“No one exists in a vacuum.” That maxim is demonstrably true in all scenarios, but never more true than in the realm of comic book creating. A comic is an amalgam of not just words, but images splashed across the page. One cannot exist in a void without being giving form and function by the other.
As a writer, I found that my interviews gravitated singularly to the writers, but I had yet to interview an artist. To be a successful comic scribe, it is imperative to understand the inner workings of your counterpart. In doing so, the creative attributes of the cohesive whole can be fully harnessed. To fully understand the creative process of an artist, I knew I needed to find an artist who was inciteful, experienced, and, of course, highly skilled. That is when I came across the remarkable artwork of Greg Smallwood on Marvel’s Moon Knight. Smallwood’s artwork on Moon Knight has an elegant style with such brilliant creative flourishes, that each panel could exist as its own showcased painting. I highly suggest viewing the two-page spread of Moon Knight #9 to see what I mean. I knew I needed to seek the Smallwood’s wisdom and, luckily, he allowed me to interview him.
For those who are unaware who Moon Knight is, he is a man named Marc Spector who suffers from a form of dissociative disorder. He has created multiple identities and fights using the Egyptian moon god Khonshu’s aspect. But when Khonshu attempted to destroy our world, Spector found himself at odds with the diety, fighting his other identities to finally confront Khonshu once and for all.
Aren’t comics awesome?
I first wondered how Smallwood described his art style.
“I would say that I have a classic comic book style with some modern flourishes,” he said. “I love to draw detailed, textured backgrounds but I keep my figure drawing usually very simplistic with very little rendering. So, it’s a combination of hyper detail and minimalism and think the two approaches create a nice contrast.”
In reading Moon Knight, one cannot but notice how well his figures pop on the page. There is an otherworldly effect to his work that truly elevates the comic beyond the bounds of the form.
In fact, I could not help but notice the influence of a comic book legend named Dave McKean. This perfectly fits the tone of Moon Knight, which enters an almost dream-like realm in issue nine. I asked Smallwood about this influence.
“Dave McKean is definitely an influence on my work — I just picked up his new book, Black Dog — but any similarities to Sandman aren’t really intentional,” according to Smallwood. “I think my style fits the series primarily because my natural storytelling style is in tune with [writer] Jeff [Lemire]’s. We’re both interested in examining the more personal and strange aspects of the character. There’s always a bit of action in the comic but my favorite scenes in the book are the more surreal and weird moments that Jeff puts in there.”
It is important for all writers to understand their artists needs when scripting their comic. How much instruction does an artist want? How best to collaborate? Mr. Smallwood offered a wonderful insight into the thought process of an artist.
“The more detail, the better! Even if I go off-script, it still helps to know exactly what the writer is looking for,” he said. “If the panel description is heavy in detail, it helps me visualize the scene. Without that detail, I feel like I’m flying blind.”
I was very impressed by Smallwood’s professionalism in honoring the intentions of his counterpart. Each understands their function and how best to achieve the ideal result. To clarify this partnership, Smallwood added, “Jeff had already written the first two arcs of Moon Knight when I boarded the project so my contribution came after the fact. I had some suggestions for the third arc but Jeff is primarily on his own when it comes to scripting.”
One very effective stylistic choice in Moon Knight #9 comes at the end when the pages flip upside down. This acts to symbolize Spector’s world also being turned upside down. I wondered how this creative choice came about.
“It was his idea and my idea,” Smallwood replied. “Jeff’s direction in the script was to turn the book to the side for the first double page spread but I took it a step further and turned the book upside down for the second double page spread as well. A true collaboration!”
This is what makes a successful creative team: collaboration. Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood function in sync with one another and Moon Knight exhibits it perfectly.
So what can readers look forward to from Mr. Smallwood?
“I have an exclusive contract with Marvel so whatever I do after Moon Knight will be with them,” he told me. “And they usually don’t tell me what my next project is until it’s time to start on it. So, your guess is as good as mine!”