Interview with DEAD DROP Artist Adam Gorham
Valiant Entertainment’s Dead Drop is a conspiracy action thriller written by Ales Kot with art by Adam Gorham. It’s a race against the clock in each installment of this 4 issue mini series. X-O Manowar, Archer, Betamax, and Detective Cejudo make up a cast of extraordinary agents, under the direction of Neville Alcott, who are trying to prevent a global biological disaster.
Dead Drop # 1, featuring X-O Manowar in a chase across New York City, was released on May 6. It was an instant sell out. A second printing was quickly announced. Casual readers as well as Valiant’s loyal followers were interested in the premise of this series and where it goes from here. Valiant provides a great jumping on point for new fans as well as rewarding longtime readers with a unique take of a larger tapestry of connected characters and concepts.
At Chicago’s C2E2 earlier this year I met Adam and got a look at some of his original artwork for the series. A few weeks later we talked some more and he agreed to answer some questions about his approach and what Dead Drop is all about.
How would you describe your art process? How much is traditional method or digital enhancements?
I’m a modern traditionalist when it comes to my process for creating a page because I start with pencils and paper and end up on Photoshop. When I started out as a comic artist drawing my indie book, Teuton, I would draw straight to page. Almost every page was like going off into the woods without a map or clear destination. It was maddening, thinking back. Later I learned about the virtues of drafting from Ty Templeton while attending what is now his Comic Book Bootcamp here in Toronto. I still use a template he gave to his students for rough out my thumbnail drawings. After reading the script I’ll do whatever research is required and draw very loose and simple layouts on a template that’s roughly 3″ x 5″. Some people go smaller. I found this size works best for me without wearing glasses. Then, assuming my I get approval at every step of the way, I’ll scan my rough drawings and apply them to a PDF template and print my rough drawings as a blue line at a very low opacity on to 11″ x 17″ board. I’ll lightly pencil and move on to inks. I do most of my actually drawing in the inking phase.
What kind of reference do you use?
For Dead Drop I’ve had to look at New York extensively. Brooklyn specifically. I’ve never been to NYC, and since Ales’ script references real world locations that would be familiar to anyone living there, I felt a responsibility to give the setting some authenticity. I did the obligatory image searches online, but by far my greatest asset in this endeavor was my good friend Isabella Deocariza, who lives in Brooklyn and actually went around the city taking photos of all the mundane details that make up the city streets where our story was set. She provided me with so much to work with, and while what’s on the printed page is only a fraction of what I was given, it made my job way easier. I cannot thank her enough!
Who are some of your artistic influences?
I’ve been drawn to dark, “inky” styles of comic art, starting with Bernie Wrightson. One of my first exposures to comics was Batman: The Cult, illustrated by Wrightson. His work on it is so gritty and macabre, so different from most of the clean art I’d seen in other comics at the time. I was a young boy at the time, but the book left its mark on me. Currently I’m enamored with artists like James Harren, Mattero Scalera, Andrew MacLean, Andy Belanger, and my good pal Michael Walsh.
How did you land the job as the artist of Valiant’s Dead Drop? What has the editorial process been like?
I got the gig after working with Ales on an issue of his Image book, ZERO, and I got that job in part from inking ZERO #1. At that time I had not read anything of Ales’. Michael Walsh was drawing the first issue, but was also starting work on another title, so he needed a hand and I stepped in to ink. I knew nothing about ZERO, but from simply seeing the cover and interior design by Tom Muller, it was clear the book had a real edge to it. The first issue has a special place in my heart because of my involvement and my memories of working on it, but I didn’t expect to read the book regularly. However its second issue revealed part of the title’s true nature and it quickly became appointment reading for me. Almost a year of enjoying ZERO purely as a reader, I sent Ales samples of my work periodically and eventually we got to a place where we were ready to work together. My experience on that issue was highly positive and I have to think that was mutual. As my work on that issue neared its end, Ales and I actively discussed new prospects with each other. A few months later he was set up at Valiant and I was someone he vouched for. Now here we are!
As for working with Editorial, they’ve been truly great. Everyone I’ve met at Valiant has been super supportive of the book and of me as an artist. Just speaking with them, there’s a strong sense of being on a team. Valiant definitely feels like a neat clubhouse that just wants to make the best comics they can. It’s actually very gratifying to take part in that. To be fair, Valiant is taking a chance on me, a largely unknown artist headlining their latest mini-series. It’s a bold gambit when you think about it, and it’s something that’s pushed me to produce my best work to date.
With X-O in issue 1 I did my best to display his physical weight and strength and speed–a bull in a china shop, basically. In issue 2, which comes out in June, I’ve tried to play up the slapstick with Archer. His “performance,” if you will, is very physical, but in contrast with X-O because poor Archer feels the action every step of that issue. Issue 3 turns its focus on Betamax, and it’s probably the one I’m most excited for because it’s a real underdog story. He’s the little train engine that could. So I’ll try and give the character some pathos throughout his struggles. As for Cejudo, it’s too early to tell!
A race against the clock is a major component of this book. What methods do you utilize to emphasis this theme?
I can’t say I do much to compound the sense of immediacy in terms of how I draw my pages. I draw what’s scripted, and the issues are scripted so they’re back to back. The plot unfolds in a way where there’s no time between beats. The second issue picks up immediately after the girl escapes X-O on the train. The maps inside the front cover also reinforce the rapid succession of these issues for the reader.
What’s up with X-O Manowar not flying in the first issue of Dead Drop?
The simplest answer: it wouldn’t be much of a chase if Aric simply flew and overpowered the mysterious girl carrying the virus. When I first read the script that was one of the first things that jumped out at me. However as a storyteller I personally loved the idea of keeping the chase street level. For starters, the collateral damage from having a super-powered armored man rip through the streets of NYC would be disastrous. So by having Aric place value on human lives by chasing the girl at his disadvantage speaks to his heroism. Granted, X-O isn’t a textbook superhero, but we root for him because he’s facing down odds stacked against him. I also really enjoyed getting to play with the physicality of X-O, especially in contrast with his target. While she is swift and lithe and acrobatic, X-O is a tank–powerful and fast but graceless. The pavement cracks under his foot steps and anything he collides with is damaged on impact. I loved trying to capture all that. Hypothetically, if he took flight, windows would shatters and shards of glass would rain on pedestrians. I think you come to appreciate Aric more when he’s pushed to achieve a goal but must reign in his abilities for the greater good. On a different note, I daresay there’s a subversive quality to how Ales has X-O handle the NYPD with non-lethal force. It’s clear that’s not how they intend to treat him, and it plays on what we read in the news about excessive force used by law officers in America. This was a small opportunity to show how real heroes diffuse a situation without using excessive lethal force, all through the prism of a mainstream comic book.
You mentioned you created a new power for X-O Manowar. Can you tell us more about that?
This still makes me laugh when I think about it, because it shows how easily carried away I can get when I’m having fun. To explain what happened: Ales scripted Dead Drop #1 in a way that gave me the freedom to plot the action myself so long as it landed on the necessary beats. In one instance I had Aric create an energy barrier that manipulated a bullet mid-air. It was a neat solution to the problem at hand. However, you can’t just have an established character do something unprecedented for a fairly frivolous reason and expect Valiant readers not to notice or care. At the time I fought for it to be used, but such additions to a character should happen in the core title (if they need to happen at all) and in the end I came up with a more satisfying solution. This means there’s an alternate page where X-O does something crazy weird that won’t ever be seen!
Have you read much of the past or current Valiant titles?
Truthfully, I have not. I had a working knowledge of most titles–X-O, Harbinger, Bloodshot–but it was really only X-O that I read. For a short while I worked in the same studio as Cary Nord. He was still early into his X-O run then. I had enjoyed his art in Conan and quickly grew fond of him as a presence in the studio. I was/am a real admirer of his. He once gave me an early copy of X-O #11, a small gesture I was quite humbled by at the time and I kept going with the series for a short while after.
Which character in the Valiant Universe do you find the most visually interesting? Which one the most conceptually interesting?
Shadowman and his world would be really cool to draw, I think. Anything dark and mystical is my kind of scene. Although I’d also like to draw something with Rai. I read Rai recently and really enjoyed it. His character design is fun and the futuristic setting would be a blast to play with.
Any Valiant characters you didn’t have a chance to illustrate that you would like to work on down the road?
I’d love to return to X-O in some capacity. I feel I’ve managed to put my own slant on him and I’d like to do more work on him that would lend me name to the character, you know? I still think of Cary’s as definitive. In fact, when I started Dead Drop I reached out to Cary for notes on his armour. Literally nobody draws him the same! I felt if I had to emulate anyone, it would be Cary. He was super kind and sent me what he had, included a little doodle he did on the spot. Thanks, Cary!
What conventions will you be attending this year? What’s the best way to get in touch with you online?
I’ll be doing Toronto Fan Expo and Saskatoon Comic and Entertainment Expo in September, and in October I’ll be appearing at NYCC! Anyone who wants to reach me can do so on Twitter (@AdamTGorham)!
Adam’s Dead Drop original artwork is available for sale. Check out the gallery at: http://www.comicartfans.com/galleryroom.asp?gsub=166791 Be sure to check out Dead Drop #2 on sale June 3.