An Interview with Irrational Artist Extraordinaire, Robb Waters

Much of the appeal of Freedom Force and Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich lies in its art. Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich concept artist Robb Waters has the innate understanding and true love of comic books necessary to pay proper homage to the genre. Robb has an uncanny ability to take character concepts and interpret them perfectly. He understands how to bring each one alive in a way that people can connect with. I love to walk by Robb's desk and look at what he is working on. This guy is so talented that I literally have a drawing on my wall that was salvaged from his trash. Kind creepy, I know but it is a really cool drawing. I have always been curious about what Robb does so I thought I would ask him a few questions about his work:

You really have the feel of these games down perfectly. How do you prepare for your work on a game? Did you read a lot of comic books to come up with the styles you created for the Freedom Force and Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich or did you just know how you wanted the games to look?

Most of the preparation I do for games begins with combing my mind for memorable graphics, archetypes and atmospheres from a particular period that I absorbed over the years growing up reading comics. There are those key elements in anything that stick with you that naturally define a period in time or subject matter. After stockpiling these various elements, I then open up the closet and start rummaging through years worth of bagged, aging comics to help fill in any gaps.

If you did read comics to prepare, which ones?

I didn't really have to do any reading. I've spent too many Friday nights reading funny books already.

How many iterations of a character do you generally go through before you hit on the right look? Usually I can picture a character in my head and transfer it to paper and be fairly satisfied with the results. Once I have the first draft down a Googling I go, looking for particular references for the small details and garnishes that really make a character. Usually I can hit it right on the nose with the first draft, making little changes here and there in costume color or details.

Was it difficult to transition from the Silver Age art of the first game to the more Golden Age style of Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich?

Not really. I love Golden Age stuff as well so it was fun and very natural to mimic that particular style.

Which era of comic art in do you prefer in general? Why? Any comic artists who you particularly admire?

Silver Age for sure. The quality of art just can't be touched. I'm really not a fan of most of the art in comics today. This goes for the new coloring techniques and paper quality as well. I much prefer the simple block color printing on cheap non acid free newsprint. There is just a certain charm in there that today's slick and flashy comics just don't posses. Typically I find myself buying a Silver or Bronze Age comic rather than something new off the stands.

There were so many talented artists working in the Silver Age of comics. These guys actually new how to draw and didn't have to rely on fancy color gradients and lens flares to cover their shortcomings. My favorites include: Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, John Buscema, John Romita, Wally Wood and of course Jack Kirby. I do think there are a handful of very talented comic illustrators working today such as Steve Rude, Alex Ross, Mike Mignola, John Romita jr. and Mike Allred to name a few. I think what these guys share is a common influence and respect for the classic illustrators.

What are a couple of your all-time favorite comics and why?

I think my all time favorite has been the Incredible Hulk. It's the one comic that I still pick up from time to time today, depending on the artist. I guess I've just always enjoyed the simple visual design of the character and found the basis of the comic to be very interesting. Of course, what comic can deliver a better knock down, city slamming, double page brawl than the Hulk? I've always liked the semi-macabre titles as well such as Dr. Strange, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider and Tomb of Dracula. I just like the darker brand of hero over the typical square jawed hero by day.

I hear ManBot is the most popular FF character in the office. Who is your favorite character and why?

I have to say I have a soft spot for ManBot as well. He was the first character I designed for Freedom Force. I was given the name and the vision of a man trapped in a metal suit just popped in my head. I don't know maybe it's those sad puppy dog eyes as well.

I also really like Tombstone from Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich. He was a character I originally designed for the first game but we could not fit him into the roster. Again, I've always liked the darker heroes and I thought Freedom Force needed a spooky character amongst the ranks. I think Ken got tired of me plopping this character in front of him anytime we thought we may have room for a new character. Finally I gave up and tossed him in the rejected concepts folder. When we needed some fresh blood for the new game I pulled him out again and tried to work him into a golden age hero slot. He is sort of The Phantom meets The Shadow. Ken still really wasn't fully behind the character but after suggesting I make the vacant skull face more on the tragic side the character stuck. With his new face Tombstone suddenly had pathos and a hook. We decided he shouldn't be a throw away 40's character so he was placed in the 60's so we could explore the character further.

What do you find most challenging about the job?

Mimicking the style of the Silver Age for sure. It's getting easer for me but it's still can be very frustrating. Every time I look to these works for guidance I get awestruck and sucked into illustrations of masters like Jack Kirby. Returning to my drawing I know it is a far cry from such geniuses. And I still can't quite get those damn squiggles right!

What is the best thing about the job?

Drawing heroic characters for a living.

--- Meredith Levine