The LEGO Ninjago comic book series has been breaking records with exciting stories based on the popular theme. Regular artist Jolyon Yates has been bringing the series to life since #4, and he kindly took the time to talk about how his career began, being part of the Ninjago world and the process of bringing these characters to life. Read on for a fascinating interview that makes clear why Jolyon is such a qualified person to be providing the artwork for Ninjago, and for an exclusive sneak peek at #7 – “Stone Cold”.
How did your career in comics begin?
I've still got the first comic page I ever drew, when I was 4 years old. It's a Western epic. In secondary school [around 6th-7th gradein the USA] I started drawing comics with my friend Stephen, mostly parodies of Superhero comics and whatever films we'd watched on television recently. That turned into publishing our own parody school magazine which outsold the official one, and we were made the editors of that one too.
Tried the Royal Navy for a few years but decided it wasn't for me. At Art College I started drawing and writing for Horror movie magazine Samhain, but there was no money in it. During my Illustration course I was invited to be the guinea pig for an exchange scheme with a Japanese Art College, all expenses paid. I'd been a notorious Japanophile since childhood and studied in Sapporo. Whilst there I wrote articles on anime for Samhain and met Yumiko Kayukawa, who now lives in Seattle [check out her art at sweetyumiko.com].
|Revvvelations Cover - "definitely not for children"|
I started doing translations for releases of Japanese soundtracks, starting with Silva Screen's The Best of Godzilla. Did more day jobs until Emily got her career going, and by night did storyboards for local film makers, a comic series for G-Fan magazine and a web comic called Revvvelations for Stan Yan (definitely not for children, the comic that is, not Stan). I became a full time illustrator a couple of years ago. It wasn't safe to quit the day job but I had experience and contacts and Emily could see how depressed I was. It's been hard and I make less than I would have at the day job but thanks to people like the good folks at Papercutz I might be able to make a living at this stuff.
How did you come to work on the LEGO Ninjago series for Papercutz?
Several years ago I read on a comics news site that Papercutz was trying to get the rights to do a comic based on Pirates of the Caribbean. I enjoyed the movies and two of my ancestors were hanged as pirates, so I contacted the magnificent Jim Salicrup and he graciously checked out my website [check it out here]. I sent drawings of the characters every week and at some point was given a go at a page scripted by Steve Englehart, which was another thrill as he'd written my favourite run on Dr Strange.
|Pencils for Ninjago #7 - "Stone Cold"|
What is your process when it comes to illustrating a comic book?
|Inked panel for Ninjago #7 - "Stone Cold"|
After notes from LEGO, Sensei Wu now wears his hat in the bath.
After that I use nib pens to rule in straight lines, and technical pens for ellipses like the characters' eyes. Then I try to ink as much as possible with a brush, hopefully so there's a lively line to the figures, although I have to use small nib pens for some of the tiny costume details. Once that's dry I erase the pencil marks, scan the pages, do adjustments and corrections and then fit them to the page format.
Then the pages get inspected by people at Papercutz and LEGO and they send me lists of changes - I cry and do them.
|Pencils for Ninjago #7 - "Stone Cold"|
The closest projects were video game character designs, where there was a similar process of drawing each character over and over until everyone was happy with it. I jumped in at the deep end on book 4 and had a lot of catch-up to do. When you sign on you get two manuals on what you must and mustn't draw. Book 5 onward has been a lot easier and I've gotten away with most of the designs of new characters so far. I already had a lot of material on ninja and Japan in general so that made research easier, but I run into trouble when I draw authentically Japanese instead of authentically LEGO.
The biggest difference with Ninjago is how popular it is. Hopefully not all of Ninjago's fans will not be put off comics by my efforts!
Which of the LEGO Ninja do you relate to the most?
I took to Zane. He's the quietest one, he shows consideration for creatures, he thinks outside of the box.
|Inked page for Ninjago #7 - "Stone Cold"|
I'm allowed much less flexibility with the characters than in the animated series. They can't bend their legs or straighten their arms. Sensei Wu can't reach his own hat and so on.
I can tweak their expressions. Also if you think of dramas using masks, like No theatre, feelings can be expressed by the overall body language and the way the mask interacts with lighting. My favourite television series is Thunderbirds, where you have puppets with little facial movement. But there are so many storytelling elements which I can apply to Ninjago like composition, angles, editing and environments. And there are all the abstract bits of comic language you can use to show movement and emotion.
Greg Farshtey does the heavy lifting anyway, I'm just trying to help get his story across to the reader. Jim Salicrup and Michael Petranek have been great at training me to keep my storytelling clear. This was especially useful in Book 7 which burrows into Sensei Wu's brain; things get really mysterious and at a climactic moment I got the feeling we were supposed to question if Wu was saying the right thing, so hopefully despite all that the story's not too confusing.
Which issue of the series are you currently working on?
I just finished book seven, and this morning I'll finish the four page preview of book eight which will be included in the back.
|Comic Con Exclusive Poster|
I must watch that movie at least once a year. So when I saw the book title "Enter The Serpentine" what else could I do?
Originally, Papercutz wanted a few black & white photocopied drawings to give away to retailers. I did the poster in colour so the values would match the original (by Bob Peak), and included a colour version with the photocopies as a gift to Papercutz, but they liked it so much they had large full colour posters printed which we handed out at San Diego. We also met the creators of the television series and one of the LEGO creators from Denmark who told us they have the poster on their office walls.
Can you give any hints as to what fans can expect next in the series?
And I have to ask, has working on the Ninjago series led to you doing any LEGO building?
The only figure I have is Kai ZX. He models for all the characters. My little brother had basic LEGO sets when I was a nipper. When I do get free time I spend it with the family, reading and watching films.
A big thanks to Jolyon Yates for taking the time to talk about his work on the LEGO Ninjago comic book series, and to Jesse at Papercutz for arranging the interview. LEGO Ninjago #6 “Warriors of Stone” is available now, and #7 “Stone Cold” will be released on 28th May 2013.