Well-deserved praise is rolling in for Tristan Jones’ comic work on his dream project, Alien: Defiance, yet he refuses to call himself an artist. During his ‘Art of Tristan Jones’ panel at last weekend’s Australian Comic Arts Festival in Canberra, he shared some stories about the process of working with major studios and licensed properties, his love of the Alien franchise, speaking to Ridley Scott though representatives, artistic process on the book, and struggles with comic store communication.
Working on Aliens:
I am not an artist. I am an illustrator. It’s a job title more than anything, it’s visual storytelling, not necessarily art. I will never say or label myself as an artist because I don’t have the training, and don’t do pieces for gallery exhibitions, other than what other people want. My use of blacks is me cutting a lot of corners. I’m not comfortable with anatomy so lighting hides a lot of things. Aliens has been a massive ‘out of the shadows’ for me because there has been so much architecture and technology. The thing about Aliens is the technology is so… All the computers are 70’s, and the 600dpi detail slows me down a lot because I’m finicky about details which I think it pays off at the end of the day.
Sometimes people email me years after, or just after a project has come out, like *only just noticed that you put this in there, that’s really really cool* and it adds to that world. If I can immerse you in that world completely, that’s my end game. It was a matter of making things look bad ass and futuristic, but in the 80’s, for Aliens. I spoke to guys from Fox who said it was ok for me to take the current marine uniform and put some extra bits and pieces on it, which fits much better into Aliens universe than what is already in the Aliens universe. I count myself lucky that I’m in a position where I can do that.
I have heard horror stories in comics of people who were on licensed books, and have been so beholden to what is their already that there, that there is no room for creativity at all. So I am really glad that Fox, one, like what I do, and two, believe in me enough as a creator to really let me go wild with adding to this universe. Brian (Wood), the writer, is a fantastic writer, has written some really amazing social commentaries, and political works through post-apocalyptic fiction. He has an amazing one out right now called Starve which has just been collected in trade paperback, as a really great critique on reality television.
Brian had worked on creative owned books and Conan the Barbarian for Darkhorse, which has a fairly extensive world to play in, where there are no real set rules. When it came to Aliens, he said ‘I have some ideas I think would work in that universe regarding warfare, and how warfare would look in that future with this organism being an impending threat’. And I said, that’s amazing! The problem with Brian is that he doesn’t have as much idea about the nuances of the universe.
Alien is the only property that I have ever really been SUPER into.
I love comics, I religiously read Spiderman for 20 years, but still I couldn’t tell you, you know, ‘what do you think of issue #28 of Amazing Spiderman?’ I don’t even know which one that is. You know those people, who can name the fill in artist for that one page in Incredible Hulk #115, just settle down! Haha. I am THAT way with Alien. So you can pretty much ask me anything about it and I can tell you straight out of the gate.
Brian loves that aspect because it means that it is easier for him to just write it and goes ok you do the Alien side of things. Make this work in that universe. Fox knows that, which is partly why they hired me, they know that I’m like that. I have had these huge conversations with Ridley Scott’s representatives, because he is here is Sydney making the new Alien film. It all goes through to him. Now that Prometheus exists, Alien is a completely different landscape, and it completely throws around any prior biological ideas of where the alien came from. We have certain ideas that I want to play with in the universe.
The alien that we have design specifically for the book has its basis in Prometheus, from a scene that was cut out of alien, and is in the director’s cut, I want to do that. That gets fed through to Fox and generally the guy at Fox goes ‘you’re a monster’. They send it off to Ridley Scott who says yes or no, and sends it back. Same thing happened when I was working on the Ninja Turtles. I would write a pitch, it would go off to my editor, it would go to Peter Laird, who is one of the creators of the Turtles and he would say, yes, no, or change this, and we would tweak it from there. It is the same relationship.
Having the alien from the director’s cut is kind of an easter egg. This alien we are setting up to do in this story, all the cocooning and horrible stuff that happened in Aliens that the queens do, or that gets done to the queens, and the queens lay the eggs, we came up with this idea that when an alien is separated from a queen where it can cocoon people to a point where their biology starts breaking down, and they become the eggs that the face huggers come out of.*still with us?!* It becomes this horrible process, and it sounds ridiculous, but when we broke down the science of it, using what Prometheus did, it all made perfect sense. We originally, and this is the only time that we were told no with Alien, was we wanted to have the Alien alien, which if you pay attention, looks different to the aliens in Aliens. It’s all in the head and the physique. We wanted to use that one but Ridley Scott said no, he wanted to do something very specific with that in Covenant (new Alien film), so we were told to come up with something else, like changing the head design.
I am finishing issue #2 on the floor right now then taking a break for issue 3 so I can get ahead on the subsequent issues, then I am locked in for at least 12 beyond that. At least another year of work, which is good but kind of bad because there were things that I was lining up that I was excited about. I got offered Aliens pretty much the day I finished the Furiosa comic for Mad Max. No one had seen that when I got the Alien gig, that was largely based off things that I put on Instagram. This is where social media works. If anyone is wanting to get into art commercially then twitter, deviant art and Instagram are your best friends.
On some of the process of thumbnailing/drawing Alien:
Something I like doing is going across from the left, then the eye starts leaning back to the left at the bottom, which is not something that is usually done in comics. Everything tries to lean to the right. But if you can weight that page right it doesn’t matter because the art and the dialogue and flow of the story will allow that to fit in seamlessly. I just did another page where a corpse falls through several floors of the ship and the whole thing is centered, straight down the middle of the page, even though the camera angle is above, below etc. but it feels like, and this was the original intention, the way the script had it described. Here is the top panel and you are seeing a cross section as the body falls through. I did it from the person looking at it from the top floor, then security camera point of view on each floor. Still getting the cross section but through traditional angles.
Alien: Defiance #1 release date 27 April 2016.
You can find Tristan on Twitter, Facebook, Deviant Art, & Instagram *google him + comics*
**Thank you to the audience who asked some great questions and contributed in generating the conversation above.