Taking on Killer Rats with a Pen and Pad

By Beacon Staff

Motioning to a finished drawing on his computer, Dwayne Harris points out that the Skaven, which are massive bipedal rats capable of advanced medieval warfare, have developed an efficient system of sorcery to hunt down their human enemies.

For Harris, this world makes sense. After all, he created it.

Harris, an illustrator with a background in fine arts and oil painting, recently completed the artwork for the first issue of a Warhammer comic book entitled Crown of Destruction. The issue was released Sept. 17 and is the first of four segments that, as a whole, will form a graphic novel.

Working eight to 12 hours per day, Harris has been tasked with creating the graphic novel’s illustrations, from the initial sketches to the final coloring process. In comics, different artists are often assigned to do the penciling, inking and coloring, but Harris, from the comfort of his couch and with the convenience of his digital WACOM drawing pad, does it all. Only the lettering – the words within the characters’ speaking bubbles – is left up to somebody else. Everything is done digitally.

The book’s storyline pits medieval humans against a race of “walking rats with lots of armor” that live in underground cities. Aside from the large angry rats, the human protagonists have other concerns as well: most notably, vampires and the undead.

“It’s almost like an alternate history of Europe, with zombies involved,” Harris said.

A panel from Warhammer: Crown of Destruction.

Warhammer began in 1983 as a tabletop fantasy and role-playing war game similar to Dungeons & Dragons. Over the years it developed into a popular comic book series as well. Harris, who has a thick resume that includes science-fiction book covers and an array of illustrations but previously no comic books, fell into the Warhammer job while trying to shop his own personal graphic novel at a comic book conference in Seattle in May.

At the conference, a marketing representative for Warhammer saw Harris flipping through a few comic books and, true to his job, tried to sell Harris one. Harris declined but did offer a portfolio and mentioned he had illustrated playing cards for Warhammer years ago. Impressed, the marketing rep said: “If you want to do some Warhammer stuff, I can probably get you a job this weekend.”

“I was thinking, ‘Yeah right,’” Harris said.

But when Harris got back to his hotel room he had a message from the editor: The job was his if he wanted it. It was a few days after his 40th birthday. Within weeks he had a script in his hand and a lot of work to do. At the time, Harris was working as a graphic designer at the Beacon.

Having never done comics before, Harris was surprised to find how precisely he needed to stick to the details of previous drawings in the Warhammer series, as well as staying true to the author’s script. A page per day was often asked of him, though this wasn’t always feasible.

“Everything in this universe has been visualized before, meticulously, down to the arrows and the swords,” Harris said.

When all four issues are completed, by December or the beginning of 2009, Harris said the final graphic novel will be available at a series of outlets, including Borders in Kalispell. Harris will also hold a book signing at that time.

“It’s really hard to break into comics,” Harris said. “It’s like getting a record deal. I definitely see myself working in the business from here on out, with any luck.”

A panel from Warhammer: Crown of Destruction.