Chris Samnee

Vertigo's Crime Line Enlightens New Ground with Area 10

The term "Noir"is getting thrown around a lot these days because of the recent return to popularity of crime fiction. But what people often forget about Film Noir is that it not only was it prominently used to tell crime fiction stories, but that it was also an aesthetic style and a kind of moral ambiguity in which the characters exsisted. The kind of fiction that I am talking about is not only the films of John Huston, Otto Preminger, and (sometimes questionably) Alfred Hitchcock or the novels of Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake), Mikey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, it is the visual style of painting with shadows, it is a style of fiction that could be defined as a tedious balance of "oneiric (dreamlike), strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel". Plenty of creators continue to produce fiction that would be well at home in the more simplified world of Noir, but a rare few really craft the kind of fiction that brings a nicely mixed feel of all the five elements as well as creating the right visual style. In the current world of comics I can think of a few pairs that seem obvious choices: Brubaker & Phillips (or Brubaker & Lark for that matter), Azzarello & Risso, & Bendis & Oeming (And Bendis & Maleev ... I suppose Bendis & Gaydos as well), also Darwyn Cooke on his own. But there is a new book that I think makes a case for each of it's creators to become part of Noir Cinematography Defined.the new wave of noir craftsman: Area 10. Written by an old hand at crime fiction, in the larger sense, Christos Gage and drawn by one of the brightest young stars in the industry Chris Samnee,
the book unfolds over several weeks in New York City as NYPD Homicide Detective Adam Kamen tries to solve the "Henry the VIII" Murders, a strange string of unconnected murders linked only by the removal of each of the victim's heads. Kamen is also trying to put behind him some personal drama involving his recent divorce after the sudden death of his (prematurely) newborn son. The book takes a wholly unexpected (though if you've seen the previews in the back of recent Vertigo single issues perhaps less so) turn 7 or so pages into the seemingly run of the mill crime story. Kamen is suddenly and brutally stabbed in the forehead with a Phillips head screwdriver by a lunatic who has also slain all the occupants of a Psychologists office and waiting room. The story then follows Kamen as he continues to try to unravel the ever more complicated case of "Henry" all the while experiencing side effects from his injury that might be more than they seem.
The book deals well with all the elements of being a Noir piece while also folding in some pseudo-sci-fi that brings a certain whet to my appetite. The book unfolds at a nice pace and reveals pieces of key information at just the right times to keep your interest and keep you speeding through the book. At 175 pages it reads well and evokes the kind of feeling I got from reading shorter works by some of the other great modern practitioners of Noir (Like Elmore Leonard's Swag an instant recommend if you're looking for some truly great crime fiction to occupy a summer afternoon). 
Gage has been writing crime fiction on some level or another for most of his career and so his talent at the tale is certainly not unexpected, though those unfamiliar with Samnee might find themselves fairly stunned by the quality of work that he turns out in this piece. From what I understand from my recent discussions with Chris (See the interview I did with him a few weeks ago HERE) he completed this work several years ago and had been waiting for the Crime Line to launch and his place in the release schedule so that others might see the work. The work doesn't seem dated as Samnee has become something of a chameleon of late making subtle adaptations to his work from book to book as he tries to fit best in to the style of the story being told (you can see differences between his work from The Mighty to Siege: Embedded which are his most recent consecutive works). At times the work even evokes the work of another of my favorite artists, Shawn Martinbrough (who penned the only "How to Draw" book that I own: How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling). 
All in all after having read the book I think that it is the kind of book that all fans of crime fiction (regardless of how close to truly Noir it might be) will love. I give it the utmost recommendation. 
Also, if you're interested in picking up a copy from the artist himself on the day it releases Chris will be signing at our South County Location on Wednesday April 7th from 5-8pm.

 

Local Boy Finds His Way To The Stars

Perhaps one of the biggest cult hits of our generation is Joss Whedon's sci-fi/western masterpiece Firefly and while it ended far too soon it has found another life in the geekspace. From a full-length feature film that gave closure to certain aspects of the series to the two comic mini-series (Those Left Behind & Better Days), to the pencil and paper role-playing game, to the legions and legions of Browncoats out there who wander around conventions, not to mention the countless other projects that it paved the way for and inspired (either directly or indirectly). But there are still questions left unanswered. And one of the questions that fans hunger for more than any other is that of the story of Darriel "Shepard" Book, who was played ever so masterfully by Ron Glass. 

Shepard Book was the kind of character that writers the world over would love to slowly peel like an onion over several seasons of episodes as we uncover little tid-bits of his story and understand his history through nuance and riddle. And there are few creators who would have done this better than Joss Whedon ... but he was never given the chance ... until now. The series, which ended in 2002, has an incredible opportunity to continue it's life in the pages of comics and this winter we will see one of it's greatest mysteries unraveled once and for all (or at least we must assume) when Dark Horse Comics brings us a new hardcover original graphic novel Serenity: The Shepard's Tale from writers Joss and Zack Whedon and artist Chris Samnee. 

Anyone who has been into a Fantasy Shop in the last year or so is probably familiar with the name Chris Samnee, he is a local artist who has worked in the comics industry for years and has come into prominence since the publication of his first original graphic novel with writer Ande Parks, Capote in Kansas and has since worked on titles such as Checkmate, Daredevil, Dead of Night: Devil Slayer, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps, The Mighty, and more. But his most recent work is certainly what has brought him the most acclaim: Siege: Embedded, with writer Brian Reed.

I took a couple minutes to ask Chris some questions the last time he was in about the new project and he had the following things to say:

FantasyShop: First off I want to thank you for taking the time to do this.

Chris Samnee: No problem Scott, it'll be fun. 

FS: How does your approach change from working on a single issue from your approach working on an original graphic novel?

CS: There's really not that much that changes about my approach to a book, whether it's a single issue, ongoing or graphic novel.  I do get more comfortable after about the 8th page, so the longer the project, the easier it becomes to draw.  For longer projects, there tends to be more character/design work I have to do over the long haul which I have to allot time in my schedule for.  Other than that, they tend to be pretty similar.

FS: How did it feel to be approached to work on a project with two creators as prominent in the world of geekdom as Joss & Zack?

CS: Very flattering and very exciting!  I'm a huge fan of Joss and the worlds/characters he creates.  I'm very humbled that Dark Horse editor Scott Allie felt that I could step into this project and do it justice.  

FS: How long have you been working on this project?

CS: I've been attached to the project since last fall but didn't start working on it until January.  

FS: How much of a challenge is it to work on a project where the fans are so familiar with the look and style of the series and the appearance of the actors? 

CS: It's actually a pretty big challenge!  Serenity/Firefly fans are a passionate bunch!  I want to make sure I'm recreating the world they know from the show/movie/comics.  As a fan myself, I feel a responsibility to get the details right so they can focus on Joss and Zack's wonderful story.  

FS: How much of your own interpretation goes into the work?

CS: Well, all of it is my interpretation.  As far as designs and characters go, I try and stay as true as possible to what has already been done.  But ultimately, it all passes through my brain and my pen, so parts will end up a little different, I'm sure.

FS: It has been mentioned, by a fan on Twitter (but it was mentioned nonetheless), that 2010 seems like the year of Samnee, how does it feel to be working on so many prominent projects in one calendar year?

CS: In a word, EXHAUSTING!  I'm juggling several big projects right now, one of which hasn't been announced just yet.  But they are all projects that I'm incredibly excited and lucky to be working on, so that helps temper some of the exhaustion.  It just so happens that my Vertigo Crime graphic novel, Area 10, is also coming out this year even though it was done several years back, which may give the impression that I'm even busier than I am.  

FS: Are there any other projects that you've done or that you have coming out this year that you'd recommend people check out so that they can get a feel for what you'll bring to the Serenty Table?

CS:I try to tweak my style to fit each book I do, so I'm not sure there is a book out there that is going to look exactly like how I'm drawing Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale.  Generally though, I think my most recent work on Siege: Embedded (for Marvel) would serve as a good example of how I draw emotion and action scenes, both of which figure into the Serenity OGN.  Of course, people should feel free to pick up anything I've drawn and I hope they wouldn't be disappointed.

FS: Do you have any scheduled appearances coming up this year for signings or the convention season that you'd like to plug?
CS: Sure, I'll be doing a signing for the release of Area 10 at the Fantasy Shop South County in April, along with C2E2 in Chicago on April 16 - 18.  For folks a little further out, I'll be at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC in June and hopefully Comic-Con in San Diego this year.

FS: And last, but not least, if the fans want to see more of your work where can they find you online?

CS: You can follow me on Twitter as @ChrisSamnee.  I also have a frequently updated sketch blog at http://www.chrissamnee.com .  Or if you're on deviantART, you can find me at http://chrissamnee.deviantart.com .  Stop by and say Hi!