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Cian Tormey on drawing kaiju, water, and more in 'Superman: Son of Kal-El'

Comic Books

Cian Tormey on drawing kaiju, water, and more in ‘Superman: Son of Kal-El’

‘Superman: Son of Kal-El’ #8 is out this week.

Superman: Son of Kal-El has everything you could want in a Superman book — and then some. That includes a superhero with incredible powers (Jon Kent, Clark Kent’s son), characters with ample heart, and a robust youthfulness that makes this book feel extra new. Writer Tom Taylor has been making magic with artist John Timms since issue #1, and in Superman: Son of Kal-El #7, Cian Tormey joined the book as the main artist on “The Rising” story arc.

“The Rising” is a title that’s very much on the nose, as it’s about a kaiju raising out of the depths of the ocean as a possible gargantuan-sized threat to a nearby city. Enter Superman, who through his basic goodness and decency, realizes the beast is not an enemy but just confused. The story arc also introduces the Gamorra Corps, a super-powered police force that happens to work for the dictator that Jon’s boyfriend, Jay Nakamura, aims to defeat.

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The story arc enters chapter two this week with Superman: Son of Kal-El #8, and it features a ton of visuals masterfully crafted by Tormey. To get a better understanding of his approach to the book, I sat down with Tormey to chat about his work on the title, his newfound love of drawing digitally, what to expect in this story, and much more.

Superman: Son of Kal El #8

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: “The Rising” story arc features the Gomorra Corps. I was very curious, what was the process like of creating a superhero suit for a team like that?

Cian Tormey: So it was quite cool. In the last couple of years now, I’ve been lucky enough to kind of design quite a few things. Sometimes designing stuff is quite incidental. So it can be very much a case of this page calls for this and what does it look like? Sometimes you’ve got a little bit more lead time.

What was really fun about this was Tom [Taylor] was talking to me about what he thought “The Rising” was going to be and what he’d been setting up. It’s rare enough that you get to do something quite kind of military, kind of governmental. Generally speaking, we have our like, superheroes, we put them in skintight suits, and we keep the designs quite slick. But when I was told about this, he was saying, “Oh, we want them to be these soldiers for hire.” I was like, “Oh, cool. Let me just kind of look at Marine dress jackets, let me give them strong shoulder pads and slick bits on the side.”

I pitched a lot of stuff, like, can I put them in some stealth suits and stuff. We settled on this really simple thing. And to be quite honest, it’s been quite beneficial so far, because there’s stuff you haven’t seen yet that we get to create an awful lot of very different shapes and different characters. But this uniform holds all these crazy things together. And we get to do quite strange character shapes. But this gives it cohesion. So it’s quite fun.

Superman: Son of Kal El #7

The Gamorra Corps from Superman: Son of Kal-El #7. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Is there an advantage to joining a project like Kal-El and being able to design something like that for the book?

CT: It’s funny, I’ve been working for DC for quite a few years now. And when I initially was brought on to do a few of the short, like 10-page stories, one of the things that I used to talk to my editor, Dave Wielgosz about was each script kind of tells you what it wants to be. There’s a style in it already. And so the nice thing about designing any of these characters is trying to find what the script is kind of telling you to do. Like there’s a style in there, it’s asking you to kind of pull out certain factors from these characters.

The designs are actually quite fun to do because it’s more about trying to make sure that this story, as you understand where it’s going, informs the characters, and therefore, the designs aren’t and independent of that, you know what I mean? Like, if you understand that the story requires something, then you design into the story. And it actually gets kind of quite easy from there.

AIPT: Kind of reminds me of the 90s, where the design doesn’t necessarily fit within the confines of the story, but the character looks radical!

CT: I would have put more pouches and stuff on if I thought I could have. It’s less is more, less is more.

AIPT: For the artists out there, what materials do you use? Are you fully digital?

CT: I have been [digital], just purely because of the sheer amount of work that needed to be done, certainly in the last eight months. Before that, everything I did was traditional. I would love to go back to it. But at the same time I also absolutely see the benefits in digital work and it hasn’t been a terribly difficult transition. So the workload had been quite big last year. So it facilitated a shift to digital.

I kind of want to be a purist and say, no, no, no, I only work on paper, but it has just actually been easier, faster, quite fun, and to be able to render textures. My background is in traditional art. Each one has its pros and cons. It’s quite nice working digitally, although don’t tell other artists I said that.

DC Preview: Superman: Son of Kal-El #8

Kaiju action! Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: “The Rising” has so much going on. We’ve got a kaiju, we’ve got city scenes, we’ve got incredible water effects. What is the thing that you love drawing the most?

CT: I’m a sucker for any kind of machinery. Like old machinery. And when Tom said, “Okay, it’s gonna be an old boat.” And I was like, “Oh, my God, what kind of old boat? Like how big can we make it? How old can we make it?” Let me draw like winches and chains and like, just all over it. So initially, I would have said, it’s definitely the boat. But then, as I was drawing Aquaman in it when he starts using the water as a platform to kind of like take him up to Superman’s level. And that hadn’t been done before.

And when I suggested it, Tom was like, “Oh, my God, you’ve solved so many potential issues,” because you have to understand that in this issue, in particular, scale is so important. The kaiju is huge, the characters are so small, and yet they have to be, powerful enough when you read it to understand how important they are against the creature. And so we had to kind of find some mechanic that we could lift Jackson out of the sea to get him kind of up where Jon is. And I would have to say, that really came to be my favorite thing to do. Rendering waters is hard, man. It’s not a normal thing to do. And I got a lot of water in the last issue. And it actually ended up being so much fun to draw. So being able to fully render the sea was like magic. I loved it. Loved it. It just worked out really well.

AIPT: After reading Superman: Son of Kal-El #8, I was thinking you really leaned into the water effects, which I love. The movement is great but also the weight as well.

CT: Yeah, weight, and speed. And the cool thing about the water was, it also gave you a heavy thing, that once you established it, you could also create a huge amount of depth. So it gave you something that you could block foregrounds and stuff like that, but also everything felt fast and heavy. If that’s not the greatest place to be when you’re drawing a comic, nothing is. The water stuff was super, super fun. And that’s what I ended up leaning into.

In the next issue or two, if we lean away from that, I’m going to miss that. That’s going to be one of those things that if somebody kind of said “Cian, do you want to do a couple of sea scenes? I’d be like, “Yes!” Just don’t even ask. I’m on my way.

DC Preview: Superman: Son of Kal-El #8

Check out those water effects! Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Are you interested in teaching at all? Because you’re so good at it with your craft breakdowns on Twitter.

CT: Am I interested in teaching? Yes, insofar as I really genuinely think that we take for granted sometimes what we [as artists] know and we certainly take for granted what we think other people know. And there’s such a huge gap between those two things.

There’s an interesting thing about our egos that is really wrapped up in the stuff we know. So you quite often find people try to explain things but what they’re really trying to do is kind of impress upon you the stuff that they know. Like they know more than you.

The thing for me that I find really interesting about breaking comics stuff down and really kind of getting into the nuts and bolts. It’s not about how much I understand how it works. It’s about me trying to help other people understand how it works.

Ultimately, you read reviews of comics, and you want the reviewers to just talk about the art, and they really try. But sometimes I don’t think we help you sometimes. We don’t talk enough about the craft of what we do. It can be complicated, but it can also be explained quite simply. And I think sometimes if you break some of that stuff down, people really want to read it. It’s quite incredible, the immediate response to any of those threads. People are really thirsty for this.

AIPT: People forget the artist is the acting, the blocking the directing cinematography, and then lighting is color artists if you were to use the metaphor of movies.

CT: Yeah, you’re spot on. And to be quite honest, I know quite a bit of the discourse can be quite heated about this stuff. In fairness, so much of this is instinctual. We are drawing comics because comics are something that we all understand, right? So when you have to draw like Batman, and Superman in the same room, we all know that they are different shapes, you know what I mean? They fill the space with very different energy. Quite a lot of that is quite natural.

For me, emoting through the characters is something that I really enjoy doing. I really want to try and capture what’s happening on their faces, what they’re going through. People look at hands and faces, that’s what we are immediately drawn to. If you can kind of like nail the faces, it also helps you bring the reader’s eye around the page. So there’s like, quite a lot of storytelling just happens just on the faces. Nailing the characters in a space and making them move differently.

I’m working on a couple of scenes at the moment in issue #10, obviously won’t kind of like reveal anything, but man, it’s so much fun to just find yourself, like being able to play with some of the spaces that these characters feel at home in and then something is in that space and it just changes the dynamic completely. It’s in the script, but yeah, man, it’s so much fun to bring that to life.

Cian Tormey

The boat from Superman: Son of Kal-El #7. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Just looking at the boat in Superman: Son of Kal-El #7 you can tell you had so much fun.

CY: Yeah, so much fun. So much of the environmental stuff has just become so much fun to draw for me. It really hit its first peak for me when I was doing Injustice with Tom [Taylor] and he had written this whole scene where we had to establish the bad guy but it happened in World War II in Egypt. It spread into Europe into World War II. And I was like, “Oh, man, can I just draw tanks, but just like heavy tanks and might I kind of position the bad guy at the top of the tank, just because. I got lost in how much fun it was to draw the artillery. So yeah. When I got the boat, I’m in.

AIPT: How much longer are you on Superman: Son of Kal-El?

CY: So we’re running up until May, and then there’s a break. And then after that, we’re kind of talking at the moment about like, where it’s going to go after that. We’ve got everything kind of lined up very closely. And then hopefully… well won’t say anything more!

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