Artist Christian Ward crafts a unique look for the Inhuman sovereign!
Over the years, Blackagar Boltagon has filled many roles: leader of the Inhumans, husband, father, intergalactic ruler—and now, prisoner! Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward set up quite a challenge for the one-time king when they launched BLACK BOLT a few months back: escape from an epic space prison!
Teamed up with the likes of Absorbing Man, Black Bolt continues to figure out how to flee the seemingly inescapable jail in the stars so he can find his way back to his family. We talked with Ward about designing Black Bolt’s cage, working on the silent hero, and making his mark on a childhood favorite.
Marvel.com: This book has definitely taken Black Bolt in some unexpected directions. How has it been crafting these stories with Saladin so far?
Christian Ward: I’m drawn to stories I can’t predict. I think that’s one reason why shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” are so enjoyable. Reading Saladin’s scripts for BLACK BOLT [has] had those same unexpected elements and I’ve loved reading them. Bringing a story to life that you’re already enjoying in its script form is easy. I have a background in creator-owned comics; I’m used to working on books I’m personally invested in and working on BLACK BOLT with Saladin has felt no different.
I think he would agree that we’ve really clicked working on BLACK BOLT. It’s been an absolute joy and I feel very lucky to be working with Saladin. I felt like we’re telling one story together infused with all these personal elements. I definitely feel like we’re trying to say something with BLACK BOLT, whilst remembering it’s a super hero comic and it should also be a lot of fun. Even with his first comic, Saladin’s going to be [among] many peoples’ very favorite writers. He’s certainly one of mine now and hopefully this will be the first of many projects we do together.
Marvel.com: The story mixes elements from classic prison break tales with sci-fi and super heroes. Do you enjoy playing with those pieces and building new structures with them?
Christian Ward: I do! Lots of my previous projects—like ODY-C for instance—have been about clashing genres together. I love the tension you get from mixing disparate ingredients. With BLACK BOLT, as well as the genres you mentioned, I’ve been having fun approaching parts like a Gothic horror, not just with the scenery and the lighting but also trying to use page layouts to make it feel foreboding or claustrophobic.
There have been pages where I’ve tried to make the panel [borders] feel as much of the prison bars as the ones I’ve actually drawn. Becoming narrower and narrower as our characters are contained or crushed within them. It’s been fun to allow the different genres, like horror, influence how certain elements of the book look and even let each issue feel a little different. For instance, in issue #4 I’ve been playing with formal nine-panel grids and half tone textures as a way to exaggerate the old school comic book-ness of the issue. It keeps me on my toes and hopefully it keeps the [book] exciting from issue to issue for the reader.
Marvel.com: You’re setting much of the action inside of this jail. How much of it did you have designed ahead of time?
Christian Ward: Lots of great design is about tension and what Saladin had in mind for our prison was perfect to play to that idea. He had this idea that it would be equal parts Victorian gaol and [Jack] Kirby techno, so for every stone pillar there has to be this contrasting piece of insane, impossible machinery.
I read about Panopticon so I knew I wanted there to be eyes everywhere because big floating over-watching eyes are always creepy and it had to feel huge, I wanted Black Bolt to feel insignificant there. I certainly didn’t design a physical place like an architect would, rather I spent a lot of time thinking about how it would feel, or maybe how the inmates would feel being held there. I wanted the prison to feel intangible, like a monster glimpsed in the darkness, a place that was ever changing. Somewhere it would be impossible to get your footing or stay sane. An M.C. Escher drawing come to life.
Marvel.com: BLACK BOLT has incorporated some interesting characters from Absorbing Man to Death’s Head. How has it been putting your own spin on them and making them work in this story?
Christian Ward: The first thing I have to say is what a huge and continuing honor it is to be drawing these characters that so many greats have drawn before me. It’s very exciting to, as you say, put a spin on them. It’s a tricky balancing act to honor what’s come before and try to shine a different light on them. Hopefully success comes from loving the characters in the first place. For instance, when I was a teenager Death’s Head was my favorite character growing up in the UK. He was my Hulk, my Spider-Man, my X-Men. He was my number one. So when I came to design my take on him I let that love guide the design. What I love about the character—that’s what I bring to the forefront.
And oh boy, Absorbing Man! I love drawing Carl. This might be Black Bolt’s book, but I think Crusher’s the heart of it. It’s been so much fun to draw him not as a bad guy, but as a man, and try and make him feel real. Whereas I’m trying to keep Bolt at arm’s length I really want readers to feel very empathetic towards Crusher. I’ve really grown to love the guy so I hope that’s coming through.
Marvel.com: Does Black Bolt’s silence offer any particular challenges when you’re working from panel to panel?
Christian Ward: It’s a huge challenge. I remember reading about the difference between TV, movie, and stage acting and the “volume” in which actors have to project or emote in each. Unlike in theater, for instance, on a giant movie screen the smallest of facial movements can be read. I’m aiming for giant movie screen acting here. I’ve always enjoyed comic book acting and it’s huge fun to try and convey all the subtleties of Bolt’s face. I really wanted to have him feel reserved and withdrawn from us but that as the story progressed the wall that he’d built up around himself—his own personal inner prison wall—would break down and we’d see more of those emotions showing on his face and in his body language. You know, as much as I love the big cosmic moments of the book, it was the challenge of drawing Bolt that made me take the project on and I’m having the time of my life with it.
BLACK BOLT #3 breaks into stores on July 5, with issue #4 following on August 2, thanks to Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward.