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DF Interview: Artist Rahsan Ekedal ‘brings world of color’ to new Think Tank
By Byron Brewer
Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal’s series Think Tank is coming back in September as an ongoing series, and this time it will be in color!
The original series focused on Dr. David Loren, a super-genius that worked for a government agency creating weapons. He decides he no longer wants to do that any more and tries to leave.
This time around, an unknown enemy savages the technological infrastructure of the U.S. Panic and conspiracy theories spread as Loren and his misfit science team continue work on the TALOS project, trying to make “Iron Man” suits a reality in California.
To get the 411 on this new iteration, Dynamic Forces approached artist Rahsan Ekedal. Here is what he told us.
Dynamic Forces: Rahsan, tell us how you originally got involved in Think Tank with Matt Hawkins.
Rahsan Ekedal: I had done a couple of things with Top Cow before, like the graphic novel Echoes, which had been a big critical success and received a bunch of nominations at the Harvey Awards, plus a Pilot Season book that Matt co-wrote and had been a lot of fun, so I think we were both interested in working together again. I had just wrapped up my work on a Solomon Kane miniseries for Dark Horse, and by coincidence I think Matt had decided around the same time that he wanted to finally make Think Tank a reality. He'd been developing the idea for a while, but he hadn't been writing comics for years, focused on running Top Cow instead. So he got in touch with me and showed me what Think Tank was all about and I was sold right away. It was a very unique premise, and I was very excited to draw a story that didn't involve swords and puritans. At the time I thought it would only be a four issue limited series, and so I was still trying to line up my next gig when I started drawing Think Tank. Fortunately, the first issue was a hit and we immediately decided to make the book ongoing. I had already fallen in love with our cast of characters so I was really happy about that.
DF: Did you do the initial design work for the characters, etc.? Tell us about that in addition to any such work you may have done for the new ongoing.
Rahsan Ekedal: Yeah, character designs for the main cast were among the first things I drew. Some of the characters, like Colonel Harrison, went through different iterations. And General Clarkson was meant to be a man at first, but her character evolved as I was sketching her out. But Dr. David Loren was totally different. I've told this story before, but basically, he just stepped out onto the page fully formed. I only drew him once and his character design was perfect. That never happens. It was some particular alchemy of our collaboration. Matt had described certain aspects of his character in a very visual way, and everything else just materialized natively. It made me feel right away that we had created one of those special characters that has real staying power.
When it came time to revisit the recurring characters, and to design the new ones that would debuting in the new series, I came at it with a very specific purpose. I wanted to streamline David, Manish, Mirra and the rest, and freshen their looks while retaining the essential, iconic things about each of them. And I wanted to give the new characters just as much attitude and realism as the core cast members. I think one of my mistakes in the first series was not spending more time on designing the secondary characters. So this has been a great opportunity to put my efforts in the right places with past experience as my guide. I also wanted to continue the Think Tank tradition of introducing as much diversity as possible into the cast. That's another thing that makes the book unique. For one thing, Matt and I keep surrounding David with strong, intelligent women, and I really think that's a big part of what makes the story fun. So we're continuing that in this arc, and there are some great new female characters I've designed that are entering the story. We're also expanding the role of Ron Austin, who only appeared a few times in the first arc but was pivotal in saving David's life at the end of issue 12, and we're introducing his younger brother Donovan. There's also a new head researcher at the think tank named Johnny Watanabe who is a great foil to David's antics.
DF: How would you explain the very unique Think Tank to a new reader curious about the title?
Rahsan Ekedal: Think Tank is the story of Dr. David Loren, child prodigy, inventor, slacker genius, and -- arguably -- mass murderer. He works, reluctantly, for the U.S. government in an ultra secret research facility, designing and improving defense technology. He's surrounded by many enemies and a few friends, and constantly struggles with the morality of his job and his own inability to relate to normal humans. Think Tank is unlike any other comic book out there because it's grounded in the real world of science, politics and modern warfare. There aren't any superheroes or aliens or monsters like in most comics -- just real people dealing with the real world and the rapidly approaching future. I love Think Tank because it's fun and crazy and hilarious, but at the same time it's dead serious and scary as hell. If Matt hadn't made a career in comics, he'd have been a physicist, so he brings that expertise and insight to each issue of Think Tank. Our tagline for the first arc was "Danger: Reading This Book Will Make You Smarter". That sounds like a big, egotistical brag, but it's actually true!
DF: So tell us what you can about this new incarnation and its initial arc.
Rahsan Ekedal: David Loren has always skirted the edge of "mad scientist" and in this arc he quite possibly will cross that line in a big way. I can't tell you much without spoiling it, but let me say that issue 1 is totally epic. In the first few pages, we skip from New York to LA to Texas following a series of very scary attacks on the nation's infrastructure, and by the final page of the issue something even more terrifying as occurred. Plus, David and Manish are working in a brand new lab facility in California that is gigantic. I actually drew a map of it so I could keep track of where the characters are in the new "set". We're going big in this arc. Epic is definitely the word.
DF: I hear that now Think Tank will be in COLOR! What does this mean for you, the artist?
Rahsan Ekedal: Absolutely right! I'm totally thrilled to be bringing color to the world of Think Tank. We decided to make the switch back when we began the hiatus after issue 12. For a while, I was secretly "auditioning" a few colorists, but ultimately I decided that the best way to preserve the unique look of Think Tank was to just to do it all myself. It means a bit more work, but it's worth it. I would have driven any colorist crazy by hovering over their shoulder the whole time anyway. David and Mirra and everyone look fantastic in color. It's a breath of fresh air for the series.
DF: When you are working on set scenes for Think Tank, especially in the new book, are there any inspirations you have? Photographs, sketches, personal memories of places you have been?
Rahsan Ekedal: Well, I was born in California and lived there my entire life until last year when my wife and I decided to move to Berlin. So I've been very much inspired by Berlin and the cities and landscapes of Europe, and I'll be bringing that into Think Tank here and there. But I'm certainly drawing on my knowledge of California to add to the authenticity of the new location of David's lab. Mostly, I look at photos of the stuff we're dealing with in each issue, from space stations to drones to exoskeleton armor suits. You'll see it all in there in the first issue!
DF: Is Matt an easy writer to work with? Can you let us in a little on the process you guys use?
Rahsan Ekedal: We have a sort of creative symbiosis that works really well for both of us. We work fast and loose at the beginning, and tighten everything up in stages. You could compare it to the classic "Marvel style" where the writer would give the artist a plot, the artist would draw the book, and then the writer would come back and script the dialogue based on the finished pages. Matt gives me a loose script, describing things in detail when he has a really specific idea, and leaving things to me in other places. So I add in my own twists on the pacing and action. The best part is that I'll throw in little visual gags for Matt to find, and then he writes the dialogue for the gag off his own interpretation. We both get a kick out of that. Some of the best jokes in the first series originated from that back-and-forth.
DF: What makes Think Tank such a fun comic to be involved with?
Rahsan Ekedal: The collaborative process Matt and I share is a huge part of it, and then there is my love for the characters and my delight in drawing them. I love drawing David and Newton and Manish and Mirra and all the rest. I hope that love shows through in each panel and page.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Rahsan Ekedal for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The new Think Tank ongoing hits stores in September!
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