As an evergreen teen, Kara Zor-El has gone through many incarnations and costume changes since her debut in the late 50s. The length of both her skirt and her shirt fluctuate, something reflecting fashions of the times, other times revealing more than you ever wanted to know about an artist or editor. There are relative constants like the 'S' shield and calf-length red boots, but there are also the generational anomalies like gloves or perms or even T-shirts.
This summer, Kara preps for a back-to-school wardrobe timed with her new Supergirl #1 issue. We asked new series artist Mahmud Asrar (Dynamo 5, Star Wars: Jedi: The Dark Side) about his creative process and to share some of his favorite images of Supergirl from thoughout the years. Because he's also been working on covers for the current arc of Supergirl written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, we thought it might also be interesting to take a look behind the scenes of issue #65 for a bit of contrast with the old and new.
Asrar's Favorite Kara Covers
Action Comics #252 – The first appearance of Supergirl, though not the first time I saw her, is a memorable one. This is a classic Curt Swan cover with his sensibilities and storytelling. I really like the body language on this one as it instantly tells you what's going on. I find the youthfulness and joy in Supergirl. The surprise on Superman is just right too. You really don't need the word balloons but I wouldn't dare remove them either.
Supergirl #1 – I've been a fan of Gary Frank's work since I got introduced to it in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. Exceptional facial expressions and great draftsmanship. When I heard he was teaming up with Peter David on Supergirl I jumped on board right away. Whenever I think of Supergirl covers this one springs to mind immediately. We don't see much but just about enough to know who this character is and what she's about. Besides, being an old skater, albeit a terrible one, the skateboard in there has been a huge pull for me.
Supergirl And The Legion Of Superheroes #23 (Adam Hughes variant) – People who know me know that I like Adam Hughes' work. Probably it's noticeable by looking at my work too. This cover is one of my favourite modern covers. It's a very iconic and memorable image with being an almost direct tribute to the pinup artists of past years. Subtle, yet very effective.
Crisis On Infinite Earths #7 – This is probably an image that is etched into the minds of many a comic reader. I remember seeing it when I was younger and I was astounded. The powerful image of Superman in agony holding the dead Supergirl. COIE is one story that left a profound effect on the comics market and at a time when dying in comics meant something. When I think of the series, this is the image that instantly jumps to my mind's eye. Not to mention the incredible draftsmanship of George Perez. You notice the main figures and the tragedy in the image right away and then you pick up on the surrounding characters. Great composition. Historic cover.
Creating the Supergirl #65 Cover:
For this one, I had a tight deadline. Maybe just a few days. The idea for it was that Supergirl would be involved with a group called the Pajama Society and the editors wanted to convey a horror vibe. So I came up with a couple of sketches where Supergirl was trying to escape from this mob who looked like they were out to get her. The trick was we didn't want Supergirl beating up on these people, neither did we want her to look helpless. So I've tried to convey her agitation and distress while still remaining a powerful female character.
You can notice a compassion she has for people even though they're out to get her. This is in contrast of the new Supergirl cover of course where she looks stalwart, heroic yet a little distanced.
As for my process, I initially come up with a loose sketch, either in my sketchbook or digitally. Sometimes both. Once it's approved and we've discussed further on it with my editors I move on to pencils. When I ink myself I tend to do really loose pencil roughs. I just put in all the essentials for the figures, proportions, composition and lighting. The grunt work comes in with the inks where I finalize the image.
The difference now with this method and the method I'm applying with the new Supergirl book is quite big. While using markers to render the image in greyscale the drawing process never ends until I'm completely done with the image. Keeps me thinking and figuring things out all the way through, This is so much more satisfying and fulfilling for an artist.
Covers for Asrar's Supergirl #1 and #2
Developing Kara's New Look for the Fall
For the new look of Supergirl we were trying some costumes and throwing some ideas back and forth with the creative team. In the end Jim Lee came up with the design you see on the cover. I've made some minor tweaks on it but nothing too drastic.
The most notable things about her new look is probably her collar and the boots. The boots surprised me when I first saw them in Jim's design. Once I gave them a try with some sketching I've come to enjoy them quite a bit. They're something people seem to be talking about too. The collar and cape give her a sort of a regal and alien look which goes along great with her Kryptonian roots.
Now we needed a cover. As this was going to be the first appearance of her the cover needed to show Supergirl in an eye-catching way. She couldn't have been obscured by stuff as we needed to show how she looks but at the same time she shouldn't have looked like she was posing for a photo shoot. In comes Jim Lee again with a quick sketch of her floating in a carefree manner in space. That was the inception of the cover. Moving on from there I came up with the cover you see now.
This one was an intimidating one. Not only is it part of the DC relaunch, it's also the first appearance of the new Supergirl. So I knew people would be talking and especially be critical about it as it proposed something new. However, that's not all. For this series the guys at DC encouraged me to use my marker style instead of my regular comic pencilling style. So there was also the pressure of applying a style I haven't used professionally before. Add to that a little bit of a tight deadline. All in all, as proven time and again, it all resulted in me enjoying the challenge greatly.
As you can see, Supergirl is in very capable hands.