Many comic stores around the world have various signings from top creators encompassing small, indie or mainstream. Christian Ward used to frequent the Nostalgia and Comics store in Birmingham, UK during his university days. Under the aegis of Image Comics, Christian’s career as an artist has been on the rise over the past few years. Having worked on The Infinite Vacation with Nick Spencer (Morning Glories), he resigned from his job as a teacher to not only draw but also co write alongside Matt Fraction on ODY-C.
The book has gained acclaimed from critics and fans for a unique “gender bent” version take on Homer’s Odyssey set in space. It’s another successful Image book for the artist, and he continues to push boundaries as a comic creator. Now based in London, Christian returned to his former stomping ground to promote the first trade and the recent issue and spoke about his career to date.
Sound on Sight: Do you remember reading your first ever comic?
Christian Ward: I’ve always liked comics and when I was younger I’d usually get Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk annuals over Christmas. Those were the two I remember as a young lad, and later came Transformers comics when I became a little bit older!
SoS: How do you describe your approach to sequential storytelling?
CW: Haphazardly is what I would say. For me, my comic book style is a really different style from the traditional. I think it’s driven from a sense of insecurity to begin with. When I was getting into comics, I would look at artists I really liked, and I would feel frustrated that I couldn’t draw like Jim Lee. I could never really draw like that. When I approach comics, I think, ” What can I bring to the medium?” It has to be something that’s unique to me. I can’t draw like this, or like that. Maybe, I can approach a story in an idiosyncratic way, and I can carve a place. I think about the flow of the story, and I’m obsessed with the flow of a story. Where are the emotional beats? Where’s the emphasis I can create in a page that flows, and I use the structure of the page to inform what’s happening with the story. It tends to be the experience of reading rather than necessarily the individual panels, if that makes sense.
SoS: You moved from Wolverhampton to London. What’s the comic community like down there?
CW: It’s excellent. It’s really supportive, and I’m good friends with Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Although deadlines keeps everyone locked indoors for mos oft the time, you’re able to chat when there’s signings and events. There’s a signing today with the new Phonogram story being back, but I’m here and obviously they’re going to the pub afterwards. It keeps things grounded, but comics are an isolating job. Even if working for a writer or an editor, you’re working on your own for most of the time. It’s nice to just reach out and have friends and just go down the pub, and it’s really important.
SoS: What’s your normal working day like?
CW: It varies. I don’t have a typical day yet. I tend to work best when I’m really early and really late so often I’ll have a dip in the afternoon where I don’t work that much. My fiancée works early in the morning, and I get up half an hour later than that. I work from seven in the morning till about two in the afternoon, then my concentration levels dip. I’ll try and do other stuff between that time period. Then, very often I’ll start again at about four-ish,maybe a little later and have a little break for dinner and work right until two in the morning. I’m most productive first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I tend to burn both candles at both ends a lot of the time.
SoS: You recently mentioned on social media that you’ve moved from traditional tools to using digital. How are you getting used to it?
CW: Slowly. I’ve done it primarily to save me some time, and it seems to be taking longer at the moment. Having said that I’m enjoying it! There’s a certain amount of grind involved to drawing traditionally. You have to go at things over and over. What I really like about drawing digitally is that if I try something that’s rough I can capture something in that rough that works perfectly and it’s got a sense of energy which work and it’s a lot easier to clean it up rather than light box and trace and you’ll lose part of what made that original spark really good in the first place. It’s still a big learning curve but one I feel I’ll get better work out of it.
SoS: Aside from the Greek Myths what were your influences when it came to creating the look of ODY-C?
CW: I looked at a lot of Alexander McQueen. I thought about the story, and what the characters were about so, burlesque,Moebius, a lot of Euro Sci-Fi. But what I’m very careful of with influences is not to study because you end up with pastiches. I just let them filter in rather than slaving to them.
SoS: To non readers what is Dactylic Hexameter and how does factor into ODY-C?
CW: It’s just fabricant. One person actually sums it up really well: Homer’s stuff wasn’t really written down. It was spoken so the best way to experience ODY-C is to speak it because it’s about rhythm. Often, when you find you’re reading it in your head, it can be hard to get into that rhythm. But it’s supposed to have rhythm, and that’s we’re trying to do. I’ve got the visual beats, and then there’s melody of the text. It’s also how you pace and the flow of the words.
SoS: The book has gained acclaim from the LGBTQ press how do you and Matt feel about it since the book has been created by two straight men?
CW: We’re really proud, it’s excellent! I’ve got gay and lesbian friends, but it’s not my place to tell a story about experiences I’ve never had. However, what we want to do with ODY-C, is you’ve got all these crazy fantasy elements. The gay and lesbian and different body types and different relationships is actually a way of normalising it with the elements of real life in there. It’s about grounding it rather than making it feel otherworldly.
SoS: How would you compare Infinite Vacation to ODY-C?
CW: They’re completely different. With ODY-C, we’re attempting to do an epic. With the Infinite Vacation, in spite of infinite universes, it’s incredibly intimate, and it’s the story of one person whereas ODY-C is a larger story.
SoS: You began working with Matt Fraction on “The Time Ben Fell in Love” short story. How did that progress to ODY-C?
CW:We were already working on ODY-C when that happened. Scott Allie, the editor at Dark Horse, wanted a story from us. It was a way of testing the way of how we’d work together and how it would work.
SoS: This is your second project with Image. Would you say Image has the kind of creative luxury that the Big Two don’t have for comic creators, and how are you finding it?
CW: love Image, and I hope to be doing books there for my whole career if possible. They’re just really good at fostering creativity, not that the Big Two aren’t. With Image, you gamble on your creations. They don’t pay me, they don’t pay Matt, and they don’t pay their creators. It doesn’t work like that. They don’t work like DC, Marvel or Dark Horse where they contact a creator and want you do to do a book. It’s the other way round, a creator will contact Image, and say they have an idea for a book. Do you want to publish it? And they say, “Yes we do”, and that’s it. That’s the relationship.
They don’t have editors, they don’t interfere with it creatively and once the book is agreed on, you just make it and they don’t pay you. But when it sells, you and your fellow creator get all the money. Because of that, you’ve got writers and artists, who will just create because they love creating. It’s not led by an editorial team. It’s led by every single writer and artist working for Image. So it’s far more idiosyncratic rather than “we need to sell X amount of copies”. Obviously, we want to sell as many books as possible, but it’s not driven by that. It’s driven by creativity and I think that’s why it makes Image so successful.
SoS: As an artist doing an indie book, you’ve recently began doing covers for Marvel. Do you see yourself writing and drawing by one of the big two in the near future?
CW: Yeah, definitely, there’s a certain amount of stability that comes from doing that which I would be up for doing and obviously being a big comic book fan I want to have an experience drawing some of my favourite characters, it will definitely happen but I don’t know where that stands. My big job will always be to tell my own story but I have ideas of existing characters and I have been speaking to editors about that but for the time being it’s ODY-C and after that there will be something.