Got It Covered: Shining A Light on Tony Daniel's 'Nocterra'
Jul 26, 2021
by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
“The challenge always starts with the concept for me,” Tony S. Daniel admits while evaluating his issue six cover to Nocterra. “If the layout is weak, I’m going to have issues with it and might end up scrapping it in the end. The stronger the foundation, the more confident I’ll be.”
Don’t let Tony Daniel’s scrap pile fool you, though. As far as comic readers are concerned, he most definitely has a solid foundation. Having worked in comics since the 1990s, he transitioned from a short stint on Marvel’s X-Force to creator-owned titles such as Image Comics’ The Tenth in 1997. While the comic book industry was definitely teetering at the time, the explosive nature of his art managed to turn heads. Still, it wasn’t until the artist’s chart-topping tour of duty at DC Comics that he was truly allowed to distinguish himself from the ‘90s pastiche. After successful runs on titles like Batman, Teen Titans Superman/Wonder Woman, Detective Comics, and Deathstroke (to name a few), Daniel has brought his creator-owned book Nocterra to Image - the company that helped define the very generation of artists that Daniel comes from. (Even if he doesn’t see himself as a contemporary to Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, and Todd McFarlane. “These guys were all heroes of mine that I still get nervous around them if I see them or talk with them.”)
“We went to Image first, actually. As we just felt this would be the right home for it,” Tony explains to PREVIEWSworld, detailing how he and writer Scott Snyder’s Nocterra arrived at the Portland publisher. “[Image CCO] Eric Stephenson really was helpful and accommodating. Even with the uncertainty of the pandemic looming in 2020. Scott and I decided to do a Kickstarter special edition, a sort of ‘making of’ moment for the book, in order for us to be self-sufficient and not put any strain on Image financially. We really wanted to be as independent as possible. Luckily, things started opening back up and we made a release date with Eric. We couldn’t be happier.”
Daniel describes the genesis of Nocterra as co-creator Scott Snyder's mission to make "something big and over the top and powerful.” “I had already decided I wanted to return to creator-owned work at that time, but I was in the beginning stages of crafting my own story ideas. So when Scott and I ran into each other we talked about finally doing something together. So the timing worked out in a sort of magical way. We were both ready and able to get to work but we didn’t know what it would be yet.” Tony continues. “We batted this idea around about the lead character, her brother - the fact that they were adopted. We sort of riffed and came up with that together. We did this for about a week until Scott came back with a solid idea about the effects of this darkness that seems to have doomed the Earth. It really just started to snowball from there. And when Scott has a good idea rolling, you let him get it out.”
Released into comic shops this past March, Nocterra is a story of the world after it has been plunged into darkness. Something has blotted out the sun! After a decade of endless nights, Earth’s ecosystem shifts, giving birth to new kinds of creatures that stalk the planet. Sending humanity into a scramble to survive. At the center of Nocterra is “ferryman” Valentina Riggs. A female truck driver who uses artificial light to safely transport human cargo. While the book sports quite a collection of unique characters (Blacktop Bill!), it’s Valentina who graces the majority of the covers thus far. And it's her quest for a sanctuary that literally drives the plot. “Scott and I talked through her design a bit. I first asked him what he was seeing in his head. [He said] a cool helmet with a symbol on it, her ‘Sundog call sign,’ which I sort of found by trial and error.” “Many different iterations of Val took place before settling in on who she would be. We had some different things going on with her complexion and eyes but when we decided to make her a Latina character, that really helped me nail down what I wanted for her.”
With the cover to issue 6 of Nocterra, Tony Daniel opted to get up close and personal with Val. “I wanted to convey the anger and determination in Val’s face. Even though she looks like she’s been on the losing side of a bad fight, bloodied and broken, her enemy laughing in her face, that she’s resilient and confident that this isn’t over yet.” As an added bonus, If you look closely, you’ll notice another character on the cover. “Getting Blacktop Bill’s reflection into her broken face shield, I had to get [the image] just right or you might miss him. His black hand can barely be seen choking her, so I had to find a way to make the shapes work so that even if it takes you a moment to realize she’s being strangled, it might hopefully give you a delayed sense of surprise.”
Daniel isn’t the only artist behind those Nocterra covers. Credit also has to go out to colorist Tomeu Morey. Tony has found an almost rhythmic call and response working with Tomeu, resulting in the eye-popping visuals inside and outside the book. “I draw it traditionally using an array of pens. Usually Micron or Copic pens, and ink brush with white paint for highlights. Then I go back in and add some digital FX to the image. Usually in the form of shading, or giving us some cool glares, or textures, so that by the time Tomeu Morey gets it to color, he has a bit more to work with than just straight black and white line work. Not that he needs any help in that department, he’s the best in the business as far as I am concerned and we’ve been lucky enough to have him contribute on this first arc with us.”
Nocterra # 6 actually marks the conclusion of Daniel and Snyder’s opening story. The creative team is far from done, however. “I’ve been talking to Scott recently on how I’d like to see [Val] evolve in the next arc a bit. Now that we’ve gone through the first adventure, and have a good sense of the character, there are things I want to do to make her better, cooler, more badass.”
“I hope the fans [of Nocterra] come away with a sense of hope in the darkest times. The light at the end of the tunnel is there, even if you can’t see it yet,” Tony Daniel concludes, unintentionally conjuring up thoughts of that aforementioned foundational scrap pile. “It’s there if you keep going and pushing yourself forward no matter the adversity. That’s what this book is about. Survival in a hopeless, dark and dangerous world. Finding reasons to carry on, to push forward, and not just give up to the eventual darkness that’s closing in. Determination and hope can carry a person a long way.”
Nocterra is available now from Image Comics. Keep an eye out for issue 6 this August, and the upcoming collected edition coming this October to your local comic shop. More below.
Special thanks to Hanna Bahedry.
Legendary creators SCOTT SNYDER (Dark Knights: Death Metal, WYTCHES) and TONY S. DANIEL (Batman, Deathstroke) unveil horrors beyond any shade in this pulse-pounding new ONGOING SERIES.
COLLECTS NOCTERRA #1-6
This March, legendary creators SCOTT SNYDER (Dark Knights: Death Metal, WYTCHES) and TONY S. DANIEL (Batman, Deathstroke) unveil horrors beyond any shade in this extra-sized first issue.
human SHADES to find the truth about the darkness once and for all!
"FULL THROTTLE DARK," Part Six-You've seen the calm... now it's time for the storm. Having unearthed a shocking revelation, Val must prepare for battle before she loses the paradise that she's risked so much to find.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comics work includes MF DOOM: All Caps, Public Enemy's Apocalpyse '91, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.