Art of The Shepherd: An Interview with Rich Woodall
In July 2020, Team Shepherd signed with Scout Comics and was accepted into their horror/sci-fi imprint, Black Caravan. The imprint is led by Joseph Schmalke and Rich Woodall, who collaborate on a series entitled, The Electric Black. The series is about a cursed antique shop—mystical in character—that is run by a nefarious owner named, Julius Black. The series has done very well and has received a number of excellent reviews (see: https://theblackcaravan.com/property/the-electric-black/).
In any event, with The Shepherd, Volume 1, Issue 1, due out through Black Caravan in January 2021, a number of comic book shops have requested exclusive variant covers. Both Joseph and Rich have graciously consented to do exclusive covers for Team Shepherd. Our intention is to interview both artists. However, since Rich completed his piece a day earlier than Joseph, we chose to interview him first (but fear not, loyal readers, we will pester Joseph until he acquiesces—that’s how we roll). So, a couple days ago, we sat down with Rich to discuss his artwork.
For starters, here is the evolution of Rich’s cover. I am going to let you see it in the exact order we saw it as Rich worked on it:
ANDREA: How did you get into art? Was there a moment or an event you can point to that pushed you to pursue a creative career?
RICH: I remember being in kindergarten and flipping a worksheet over. I could see some of the print from the front come through the paper… so I traced it. It was a giant circle. I ended up turning that circle into a cutaway of a giant tank / Death Star. It had multiple levels to it, sleeping quarters—all kinds of other things in there. I drew a bunch of little stick army guys doing different things in and around the tank. Anyway, that’s the earliest thing I remember, and I just remember loving it. The idea that I could create my own G.I. Joe vehicle or whatever the heck it was.
But the moment I knew I wanted to do art for a living was, moving to Stuttgart, Arkansas, at 12. I rode my bike to the 7-11 a couple blocks from my house. I picked up Classic X-Men #17. The cover is by Jon Bogdanove, with interiors by Byrne / Austin. That book blew me away and made me want to draw comic books.
ROBERTO: We have had a lot of commissions done for The Shepherd over the years but yours is VERY unique in its depiction of the multitude of souls. Seriously, we have probably had almost sixty commissioned pieces and only two others have featured multiple souls—and none of them to the magnitude that you present! What was your inspiration for such a unique approach to the character?
RICH: I had two things in mind when I came up with the concept. 1. I wanted to do something that had a lot of black on the page. With Black Caravan, I always want to push the horror / darker side of our books, because I believe that’s what our readers are looking for. So, I wanted to visually have a lot of black on the page (which all gets turned to dark red when I colored it, but that’s the evolution of the art, I guess). 2. You and I had been talking and we talked a little bit about “I am Legion, we are many” from the Bible. You had also talked about the sins and fears of the undead taking various forms. I’m a big fan of movies like Flatliners and Jacob's Ladder… there’s some very dreamlike scenes in those movies that are just twisted, out of focus, distorted version of reality. That’s what I wanted to get through with this piece. That He’s one man in a sea of shit, but, he is their guide.
ANDREA: The posture in which you have portrayed The Shepherd is interesting. It appears that the souls are behind him, yet his attention isn’t on them—it’s on something he is viewing off screen. It seems to present him as “defender of souls.” Would you agree and, if so, what do you imagine as the threat(s) he faces?
RICH: I was going more for; this is all around him. It’s overwhelming, it’s claustrophobic. We can see what’s behind him, but also, he kinda blends into them… so he’s knee deep in it and has no real escape. But still he’s confident and knows he’s got work to do.
ROBERTO: The lighting choices of this piece are interesting. The lantern in the Staff of Truth illumines The Shepherd, but I think it is also intriguing that the souls are illuminated, each in their own way. What is your thought process regarding lighting in this piece?
RICH: I don’t think I quite pulled it off nearly as well as I’d have liked to, but I’m a big fan of Bernie Wrightson. He’s a master of light and shadows, and really knows how to play them up and create a mood. Discovering his work really changed how I looked at my own art in general. Before Wrightson, I wanted to be a Jim Lee clone. Just strait up superhero, over rendered stuff. Lines that (at the time) had no real meaning. After Wrightson, I learned the power of lighting things dramatically, and it really changed the way I approached illustration. Anyway, how that connects to this is; I imagine that his light shines on each of these souls a bit differently. Some people have deeper problems than others, and might be in a ‘darker’ place. Here is an example of Wrightson's work for perspective:
Here are some more examples of Rich's work: