Villains & Heroes: Illustrations of Immorality was initially born out of my personal frustration with the rampant pro-ethical and morality based messages that seem to be all too common in mainstream entertainment. When reading comic books and watching movies growing up, the villains always seemed to make a lot more sense to me than the heroes. I can sympathize with villains more than the so called "good guys"; and the fact that heroes always came out on top really bothered me. I suppose you could say that this was the catalyst for creating my Villains & Heroes comics (and in a more general way, the rest of Twisted Jenius as well). But over the course of planning V&H, other ideas were incorporated into it.
The comic is designed to illustrate the utter hypocrisy and irrational thought that I see within concepts of morality, as well as other common social expectations and beliefs. It is not an attempt to parody or lampoon ideas that may be thought of as "evil" or socially taboo, but to encourage them. Assuring anyone who might be looking at things this way that they are correct, and that this really is how things are; despite what other sources may claim. The situations depicted in V&H represent real conflicting social view points, often acting as metaphors for situations that I (and most likely, many others) have had to deal with; and are designed to show things from a different perspective than you would normally get from mainstream entertainment. Of course, this means that V&H stands in stark defiance of mainstream views, and will only be appreciated, or even genuinely understood, by people who are already thinking along these lines. It is designed to supplement and entertain those who can appreciate it; and it takes this type of person to truly enjoy the comic. Now that you understand the basic principle, and where I'm coming from, we will go into more specific details about the creation of Villains & Heroes.
Most of the general design elements of the comic are pretty straight forward. You'll notice that the background of each panel consists of an often dark, multicolored gradient, with a vague line drawing representing the background scenery. This is done in order to create a distinctive atmosphere and setting for each comic, without distracting from the main action happening in the foreground with the characters. Although it's easy to overlook, I'd like to point out that we also use a gradient pattern within our characters speech balloons. This provides the comic with a darker feel and helps to avoid any clashing with the background that would result from using pure white speech balloons.
One of the most obvious designed elements of the comic is the rollover or hover feature that we use. This is what causes each panel to change when you hover over it. Admittedly, this feature is not entirely necessary for every panel, but it does add a nice element of interactivity to the comic, and significantly contributes to the humor in some of the panels. Each comic is laid out in a grouping of five to six panels. Whenever six panels are used, they're all of equal size. And when five are used, either the first or last panel is larger than the others. I think of this as the "finale" panel. Each comic opens or is titled with of the name of the star villain and what hero they'll be facing in that particular comic. The villains' name comes first (just so everyone knows who they're supposed to be rooting for), and is colored primarily black, followed by the hero's name which is primarily off white in color. You may also notice the comic has a distinctly anime kind of look to it. I chose this style not only because cell shading is easier to do on a regular basis, but because of my genuine love of anime (I'm responsible for all of the images on TwistedJenius.com and I use different styles of art for different things). Now, let's examine some of the thinking that went into the creation of the characters themselves.
Each villain in V&H is designed to be the embodiment of a philosophical taboo, a representation of an unpopular or controversial, but completely rational idea. What they represent is just as important as who they are as characters. This is why they are deliberately created to be a little obvious and cliché. When designing a villain, I first ask myself what types of ideas and philosophy I want represented, and then I combine that general concept with an easily recognizable villain archetype; a stereotypical evil doer, if you will. These characters should be able to act as poster children for the philosophies which they champion. Many of the specific personality traits that each villain possesses were inspired by different parts of my own psychology and personality. For instance, although Lord Derwinian knows he's more intelligent than his pathetic human adversary, he still never seems to quite grasp the levels of stupidity that he's actually dealing with. Mr. Cain is continuously self absorbed, yet upbeat in his attitude and is utterly apathetic to whatever drama the other characters are engaged in, and Thing O' Wickedness is forever questioning, analyzing and scrutinizing every situation that he comes across.
The role that the villains play, and how they are presented in the comic, has significance as well. Although the villains, in most of the comics, are supposedly engaged in some nefarious activity, they also seem to be minding their own business when they are approached by the hero. The villains are often more polite and courteous then the heroes (actually, this is the case in a lot of entertainment) and they are always either having more fun or at least making a lot more sense than their heroic adversaries. Plus, the villains in V&H are always cooler looking and dressed better (at least in my opinion) than the heroes are.
Now I'll give you a little insight into the creation of one of our villains, Lord Derwinian. I have always thought that a good scenario (although completely fictional) for making a point about human Darwinism is: "If we continue to practice this type of morality and promote equality to the point where our gene pool becomes so weak, that we, as a species, no longer have any significant mental or physical power at all (not that we're that well off now). And if another species, like aliens, were to suddenly show up, we could very well be completely screwed." Although I realize that this particular event probably won't ever occur, this scenario does help to illustrate the virtues of Darwinism very nicely. So when I decided I needed a character to represent Darwinism, I use this as a starting point.
Eventually, I came up with the idea of combining an intergalactic warlord type villain, with a walking fish (I hope the symbolism isn't lost on anyone) to act as this alien threat. Here is the first quick sketch I did of Lord Derwinian. This wasn't so much a design stench, as it was just to get the idea down on paper while I was still thinking about it. But, since this was the first image of Lord D. in existence, I decided to include it for posterity.
The hero characters in the comic are designed to represent certain stereotypes of morality and social acceptability. The design process of creating a hero in V&H is very similar to creating a villain. Basically, I decide on a popular or "good and just" way of thinking, that I wish to scrutinize or ridicule, and then I try to match that up with the kind of person (their personalities and sometimes their appearances) that would truly embody or champion those types of beliefs. After that, I endow that character with various types of generic super hero like attributes. Many of the hero's personalities are composites, taken from different people I've known and occasionally the characters themselves, are caricatures of people I've had to deal with in real life.
Just like the villains, the heroes have their own distinctive roles to play in the comic. Often, the heroes are more abrasive and intrusive than the villains. Many times the heroes are angrier, and are always less intelligent than their evil adversaries. They have less concern or capacity for logic and common sense. They're always more concerned with principle rather than practicality. The heroes are often more pissed off or just plain unhappier than the villains. Part of this is designed to illustrate the virtues of doing what makes sense, as opposed to worrying about whether something is "right" or not, and part of it is to give you an idea about the self deprecating and potentially masochistic nature of morality. You'll notice that many of the heroes seem to have embraced suffering as a preferable way of life.
Here is my first attempt to draw Might of Christ on the computer. I was still working things out with the idea at this point, but as you can see, the general concept has remained the same. Some of the details like colors and proportions have changed (as well as my general drawing ability and my skill with the art program) from the way he is depicted in the comic now, but true to his unyielding personality, the basic design of the champion of Christian light has not changed much since this original sketch.
The creation of each individual comic can be divided into five separate steps: the script, line drawing, basic coloring, shading and detail, and placing speech balloons and texts. I will now outline the basic process for you, step by step, in order to give you a better idea of what goes into each Villains & Heroes comic.
The first step is writing the script. This is where I decide what message I want to send and what characters I'm going to use in the comic that I'm working on. I come up with the basic exchange between the characters that I'm going to use to say whatever it is I want to say, and then over a period of time I refine it into exact dialogue. I'm simultaneously getting a mental picture of what kind of actions or activities characters will be engaged in and what their position will be in relation to each other within the comic.
The second step in the creation of any Villains & Heroes comic, is the basic line drawing of the pictures within each panel (remember, the image in the panel changes when you hover over it). This is where I decide on general bodily positions of the characters, as well as the "camera" angle of each panel (this changes dramatically from panel to panel, to keep the comic visually interesting). The line drawings in this step are of large physical objects in the picture (as opposed to shading and details that are in another step). I also have to consider where I'm going to put the speech balloons, based on the amount of text I've already written in the script. I need to ensure that there will be enough room for the text, as well as the bubble around it.
It takes us approximately 20 hours to complete a Villains & Heroes comic, from beginning to end. Before I leave you, I'd just like to say thanks to all of our fans and to assure you all, that this is only the beginning.
- False Prophet