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Buffy : Season 8

"Buffy : Season 8" Comic Book - Capturing Likenesses in Illustrations

Jo Chen

Monday 7 July 2008, by Webmaster

I receive quite a bit of mail and commentary about likenesses in my paintings so I thought this might make a good topic for a blog entry.

On the Buffy and Serenity covers, there is an expectation from many television show fans, who are not necessarily ardent comic book readers or connoisseurs of comic book art or other forms of illustration for that matter, to see precise representations of familiar faces. Sometimes I pull it off well and some times not so well (that’s my own opinion).

What is important to me as an illustrator when creating one of these covers is to capture the essence of a character in a painting and not simply to reproduce a portrait of somebody as if they are sitting still in front of me, hands folded in lap, looking his/her best. That type of art is for a wealthy man’s drawing room wall and the fronts of dollar bills; not graphic novels or comic books.

So, this balance of attempting to illustrate something that is original and dynamic while satisfying the readers’ collective need for the faces to be familiar is something that I struggle with.

If you look at my first couple of Buffy covers, are the representations of Buffy, Xander and Willow exact? Nope. But I believe that I captured the spirit of the characters well enough and there was enough resemblance to the actors to make fans, readers, editors and creator(s) happy. Even Joss warned me about being a slave to a photograph when I painted that first Kaylee cover. Is it a portrait of Jewel Staite? Nope. I didn’t want it to be. Nor did Joss. Did it capture the character of Kaylee in an illustration? I think so.

One more important point about illustrations involving action scenes. The human face is a rubbery thing, capable of all kinds of contortions especially under duress, when faced with some unspeakable terror, in moments of extreme physical exertion...you get where I’m going with this. In such moments that an illustrator attempts to capture, the faces will not look like glam shots at the mall or cribbed from a high school yearbook photo. In fact, they might not be recognizable at all if you didn’t already have some pre-disposition to know who you are supposed to be looking at.

For example, my illustration for the cover of Buffy 10. If BtVS weren’t the title of the book and if Willow weren’t as recognizable, would readers have recognized Buffy/SMG in her moment of extreme panic at being 10,000 feet in the air without a parachute, hanging onto Willow for dear life? Doubtful. In sketching the pencils at the beginning of that piece, I found some reference material of SMG with that expression on her face to use as a guide. If I cropped that photograph so that all you could see was her face with no other point of reference, you wouldn’t recognize her. Nevertheless, it is her face.

It is my mission to create the best art that I can for these books. And in doing so, I have to please two masters: me who wants to create an artistic piece and not simply reproduce photographs and you guys, the readership, who demands that the illos look just enough like your beloved characters to keep you happy.

Well, okay...I actually have three masters to please and we all know who the third is. He always has the final say and does so with your best interests in mind.

Jo Chen