Sunday, March 06, 2011

Coming Soon from IMAGE Comics: Viktor Kalvachev's BLUE ESTATE

While Viktor may be considered a relative newcomer to the comics’ world, he’s been deeply involved in the visual arts for some time. A graduate from the National Academy of Art with an MFA, he’s been working mainly in the game industry on dozens of titles.  His current work can be seen in a  
cool new virtual world-game called VIE.  
Viktor’s the mastermind behind an amazing new series coming soon from Image Comics, called  BLUE ESTATE
So FlyCoJoe sat down to talk with Viktor to get the full scoop on  BLUE ESTATE and what makes this project so cool. 

(Before we start, a quick note to my comic retailer colleagues: BLUE ESTATE #1 has a Diamond order code of FEB110384, with an "FOC" date of 3/14/11. BLUE ESTATE #2 is now in the March Diamond Previews catalog with an order code of MAR110572)
FlyCoJoe: Let’s get everyone up to speed--- 
What’s your comics’ origin story?
First, I want to thank you for this opportunity and let your readers know how much you, Andy and everyone else at Flying Colors mean to me.

Before I was making comics, I really wanted to make comics, but didn’t think I was good enough. I felt it was way too hard to do and every time I tried I could hardly finish a page because I was too disappointed by how it looked. I guess I have too much respect for this art and had to deliver more than what I was expecting.
I’ve been working mainly in the game industry on dozens of titles. But in my heart I have always stayed with visual storytelling and characters. In my past, as a Senior Art Director at Foundation 9,  I had a chance to work on developing a concept for a game called PHERONE. We thought a cool 10-page comic illustrating a segment of the story would be a great pitch. And so, I had to draw it. The most terrifying 3 months in my art career! 

Here I have the chance I’ve always wanted and yet I am scared I will suck tremendously. I spent about 2 months worrying and thinking about it and when I started running out of time I had to hit the pages hard. The whole 10-page pilot was done in 2 weeks. This was my very first comic.

We presented it at the San Diego Comic-Con and I was lucky to have the chance to put it in the hands of Kevin Eastman. What a great guy! Originally Kevin wanted to do a short story – about 25 pages, but then he came back asking for 78! And this is how PHERONE started.

Here is a cool fact to mention – Joe, before I showed this to Kevin Eastman, you were one of the first people to have seen PHERONE, because I was so insecure and looking for professional feedback, but didn’t know anybody.  I remember I brought it to your store and asked for your opinion. You were really nice to me and it felt so great. I remember your comment about the camera angles and how much you liked them. Thank you for that!

After PHERONE came out, it helped me to make some great friendships with comic book creators who I deeply admire and to work on stories and characters I love. Another interesting fact – it was at Flying Colors again where I first got hooked on  
Brian Wood’s DMZ from Vertigo, thanks to Andy’s recommendation. Later, Vertigo editor Will Denis invited me to be a guest artist on it and I was so thrilled I had a chance to contribute to my favorite series. 

Also at San Diego Comic-Con, I met Dan Brereton and we soon became very good friends. We wanted to work together and he basically said – tell me which characters from NOCTURNALS you want to draw and I’ll write you a short story for that. So I chose Starfish. Since we couldn’t agree on the color and style of her swimsuit I suggested I draw her in the nude. And so you have the first story of NOCTURNALS, where the main character is completely naked throughout the story, yet still PG-13 :)

FlyCoJoe: So let’s talk about BLUE ESTATE, your new series coming in the next few weeks from Image Comics. What’s the quick pitch for BLUE ESTATE?
BLUE ESTATE is an intoxicating cocktail of GET SHORTY, PULP FICTION and SNATCH with a splash of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD WORLD.
FlyCoJoe: You are working with a number of collaborating artists on this project. Tell us about them and what each brings to the project.
BLUE ESTATE is a comic domino chain of mistaken identities, shifting alliances, backstabbing conspirators and the unexpected consequences of recreational drugs. To tell such a fast-paced story, I had to come up with something new for the visual story-telling. This is where the “Style Shift” concept came up, where different artists “pass the ball” to each other within an episode, creating the feel of “sudden change” in the story, which helps keep the reader on their toes the whole time.
My small ninja team consists of Nathan Fox, Toby Cypress, Robert Valley and Andrew Osborne. Each one is so talented and easy to work with - it’s really a joy. And this makes our lives very easy because we often have to work from each other’s pencils when the Style Shift happens.
Nathan has this gritty feel to his art and he can deliver some of the best action / violence pages I’ve ever seen, yet with a sarcastic stroke of dark humor in them.
Toby’s elegance and lightness in his brushes is hard to resist. Such a fine artist, whose pages bring a lot of delightful drama to the series :). "
Robert kicks in with the smallest amount of pages, but they are equally strong. His visual storytelling and style are one of a kind and you feel like you got a sudden boost of the strongest Jamba Juice mix when you hit his stuff. We keep him with limited pages to prevent the readers from an accidental overdose.
Andrew is an Emmy Award winning writer who is so talented and brought so much to the table, helping shape BLUE ESTATE into what it is today.
My roles are pretty much everywhere. I have to admit that coloring all the pages is some of the most fun I am having, because I get to enjoy my friend’s art up close and personal. I am using different color palettes to help drive the story and keep the styles working together, threading visual color hints through the different styles to indicate a certain mood, or an alliance between characters.
For example, in episode 1 – The Rachel Situation – there is a bright blue color I am using to indicate the “Russian Connection”. There are more examples like that, but I’ll leave it to the readers to find and enjoy.
All the different styles work together, feeding off each other’s strengths to deliver a well paced and precisely balanced story that’s designed to keep the reader guessing what’s going to happen next. We really wanted to showcase the different styles on the web site in the 
Art Mash-Up section where you get to shift different portions of the drawing and flip through styles. It’s pretty cool and you get to appreciate how the styles work together. You can end up having a drawing of one character from all 4 of us. Right now there is only Rachel Maddox there, but I already have the art for 4 other characters and we are planning to do more. Stay tuned, as I’ll be uploading it in the next few weeks.
BREAKING NEWS ALERT! I am currently going through the script with my very good friend Aleksi Briclot (SPAWN: Architects of Fear) as he is going to be one of the guest artists on the book somewhere in the upcoming episodes, so watch out – more art power joins BLUE ESTATE!
FlyCoJoe: You mentioned that the artists on this series are all over the country? How are you able to coordinate the precise work that each has to contribute?  
Yeah, we are all over the place – Boston, New Jersey, San Francisco, Kansas City and one who is currently “on wheels” roaming California. Thanks to Skype we all stay connected, sometimes share screens and discuss visual problems that way. We are all pretty good on communication and staying in touch. Andrew and I talk almost every day.

FlyCoJoe: You’ve done an amazing amount of preparation to get this series of the ground. Having been fortunate enough to see your “style bible,” could you elaborate on the work you’ve done to get BLUE ESTATE to the creation process?  
I put about 3 months of solid work into compiling the BLUE ESTATE bible. We have reference materials covering every aspect of the story – locations; characters; wardrobe; props.
The fact that the story is set up for “style shifting” requires everyone to work from the same materials and stay consistent in the smallest details. I created most of the important locations in Sketchup and had planned and choreographed all the action scenes there, so we all know exactly what happens - who sits where, who shoots first etc. This way it’s all clear to everyone what they need to draw and we stay on track. This makes the story vividly different, but keeps all the details and continuity straight. The team has access to the 3D scene as well so they can plan their shots and use it as reference as much as they need.
I have also directed every episode and planned where the story needs to be split for Style Shifting and which artist takes that. It’s all very visual, showing every page and the point in which the shift happens. It’s even colored in different colors so when we look at it we instantly know how much work everyone has to do, what and where.
BLUE ESTATE is very heavy on its cast. We have about 15 strong characters that create this crazy net of relationships and motives. I figured drawing detailed character sheets for each one from multiple angles would take me too much time, so I decided to try and sculpt them from real clay and just take pictures. I actually ended up doing 12 miniature heads (about 4” high) and shot my character sheets with a camera. This way every artist has a complete set of each character lit and shot from every direction. It worked out pretty well and we all spent some time in the beginning to sketch them and “learn” each face to be able to draw it consistently. I will be bringing some of these heads with me to Wonder Con to share with the fans. Stop by the Image booth to check them out. They are pretty cool.

FlyCoJoe: Lots of energy and thought is being put into this, but engaging art is only made better when the characters are also engaging. Can you give us a bit of background on BLUE ESTATE #1’s main character, Rachel? 
The characters are what make BLUE ESTATE so strong! Everyone can find someone they care about and want to follow. Go to the official web site and you’ll see tweets from 4 of our characters that you can follow online to find out more about the story, what “might” happen in the next episode, their side of the story, “ancient wisdom” and other goodies.

It’s a male-heavy cast, but the one main female character we have – Rachel -- is a really strong one and I am sure our female audience is going to enjoy her a lot.

Rachel is a very sensitive woman who starts out in a bad situation, but her spirit is strong and she is able to pull herself out of it. She isn’t going out “guns blazing”, she is not a ninja, she can’t kick ass, but she has a strong will and the guts to make the right decisions when the time comes. Her path is not easy and not all her decisions are the best ones, but she is a decent person who fights for survival even more than most of the “macho” characters in BLUE ESTATE.

Speaking of which – we have plenty of entertaining “ass-kickers” you are going to love. I don’t have a favorite because I love all of them, but I have to say I enjoy the Italian mobsters more than anyone.

Just like a movie production, we have wardrobe for each character. Rachel is wearing a few designer outfits I picked for her from the 
CHANEL 2011 Spring collection. The one she first appears in is actually from Lanvin’s 2011 spring collection and I absolutely love it. The outfits help illustrate who the characters are and how they feel right now, just like we pick what we’ll wear today in real life. Tony Luciano for example doesn’t think at all about his wardrobe – he pretty much wears the same thing all the time, unlike one of his goons Lino, who is a huge fan of David Hasselhoff, and dresses in different suits all the time, following his idol’s style :)

The Mafia characters are vicious and dangerous and based on all the great mob stories I love, from The Godfather to The Sopranos -- only these guys are a lot dumber than Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano, so they’re scary but funny.  But the Russian mobsters in the story -- now those are the guys you really have to watch out for!

Another one of the main characters in the story is Roy Devine, Junior -- a private investigator who Rachel beats up on the very first page.  Rachel may be the brains and soul of 
BLUE ESTATE, but Roy is definitely the heart.  He’s basically a sweet guy who wants to do the right thing but gets in way over his head.

We needed a “private eye” at the center of all the schemes and crimes in the story, trying to figure everything out -- but we didn’t want him to be the same old boring 1940s “film noir” type detective that’s been done to death a million times.  So instead, we made him a younger guy who’s trying to break into the very UN-glamorous modern day detective business.  He’s a lot closer to someone like Jonah Hill than Humphrey Bogart.  In other words, he’s basically a geek -- just like the people writing and drawing him!     

And we’re only scratching the surface in issue #1 -- we’ve got all kinds of other great characters waiting in the wings, from peace-loving hippies to deadly assassins and everything in between!

FlyCoJoe: How many issues are you planning for this series and how far into production are you?   
BLUE ESTATE is a 12 issue series, but we already have plans for more after that. The characters are really fun to work with and the one piece of feedback we keep getting from whoever has read the entire script is they want to know more about them.

Each episode unveils a little bit more of the story, shows sides of the characters you haven’t seen before, answering one question while introducing another. I believe all 12 episodes are very strong and very different, and each one stands alone with its own pace and strength.

The first episode (issue #1) is already off to the printer and episode two is nearly complete. Toby and Rob already started working on episode three--- and I am done with the 4th cover. We are moving ahead pretty well.

FlyCoJoe:You have built a very rich environment on the BLUE ESTATE web-site. Tell us a bit about that.
Not only do we have a lot of freebies – wallpapers and icons for different screen resolutions and 8 mobile devices -- but there are lots of cool ways to learn more about the story and characters. Explore the different styles through playing with the Art Mash-Up; read the tweets from Roy Jr., Bruce Maddox, Cherry Popz and Buddy & Gus to see what they think about and maybe get a hint about what’s going to happen in the next issue.

Another cool way to get a sneak peek of the upcoming episodes is through  
Roy’s Dark Room – a place where the “evidence photos” are developed and you get to see them in progress. They take about 4 days each to develop, so every time you go there the picture is more and more clear, making you guess who the artist is and what’s in the photo.

FlyCoJoe: What's it been like to work with the Image Comics' team? 
Working with Image has been absolutely fantastic. This is the best partner for any creator who wants to see their work in great hands and have people on the other side who really care for his vision and try to present it in the best way possible. This is my second book with them and I am looking forward to many more. The people I work with the most there are Eric, Sarah, Todd, Tyler, Drew and Jonathan. I couldn't have asked for a better crew.
FlyCoJoe: Viktor, I want to thank you for talking the time to give us this exclusive look at your new series... and it's one I'm looking really forward to! 
Thanks again for having me, Joe!
Flying Colors is my favorite store, where I get my comic fix every time I need one! Andy, especially, but the whole staff have the gift of introducing me to my next inspirations every time I visit.  

(BLUE ESTATE #1 has a Diamond order code of FEB110384, with an "FOC" date of 3/14/11. BLUE ESTATE #2 is now in the March Diamond Previews catalog with an order code of MAR110572)

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