Longbox Graveyard Interview: Billy King
Longbox Graveyard is firmly rooted in the past, but I do sometimes read current comics — even better, I have friends who are making current comics! My secret identity as a video game creator and comic book writer has brought me into contact with dozens of talented artists and writers through the years, and I am at loss to explain why I haven’t interviewed one before now!
To inaugurate my new, semi-irregular Longbox Graveyard “Interviews” category, I’m delighted to introduce artist Billy King. I’ve known Billy for a decade, and we worked together on video games like Darkwatch and The Bourne Conspiracy. More recently, Billy has been a frequent reader and supporter of Longbox Graveyard, and he and I have even been cooking up a special project for the blog, about which more at the end of Billy’s interview!
it’s Billy King!
LBG: Give us your thumbnail history, Billy!
BILLY: I have been a Visual Development/Concept Artist for the last fourteen years, working in the video game industry exclusively. I was the former Concept Lead for High Moon Studios under Activision on their last two projects: Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Marvel’s Deadpool.
Billy’s concept art for recent Deadpool video game
Currently, I am a freelance visual development artist, illustrator and graphic designer for several clients. Since this is a comics blog, I suppose it’s most interesting that I am the cover artist on Airwolf for Lion Forge Comics.
LBG: How did you first get into comics?
BILLY: My first comic I ever read was Web of Spiderman #8. I was eight years old and just moved to Boston from a small town in New York. On a bonding trip, my Step-Dad brought me to a comic store in Cambridge around 1988. He told me I could pick anything in the store and, of course, pointed to the 50 cent bin. I went straight for the black-suit Spiderman taped to the front of the longbox. I got bit by my own radioactive ‘comic bug’ that day. However, until I read Uncanny X-Men #234 (the brood story line with Marc Silvestri), I was all over the place with collecting. X-Men became my comic of choice and where I started collecting comics as a serious hobby. Thank goodness for lunch money … sorry Mom.
LBG: Did any of those comics influence your own development as an artist?
BILLY: I’m a product of late ‘80s-‘90s comics, so I was all about the art. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would go back and read Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc. to really appreciate the writers and the medium as a whole. Some artists that inspired me at the time were Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, John Byrne; during the Image days J. Scott Campbell, Joe Mad, Greg Capullo, and Todd McFarlane snuck in as influences. As I got older, though, Dave Cockrum and Neil Adams as well as Bernie Wrightson and countless other greats (Charles Vess and Frank Miller) moved to the top of the lists … but I’m still a huge fan of Marc Silvestri and Greg Capullo.
Airwolf by Billy King!
LBG: Let’s talk a bit about your comics work. How do you go about creating a cover?
BILLY: On Airwolf, I receive an email from my editor with what the story line is for that book or arc. Sometimes he gives me the whole comic, but even when that isn’t possible, I can usually break down from his synopsis what’s important for a cool cover. It’s usually Airwolf running away from or attacking a baddie aircraft, which is an awesome challenge. In recent issues, I have been looking at paintings of WWII planes and battles to get inspired. I’m now trying to get that kind of feel into the covers.
Next I will do some quick layouts (either on paper or right in Photoshop) and mail them off to my editor, Shannon Denton. Once they are approved, I’ll take the thumbnail and blow it up and start drawing/painting right over it using Photoshop.
I start differently on each cover though. Sometimes I draw the whole thing out — sometimes I just start painting with color and big strokes. Sometimes the foreground aircraft goes first, sometimes I start with the background. Shannon gives me a lot of room to explore, which I appreciate. I’m still perfecting the most productive and efficient process. It’s definitely different than the studio work I’ve done over the last ten-plus years.
LBG: Any special challenges in working on a digital-only comic?
BILLY: Airwolf is (at the moment) a Kindle only digital-comic. The challenge was making a Kindle spec’d composition also work with a standard comic size (for the Amazon thumbnail and potential print). I didn’t want to have key elements cropped out of the Kindle version (which was the important section of the cover).
A potential pitfall would be missiles and gun fire coming from off screen. Which is what happened on Airwolf #1 (below). The bottom half of the image looks like a solid composed piece but the top added looks like an after thought and disjointed. My Bad.
I decided to keep designing the covers to primarily work for the Kindle, of course. I’d use the Kindle section as the center for the full image and just extend the ‘plate’ up and down. To fill in the space, I’d add interesting yet superfluous extras to either the top or the bottom of the piece. They could be cropped to the Kindle specs without hurting the standard-comic composition. Easy, right? Took me four issues to figure it out! (See above).
LBG: What’s coming up for you next?
My time is pretty jammed packed at the moment with all sorts of work that I can’t get into right now (like some games concept work) — lots of cool stuff. I look forward to scratching my comic itch with Airwolf covers for the foreseeable future. Shannon Denton, my editor, is awesome and I enjoy working with him.
Speaking of Shannon, he also has his own imprint called Actionopolis, and I’ve done a couple covers for him over there as well. The most recent one is for a book named Battery: The Arrival. I had a lot of fun on this one and, of course, he gave me a lot of room to play.
I’m also working on an experimental web-comic called WarChief for … (drumroll) … Longbox Graveyard! The editor for that one though … huge pain. I take six months to paint nine panels and he’s supper supportive? How dare he. We thought it would be fun to start some creator-owned web comics under the Longbox Graveyard header. Apparently, I take forever … but it is coming! I have one panel finished and the rest laid out!
WarChief sneak preview, by Billy King and Paul O’Connor!
LBG: I’m sure it will be worth the wait, Billy! And I’d never expect you to work on our little experiment when paying work is demanding your time. That you’ve been too busy for WarChief is a happy problem to have!
Thanks to Billy for his candid answers and awesome art! For more of Billy’s work, be sure to check his site, and follow his Twitter and Instagram feeds, too … and in the fullness of time, you’ll see the fruit of his WarChief labors on this very blog!