done. He told me that his wife liked it too, and she was not typically a fan of the sort of artworks he collected. Phillip works in a winery, and he sent my wife and me a dozen bottles of wine as an extra ‘thank you’ for my efforts! I was floored by that. It was a wonderful thing to do, and I appreciated the gesture. It was good wine, too!


My good friend Olli Hihnala colored my Circe piece; here are his enhancements.”



FATHER’S DAY

Father’s Day [2011] is a horror film from Troma Entertainment, the people that gave us The Toxic Avenger [1984]. Adam Brooks, who directed, wrote and starred in the film, commissioned me to draw a film poster collage illustration based on the movie. Using the reference material available, I was able to produce a nice image featuring the main characters, Ahab [Adam Brooks] and his sister, Chelsea [Amy Groening]. Adam even allowed me to take an early look at the film, which was a major help in composing this piece. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers about the film, but I can say that it was one of the most violent, freaky, insane, gore-fests I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw! I don’t think anything can prepare you for a film like Father’s Day; it was incredible. I’m still a little stunned by it, many months later.


I enjoyed drawing the piece. I don’t often get to do halftone pencil shading, but the technique is great for doing portrait work. The tonal values add an element of realism to any pencil drawing; thanks, Adam, for a very fun commission!”


LORNA, RELIC WRANGLER

“In 2011, Micah S. Harris and I released a comic book through Image Comics called Lorna, Relic Wrangler. It was about a Southern-fried relic hunter on a mission to save the world in the nation’s capital. Along the way, Lorna comes face to face with her arch rival Posh Meow, and forces of the supernatural. Lorna was a fun book, and I had a blast penciling and inking the main story, One Nation…Under Chaos!, written by Micah. Andy Park designed logos and was our editor, Steve Downer provided colors, and Nate Pride was our letterer. Below are a few pages from Lorna, Relic Wrangler, that showcase our collaboration on the One Nation…Under Chaos! story.”





Many thanks to Loston Wallace for taking the time for this interview and for supplying the images in the article; be sure to visit him at his website and Deviant Art.


Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

  • Hotred20

    You really have a talent. Those drawings are amazing.<br /><br /><br /><br />A owner of <b><a href="http://www.moderngreetings.com/&quot; rel="nofollow">customized photo books</a></b>