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Interview:Robert Atkins

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On March 28, 2008, Ryan Gibson Stewart conducted a phone interview with graphic novel artist Robert Atkins. Robert illustrated Pieces of Me and Bounty Hunter.

Pieces of Me.jpg

Ryan Stewart: So how did you get into comic book art?

Robert Atkins: I went to school for it. I'd say it's not necessary to have a degree to work in comics. But I tended to learn quicker and easier that way. I got my undergrad degree at Illinois State University in fine art, and then I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design and got my masters there in sequential art. It was a great opportunity because there, they teach the techniques of storytelling and storyboarding for comics. Concept and character design for any kind of entertainment, video games, etc. It was really cool--I got to go down there, and my homework all of a sudden became drawing three pictures of Spider-Man.

That's pretty great!

Yeah, that's great homework! I was really digging that! [laughs] It was really great, too, because all the professors down there were seasoned professionals. The quality of the faculty down there was just amazing.

Sounds pretty ideal.

Yeah. The department chair at the time was John Lowe. He was an inker for DC for over fifteen years. Toward the end, I had interned with him. About three months before I graduated, he had a good friend--Randy Green--who was working on X-Men at the time. He'd been working in comics for years and years, too. He was a bit behind on some deadlines and needed somebody to come in and help him out on some backgrounds. He would draw the main characters, then he'd hand the page off to me and I would put in anything that was setting-oriented, props, etc. He lived in North Carolina and I lived in Georgia at the time. So I would go up there on the weekend and travel about five hours, just for the opportunity to work with this guy. It was a great opportunity for me. I'd drive up there and we would crank out like ten pages in a weekend! I'd have to be pretty quick with drawing buildings and backgrounds, and he had it down where he could easily draw characters over a number of pages. So I was helping him get deadlines done. That was my first work, but I wasn't credited for it because I was kind of doing the production and just helping out.

Pieces of Me p1.jpg

After I graduated, I moved up to North Carolina and I joined the art studio that he was a part of, called Tsunami Studios. It was awesome, it was so great! I moved up there with my wife. They all shared an office space in downtown Greensboro, and they just kind of let me move in. I remember I had my own little art space. There were four other artists, and every day I would go in, and everyone was just drawing comics and working on this project or that. There was another guy who had a comic coloring studio just a few offices down. We all hung out and it was a lot of fun. I was there for a couple of years.

It sounds like a great environment.

Oh yeah, it was a really creative environment. Lots of fun! All the people I worked with had similar interests. We all kept our own hours--some days we'd be up there first thing in the morning and leave around dinnertime, sometimes we'd be up there drawing things at night. It was a blast. I really enjoyed it. About a year and a half ago I moved back to Illinois. I've got a lot of family in the area.

That's where you're from originally?

Yeah, I grew up in Illinois. We had a son, and he's coming up on two years old now. It was right after he was born that we decided to move back and be closer to family.

That's nice that you were able to do that. And you told me you're expecting another baby?

Yeah! We don't know yet if it's a boy or a girl. We just can't come up with any girl names! But we've totally got the boy name picked out. If it's a boy, I completely talked my wife into naming him after a comic book character. She had no idea! We picked out the name Norrin, the name of the Silver Surfer. So I said, "Hey, how about Norrin?" She said, "Yeah, that's kind of different." Well, then we went and saw the second Fantastic Four movie and she said, "Wait a minute, I've heard that name before. Hey, that's the name you suggested!" I said, "Oh, uh, yeah, yeah!" She said, "That's the name of the Silver Surfer! I can't believe it!" [both laugh]

Very sneaky!

I'm kind of hoping it's a boy just so I can keep the name!

So after you moved back to Illinois...

Well, we've just been here for a couple years. Since the time I moved to North Carolina, which was about four years ago, is when I really started working. It was right after I graduated. At first, I started just helping the other artists in the studio with their deadlines. I worked very much behind the scenes doing what is called "ghosting". In comics, that's when you have a ghost artist who comes in and helps the regular artist who is credited. But it helps get the book done. I never got any credit in those books, but it was a great opportunity for me to learn from these guys.

I would say my first solo published work was for G.I. Joe, working for Devil's Due Publishing. At the time, they had the rights for the G.I. Joe property. So the first thing I did for them was the Snake-Eyes: Declassified, which was the origin story for Snake-Eyes and G.I. Joe. That was about three and a half years ago.

Bounty Hunter.jpg

And you did two issues of Snake-Eyes?

Yeah, two issues. Since then, I kind of hopped around on different projects for them--inking, coloring, and penciling various titles. Last summer, I did some work for Marvel--my first Marvel work. It was what they call a special project. It wasn't a regular book that hit the shelves, it was for a third party company who hires Marvel Comics to do a comic for them. So I got to work with them on that.

That must have been great working for a much bigger name like Marvel.

Oh gosh, it was wonderful! Especially Marvel--I grew up loving Marvel comics! It was a blast! I mean, the first project I did was only a twelve-page story, but it had the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Iron Man, all in the same story.

What a lineup!

[in little kid's voice] "Woo hoo, this is the best!" It was so cool.

When you're drawing established characters who have been so beloved even since before we were born, is there more pressure to get them "just right"?

I would say yeah, you get a little anxious to hear the feedback, if somebody hates it or if they really enjoy it. But the project I did really wasn't put out there for the mainstream. There wasn't a huge amount of backlash or anything. [laughs]

Well, I've seen what you've done in the past, and I think the quality of the art all but guarantees that there wouldn't be a backlash anyway.

[laughs] As you break into comics, you really have to pay your dues, meaning that you're going to get all the projects that are just totally dumped on you. Like with that project, I had fourteen days to do twelve pages, and it had to be done. I wish I had more time to really do pre-concept character designs to really get a feel for the way I wanted the characters to look. But as it was, I was just lucky to get it done in time. You do the best you can with the time you have. There are certainly hundreds and thousands of artists out there who are way better than I am.

Powers Linda Jason Welkes.jpg

So I think the only reason I'm getting work in comics is because an artist has to be proficient enough, but you also have to meet that deadline. You really have to know when it just looks good enough; as long as that storytelling is clear, what elements are necessary to get that across? So yeah, especially with characters like the Fantastic Four or these bigger name, higher profile characters, you want it to look great, but the schedule doesn't always allow for it.

So you have done penciling, inking, and coloring? Can you tell me a bit about the process?

As far as process goes, I would say my most experience is with penciling. What will happen is I will get an email, usually from an editor offering me a job. Or I'll get a phone call, just to see if I'm available, if I can fit it within my deadlines. If I agree to do it, I'll get emailed the script. All this is usually orchestrated through the editor. So you have a writer who has to put together a script. For comics, it's typically twenty to twenty-four pages long, but for Heroes, it's just a six-page sequence. So I get that script in an email. Then the way I do it, I print it out and I read through it. As you read it, you kind of visualize the different shots and camera angles. I'll do little thumbnail drawings and sketches.

Like a layout?

Yeah, a real basic layout in the margins of the script. It's real impulsive, just what I'm thinking of at the time.

Most of the comic book scripts I've seen are laid out by page, and then by panel, correct?

Yeah, but it varies. Typically there's a format that's pretty much followed throughout the industry where it's broken down, like you said, by page and then by panel. Pretty much like a screenplay. This person says this, this is his dialogue, this is the description of the scene. Now, that can be incredibly tight, where they will give you camera angles, suggestions, or even links to specific references you can find on the internet. Sometimes it can get very, very detailed, and very informative. But on the other hand, I once had a G.I. Joe book that was like, "For the next three pages, people fight." I was like, "Um, okay!" So it was totally up to me to choreograph it.

That has its benefits and its drawbacks, of course.

Exactly. It gives you a lot of freedom, and it's a really fun, creative way to expand yourself. It becomes a great challenge. But at the same time... [laughs] ... ya gotta come up with it all!

Yeah, you're basically the writer at that point.

Yeah. And if you're under a deadline, that can be real tough. When I was starting out, I really liked the tight scripts because it just took that part out of the process. I could just stick to the script, do the job the way they wanted it, and get it done. As I've gotten a little more experience, I'll deviate from the script when I think there's a better solution than what's suggested. And I've never had an editor come back and say, "That was a mistake." For the most part, writers are very respectful of the artists and vice versa. Writers really leave it open for the artists to do their job--to pick the camera angles, to choose how best to pace it, or to work that particular page. There are some times where you might really want to focus on a panel and you want to make it bigger, or you might want to bump a panel to the next page, or something like that (thought that's a little more extreme). But for the most part, you don't really mess with the script. You just kind of take the scripts and by page, you lay it out and compose it in the best way to tell that story. So that's the penciler's job: you take the script and you translate it on to the page.

Powers Linda informant.jpg

The page we work on is 11×17: 11 inches across, 17 inches tall. It's a pretty big sheet of paper. For comics, it will be reduced to a page that is just under seven inches by ten inches. The purpose of that is just to get all that detail in there and not be a minuscule drawing. So you break it down into the panels. The thing about penciling, especially comics, is that it's challenging in that you really have to be able to draw everything. You have to be able to draw these fantastical things that are happening, but it has to be based physically in a real-world environment for those things to look so fantastic. If that's the case, you have to represent the real world in a believable enough way so that people can accept that. If they can accept the real-world setting, it becomes easier or more exciting to see in the superhero comics. Or even with the Heroes online stuff, when somebody uses a power, it really pops out because typically it's surrounded by such realism. Everyday situations or things you can relate to. Because you can relate to that, when somebody does use a power or when something extraordinary happens, it's really going to stand out.

That's one of the hallmarks of the Heroes universe: everything is based in a realistic world. Tim Kring has said numerous times that the show should always be an extension of reality. What would happen if real people evolved in a way we haven't seen before?

Yeah, yeah. I think that that premise of the show is what really sells. It's the idea that it could be anybody on the street, and you just don't know what they're capable of. When you do see it, it becomes that much more intriguing.

So back to process...

Yes. After I finish penciling this, typically I would send it off to an inker, usually by FedEx. You don't have to work in a studio--I can work anywhere! Everything is mostly done by email. You can scan it in or FedEx it. So I would send my pages to an inker and he goes over all the pencil lines with ink. Usually he uses a brush or a technical pen or a charcoal pen. The job of the inker is really to separate the pencils, to give depth to the line work, to give textures which will help solidify the environment, and to do certain special effects. What it does is make the art black and white so it becomes reproducible and a lot cleaner.

Now your pencil pages for Heroes were not inked, right?

That's correct. Now I would say that that's something that's only become available in the last three or four years or more. It's a fairly recent development that you can scan in your pencils with a high enough quality that they can take those pencils if they're clean enough. You have to pencil it tight enough, meaning you can't have a lot of sketchy stray lines, you have to be very meticulous as far as keeping your page from smudging (otherwise it would gray out everything). But even after I scan it in I have to touch it up a bit in PhotoShop. I mess with the levels and the contrast. I get it as dark as I can without getting it too muddy. It becomes a lot of work on the penciler's stage because you're skipping another stage. But then I would scan in my pencils and send the file to my editor who then sends them to the colorist, and they just color directly on the pencils.

Bounty Hunter, p2.jpg

Is that done by hand or by computer, or--

Basically, if something is inked or if it's coming straight from pencil, it gets scanned in, sent straight to the colorist, and it becomes a digital file from here on out. Everything is done on the computer from that stage on. So the colorist will take it and typically use PhotoShop (sometimes Corel Painter) and separate it, all the colors are applied, the special effects. The purpose of coloring is to set a mood and to establish how things look in a realistic environment. Very much like a painter, a colorist can set the mood, set the composition, emphasize certain things, push other things to the background.

Right. Looking at the scenes that took place in Rondo Ferguson's office, there are a lot of oranges and browns used. Then outside, the colors are a lot more lifelike. But then in the two scenes where Linda uses her power, there's that really ethereal blue glow. Everything is blue and there's a very otherworldly feel to it. It's neat to compare the colored pages with your penciled pages, because that supernatural feel is simply not evident (nor should it be). The coloring adds so much.

Oh, absolutely. That's part of the process. The comic book process is very much an assembly line process. I think I had a great opportunity in that I've been able to do each step in the process. I certainly respect the artists who do come in that I collaborate with. Just because I'm the one who initially translates the script doesn't make my job any more important than the people who ink it, do all the separations, color it, or give life to that drawing. The pencils are what they are; it's not the whole package.

An example of the flip side of that comes from Jason Badower. He recently talked on his blog about this wonderful line drawing he did of George Takei as Kaito Nakamura, and it was spot on. But then he blames himself for really screwing it up when he added color to the portrait, and it just lost its integrity. He got quite a bit of flack for it on the message boards. It's amazing how much one part of the process, like coloring, can really make or break a piece of art.

Definitely, it really does. Part of it is that the coloring stage is the last stage of the process. I mean, when you hand your work over to another artist, you really put your neck on the line. You really want them to do the best job they can and you really hope it comes together. But in that situation, just due to the nature of colors, it's going to emphasize certain things that you normally wouldn't look at. If you're looking at a greytone drawing, you're going to see the whole thing. When it's colored, you're automatically going to be drawn to certain aspects of it. With the pencil drawing, you're focusing on the facial characteristics and the emotions. When the colors are put in, it draws your eyes to different places and you lose that impact.

That's one reason I'm so glad you share your pencil drawings because it lets fans see that stage of the process, unfettered by anything else.

Yeah. When I was really getting in to art and really excited about it, I remember the first time I saw just the line art for a comic book. It blew me away because I had only seen the finished product. There is a lot of detail that you don't see otherwise. When you go from pencils to colors, things can get kind of washed out, and that's just due to the nature of the process. That's why you would preferably ink everything--it makes all your blacks solid black. And that can help set the mood. In Pieces of Me, on the second page, in the last panel, where Ryan Covington is walking toward the light--

Light breaking around Ryan.jpg

Right, when you see him from behind but he's barely visible because the light is engulfing him.

Right. I wanted the impact to be almost like he's a silhouette, but the light is breaking through around him. I really wish I could have had the opportunity to ink that because I think it would have sold the mood I was going after. As it was, the colors are really well done throughout the story. But because of the technical process, it washed out the pencils. And then you can see all my pencil strokes, and that becomes distracting, as opposed to just setting the mood of the story. If it was inked, you wouldn't see any of that. It would just be this black with light blaring in.

That makes sense.

That's a good example of how I wish something were inked. Now, the reason it hasn't been, at least on the two projects I worked on, I think that's just because of time. I think a lot of that had to do with the writers strike, and now they're just playing catch-up. They didn't get scripts for awhile. Then, when they did start getting scripts, everything had to be reapproved. So when the editors finally got the scripts, they only had weeks--maybe two weeks or a week and a half, even!

Gosh! That's crazy!

Yeah, it really puts a crunch on the pencilers and the colorists. But as for process, when a penciler gets a script and has done his breakdowns and layouts, it usually takes him about eight to ten hours to finish a page. That also depends on your style. You can simplify things to go quicker--it depends on how much detail you put in there. But at the same time, it's a full day's work to do one page. Now, you can burn the midnight oil and work straight through to get it done faster than that (at least in my case).

Sounds like you'd have to!

I was getting a script eight days before it was due, which is doable. I think with Pieces of Me, I turned it around in four days. The second one, Bounty Hunter, I did the first two pages at a page a day. Then I had to do revisions because the way I had drawn the Linda Tavara character, I had changed her hair a little bit, and they wanted her to look a little bit more like her first appearance.

Micah Gunnell was the only other artist who has ever drawn her. Did you take a look at his rendition for reference?

Yeah--I was already familiar with that chapter. But we have very different styles, so I was doing my best to translate through the stylistic differences. Instead of the really straight, very black hair, I had given hair that was still dark, but a little more... I had to really go through and find a better solution and translate in his style to mine. That's basically what it came down to.

Linda's car.jpg

You and Micah have very different styles. He uses a much more minimalist and a bit abstract approach, which is wonderful for what he does. Your style uses a lot more details and tends to be more realistic, if that's the right word. But you two definitely have two different styles.

You're right. They basically wanted it to look more like her. So I did sort of enlarge her eyes and widen her mouth a little bit. I couldn't go to the extreme that he did it, otherwise it would look out of place with the rest of the style. I was just trying to find that happy medium, which I did. So the third day I did that. It just so happens that scheduling-wise, I got the Heroes story at the same time I had to do a cover for Iron Man for Marvel, and I was finishing up a Forgotten Realms story for Devil's Due. So I had to take a couple of days because I had those editors breathing down my neck and I needed to get that stuff done. And before I knew it, I had two days to finish up the rest of the story! So I ended up doing those last four pages in about two days.


Yeah. I finished pages three and four on Thursday, pages five and six on Friday, and then the chapter was uploaded on Monday.

I cannot believe that--that's so fast!

Well, you have to give credit to the colorist. Plus, this was over Easter weekend, so I felt really bad. It's the type of situation that you just couldn't avoid; the turnaround has to be really quick. But from what I hear (I've been working with Nanci Quesada, who was the editor for the chapters I did), things should be able to slow down a bit now that they're getting scripts in on a more regular basis. The approval process runs a bit more like clockwork now. Also, they alternate between editing companies. She does one month and then they switch over to another editor the next month. That way it gives them more time to get it done.

That makes sense.

Yeah. Because she's doing the ones through March and April, then the next ones she has won't go up probably until the middle of June. That way it gives her artists more time to get things done.

Had you worked with Nanci before, or was this the first time you'd met her?

Yeah! First I got an email from her, and she had gotten my name from one of the editors at Marvel who was familiar with my stuff from a recent Iron Man project. It was a great opportunity. Your name just kind of gets popped around. She knew that she had a very limited amount of time to get it done, and the guy who suggested me, I guess he knew I could turn a script around pretty quickly. So my name got put in for it, she asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, "Yeah!" It blew me away. I thought it was a joke at first! [laughs] I didn't know who it was, and she said it was for the Heroes online stuff, and I was like, "Holy Cow!" I mean, I'm a huge fan of Heroes anyway.

You've been watching the show for awhile?

Yeah, oh yeah. I've been watching it, I'm very familiar with it. Even the online comics, I really enjoy that they give you so much information and so many opportunities to learn the backstories of these different characters or to see how everything can intertwine

Bounty Hunter, p5.jpg

Isn't that great? And it's amazing that they've continued through the writers strike, too.

Oh yeah. I mean, it could have come to a complete halt! Not that it would have lost complete interest, but it would have been really frustrating for the fans to not have any information.

I think fans would have understood, but it was certainly nice to have a continuation.

Yeah, especially when so many other properties weren't.

So where does drawing a Heroes comic "rank" with drawing, say, a Daredevil comic or something for G.I. Joe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

It's very exciting because I was such a fan to begin with, but also because so many people are familiar with it. If I draw G.I. Joe, most people my age could have that nostalgic factor where they know who G.I. Joe is, but they have no clue what's happening in the comic. So people would ask what I'm working on and I'd say G.I. Joe. They'd know what the property is, but they certainly wouldn't understand what's going on. Then with the Marvel stuff, like I said, I haven't done any high profile work--it's not like I'm working on X-Men right now. But people might be familiar with the movies or even some of the comics. Whenever I work on these other comic properties, the only ones who really understand what I'm doing or get excited about projects I'm working on are comic book fans. With Heroes, it's just this enormous online community. I mean, it's NBC, so it's so "out there". It's a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's really interesting to work on something so commercial, so "out there" for the general public.

Very true. And NBC is being so innovative in bringing comics to people who might not normally be comic book fans.

Oh, yeah! I love the fact that they're doing this! I think comics, just as they move into a digital age, become that much more available to everybody. I mean, not everybody is going to go and try to find a comic book shop, and spend three to four bucks on a single issue.

I think NBC is revolutionizing webcomics and really resurrecting the use of the comic book as a storytelling tool.

Absolutely. I completely applaud them for using this medium to express a property. In association with the show, certainly--it wouldn't happen without the show.

It's really a perfect pairing. I mean after all, it's a show about people with abilities that you usually see in comic books. It makes perfect sense.

Right--they probably wouldn't do an online comic for The King of Queens. [laughs] It makes sense that they're doing it for Heroes because of the subject matter...but, it does open it up for other shows that have that kind of sci-fi or supernatural element to it. You really could translate a lot of television shows into comics. The great thing about comics is that it's a way to introduce new characters or give more information about characters in a comparatively cheap way. You're just paying the writer, artist, colorist, and editor to put together a short story.

Powers or not, she had to die.jpg

And it's fast, too.

Well, yeah, like I said, we turn this stuff around within weeks. You're not scheduling, you don't have a whole team of screenwriters, you don't have the production costs, you're not putting it on TV and having to pay actors. All that takes months to turn around. So it becomes a great medium for the fans to get new information, backstory information, new characters. It can also become a testing ground. They can create a character in the online comics, and if it creates great buzz among the fans, they can then introduce them to the show.

Which they've done.

It's very cool. It certainly benefits them, but it also benefits the comic book industry, and it's really great for the fans. It's a win-win for everybody. I'm really enjoying the experience.

Well, I for one hope it continues for you. What would be your dream job in comics? Who or what would you most like to create?

I would say there are two facets to comics: you can either work on characters that are your own where you create your own story and your own property, or you can work on somebody else's characters. And there are a lot of comics I really enjoy. Working with others' characters within a comic book realm, I would say maybe X-Men or Daredevil--the characters I grew up reading. I would really enjoy working on those. Or if you go over to DC Comics, Nightwing and Batman are characters that I really enjoy. So to get the chance to work on those in a high profile book, that would just be really, really cool!

But then, on the other side of it, I'm working on a property with a friend of mine. We have our own story that he created, and I'm doing all the art chores on it. We're really good friends, and it's a really great story. It's called Elders of the RuneStone. At this point, we're just getting everything put together and doing all the production of it. I would say another dream job would be to see that come to fruition and get the opportunity to produce it as a comic book or maybe down the road as a movie or another entertainment venue. Just seeing those characters come alive would be very cool.

Good luck to you and your friend. I'd love to hear about how it turns out for you.


Sanjoy and Ryan.jpg

When you're drawing new characters, like Ryan Covington or the mystery woman from Bounty Hunter, who have never been seen before, how do you define what they are going to look like? Do you base them off of real people? Do you use internet resources? Are you given descriptions?

I wasn't given any description on the Ryan Covington character. Obviously Sanjog is very well-established and it's easy to find references for him. With the Bounty Hunter stuff, obviously Linda Tavara had already been created. Otherwise, it's just the descriptions in the script that I go by. Sometimes, if I'm pulling references, like with the Bounty Hunter script, everything takes place in the '70s, so the time period is very specific.

By the way, kudos on the bellbottoms, the clothing colors, and the the great styles. They look just like pictures from my childhood!

[laughs] I wanted so badly to put an afro in there, but I could not find a good opportunity! I almost wanted to make her a private investigator with an enormous afro! [laughs]

Yeah, but the bartender with the red hair, the mutton chop sideburns, and the big ol' 'stache--that was a nice touch!

One thing I really enjoy with what I do is I get to go on and find all this reference, like the 1970s stuff. Basically, I just have to get on Google and do an image search for whatever I need. Some of the pictures I pulled up, I was just rolling!

Well, even with Linda's hair, you took what Micah Gunnell did--and he did a fantastic job--and you really made her look like she came straight out of the 1970s.

Oh yeah, I gave her those huge sunglasses, those go go boots on the first page...and the cars! Getting very specific 1970s cars was really fun!

Oh, definitely! I love how detailed the car was, and it was totally out of the 1970s. I think my dad had Linda's car when I was growing up!

That's something I do enjoy. With comics--not just with Heroes--it's fun to go back in a different time period. I also do a very fantasy-looking book, and it's really fun to get into different weapons and armor and find out how all that works. I'm very practical when it comes to designing anything that I work on. To me, if it's going to be believable, it has to function. And if that's the case, it should be based on [reality]--it should work, in a certain way. So I do go back and I find a very specific car. The Linda character obviously doesn't have a ton of money, so it makes sense that she would have a very middle-of-the-road type of car that's not flashy or too nice.

Dream Castle.jpg

As opposed to the mystery woman, who had a very specific car in the script: a Plymouth Belvedere, I believe. It was a very nice, higher end, almost luxury car. It was very interesting to go back and do that '70s stuff. It was very fun.

What did you use as a reference for Linda's car?

A two-door 1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham. A lot of times when it comes to props or cars, I have a number of those die-cast scaled-down cars. A lot of times I'll use those for specific references. Having the actual car in my hand, those things are so detailed themselves that I can take pictures of them. I mean, they have working doors and everything. So I can take pictures from the general camera angle or shot I will be using. That definitely helps with getting the details correct.

What a great idea. And you used the Blarney Castle as the model for Ryan Covington's castle?

Yeah. You know, it was really funny for me to see the online reaction to that. In his dream, it talked about how it was this Irish countryside, and the castle was this old Irish castle. So if that's the case, I want it to be authentic. I went online, found a bunch of different Irish castles, and chose one that I felt best fit the description in the script. To me, that adds a more realistic element to it, which again, is a big part of the show. But then I also imagined--or assumed--that he was Irish, so I went and put a clover as a pendant on his necklace. Then I didn't think anything more of it. That was it. I thought I'd make him look like a teenager, so he's wearing something you'd buy at American Eagle, you know? Really, I just put this necklace on him and didn't think anything else of it. I also thought that an interesting juxtaposition to look at would be when he got tossed out the window to his death, and there's a closeup of his face. I thought it would be interesting to have that necklace pop out of his shirt. Then you have the lucky clover symbol in the scene where he's about to die. I thought it was interesting, but that's all I thought about it.

It's a great juxtaposition of symbols, and fits with your concept of Ryan's background.

Yeah, but then I got online, and everybody was saying things like, "Maybe his powers are based on luck!" I thought, "Oh gosh, what have I done!" [laughs]


That's one thing you'll find with Heroes fans--there's no shortage of speculation, theorizing, and finding clues where none really exist. I think our unofficial standard is the crazier the explanation, the better.

[laughs] Oh, I wasn't ready for that! Like, if you do something for Captain America, people might say, "Oh that's cool," and that's it. That's the only reaction you get. But with Heroes...'s a clue, it's a sign, it's a hidden symbol or a secret message!

Everybody's looking to solve that mystery! There are all these conspiracies--it's really fun!

Well, Robert, this has been really fun, and you've been very kind to give of your time. Is there anything else you want to add about your experience working on Heroes?

I do want to say how much I appreciate all the comments on the message boards. It's been a lot of fun interacting. I mean, I've always checked out the online comics, but I didn't know there were discussion forums. I had no concept of the enormity of the community there. It blew me away! Sheindie had emailed me out of the blue after coming across my website and said, "Hey, you might want to check out this forum. They're all talking about you!" I was like, "What?!" So I followed the link, and I was like, "Oh my goodness!" It really opened my eyes--I had no idea anything like that was out there. I thought it was great to get the chance to talk to people about the process. Everybody was really interested.

Speaking from the fans' perspective, I want to thank you for your openness and candidness with your comments. Your explanations are very detailed and you really provide a unique perspective and some terrific insights into the content. It's evident that you're not trying to hide anything. You even posted the script knowing that people would be able to compare your art with with what R.D. Hall wrote.

Yeah, well, I thought I'd put the script out there...but then I thought, "Hey, wait a minute! Somebody might think, 'Oh, he really screwed that up!'" [laughs] Yeah, I get to see on this side of the process stuff that the fans don't get to see. A lot of times in the script, there's a lot of descriptive information that sets the scene up. I do my best to convey that, but it might not be something that you'd pick up on in casual reading. For instance, everybody was speculating about the mystery woman, like how old she was and who she was. Well, be me showing the script, I was letting everybody know that I wasn't hiding anything. I mean, I don't know who it was. Also, she was a forty-something character described as wearing a nice business suit, which sort of gives her an air of being a professional. What she does. The car she drives. Things like that aren't just put out there. Nobody knows by looking at her car that it's a specific make and model Not everybody knows by looking at what she's wearing that it stands for who she is.

Going back and rereading the comic after taking a look at the script, one would think, "That makes perfect sense!" It gives fans more insight. It has the same appeal as listening to the commentary on a DVD. People who listen to DVD commentaries--myself included--do it because they want to learn more about whatever show it is they're watching.

Pieces of Me p4.jpg

Yeah, and I'm the same way. I really love getting into those special features and the behind-the-scenes looks. Yeah, I just enjoy sharing that with everybody! I was real happy that people were able to get into it and appreciate it. Anytime I continue to work on this stuff, I'll do my best to share the process and the things I'm allowed to share. I was a little worried, too. I didn't know if I'd be allowed to share the script. But with that script in particular, I knew it was part of a bigger story, but it didn't elude to anything that was going to happen in another arc of the story.

Right, it was a very self-contained story. The things we gleaned from the script, like you said, were limited to tiny details, last names, and some descriptions that enlightened the story, but didn't spoil any of the upcoming novels. There weren't any surprises. It didn't say, "Make the mystery woman look like Angela Petrelli's mom," or anything like that.

[laughs] You're going to be interviewing R.D. pretty soon, right?

Yes. He's written the third part of the Linda story, and I'll be talking with him after that one comes out.

I don't want to give anything away, but I think by then, you'll be able to figure a lot more out. Definitely ask him the behind-the-scenes story about the mystery woman. It's an interesting that... [chuckles] You'll definitely have a lot to talk about. There's a good story about how he came up with who she is.

I'll definitely ask him.

If it doesn't come out within the story itself, you'll have to ask him about it.

Absolutely! You've piqued my interest.

It's actually quite interesting. I've started talking with R.D. quite a bit. We got introduced through the story. I got the script, but I wasn't familiar with any of the stuff he'd done. Then we both were posting online, we got talking on the side, and now we might actually do something on our own.

Excellent! I'm curious to hear what you guys come up with!

Yeah, we're tossing around some ideas right now. We'll see if anything comes of it.

Definitely. Thank you so much, Robert, for your time and for being so open in answering questions and talking about your creative process.

Cool, great! This was really fun!

Interviews edit

Sally ChamplinAlex FernandezMike FoyJames Kyson LeeNtare Guma Mbaho MwineJoshua RushJames RyenRoberto SanchezDiana Terranova


Adam Armus and Kay FosterYule CaiseZach CraleyNate GoodmanChuck KimTim KringJason La PaduraDebra McGuireJoe TolericoKevin Tostado

Graphic Novel Crew

Robert AtkinsMicah GunnellR.D. HallJoe KellyChuck KimKotzebue brothersRyan OdagawaJG RoshellMark Sable

Specific Works

BlackoutDark Mattersdirectors / writerDestinyEvs DropperGolden HandshakeInto the WildiStory (follow up) • Nowhere Mandirectors / writersThe RecruitRoot and BranchSlow Burn

See Also: LinksInterviews