ARTIST AT WORK: ADAM BYRNE
This is the second installment of our new series Artist at Work, where we put the spotlight on a single artist and have a conversation about craft, inspiration and process. Last time it was Dean Haspiel, an established star of the New York scene, but for this edition the focus is on a building success story here in Southern California: Adam Byrne, whose vivid work on “The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft” has caught the eye of a lot of industry observers (myself included) as well as the attention of Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment, who are now developing the property as a film.
began skittering around the edges of Adam Byrne’s imagination at the start of this decade, which is why he jokingly calls “The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft” his “10-year overnight success.”
It was in 2000 that Byrne crossed paths with Mac Carter and Jeff Blitz, a pair whom he viewed as “the best-kept secrets in Hollywood” (and he may have been right considering Blitz later got an Oscar nomination for the documentary “Spellbound“). Carter and Blitz hatched an idea that intrigued Bryne as an artist: A supernatural tale that would use the cosmically creepy author Lovecraft (who died 72 years ago) not just as an influence, but as the main character.
“I knew immediately this was the project worth dedicating myself to … as time wore on, I stubbornly refused to let go of Lovecraft,” Byrne said. “It took on many unfinished forms; The animated short, a video game pitch and my own pass at the miniseries until we realized the workload was too much for a struggling artist with high mortgage rates.”
In the end, the team brought in veteran artist Tony Salmons to help with the interior art, which was a whole different sort of commitment; the irascible Salmons moved in with Byrne’s family to get the project finished quickly but “what was supposed to be four months turned into a two-year stint in hell” with lots of bickering and aimless afternoons, Byrne said. Byrne handled the covers on his own. Finally, the work reached the point of being published in April by Image Comics.
Just as the project changed over the years, so did Byrne’s art. “My style for many years was cartoony and heavily influenced by J. Scott Campbell, Jim Lee, Mike Mignola, Chris Bachalo, Alex Toth. But it never felt serious enough for Lovecraft until Mac encouraged me to try something more mature. I broke out some oil paints and ink and 99-cent brushes and haven’t looked back since. Now I’ve developed a real love for Kent Williams, Ashley Wood, James Jean, Todd Schorr and on and on.”
For Byrne, creating a big-idea cover begins with tiny concept work. “I start the cover process by drawing very small thumbnails on a template I print out from an inkjet printer. This lets me free-associate and move on to new ideas quickly without having to draw a bunch of little boxes. I may draw 25, even 50, of these before I find an idea that moves to the next step.”
Next, he said, comes the sculpting of the image. “Once I settle on a basic concept, I’ll scan in a preliminary sketch and throw some color on it to check the mood. Elements like his love interest, Sylvia, get auditions as layers in Photoshop. I’ll go through five or 10 of these ideas until I settle on something I like and pitch to Mac. Sylvia didn’t make the cut in this cover…
“Next I started painting elements of the cover on watercolor paper with oil and ink-wash. I don’t know if it’s a wise use of materials, but it accomplishes two things: It gives me the texture I’m looking for and the convenience of not having to mix oil colors. Next, I’ll bring the elements into Photoshop and color them. I had the idea early on to have the monster spilling out of Lovecraft’s typewriter — a metaphor for his manifestation of horror. Behind Lovecraft is an image of the Necronomicon. It won’t make the final
“At this point in the cover’s evolution, Mac asked to see more of the monster. I drew the monster elements in black line in Photoshop and multiply a gray layer of digital paint behind it. It’s always easier to paint dark to light than the other way around. Then I painted the monster elements in the same monochromatic color scheme.”
Next, the finishing touches: “You can see in the image below on the left how I’ve incorporated the flat-colored, painted tentacles behind Lovecraft. On the right is the finished cover complete with aged, dog-eared look and a (gulp) higher price our publisher recommended. At one point we discussed making a ‘Weird Tales’ inspired piece on the back cover of the comic. The idea eventually made it onto the front cover in the form of typography and buttons of information.”
A scary amount of work by Byrne, all executed with love and craft that, if you think about it, is entirely appropriate.
— Geoff Boucher
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Artwork: Adam Byrne and Image Comics.
UPDATE: This post looks different than it did early on because I swapped out a piece of art (at Byrne’s request) because I had used the wrong one. I also trimmed out a sentence that suggested Blitz was no longer involved in the project (he is).