By Joseph Schmidt
Venerable artist David Aja was absent from San Diego last year, when Hawkeye #11 took home the Eisner for Best Single Issue. This year he's making up for lost time with his own spotlight panel.
Burdened by technical difficulties that would make Clint Barton blush, Con staff attempted to fix the connection from Aja's tablet to the projector. Eight minutes in, the problem was fixed.
Aided by visuals, Aja began speaking of his collaborative process. He mentioned every person plays a vital part in his work, from the letterer, the colorist, the writer, and all of the editors.
The Immortal Iron Fist came on the screen, and he said his editor Warren Simons (now of Valiant comics) initially hired him for a limited series. But the book's success warranted an extension. "It was only my second book at Marvel," Aja said.
He then talked about his cover process and how he's never known what the content of an issue is when he creates the cover, even for his own work-for-hire projects. "When you draw a cover, it's at least three months before the comic comes out…. So you have no idea what's in the comic."
Regarding how long it takes for him to work, Aja said it's not hard to make a perfect comic in one month.
"What's hard is not doing one comic. The problem is doing one comic a month, and the next month another comic, and the next month another comic."
Aja referenced his work with Ed Brubaker on Daredevil. In the script for an issue, the direction set Kingpin in scene on a beach in Europe, possibly Spain. Aja said that he had an idea for the setting, Costa Da Morte, which completely changed the issue's content. Instead of a typically sunny beach, it was rainy and murky. Simple changes like that aren't exactly simple, and the entire issue was worked out to accommodate the tonal shift.
Aja mentioned that deadlines are good for storytelling because it forces you to come out with great work, to invent new ways to tell your story.
Aja only collaborates with an inker when deadlines dictate it.
He brought of pages of his Secret Avengers issue, with a strange, Escher-inspired setting. Staircases protrude in and out of the panel, defying conventional physics in a way that can only be done on the page. He had to build models of the scenes in 3D before inking over them at the right perspective.
"When you're working on print, people talk about original art. That's not original art, that's just a part of the process. THIS is the finished art," he said, referring to the printed comic book. "And you get it for two bucks."
Aja constantly goes back to the importance of collaboration, now mentioning the colorist.
"I have a good relationship with [my colorist] Matt Hollingsworth at this point." Aja trusts him enough to lay off the color directions, and that's where the style became "more flat."
The first issue cover for Hawkeye comes on the screen. He thanks the applauding fans for the immense support before describing the contents of issue #1. "It's about a guy in a suit saving a dog." There's no 'to be continued' in that issue. It's over. "That's crazy to me!"
His collaboration with Hollingsworth allows for seamless story transitions, such as matching panels with different tones to indicate different time periods. This device permeates all throughout the first issue, showcasing Clint Barton attempting to save a beaten dog as well as how he came to inherit the animal.
In issue 3, Aja depicts a car chase that culminates with a crash. The chase is depicted in simple, organized horizontal panels with focus on the action. When the crash occurs, that structure is shattered. The panels break apart from each other, conveying the chaos.
Some of Matt Fraction's scripts portray scenes out of order, jumping back and forth in time. Aja has to wrap his brain around the story, so he makes rough thumbnails to help him keep it organized.
Hawkeye's script called for a scene with Hawkeye, Wolverine and Spider-Man brawling with AIM. He mentions that the series is different, and a big super hero fight might fly in a book like Iron Fist or ecret Avengers but not Hawkeye. "How do I do this?" Well, he loved the old Avengers arcade cabinet,a side-scrolling brawler in which you could play as Hawkeye, so he used that perspective to portray the battle. The panel looks like it's taken from the game.
He mentions the award winning "Pizza Is My Business," and much how like Warren Simons championed him in his early career at Marvel, so did Steve Wacker in the first year of Hawkeye. Aja thanked Wacker for fighting to get this issue made.
"If we're going to do an issue from the point of view of the dog, let's do it visually." He began brainstorming signs, how to convey certain senses with visuals. "Chris Eliopoulos hated me," Aja joked about the series letterer.
Aja noted that dog's are colorblind and so he discussed how to convey this with Hollingsworth. They subdued the colors with a blue and purple hue.
Then he spoke of the sign language issue. "We are very proud of this
one. After the dog issue, what else can we do? I can't do anything harder!" He mentioned that Barney Barton, Hawkeye's brother, is in a wheelchair, but the building has no elevators. He put in a scene with Clint pulling his brother up the staircase.
"Our idea was try to get a sense that maybe you don't get everything, there are difficulties in life."
Aja talked about how he stays sane when he gets too involved in his process.
"When you're working on a team, one important thing. Most of the time you're under pressure from deadlines. You can be upset. Most of the time you're upset!" He mentioned how it's easy to get easily angry in your own creative vacuum. "You have to be laughing and joking and having fun." He advised to talk to your coffee maker, if you have to.
With the panel over, Aja joined an ensemble of Hawkguys and Hawkgals for a photo op.