Lounging in an armchair at the west side Jives Coffee Lounge, Langdon Foss looks like any other hip café crawler — orange knit cap, well-worn tan vest, yellow Bruce Lee thrift-store T-shirt.
"It might be faux-vintage," he admits in a soft baritone, before taking a sip of his coffee. Regardless, the shirt is one of his favorites. The 43-year-old comic artist even keeps it out of rotation so it will last longer. That detail reveals more about Foss than his relaxed demeanor or nerdy-hip attire. In truth, he's a disciplined and exacting artist.
Foss is much like the protagonist of the 2012 graphic novel he drew, Get Jiro!. For the unfamiliar, The New York Times best-seller follows an orthodox sushi chef, the titular Jiro, through a dystopian satire of L.A. foodie culture. The precision required for Jiro's sushi practices takes years; it's said that a true master can form his nigiri so that every grain of rice points the same direction.
While Foss may not be taking comics to mythical degrees of precision, he is meticulous. After all, he says, the key to good comic art is draftsmanship.
"It's drawing things accurately. It's a grasp of perspective. It's conveying information accurately," he says.
Foss majored in art at Colorado College and minored in Asian studies. His classical studio education gives him a strong grasp of anatomy, perspective and composition. It's the minor imprecisions in such areas that undercut good art, he notes.
"Someone told me once, 'You can draw an excellent person, but if their hands are wrong, then the whole figure looks terrible,'" he explains.
Accuracy is also crucial to rendering convincing settings. If a setting is off, he says, the characters feel like they're acting in front of a backdrop, hurting the reader's suspension of disbelief.
Composition is also critical to Foss' work. Whether working on Marvel comics like Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier or his recent effort with writer Ales Kot, The Surface, Foss' projects start with a script from the writer. He first spends a few days figuring out how to present and organize everything the writer has provided. And it's the most mentally intensive part of his process.
"It's a challenge sometimes to incorporate everything the writer wants in a single shot," he says. "It's trying to reconcile as much information as I can into a single shot and make it interesting."
Foss uses a tablet and a computer for his initial compositions and sketches. Once he has the page figured out, he prints it, then draws his final pages with pencil and pen. His tablet has yet to match the accuracy he achieves with his hand. Besides, he says there's something satisfying about seeing a stack of finished pages on his desk.
It's a lot of work for art that he believes should ultimately aim to be invisible.
"Art absolutely has to be subordinate to the story you're telling," he says. "If you have to stop because something jumps out of the art that distracts from the narrative, I don't think that serves the story."
Foss approaches his design work similarly, including his 2015 and 2016 labels for Bristol Brewing Company's Smokebrush Porter. (The brewery holds a contest each year to refresh the label of the 9-year-old charity beer.) Foss' labels depict the iconic Uncle Wilber fountain, which the Smokebrush Foundation installed in Acacia Park in 1999. His 2015 label brought the sousaphone-playing character to life, and this year he brings in more elements of the fountain, with Uncle Wilber's umbrella representing the iconic blue dome.
Foss has also been working on Ivywild's logo campaign, as well as several other label designs for Bristol.
Bristol Marketing Director Matt Ward has "been trying really hard to work with local artists and to bring that comic vitality into the marketing at Bristol," says Foss, who appeared at the brew's release party last week wearing a bright purple dress shirt under a gaudy but well-tailored '80s-style suit.
It fit him perfectly.
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