Got a bit of a twist on the usual writer's commentary, this time we have a creator's commentary by artist Kewber Baal talks KISS #7. Kewber has been working for Dynamite for a while now and is an artist to keep an eye on. Cover by Tom Mandrake.
Drawing KISS has really been a big challenge for me. It's not just an urban story, with superpowers and such, in a world that already exists when you open the window of your home. This is a whole new world, with its own history, visuals, colors and giant robots! Upon receiving the proposal to draw KISS from my friend [Dynamite Executive Editor] Joe Rybandt, it was a shock to my system, I really did not expect it! But I also realized how much I would be challenged! I would be part of a 40-year legacy of KISS in the comic books. First thing I thought is that I would have to be better than the previous artists, do something unforgettable! Oh, and the story would also have to surpass everything that has already been released, be something totally new and innovative. Until I got the first plots from writer Amy Chu. She would not use KISS members in the story but new characters! And the series would be based on the album Music from the Elder. KISS without KISS, based on the most forgotten KISS album? First I thought, my God, what am I doing here? This woman is crazy! But then, after a few panic attacks, I calmed down while I was looking for a psychiatrist's phone and reread the synopses of the first six books. Yes, everything was already defined. And that's when I saw it. The story was new, innovative, bold! Amy also wanted to overcome everything that has already been done. It was not just a KISS story, there was something beyond that. Yes, I got it! It had every element to be awesome. Now, I had to do my part. I raised my head and I thought, I'm ready!
We, comic book artists, usually to receive a finished script, with all panels, conversations, everything defined by the writer. But one thing I really like about Amy's scripts is that with every issue, she has the main story there, beginning, development, and the end. I see the message she wants to pass on, and the characters going from point A to point B, and so on. But in the details and solutions for each happening, she gives me complete freedom. Amy sends me the script, and as I work out the layouts for each page, I add panels, lines, narrative changes, and then I send the script back to her, with my parts in a font with another color. Many pages have just three panels and I add three more. Some pages have just a plot — "this happens" — and I create the scene. So Amy reviews and makes her final script. Of course, I'm always worried if I'm doing the right thing, or if I'm being nosy, but Amy has so far approved everything I've ever written. This has made me very happy to be part of the story, we have no differences between writer and artist, and as Amy herself told me, "We are collaborators".
Well, do you want to see how these pages were created? Let's go!
I don't know how to start without saying a great spoiler that involves all the previous issues, and the journey of our teenage heroes. This was revealed in the previous issue, but I will try to avoid this information! Well, we started with a splash page, Blackwell and our heroes starting a new journey. I really like comic books that start and end with splash pages, because it sounds like a great show to me. The curtain opens for the public and in the end we have a great revelation or cliffhanger for the next episode. Amy has done this on almost every issue, and also for me is the chance to draw the KISS band. Since the beginning, I did not want to simply draw any generic face, and paint the makeup of KISS on it. I wanted to show the real band members. So I always look for pictures, live concert frames, I search for the right angles to put on the page so try to keep as faithful as possible. For the most nostalgic fans, I chose the members of the original band, from the 70's. I really wanted to draw the new members as well, but so far I have not found a chance in the history to make this possible, unfortunately!
"Our world has been turned upside down". Amy asked me to draw this first panel upside down, and the next one in the correct position. However, I thought it was cool to gradually turn a bit each frame until the last panel is in the correct position. After this big event in the stoty, everything has now changed, and the denial, revolt, fear, acceptance, come slowly from each character.
Eran asks about information for Morpheus, the first operating system to administer Blackwell City, rescued by Eram in the first issues. Now we know what is really happening. The citizens of Blackwell want answers! The last two panels, including the texts, were an addition by me in this issue. Amy wanted the kids to get to Central Park on the next page, but she had not written how they would do this, and the initial route from the tunnels was very far, so I suggested a solution.
People on the streets, wondering what's going on. And behold, our heroes arise in the middle of Central Park, in front of the statue of Mr. Blackwell. Continuing from the previous page, almost all this page also was a collaboration of mine, the original script only had 3 panels. Amy a long time ago told me she wanted to use Central Park for an important moment in history, and it's also based on one of the lyrics of KISS album Music from the Elder. So I thought this would be the best time, Central Park being the main place for all the events from now on. The children coming up from the floor, still with the makeup, was my solution so they could get there so fast. And I think they will use this passage for anything really important in the future.
The population is enraged, and the kids still using KISS makeup does not help much to calm people. People fear what they don't know, and with all that happening, there is nothing more usual than to react with hatred. Alex, Adi, Eran and Noa, simple kids, can't handle all this. They run off to the Council Building. Alex has a great idea, the Protectors need to return! I love to draw the Protectors!
This is one of my favorite pages. The Protectors arrive and scare away the protestors in the park. It should be a splash page, but I thought it would be better adding one more panel to complement the narrative. I really like the idea that Eram and Noa can control all Blackwell systems now. With everything and everybody against them, at least this power they already have in their favor.
This was definitely one of the coolest pages of this edition. Why? Because it was all created by me! What had Amy written on this page? Just "Protectors restore order peacefully." Nothing more. That was a challenge! Well, I decided to ignore the word "peacefully", and added a bit of chaos in the situation. I'm a bad guy! But no protests in real life simply end because the authorities arrive. There is always an attempt for resistance, and often for violence. But this time, there is no way to confront giant robots, using bottles and household utensils. I also loved the red tone that colorist Schimerys Baal used to warm things up. Another point that I also like a lot in the KISS series are the colors, and because I'm working with Schimerys I can have much more freedom to work on each scene, already thinking about how it will be the setting, main and secondary lights, complementary colors and everything that can be used to make pages look great. We develop scenes in which the colors also are important. You can see in the books that the colors are also telling the story, they are not there just to show the book as a "colored book".
Eran and the children convene a meeting to establish order, and present a new word, "democracy", as a new solution to Blackwell. I asked Amy if she could now go back for the initial clothes on the kids, this helps the reader to establish a length of time has passed, and also it's a rest for the characters, and us. If you search all my works, also in other titles, you will notice that I don't like sameness. I really like to develop characters also physically. I change the clothes and accessories, tidy hair begins to get messy, I add scars, I add new expressions. The characters should always grow along with the reader, and I like to get to the end of the story by showing how different they are, and how the story also affected their bodies and minds. I really like the last panel on this page, when Noa says, "No more lies". I wanted to pass on a sincere, determined look, a sense of "enough!" I hope I succeeded! I like to explore facial expressions and body language in the characters, and in this series, because the main characters are kids, it has been wonderful for me, as children and adolescents are more exaggerated, less contained people. So I have explored many faces and mouths that I believe are not possible in other characters.
Introducing the KISS ARMY! My God, the best moment of this series! And the coolest, who joins the army? The new generation! For me this is everything! This is one of the messages Amy wanted to pass on to us. KISS today has at least three or four generations of fans, and I'm amazed watching the live concerts, parents taking their kids, the ones that once were taken by their parents. I must confess that drawing these last two panels made me smirk, and I felt shivers in my spine!
Pages 10 and 11:
We meet a new character, Karin, Chief Ishida's daughter. Amy asked me to design a different character, smaller than the others, so I decided to keep her dad's hair, and now I can use the Fox persona for her. Karin's clothes are based on Eric Carr, and Carr was also one of the smaller members of KISS. Eran gives orders to the new army!
Pages 12 and 13:
A scene far away from all that chaos. Except for Central Park, Blackwell has no trees, and all is gray and dark. So Alex brings Karin to the first place he and his friends discovered, in issue #1: the food and vegetable gardens. Well, maybe Alex does not know, but this is a beautiful place with a romantic atmosphere, right?
Page 14 and 15:
Adi returns to "The Fox" door and finds Noa, also trying to get her mind off things. And music always helps! I love to draw Adi and Noa singing together, and I had to work hard to draw this panel, because when I sent the first layouts to Amy, between all 20 pages, she commented exactly about this panel, so for sure this was her favorite one. It needed it to be perfect!
Music unites us all! Everyone has heard this at least once in their lives. So Adi and Noa had the great idea to make the whole city listen to them. The great idea by Amy, another awesome message! I don't know if she's been thinking about this since the issue #1, but if so, she's a crazy genius! The last panel was also one of the ones that made me smirk when drawing. I am enjoying showing this union between Eran and Adi, and how Adi is so intrusive when it refers to personal space. Adi is definitively my favorite character. Maybe you don't know, but Adi was just a generic character in Amy's first concepts. She just described "it" with "smaller than others, and faster". Initially, I think the group should be three boys and one girl, and in the KISS #1 script I did not find any tip about what Adi was. But seeing Adi's behavior on this issue, she pulls out the map from Eran's hands, hugs trees, and seems to have a compulsion to push buttons, I thought, Adi needs to be a girl. It was my first change in the script, and I was really nervous about asking Amy. But to my surprise, she liked a lot the idea, so Adi was born!
The robots build the stage at Central Park for the show. Again, Adi and her comments, "those robot Protectors make good roadies, don't you think?" I've laughed reading this book. In fact, Amy's initial script does not have the final lettered version. She waits for all pages be finished, to review and create new texts. So I just see the final book when it is released. It's awesome for me, because even if I already know the story, and have spent a month working on it, I still can read the book with the same surprise like any other reader.
Pages 18 and 19:
Another great moment of the series! This deserves to be a double spread page! I don't remember if it was Amy's initial idea, or if it was mine. I started doing double spread pages since issue #1, as they were not in the scripts. But after some books, Amy also started to think about double spread pages. I love double spread pages! It's a punch for the reader, to know it's an important moment of the story. It's beautiful, dynamic and, if used correctly, will be an unforgettable scene for the readers. This is one of the things I love in comics, and that cannot be reproduced in any other media. And if it were not for this feature, I would never be able to draw such a wonderful scene as the KISS Army logo in the midst of the pyrotechnics, and we are watching everything in the crowd. Until we have a new situation…
And we are at the end of the show, with a big revelation! As said on page one, I love splash pages at the beginning and the end of a story, or episode. If comics had sound, now it would be that moment of an epic song plays, while everyone, with eyes wide open, says "I do not believe!" But, well, we make this a splash page! What happens here? Ah, now you have to read!
I hope you have enjoyed the comments I made for this issue, and sorry if I write or talk too much. Once again, thanks to Amy for being so nice to me and letting me participate directly in the series, it's been a real experience for me. Thanks to Schimerys for using your colors to correct my mistakes, and making my pages fantastic. And thanks very much to Joe and Anthony, and all from Dynamite Entertainment, for giving me this great opportunity, and total freedom and support for me to become a better and better professional.
See you next issue!