“Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand” #3
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Tonci Zonjic
A fiery menace is turning the city into an inferno, and only Lobster Johnson and his league of crime fighters can put an end to these paranormal horrors.
Welcome back to Mignolaversity! Today, “Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand” #3 is released, and we have been struggling to find new ways to praise this miniseries from Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Tonci Zonjic and Dave Stewart. So, we reached out to Mr. Zonjic, one of our favorite artists working today, and asked if he would be willing to discuss “The Burning Hand” with us, and he was more than happy to oblige, not just with answering our questions, but also providing us an exclusive look at a page from #3 from layouts to inks.
|Layouts for Page 8|
David Harper: To our knowledge, you’d never worked in Mignolaverse. How’d you land the gig to work on “The Burning Hand?”
Tonci Zonjic: I think John Arcudi stumbled onto my website and forwarded the link to Scott Allie, who got in touch with me about drawing a two-issue Abe Sapien story, but then asked if I’d maybe rather draw this Lobster Johnson mini-series instead. It being set in 1930’s New York, I said yes immediately. Nothing against Abe- I’d love to draw him someday too. All of those characters are pretty great.
David: How familiar were you with the character and its place in the Mignolaverse before taking this assignment?
Tonci: I’ve known Lobster back from ‘Conqueror Worm’ days, so I guess I was quite behind on things. I hadn’t read the first trade (“Iron Prometheus”) nor much of then recent “B.P.R.D.” Once I was on the assignment, they sent me a big box full of books and it was just a treat to go through it all in one sitting. The cumulative impact of it was staggering. I haven’t seen that kind of patient approach to long form comics storytelling outside manga.
Brian Salvatore: Your work on “The Burning Hand” is, obviously, in the grand tradition of pulp novels and noir-storytelling – what specific works did you turn to for inspiration?
Tonci: More than any particular work, it was the period photographs that really got me going. A good photograph really takes you into that specific time and place and it’s more valuable than seeing someone else’s interpretation of that same time and place, someone else’s solution to this particular problem.
To artists, a lot of the classic movies and comics are embedded in their brain anyway- regardless of what you’re drawing, you’ve probably seen The Third Man or A Touch of Evil or The Killing and studied what they did. Same with comics. Generally, a lot of my influences are from that period anyway, the comic book artists and illustrators, so it wasn’t a big leap.
However, with comics like “Torpedo,” which is part of my DNA, you realize that lot of these older comic book artists relied on the few photography books that were around, so you start recognizing certain backgrounds or swipes from newspaper comics. There’s a number of episodes of “Torpedo” where the same mailbox pops up over and over, to fill up the space. So I had to put in that mailbox too, as a joke, but took it as a bit of a warning not to rely too much on comics for reference and try to just see how they handled conveying the general feeling of the period.
There was no effort put into making it feel more noir, really. The decisions always come from the script, which in turn never says I should draw it in a noir manner; it comes purely from what the characters are saying and doing and from the places they’re in.Continued below
|Finished pencils for Page 8|
Brian: Mignola and Arcudi have crafted this highly stylized world for Lobster Johnson and his supporting cast to play around in – what were some elements that you wanted to bring to this book that maybe weren’t indicated by the scripts?
Tonci: I focused on making it feel as real as I could. Not in the photorealistic sense, but rather grounding it, not overplaying anything. It’s very easy to overdo. There are stylized and supernatural elements to it all, which make grounding the rest very important. Though, I often focus on adding some mundanity even to the supernatural parts, because it feels much more unsettling that way. If you play it straight and don’t signal ahead that things will get weird, then that flaming black skull makes you do a double take: it takes a few seconds to process. It pokes a hole in the “reality” set up until that point, a bit like it would if you really saw it happen.
David: Does the experience of working with a writer like Mike who is, in his own right, an incredibly talented artist change your experience crafting this title? Do you find yourself looking to tips from him at all, or is it a more autonomous, do your own thing situation?
Tonci: He’s obviously a big inspiration as an artist and every page and cover he does is a lesson. I’ve had very little contact with him on these- I get the script from John, draw it, and that’s pretty much it. The scripts themselves are flawless- the pacing and the sense of visual narration.
Brian: Both Lobster Johnson and the Black Flame have a pretty iconic look to them – it is freeing to not have to reinvent the wheel in terms of styling? Or, are you fighting the urge to add too many of your own flourishes to the characters?
Tonci: This wasn’t ever a problem, because I never even considered trying to ape how Mike or Guy drew them, nor did I have a radical approach in mind. The only thing I can think of is that I imagined Lobster as being a short guy for some reason, so drawing him taller took some getting used to. With Black Flame a lot of it came down to how to actually draw black flames, especially in dark environments. But even then it was never “how would Mike do this?”
I have no problem with reinventing the wheel, as you put it, and in fact quite enjoy that process, but on this book there was no need for too much of that.
|Page 8 Inked|
Brian: When doing a book set in the past, do you do much research? Or is it more of a “what feels right” approach versus a more strict representation of a specific city during that time?
Tonci: Past or not, I research as much as possible. Then I try to get past all that research and draw it as if I was drawing a familiar place; like drawing your own childhood. The particular details would probably be wrong but the feeling would get across. That’s the ideal spot to be in.
Back on the first issue, I was looking at books, photographs and movies for literally everything- cars, streets, obviously- but also things you’d never think of- doorknobs, buttons on suits, window sills, ceilings. It’s far enough in the past that it’s like drawing a different planet. Later on I got some hang of it, but it’s still moving forward with every page, getting more specific.
Brian: Finally, we have to ask – how exactly do you pronounce your name? We’ve seen on Twitter how people are always getting it wrong, so we wanted to clear everything up once and for all. My money is on Tahn-See Zahn-Jick, but I’ll take a wild stab that it is Tahn-Chee Zahn-Yik. Is either guess even close?Continued below
Tonci: The ultimate question. “TAWN-chih ZAWN-yitch” is the closest i’ve managed at describing it phonetically, but I think this one’ll puzzle people for years to come. Maybe I should just change my name to Kevin? Kevin… Zonjic. Well, maybe not. I’m always open to suggestions.
And if you aren’t reading “Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand,” something is seriously wrong with you.