Boy robot Tim-21 and the rest of the motley inhabitants of the post-robo-genocide world of Descender have found a special place in the hearts of comics fans across the galaxy, and a big reason for that is the series’ beautiful visuals. The lush and unique watercolor palettes, the charming and iconic character desings, and masterful storytelling and character acting are the work of one man: artist Dustin Nguyen.
Known previously for his work on titles like Wildcats, Batman: Streets of Gotham, and Batman: Li’l Gotham, Nguyen was awarded this year’s Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist for his work on Descender, his sci-fi smash hit with writer Jeff Lemire. The Image Comics publication is a wonderfully heartfelt space opera that (as those of you who follow my articles will know all. Too. Well.) I can’t get enough of. So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to talk to Nguyen earlier this month at Portland’s Rose City Comic Con.
Read on to learn about the artist’s reaction to his Eisner win, his decision to shift to watercolors, how hard it is to draw robots sitting down, and much more. Plus, enjoy an early look at Nguyen’s interior pages from Descender #15, which is set to release on September 28th.
First off, congratulations on your recent Eisner Award! Was that ever a goal you had in mind for you career as an artist?
Thanks, man. Yeah, I always thought it would be really cool. I never thought I would be nominated. So, when I got nominated I thought, oh that’s cool, but I’m never going to win. So actually during the awards, I was actually not there. I was across the street having dinner and stuff, and then my friends started texting me saying “congratulations, great speech!” And I was like, what are they talking about? But I really was going to finish and then go back in, because I had been to the Eisners the year before and they usually don’t get to the categories until later on in the day, but they jumped right into it! [Laughs] But dude, I was so happy. At first you don’t care, and then you care too much, y’know? Because, at first I was like, “Oh awards, who needs that?” And then after you get it you’re like, oh, wow, this is really, really great!
Your art on Descender is definitely a step above your previous more mainstream work, particularly with the addition of the watercolors. Can you tell me a bit about your decision to make the switch from your more traditionally penciled and inked style?
I guess with our book, the book with Jeff, I was going to do everything myself anyways. I figured the best way to control everything was to just do everything myself. I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with painting stuff over the years and I just wanted to have more practice. So really I was like, if I have time...because we’re no longer on that crazy schedule where everything has to flow into everything else. Even though we are still on a monthly schedule, but we can time things better. We take breaks every five issues, so if that’s the case then why not spend the time doing it?
And also, I really wanted to just paint something. I’ve always liked painting, I was never really good at it, and I figured hey, if you have a chance to do it and to make a living off of it, why not? And it worked out! I’m a little more comfortable with it and it sometimes helps me move faster. I love doing stuff in Photoshop, but I’m really not good at Photoshop, because the thing is that there’s so many options in there, that I know that if I do use it to color it digitally I would just mess around with it all day and I would never meet any deadlines. I would just play around with it all day.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to design for Descender so far?
Oh, man...it’s not so much hard because I can draw robots beating the crap out of each other and design new robots, but recently I had to draw Driller just sitting. I realized I designed him with not enough joints to make him sit and actually look like he’s comfortable. It was really awkward, and that was one thing I was really like...man, it’s really hard drawing people just sitting there! [Laughs]
When I was working on Wildcats I found out too that you can draw all the action poses you want, ‘cause they look cool, they’re easy. When they’re jumping, the dynamic stuff is really easy to pull off because there are certain tricks and cheats to it, but when you’re drawing someone just sitting there—like there are scenes with say, Grifter, and he’s sitting there and he’s just talking to Dolby, it’s really difficult because you have to pull of something more natural. So probably the more every day stuff is more hard to design.
Who’s your favorite character to draw in the series?
In Descender, I would have to say....Telsa! She’s just fun to draw. She’s like the character I’ve always wanted to create. Growing up with all the cartoons and anime and comics, she’s just a combination of everything I want to draw.
There’s also the impending movie adaptation of Descender. It’s still early on, but are there any movies you were inspired by when creating Descender that you hope influence the eventual live-action version?
You know, I just hope it’s good. When we created Descender—even though everyone was like, “Oh, you did it for a movie,” I was like, no, I just did it because I wanted to draw cool books—I never really had anything in mind. Like in my mind, it’s always been G1 Transformers...the old Robotech Macross Saga...but in my mind, the comic book form has always been good enough for me. Even though we’re executive producers on it, I trust them to do the best they can, because I don’t really know movies. But I do know there’s a lot of stuff we’re familiar with, like there’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, of course...I’m really big on Akira, obviously that’s not live action, but yeah, it’s hard to say. Because I've just been deep in Descender the book just drawing it so it’s hard to say.
Can you give us a tease on what’s coming up in the series?
Yeah, right now we’re in the backstories of everyone, so by the end of this volume—I guess we’re in volume three right now—by the end of this volume we’ve revealed there’s something really big that sets off what’s happened from issue one. It ties back to issue one again. When I read the script I was just floored. I was just like, wow man, good job. Good job Jeff!
Have you been reading Descender? Let us know what you think of the series in the comments below, and check out the rest of Blastr’s coverage from Rose City Comic Con!