Nick Dragotta: popular artist makes local appearance

East Of West

          Nick Dragotta, the artist behind the popular EAST OF WEST monthly series made a special appearance at Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark, Delaware on Saturday (12/28/2013) and stayed busy for more than two hours sketching and chatting with fans and admirers.

          Dragotta, a former resident of Southern New Jersey now living with his family in the San Francisco Bay area, made a trip back East to visit his parents and stopped by Captain Blue Hen to renew acquaintances. He was a former customer when he lived in the area, often making the trip from New Jersey in order to obtain books not available through regular drugstore, mini-mart, and various spinner-rack sources.

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Picture at right: Nick shows by example the intricacies of artwork to a young fan/aspiring artist. . . . . . . . .

          Nick’s fondness for comics goes back to his childhood days when he began collecting comic books as he puts it “beginning with simpler things” and then progressing to more adult themes and more complex art. He was attracted and influenced more by the work of artists like Sal Buscema as opposed to Barry Windsor Smith, who he considered too complex and detailed at the time. His fascination/admiration for comic art led to his enrolling in art school and pursuing a career. He worked hard at his craft before making an impression on Alex Alonso and getting his first sale with Marvel at the age of 28. Alonso then brought him onboard where he went on to illustrate various Marvel titles, culminating in his teamwork on FF with current EAST OF WEST scripter Jonathan Hickman.

          Nick jumped at the chance to work once again with Hickman, particularly with the freedom that Image grants to creator-owned titles.  He was influential in persuading Hickman to transform the concept of a noir western featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into a hybrid science-fiction/western set in a dystopian version of the United States.

          Dragotta loves working with Hickman, a skilled scripter and a former ad agency worker who has some art/design skills of his own as well.  However, Hickman did not provide design sketches for the characters of EAST OF WEST as some might assume, but wrote character outlines instead.  Nick was given freedom to develop the characters with the exception of Death and Crow, where Hickman had some more defined rules in place.

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           Nick says those characters are still evolving and he’s made some subtle and not-so-subtle changes and modifications to them as the series has progressed.  For example, he mentioned that Death’s wife is introduced at the end of Issue #2 with big eyes and an Asian look.  By the time we see her in Issue #5, the look is more streamlined and simple.  Also, as the issues move forward the size of the horse’s head that Death rides gets bigger.

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The typical process for producing EAST OF WEST is that Hickman provides an outline, from which Nick decides how many panels it requires and draws the pages. Hickman gets final review and edits the pages before turning them over to the letterer. The letterer inserts the actual word balloons and caption from the new outline provided by Hickman, who has scripted the rest to fit with the artwork. It’s a collaborative process that works well and is a great model for the differences in story-telling that comic books offer. Pictures and words combine to tell the tale. Nick is really enjoying that flexibility, and referred to a Hickman outline for the opening of the book that asked for 2 pages with people coming out of the ground. Dragotta fleshed it out further and expanded it to 5 pages bookended by tall imposing structures. “Image doesn’t care how many pages you use, where Marvel has tighter restrictions” and insists on getting the story completed within the 20-22 pages of their books. Nick prefers the Image method as it expands the scope of what you can do.

When I commented that it must take him less time with a creator-owned property versus working on licensed Marvel properties as he needs to spend extra research time to make sure he is consistent with the appearance of their characters - - Nick revealed that artists working for Marvel are provided with model sheets for each character to help maintain consistency.

          Dragotta has been producing most of his current work in digital form, including EAST OF WEST. It’s making him more productive and helping him to meet deadlines.  He typically pencils and inks on average one page a day, versus formerly taking one full day for pencils only.  He uses software from Wacom, using both Cintiq and Intous Manga to produce his work.  He has but one regret, and realizes that he still needs to do some work on paper. He’s losing art sale opportunities without any originals to sell at comics shows and conventions.

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Pictured above:  Two artists sketch for each other. At right is Nick Dragotta, holding the Beetle Bailey sketch made for him.  At left is  Bill Janocha, cartoonist/illustrator from CT now working on the Beetle Bailey comics strip for creator Mort Walker.  He’s holding Nick’s sketch of Wolverine.  Sorry, the sketch details did not come out sharper in this photo. They are both great examples of comic art.

          The first volume of EAST OF WEST is currently available in trade paperback, at an attractive introductory price of $9.99 and is available at Captain Blue Hen and other fine comics shops.

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