This past Wednesday saw the release of Red One by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson, a 70s Cold War comic that's been in the making for several years. The comic follows a Soviet Agent named Vera Yelnikov who infiltrates America's heart as heroine Alabama Jones, whose mission is to make Russians look sympathetic in these tense times. While she's a propaganda machine for the U.S.S.R., she must always be on her guard to make sure her secret isn't risked being exposed. Comrade Dodson was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions.
Cameron Hatheway: You illustrate women so beautifully. Who were some women who had a major influence on your form when you first began illustrating?
Terry Dodson: When I first started working in comics I was still in college and in the midst of my 3rd straight year of figure drawing classes so I was completely influenced by real life – so real women – real anatomy – real volume. Obviously, I used photos, books, the mirror, etc., to get it right for my work as I was still learning. When I first started drawing women on my sample pages (high school era) I used pics I saw in fashion magazines. I got a really good reaction to that in my portfolio and so started putting more and more females into my samples – which lead to my first job, Mantra. Again, back to when I started working, influential artists would have been Jim Lee, Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes, Dave Stevens, Art Adams and especially pin up legend, Gil Elvgren. Interestingly today, most of my favorite "drawers of females" are female artists.
CH: Tell me about your new comic Red One. Where did the idea come from?
TD: Red One is the story of the Kremlin sending their best agent, Vera Yelnikov (Red One is the last resort for Stalin to help the Soviet citizenship in distress), to Los Angeles, California as tool of propaganda at the height of the Cold War, 1977. Dressed as a hero, (because according to the Kremlin, Americans worship superheroes) her job is to influence Americans to a more favorable view of the U.S.S.R. in light of the upcoming SALT treaty. Needless to say, things get interesting as Vera works undercover as Alabama Jones, and though her English is flawless her knowledge of current American culture and ways is not.
This is the brainchild of Xavier Dorison, an extremely talented and all around swell French writer who has quite the back log of work in the Franco Belgian comic sphere and splits his time between comics and film and TV work in his native France.
How this comic came about out is a long and complicated story but here's the Cliff Notes version. Terry read Xavier's pitch for Red One in 2009 – a Soviet spy undercover in 1977 Los Angeles (which 6 years ago was unlike anything else, today you can't get away from it – The Americans, Allegiance, etc. – BUT this story has its own unique spin as you'll read). Terry liked the project for how different it was from everything he'd worked on previously, the challenges it would present him as an artist and set in an era close to his heart – 1970's Southern California – which evoked a swirl of images and sounds for him – Linda Carter's Wonder Woman, Charlie's Angels, CHiPs, Star Wars, Cheap Trick Live at Budokan, Evel Knievel, Melrose Boulevard, the La Brea Tar Pits, backyard swimming pools, the Hollywood sign, the Capitol Records building, Magic Mountain, Venice Beach and of course, palm trees.
Xavier then started working on developing the pitch into a proper story—altering, changing, reworking – unsatisfied. But with some gentle prodding from Terry over the course of the year he got something he was finally happy with and as it turned out, pretty similar to his initial pitch (this book is such a change in tone from the usual tough guy stuff Xavier is known for in France). Xavier and Terry finally got together in person at a café near Notre Dame in Paris in May 2011 to go over the revised pitch (Xavier lives in Paris and Terry lives on the West Coast of the United States) The meeting went well and they returned to their respective lairs to develop the story. Both were extremely busy with other projects that needed to put to bed. Finally they cleared their plates and met again in May 2012 where Xavier revealed the initial story arc. From this, Xavier produced the script. Terry commenced drawing Red One in late 2012 and continued until May 2013 when some financial issues forced the delay of work until a year later.
TD: Tons! Online, movies, lots of books! I think looking back on my growing up in the 70s was hopeful plus Google has been spectacular for any missing detail.
Finally, the book has been a blast create thanks to Rachel Dodson's amazing job on inks and I was able to color the entire book myself.
CH: You also have Princess Leia coming out from Marvel. Will all the hype around the 7th movie, do you feel any pressure at all contributing to such an iconic character? I read somewhere that Star Wars was the thing that got you into comics.
TD: I'm a gigantic Star Wars fan—my first comic book I bought was a Star Wars comic so it's all come full circle. Any pressure I have, I put on myself as someone who really loves and understands the Star Wars universe and is having a blast "playing" in it. All the hype, etc., just kind of eggs me on and keeps me excited about the work—it's an awesome time to be working on Star Wars and what a terrific era of Star Wars to be drawing—between New Hope and Empire—my two favorite Star Wars films and what I always think of as the classic stuff!
TD: Mark has been a pleasure to work with on Princess Leia. I wouldn't say there is a lot of collaboration as this is a Lucasfilm property and so Mark has to work pretty tightly with them. However, Mark was aware of me as the artist and so I feel he is writing this story to my strengths and for me. I have been able to help and suggest some things but am very involved with all the design work that needs to be done and really figure out the best storytelling to get Mark's story across.
And we have Rachel Dodson on inks and Jordie Bellaire coloring the art so everything is looking great!
CH: What's something about Rachel that not a lot of people know about?
TD: Hmmm, let's see—well, Rachel is a 9 to 5-er. Inking really is just a job for her, one she takes a great deal of pride in. She loves producing the work and the art form, but washes her hands of it at the end of the work day and moves on to other things—that's why she has no online presence—she has likes to get outside and do stuff.
CH: What's next on your agenda?
TD: After I wrap up Princess Leia, the first thing is for Rachel and I to take a nice long vacation. Between June 2012 and May 2015, I've produced a minimum of 480 pages of pencils, 120 pages of color and 90 colored covers plus the odd assortment of illustration and design jobs and I will be ready to recharge the batteries!
Then, Xavier and I will tackle the next arc of Red One followed up by another creator owned project—which has been in the works for a very long time! Plus, there is a long backlist of covers I need to get done, plus a number of smaller projects and design work.