We Talk about the Grimm Fairy Tales’ 10th Anniversary Special with Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson is an accomplished comic book artist, but also one that has been below most people’s radar despite a career spanning almost a decade.  He joined us to talk about working on the most recent Grimm Fairy Tales 10th anniversary special, and how he took on the challenge of drawing a female werewolf.
Graphic Policy:  How did you get involved with the 10th anniversary special?
red001Chris Johnson:  I’d been doing fill ins and one shots for a handful of companies for a while when I met Pat Shand and we’d had a few conversations about doing something with Zenescope. It took a little while for schedules to work out before Pat offered me Red Riding Hood. So I guess it’s all Pat’s fault and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. Drawing Brit has been a blast.
GP:  The 10th anniversary special is based in Los Angeles, one of the biggest cities in the world, but also features wolves who are obviously associated with nature.  Is it hard to mix together urban and wild themes artistically?
CJ:  I grew up in Los Angeles so having the book based in LA was another positive aspect for me. It’s a cool city with it’s fair share of ghost stories so I don’t think I had to dig too deep for the fantasy aspect of it all. I love California and Los Angeles in particular.
GP:  On the same note, how do mix fairy tales together with the modern setting, as fairy tales are mostly set in earlier times?
CJ:  Hollywood alone is built of fairy tales and broken dreams so I think the setting is a very natural fit for Red and the strange mythology that follows her. The more wild themes didn’t feel like too much of a stretch. It’s a big city but it’s still got a lot of wilderness. Bears, coyotes and mountain lions are all over so werewolves made sense to me.
red002GP:  Wolves are often more associated with masculine features, so how do you approach a character that is essentially a female wolf to make her more feminine?
CJ:  Having Brit transform into a werewolf was tricky. They’re usually big, hairy and slobbery brutes so I had to downplay some of those aspects but still make her look fierce. I knew how I wanted her to look in my head but getting that out on the page isn’t always easy. It took a few tries before I felt confidant enough to send of the designs for approval.
GP:  Britney Waters is one of the most iconic of the Grimm Fairy Tales characters, having appeared on the cover of Grimm Fairy Tales #1.  She has obviously undergone some changes since then, but what do you with such a character to put your own spin on her?
CJ:  She’s also a character with a solid amount of published history at this point and a fan favorite so you have to respect what’s come before while still giving her a personal touch. I knew early on that she’d be downplaying the werewolf aspects and I wanted her to look like a bounty hunter so I gave her the bulletproof vest. At the time I didn’t know if they’s go for it but other than that I didn’t really mess with the costume. I did try to change up her hairstyles throughout the book. Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, sometimes it’s braided.
GP:  A lot of people don’t really consider the characters in Grimm Fairy Tales to be superheroes despite the fact that they obviously are.  Why do you think that is the case?  And when you draw them do you approach them like superheroes?
red003CJ:  My background is very heavily influenced by superheroes. So if someone has powers in the book, I’m probably going to come at it with that mind set. I know super heroes dominate the comic book scene but I think I’ve done more spy stuff than tights so this was great to go for it with muscles and claws. Everybody has an idea of what a super hero is but I think Red Riding Hood and Robyn Hood easily fit in that category. Much more easily than some of the books coming out from the big two. If they haven’t been seen that way I’d just assume it’s due to people not giving those books a shot.
GP:  It seems like supervillains are often being introduced for characters, and the supervillains just come and go.  You got a chance to draw the Master of the Hunt for the first time.  Did you approach the character as though they might have a more lasting impact on Red’s character?
CJ:  The Master of the Hunt was fun. He has a big enough personality that I could do a lot with his face and how he acts. He’s dangerous but also has a cheesiness to him. I kinda lucked out and nailed his design on the first pass. I knew he had to look a certain way yet still interact with modern day society. No matter what type of character you’re designing, you’ve gotta make them stand out. Hopefully, I did that. Nobody wants to read a book with a bunch of stiff figures who all look interchangeable. That was another good thing about Jeff’s script, Everyone looked different. I loved that.
GP:  Are you getting involved with any other Grimm Fairy Tales 10th anniversary projects or other Grimm Fairy Tales projects in the near future?
CJ:  For now I’m working on a couple of small, creator owned stuff. Nothing I can really get into yet until there’s something worth showing. But I’d like to get a chance to draw Britney and her world again. It was a lot of fun. I hope everyone likes it and if people want to see me draw more of her they should let it be heard.

Anyone curious to see my process shots on the book and what I’m drawing on any given day should check out my instagram or my tumblr!
Thanks a lot for checking out the book!
Check out username chrisjohnsoninfiction on tumblr and instagram for more artwork from Chris