Comic Book Day: Makin’ Magic with Jon Armstrong
by Dan Casey on March 21, 2012
Everyone loves magic. If you say you don’t, chances are that you’re lying or you’re a witch, in which case, we get it, smart move. But how does actual magic translate from the third dimension to a comic book? We decided to find out for ourselves by going straight to the source: Jon Armstrong, a renowned sleight-of-hand magician, consulting Imagineer for Disney and one of the creative forces behind IDW Publishing’s new Smoke and Mirrors, a tour-de-force of a comic in which a stage magician must use trickery and illusion to survive in a world where actual magic reigns supreme. Take a seat, Criss Angel, and learn how the magic really happens:
Nerdist: Smoke and Mirrors is your first comic project; what was that experience like?
Jon Armstrong: I am a big comic book fan, and was actually approached by a publisher to create a comic book that actually taught the reader magic. I’m a fan of [Smoke and Mirrors writer] Mike Costa’s and he is a fan of mine. We are also good friends. I’m very good at what I do, but I also know my limits, and seeing as I can’t write or draw comics books, I was going to need some help, so I brought the idea to him and we began putting together the concepts that eventually became Smoke and Mirrors.
Obviously the original premise evolved some – we felt that the comic actually “performing” tricks would be much more interesting that simply “teaching” them. Unfortunately, by the time we brought Ryan [Browne], our artist, into the fold and created a proper proposal, the original publisher seemed to have lost interest. Luckily, Mike showed it to his editors at IDW and they immediately loved it, and here we are today.
N: Was it hard translating what you do in real life to the page?
JA: Working in print is amazingly difficult, but incredibly rewarding. Having to make the trick work on paper means that most of the tools I normally have at my disposal when creating magic are gone. I’m left with having to take the principles left and molding them so they work on the page or come up with new ideas based on the medium of comics themselves. It’s been really rewarding as a learning process for me. If you think the stuff in issue #1 was cool, just wait, because I’m only getting better with each issue we do.
N: Would you like to do more comics work? Do you have any other projects about which you can tell us?
JA: I would love to do more comic work. This is a medium with limitless potential and with digital comics, there are components where you could do tricks for your friends as well as read and enjoy the comic. In the meantime, I want to include a bonus tricks for the collected edition of the first five issues. There are a few more ideas along these lines ratting around in my head, but for now I’m just working on making Smoke and Mirrors as amazing as possible.
N: What is the most impressive sleight-of-hand or piece of magic that you’ve ever witnessed?
JA: It will always be hard to top the first time I ever saw close-up magic. I was 14 and had been reading every book I could find on the subject, but all I had seen live was large-scale stage illusions, and that’s cool stuff, don’t get me wrong, but nothing is as amazing as seeing something right before your eyes. Then, while at a theme park, I saw a gentleman wow a crowd with just his wit and a deck of cards. That man was Terry Ward. He became my teacher and mentor. I named our magician character in the book in honor of him.
N: What sort of work do you do with Disney as a consulting Imagineer?
JA: Most of it, I really can’t talk about due to a very large and scary NDA I’ve signed. What I can say, though, is that it mostly deals with interactivity and making things less passive. So, not just riding a ride or watching a movie but having a real immersive experience. It’s these kinds of ideas that I have been applying to Smoke and Mirrors in immense ways.
The tricks in the book come from thinking along the same lines I use in my work with Disney and others. I really want them to be woven into the story and not seem like they were just stuck in as a gimmick. The effects we do in each issue should allow the reader to experience the same sort of wonder and amazement as the characters in the story.
N: Are you a comic book fan? What sort of titles are you reading and enjoying right now?
I am a huge comic book fan. In the first issue I wrote an essay about how much comics have influenced my magic. In fact, I think Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is the best magic theory book ever written. I have been to San Diego Comic-Con every year since 1997. I’ve read and collected Batman comics pretty much my whole life. Love Locke & Key, The Cape, Batwoman, Fables, American Vampire, Cobra (where I became a fan of Costa’s work), and I Vampire.