J.K. Woodward paints big science fiction worlds, settles into new home
The artist, who is best known for illustrating Star Trek comics for IDW Publishing, recently moved to Maine and has been working on covers and commissions to keep busy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Courtesy of J.K. Woodward
James Kenneth Woodward was on the fourth annual Star Trek cruise, a week-long journey aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, at the beginning of March. A regular participant of the voyage each year, the comic book illustrator was working aboard the ship and having a good time.
“I’ve been doing them from the beginning,” Woodward said of the cruise. “I’ve been doing the illustration for the poster art, but also going on the cruise and doing a sort of Bob Ross-style live art thing — except I talk less about the art and more about Star Trek usually.”
When Woodward returned to the United States after the Star Trek cruise, he flew to Los Angeles, where he lived at the time, and decided to rent an RV and embark on a one-week road trip. Soon, with quarantine and executive orders being implemented nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodward’s trip was cut short and he moved to Maine.
Woodward, who goes by J.K., has worked for several comic book publishers during the past two decades, including Marvel, but most of his output has been for IDW Publishing. While working with the San Diego-based publisher, Woodward has illustrated various Star Trek comics and also the “Fallen Angel” series.
The Star Trek cruise was Woodward’s last public appearance for the foreseeable future, as the comic book industry and the vast majority of its associated conventions and trade shows have been postponed or canceled, including San Diego Comic-Con, which draws more than 125,000 attendees each July.
The onslaught of shows being postponed or canceled was a big blow to Woodward, who normally spends a lot of his time on the road. Like many comic artists, he relies on conventions to help supplement his income. He has concerns but he's hopeful that creators and businesses will make it through the pandemic mostly intact.
“This isn’t the first-time retailers have been in a situation where they need to be worried,” he said. “Retail has been a tough business when it comes to comic books for a long time and they’ve survived.”
Waiting for his normal workflow — or some form of it — to return, Woodward has kept himself busy painting covers and producing commissions for his fans while keeping a steady online presence to continue marketing his work.
Courtesy of J.K. Woodward
He's also been podcasting with Darrell Taylor, producing episodes of a Star Trek-themed show called “Go Trek Yourself.” Much of the podcast’s programming is structured around TV series “Star Trek: Picard” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” both of which air on CBS All Access. Woodward and Taylor have recorded 73 episodes to date, with their most recent episode dropping on May 1.
Woodward is a Star Trek fan who appreciates how accessible the latest shows have been to new generations of fans. “Discovery” has run for two seasons, and “Picard” just wrapped its 10-episode first season, which saw Sir Patrick Stewart reprise his role as Jean-Luc Picard from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
A handful of years ago, Woodward made a product style guide for CBS to craft a look for the entirety of Star Trek’s famed Mirror Universe, a parallel universe dating back to the franchise’s original series from the 1960s. The Mirror Universe has since been featured in episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Discovery” but hadn’t really been used for “The Next Generation.”
Thinking of possible story lines while creating the style guide, Woodward wanted to see a comic born from it. The result was “Star Trek: The Next Generation — Mirror Broken,” a miniseries illustrated by Woodward, with story by David and Scott Tipton.
“It’s the darker the negative the brighter the photograph kind of thing,” Woodward said of working in the Mirror Universe. “When you delve into the Mirror Universe, you can do all those things you always wanted to do with Star Trek but you couldn’t do because it would ruin it. But you have kind of the freedom to do that because it only makes the real universe even brighter.”
His favorite page he's ever illustrated was for a Star Trek project from 2014. “Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever,” based on a teleplay by the late Harlan Ellison that was originally meant to be used for the penultimate episode of the original series’ first season, has a page with Beckwith, a character who never appears in the show. Beckwith dies and is sent to a supernova where he’s stuck in a time loop for eternity — burning.
Woodward, who sells nearly all of his original artwork, kept his page of Beckwith burning and has it framed in his home.
The Star Trek page Woodward has kept. Courtesy of J.K. Woodward
Woodward pencils and paints his interiors and covers by hand, rather than working digitally, and has a modified approach compared to most comic book artists, resulting in him using 18” X 24” hot-pressed cotton paper.
“I used to paint on 11” X 17” — the standard size — but I found, once I could afford it, to paint on a slightly larger size — it translates better,” he said.
He added: “Unlike line work, and digital color, that kind of precision you don’t really have with a brush quite as much. If you want to get those details that we really need to sell the panel you have to work a little larger.”
With his tubes of paint and sable hair brushes, Woodward joked he’s working with 18th century technology, with the exception of using a scanner.
Based on the needs of each project, however, he has tinkered with and tweaked his process. Woodward estimated that it takes him 20 to 30 hours to complete any one page, making it difficult for him to do interior artwork for anything more than a mini or limited series, unless another artist can fill in periodically to help break up the schedule, giving Woodward more time to work ahead.
Much of his early art for “Fallen Angel,” written and co-created by Peter David, was done on an ongoing basis. For that title, Woodward had to work a bit differently to speed up his process to keep up with the series’ publishing schedule.
“In comics, you always do what you have to do to get it done on time,” Woodward said. “But you, as an artist, you always want your best work out there so you always have to kind of find that compromise.”
"Fallen Angel: Reborn" artwork by J.K. Woodward, from Paul Patane's personal collection
Woodward hopes that one day he and David can return to the fictional city of Bete Noire and produce more Fallen Angel stories. To date, Woodward’s favorite arc of the book is “Fallen Angel: Reborn,” a miniseries from 2009 which involves Illyria crossing over from the “Angel” comic and TV series, which was co-created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt. On television, Illyria is portrayed by actress Amy Acker.
“I wanted to make sure I got Amy Acker’s likeness done right. I didn’t feel like I could do that with line art,” Woodward said of how he approached his portrayal of her.
Woodward’s style has changed exponentially from when he started drawing and painting, with professionals who came before him helping shape his body of work.
“I was always a kind of [Jack] Kirby disciple. I learned to draw from “How to Draw the Marvel Way” — it was all John Buscema. These were my influences for the longest time,” Woodward said. “But in the ’80s, I discovered “Moon Knight” and some of the stuff [Bill] Sienkiewicz was doing. In fact, I remember reading a “Moon Knight” issue called “Hit It!” It was a two-parter story, and when I saw the work that he did there I was like ‘yeah, I want to do more of that.’”
“Elektra: Assassin,” a limited series which ran from 1986 to 1987, and other books with art by Sienkiewicz, also inspired him. Not long after that Woodward shifted from traditional pencil and inks to painting.
To see more of J.K. Woodward's art, or to inquire about commissioning work by him, click here.