Published November 13, 2017

Back to Earth: A Black Bolt Sketchbook

Artist Christian Ward returns the Midnight King to his throne!

Image for Back to Earth: A Black Bolt Sketchbook

After spending his series so far fighting his way out of one of the harshest space prisons in the cosmos, Black Bolt will return to his home planet and face his subjects fully in BLACK BOLT #8 on December 6. Written by Saladin Ahmed and drawn by Christian Ward, the “Midnight King Returns to Earth” story kicks off with Blackagar Boltagon realizing what happened to his people since he left, specifically during Secret Empire.

We talked with Ward about his process for developing the visuals for each issue, creating visually arresting covers, and how Black Bolt’s changed since his time in space stir. In addition to fully drawing the issues, you also color and ink as well. What went into the decision to take on all those duties?

Christian Ward: Funnily enough, I’ve never even considered just penciling a comic. It’s because I’m half insecure about my pencils being naked and on their own and half a control freak. I studied illustration at university, then spent about five years trying to make it as a fine artist so I find it hard to not think about finished art as a fully finished page.

The colors, including the abstractions and design elements that I use, are all part of the storytelling. Moreover, I approach a comic page in much the same way I’d approach a painting. Once I’m past the layout stage of a page, I block out the characters with solid colors and then build lines and details onto these colors. Similarly, the backgrounds are often painted separately. Then layers of color are applied almost like [varnish] over the whole page. Black Bolt’s been through a lot in space; does he carry himself differently after all of that?

Christian Ward: Despite being weakened by the prison, I feel like Bolt’s more comfortable with himself. More open. In this arc, he’s going to be less angry, less openly defensive. He’s still a king, but arc one taught him better how to be a friend and a father. There’s a moment in issue #8 that made me tear up when I read Saladin’s script. It’s great to portray a softer, more human side to The Midnight King. Not that he won’t still be badass, as he’s always been. The Inhumans have also had their fair share of challenges on Earth. How do they respond to their king’s return?

Christian Ward: You’ll have to pick up issue #8 to see, but let’s just say they don’t exactly welcome Black Bolt home with open arms. The cover to BLACK BOLT #8 is particularly striking with its design and iconography. How long did it take to go from pitching ideas for that image to turning in the final draft?

Christian Ward: In many ways it’s a remake of issue #1’s cover. I was so happy with that cover; it was one of those covers that felt like inspiration hit like a lightning bolt, no pun intended. Since this is the cover for the opening of arc two, I wanted to play with the same iconography.

Compositionally it’s very similar. As with issue #1, Bolt’s fork is the focal point with the “locked up” mouth at the bottom of issue #1’s cover being replaced here in the same place with Bolt himself being in chains. A victim of his own making. Black Bolt’s tuning fork is so iconic that putting that front and center you can’t really go wrong. Now that Black Bolt’s back on Earth, he’ll surely run into some big time characters—like Captain America in issue #9—how is it getting to draw some of those stalwarts?

Christian Ward: It’s always a thrill to draw such big characters. When I was working on the cover to issue #9—which features Bolt versus Cap—I was sending work in progress of the cover to Chris Samnee who’d just announced he was the new [CAPTAIN AMERICA] artist. Chris is one of my all-time favorite artists and it’s moments like that where you realize how lucky you are. That was a real pinch-me moment.

Talking of pinch-me moments, one of the coolest things about this arc was having the opportunity to rework and design a new costume for a returning old character. Made me feel like Jamie McKelvie!. I love the idea that if the character is used again, we’ve contributed something to their history and some cool future artist might even decide to use my redesign.

All in all, working on BLACK BOLT continues to be a real blast.

Have a blast with Christian and Saladin Ahmed with BLACK BOLT #8, coming December 6!


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