Adam Hughes

This article was taken from issue 40 of ImagineFX. If you like it you're bound to like our current ultimate comic art issue, on sale now. Have a look at what's inside, and visit our shop for more print and digital options.

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 Pin-up art specialist Adam
 has worked for everyone
 from DC to Marvel to LucasFilm.
 He's perhaps best known
 for his long run of stunning
 Wonder Woman covers.
 www.justsayah.com


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Chimp smart

"One day I can do no wrong, the very next I draw like a retarded chimp with a hangover. I wish I could find a happy middle ground,” says Adam. He’s been a superstar comics artist for over 20 years, made famous by drawing heart-breakingly beautiful women with power and grace. Now he’s in the middle of his dream assignment, creating a dead-cert smash-hit miniseries starring his beloved Wonder Woman. Just imagine where his career would be if he ever reached his own standard of being consistent.

Adam was brought up in New Jersey, in a town called Florence. “It’s just like the one in Italy, except that it’s completely devoid of art and culture,” he says. His love of comics began with a 1968 issue of Fantastic Four, and he’s been inspired by artists from many fields, including George Pérez, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Norman Rockwell and film-poster legend Drew Struzan. But despite his passion, he didn’t go to college – he’s artistically self-taught.

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Above: Adam sent us various initial ideas for his cover of ImagineFX issue 67 - here's the first (see the final cover).

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Got lemons...

“I had no other recourse,” Adam explains. “I had to make lemonade out of the fabulous lemon of being too dumb to get a scholarship and too middle-class to get financial aid.” But he wouldn’t recommend going it alone. “Formal art courses offer plenty to anyone with an open mind and the ability to apply personal experience to their particular craft.”

Fortunately, the 1980s were a boom time for US comics and “anyone with a pencil and a dream could get into the industry.” Adam broke in at the end of 1985, when a portfolio review at a convention earned him a pin-up for a local publisher.

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Above: Sticking to the paint can theme, this is Adam's second idea for ImagineFX's comic art issue.

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Coping with clues

Various work for small companies led to his first major assignment in 1988. He worked on a mystery series known as The Maze Agency for 18 months, which challenged readers to solve each issue’s whodunnit before the detectives. The scripts by occasional Batman writer Mike W Barr also stretched the artist with their unique storytelling demands. “Do-it-yourself colonoscopies would have been easier,” Adam recalls. “I was all about doing a superhero book. The Maze Agency made me work too hard, too early on.”

At a convention in 1988, Adam met the editor of DC’s superteam book Justice League of America, which was, and still is, one of the highest-profile titles in comics. “When Maze was put on hiatus in 1989, I was out of work for a good 45 minutes before Andy Helfer called and asked if I would do JLA,” Adam remembers.

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Above: Finally Adam went for a profile of Catwoman, stealing part of ImagineFX's logo. Below: the final image of our comics art issue 40, as it appeared on our subscriber cover line-free editions.




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Shaky start... then Lara and Buffy

So, how did he successfully juggle such a large cast on covers, interior pages and sometimes both in the same issue? “Many would argue that I did not, in fact, handle all those characters that well,” he responds. “I actually wanted to work on League member Mister Miracle instead.”

After the Justice League came the final frontier. Adam drew the Star Trek graphic novel Debt of Honor, published in 1992. Since then, he has frequently illustrated characters from other media, including Lara Croft, Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But how does this differ from his usual comic book assignments? “Sometimes you have to go through extra editing, thanks to the licensors getting approval,” Adam says, “and sometimes the chimps in charge of approving art have no art in them whatsoever!”

Ghost, Gen¹³, and the ladies

Three years later Adam helped launch the Dark Horse superheroine Ghost. The series gave him an opportunity to explore an Alphonse Mucha influence. “Art Nouveau poster art is a classier, older cousin to comics. There are similar graphic sensibilities,” he says.

His career started to head in a slightly different direction in 1995 when he wrote and drew a miniseries starring the teenage superteam Gen¹³. Writing wasn’t a particular ambition for Adam. “I ended up doing that by accident. I liked Gen¹³ because of how different the five kids were and the potential for interaction. I especially liked the idea of Fairchild,” he says. Appropriately, Fairchild is a bright-but-plain girl transformed into a drop-dead-gorgeous superheroine. He also wrote a second miniseries in 2000 where the team met Superman.

Until recently, Adam spent most of his time creating covers for two of DC’s strongest female characters. The Wonder Woman assignment lasted four years (from 1999) and Adam illustrated covers for Catwoman for three years until the book’s cancellation. How did he stay fresh? “Did I stay fresh?” he asks. “I wonder… but there’s so much room for creative exploration with those characters.”

Hard art graft

That hard work has paid off, giving Adam the freedom to experiment with his covers more now than ever before. “That’s what you get when you do your best work for the same company for years. People start to trust you,” he explains.

His process is admittedly a little odd at times. After sketching ideas he submits a thumbnail for approval before pencilling in a sketchbook or on scrap paper. “I make a lot of mistakes and corrections (because I don’t know how to draw, shhh), so I really mess up paper,” he reveals. “Once the art looks passable, I make a copy and transfer it in pencil to a piece of virgin art board. I can then ink it without having to deal with how much I ruined the paper with my constant erasing.” Finally, he scans the inked art onto his computer and colours it in Photoshop CS2.

Back to Wonder Woman

He’s now writing, drawing and inking the six-issue All Star Wonder Woman, due to launch in 2009, and relishing the assignment. “She’s Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz, she’s Captain Kirk, she’s Luke Skywalker. She comes from a perfect place, a paradise on Earth, yet all she yearns for is to see what lies over the next hill and beyond the farthest star.”

Although the character was originally created in 1941, Adam rejects any suggestion of irrelevance. “Because Diana’s an outsider looking in, stories about her can reveal a lot about our world,” he explains. “Things we take for granted can be seen fresh through her eyes.”

Writing an icon

He admits he finds it intimidating to write as well as draw the most famous superheroine in comics. “The fans deserve the best Wonder Woman I can deliver,” he says. “More often than not she’s portrayed as a strident bitch, which says to me that the writer doesn’t know how to write about a powerful woman other than to make her pushy. I’m not saying my take on Diana
is better. I just think I have an angle.”

So, is he enjoying working on internal art again? “It’s hard! Juggling that with other assignments has created delay after delay. I’m not the fastest guy to begin with,” he says. Despite this he’s keen to continue with interiors after finishing the Wonder Woman series. “I think the world has enough Adam Hughes covers, don’t you?” he asks wryly.

Best art form

And even after two decades, he still finds comics fulfilling. “I get tons of creative freedom, more so than in any other commercial-art field,” he explains. “I get to meet and have positive experiences with people who enjoy what I do. The question really is: do comics want me working in them for the rest of my life?”

His remaining creative ambitions seem more than achievable, yet it goes to show how modest and grounded Adam is. All he wants is “to be a better artist. I’d like to draw a woman so achingly beautiful, you want to avert your eyes. That’d be a nice achievement”. Nobody tell him that he accomplishes this on a daily basis. We need all the Adam Hughes art we can get.

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Pick up a copy of ImagineFX now and read about Adam Hughes's work on the Fairest comic series.

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