Every artist has a list of heartbreaker projects, and Reign of the Zodiac is one of mine. Keith Giffen approached me nearly ten years ago and asked me to do the art and all visual development on the most ambitious and well-planned high fantasy concept I had heard in years.

The story of the twelve warring Houses of the Zodiac was a dream project for someone like me who delights in world building. With the exception of A Distant Soil and the upcoming Gone to Amerikay, I have never been able to put this much intense effort into research and design. Keith Giffen was incredibly supportive and gave my imagination free reign. No pun intended.

Here’s a look at my pencil art for a huge double page spread of a “between worlds” area called The Brace.

Unfortunately, it was such a complex concept, which featured dialogue in a unique syntax, that readers found it hard to follow. It made perfect sense read in a great chunk, but was confusing once a month. Even though we had solid Vertigo level numbers, for some reason, DC made the book a house title, and for house DC, it did not do so well, getting canned at 11,000 copies. I still think it would make an outstanding tv series.

I kept all of my concept sketches and made copies of all of my pencil art. Bob Wiacek did a wonderful job as inker, but within a couple of issues, I began ghost inking chunks of the art. My pencils were so meticulous, it seemed ridiculous to have an inker at all, because I can draw faster in ink than I can in pencil. By the final issue, #8, I was ghosting almost the entire book, with Wiacek getting credit and full page rate, and me getting all original art. All in all, a good compromise.

A delight and challenge of the project was creating 12 distinct cultures for each house. There were no costumes in the book, and a character might change clothes several times an issue. They had to be distinctive enough as individuals that even without standard comic book visual cues, they could be recognized by the reader. And each House of the Zodiac and all it’s accompanying cultural design work had to be recognizable on sight.

So, tricky.

Here are my pencils for a party scene where we first see the Houses of the Zodiac together.

I posted some of this material years ago, but my old blog didn’t have many readers. I hope all the new folks will enjoy this peek.

Here’s a look at some of the concept art sketches for the project.

Our goal was to try to reference world cultures not normally represented in comics. The only rule was no Japanese influences, if possible. It had become cliched default for foreign even ten years ago, and so it was out.

Some of the handwriting in the margins is Keith’s as he tags the designs to suit the personality of each house based on their standard traits.

I’ll post more art from this project shortly. I hope you enjoy what you see! Thanks.

My humble art shop awaits your kind patronage…