UNBELIEVABLE UNTEENS PROCESS POST
WITH SPECIAL GUEST TYLER CROOK!
To celebrate the release of the collected edition of “The Unbelievable Unteens,” we have invited a special guest to The Farm - series artist Tyler Crook, to answer some questions and share exciting updates!
Before joining in the world of Black Hammer, Tyler was best known for his work on Harrow County ,Witchfinder, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe B.P.R.D. books. He is currently writing and drawing his second major creator-owned title, The Lonesome Hunters, out this June by Dark Horse Comics.
Below you will find a Q&A conducted by my Substack team (thanks team!), that Tyler took the time to kindly reply & answer.
Q: Since we are on Jeff Lemire’s Substack, let’s start things off by discussing the man himself. Tell us a little bit about how you started working with Jeff on Colonel Weird: Cosmagog?
TYLER CROOK: Ya’ know, I don’t exactly remember how Jeff and I started working together. I got asked the same thing in a different interview a few days ago, and I was really racking my brain trying to remember how it went down. I think it was our editor at Dark Horse, Daniel Chabon, who put us in contact with each other. I do remember getting the script and being really excited about all the wild stuff I’d get to draw for Colonel Weird.
Q: Speaking of the script, Jeff is an artist as much as he is a writer. Tell us a little about the creative collaboration process with him. Did that differ from your work with “pure” writers like Cullen Bunn (Harrow County) and John Arcudi (B.P.R.D.)?
TYLER CROOK: That’s a good question. And one that’s hard to answer. Honestly, I haven’t worked with very many writers other than the ones you’ve listed - at least not on larger projects like Unteens or Colonel Weird. And I have been blessed that all the writers I’ve worked with long term have an incredibly strong understanding of how to tell a comic story. Jeff is no exception to this. He’s really good at setting up the story and giving me all the info I need to make it happen. His scripts aren't overly descriptive, but they aren’t just a bunch of dialog either. They are a really nice balance: they give me what I need as an artist but don’t force me into a corner. It’s that flexibility with a comic script that I think makes for a good collaboration.
Q: Getting back to Colonel Weird, let’s talk a little about the evolution of your art for that series. How did your approach change from what you were previously doing on Harrow County - which was also fully painted pages?
TYLER CROOK: The big difference is that I took a very different approach to my inking. Previously, I’d print out my digital pencils and then ink the pages and then color the pages. Bing, bang, boom. But with Colonel Weird, I decided to try something new. I would print out my digital pencils like normal. Then I’d do an inking pass with a gray tone. Once that was worked out, I’d color the page. And finally, I’d go back with solid black ink and reinforce some of the lines and spot my blacks. I feel like it created a stronger sense of light direction. So, for example, when you are looking at a character's face being lit from the side, the ink lines would be gray where they are facing the light source and a solid black where they are in shadow. I guess that might sound a little technical, but really that’s all to say that I got better at lighting while working on Colonel Weird.
Q: To continue down that same line of questions - Unteens and Colonel Weird exist in the same universe but have a very different tone. What adjustments were made when telling that story?
TYLER CROOK: Unteens has that thing where all the flashbacks appear as a comic book within the comic book. And those pages, I colored digitally. So that ended up being the main motivator with my artistic choices. I wanted there to be a strong contrast between the pages that I colored digitally and the pages I painted. As a result, the painted pages are a bit darker and a bit less saturated than I would normally do.
Q: You mentioned the “comic book within a comic book” element of Unteens. I think you could say that the Black Hammer universe has a meta way of exploring the superhero genre - not any one particular character but a pastiche of homages to different subgenres, publishers, and titles. Does that history influence your approach to these books?
TYLER CROOK: Fortunately for me, the Unteens were all designed before I came on to the project. David Rubín had drawn them a year or two earlier for another Black Hammer book. So the question of how to handle the homages was mostly taken care of for me. However, there were things I did to try to reference some comics of the past. I digitally colored the flashback sequences, but I was trying to mimic a particular style of coloring that happened right before the advent of digital color. I allowed the colors to not register with the blackline exactly and stuff like that.
For Colonel Weird, it was much the same. The characters were almost entirely designed, so I didn’t have to think too hard about how to approach the homage. I think I was reacting more to the Black Hammer work that came before me than I was to the work that inspired Black Hammer. In fact, I think that’s a big part of why Black Hammer works: it makes a strong reference to the past but is its own story with its own reasons for being how it is.
Q: To start to bring things to a close here, we’d like to recenter the conversation back to the Unbelievable Unteens. We’ve talked about the style and design, but what drew you to this project and story from an emotional standpoint?
TYLER CROOK: I love trauma stories! Haha. Or at least I love stories about people dealing with difficult things in their past. I think the premise for Unteens - that the teens are now adults but have forgotten the defining moment of their youths - is a compelling one. Especially in the context of a superhero story.
Q: Now that the series is done and out in its final, complete form - what do you like most about what you and Jeff accomplished on the book?
TYLER CROOK: Man, it's hard to say what I like about it most. Books like this form a single amalgamation in my mind once they are done. I am really proud of Unteens. I think Jeff and I told a good story. And I think it will be very satisfying when we finally get it in a hardcover library edition!
Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful responses, Tyler!
The Unbelievable Unteens trade paperback collecting the entire series, issues #1-4, is now available at your local comic book store and book retailer. In addition, Tyler’s original art for the entire series is available now at Cadence Comic Art.