All the Little Bleeders have seen Jacen Burrows' artwork at some point or another — he's one of the most versatile and prolific cover artists at Avatar Press. He's most well known for developing the visual landscape of Crossed with Garth Ennis, and bringing the horrific creation of Alan Moore's Neonomicon to life. He recently finished the three-issue story arc that launched the Crossed: Badlands series, leaving fans with a thirst for more. Well, it's coming. Jacen's about to tackle a new storyline alongside industry legend David Lapham (Stray Bullets, Dan the Unharmable, Crossed: Psychopath) that takes place in one of the most creepy settings imaginable… but let's hear him describe it, shall we?
How would you describe your upcoming Crossed: Badlands story?
This time around, we'll be following an unusual character — a socially awkward, young, recent high school graduate who is scared of his own shadow. His reputation and history has earned him the moniker "Yellowbelly." We'll see how a coward reacts when he finds himself in the middle of the Crossed apocalypse and how that very trait may be the thing that makes him the ultimate survivor. He just so happens to be at a traveling circus and carnival when the shit hits the fan which brings all of his nightmares to life.
In terms of when this Badlands story takes place, is it early in the stages of the outbreak, or long after the collapse of civilization?
The previous arcs I've done have had flashes of the initial outbreak, particularly the first chapter of series one, but I never got to spend much time exploring those first few chaotic days of the plague wiping out all of society. This time, we focus entirely on those early days and witness the spread first hand. This is one of the most exciting parts of Crossed: Badlands, to me. The different arcs and creative teams all get to help flesh out the history of the Crossed apocalypse, jumping from the days of the initial change and showing how different the world is years later.
Up until now, you've worked exclusively with Garth Ennis on the Crossed franchise. What are your thoughts on working alongside David Lapham on the new arc?
I've been a big fan of David's for many years. I'm constantly recommending Stray Bullets in particular to my comic-reading friends and loan out my copies often. We were able to talk about this arc together at the Phoenix Comicon last year and we were really on the same page about how much of a visual feast this one could be. It could be a while before I get to do more Crossed, so I wanted this one to be quite memorable and David really came up with some great ideas.
In working with the scripts, what are notable differences in the writers' respective techniques / tones?
I wouldn't say the following is absolutely true of either writer in every case, but I believe that Lapham's history as an artist himself lends itself to creating visually compelling concepts that have a unique imaginative creativity and, in the case of Crossed, intensity, while Garth's stories have tended to focus much more on the character beats and cinematic pacing to draw the reader in, building from quiet dialogue moments into crescendos of action. One style kind of grabs you by the eyes and one grabs you by the guts, but they both write great, complicated characters which is what always draws readers back to Crossed.
What image or scene from the upcoming arc has been the most fun to illustrate?
Essentially, there are two major groups that come together in conflict in the arc, an outlaw biker gang and a troupe of circus performers, sideshow freaks, and carnies. There is very little in this arc that isn't fun to draw! I've been particularly enjoying taking the circus clowns and showing them degenerate into some particularly nasty crossed as the arc progresses.
When illustrating the villainous carnival folk of Badlands, what are some artistic tricks you're using to really bring home the terror?
One of things I wanted to avoid was the classic "evil clown" motif that would honestly be too easy and probably not very effective. I focused more on trying to accurately portray them realistically which seemed to make them all the more chilling when they started acting Crossed. The biker gang was more of a challenge because I wanted them to feel more real than a typical Hollywood approach to bikers. I did a lot of research to try to get some level of authenticity to the archetypes I played with and I think they came out really interesting. I really wanted to focus on the gradual metamorphosis of the clean, traditional circus imagery into the savage madness that is the Crossed world by showing the costumes falling apart to reveal the humanity underneath, which is where the real evil is hiding.
What visual resources have you turned to for capturing the authenticity of this new story arc?
I've been using tons! I picked up documentaries about the circus and traveling carnivals of the United States, past and present. I picked up books about sideshows and clowns through history, and I found lots of great movies and non-fiction television shows about the circuses, carnivals, and biggest biker gangs so I'd have a historically valid approach to every subject we touch on in the series. Far more research than was necessary to complete the assignment, but this has sort of become my approach these days. Whatever my latest project is about, I try to immerse myself in as much information as I can because you never know when some picture you might've seen on the web somewhere might inspire something that adds a really cool texture to the story later. I create musical playlists with themes, save art and reference photos into folders I can then play as a slideshow while I draw, play movies that share similar subject matter in the background while I work… whatever I can do to help stay in the zone. I'm not sure what it does for the work, but it makes the experience a lot more personal for me, at least.
With the cover artwork for this new series, are the cover ideas coming to you naturally thanks to the stigma of creepiness surrounding carnivals?
Yeah, there is no limit to the cool ideas we could use around this visual theme. This time around, however, I am not doing a tremendous amount of covers. Part of keeping a bi-weekly series on time is spreading out the cover assignments among the talented Crossed team. We'll be seeing some amazing cover work from Gianluca Pagliarani and Oscar Jimenez among others, but the ones I did do were quite fun. I'm particularly happy with the biker gang shot for issue #13.
Has there been a Crossed character that was your personal favorite to illustrate?
All of the clowns are fun, of course, but I really liked finding interesting ways to show the sideshow performers applying their trade as Crossed. There are a few particularly iconic circus folks and carnies that we see deep into the arc that were really fun because you could see them degrade into truly frightening Crossed. I really think fans of the series, fans of my work and fans of the horror genre are going to be quite happy with this arc. It really has some memorable pieces that people are going to really eat up. It's certainly been fun to draw.
CROSSED: BADLANDS #10 Wraparound Edition
Written by David Lapham
Cover & Interiors by Jacen Burrows
$3.99 Retail, Diamond Item Code: MAY120898