Posts Tagged ‘ Batman ’

Jeff Suter, Comics Rock Star: Marvel Tour Part I

 There is an old saying about getting to see the Wizard behind the curtain and for those that do, that often ruins the whole mystery about the actual Wizard of Oz. Well sometimes that is a bad thing and other times that can be a wonderfully enlightening experience. Such was the case when Panel Surfing got to go on an expedition to Marvel Entertainment’s new offices and sit down with Senior Art Director Jeff Suter. It was wonderfully enlightening…

Jason Versaggi:              Okay, so basically, I want to find out exactly what an art director at Marvel does and what it is that you do in your day to day.  How’d it differ from when John Romita [was director]?

Jazzy Johnny at work

 Jeff Suter:                     Right.  John was my boss at one point.  Let me see.  It has changed over the years.  I got here in ’97 and the art directors in the productions of comics were, like you said, a guy like John Romita, Jr. who were overseeing a creative talent in the execution of the art, they’re overseeing how panels were set up.  They didn’t really have their hands much on the marketing, the branding.  When I came in, the art department – mainly the advertising department at the time had eight or nine art directors.  They’re all designing things from ads, posters, branding, licensing, stuff that’s basically taking everything that we could get out of the [bullpen].  Basically cover art – taking cover art and then applying it across the board from toys to whatever. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Chef Boyardee. 

Authentic Italian Cuisine. Snikt.

 Jeff Suter:                     Exactly.  So it was kind of a pigeon hole to the art that was being created by the comics.  Later on, what happened is we took a department of eight people and we brought it down to one.  That was me.  So I got to oversee.  I kind of took over everything that all those people were doing and maybe using or executing things in different directions, or going their own way, or – and kind of with it being one person and unify it from the production of the catalogue previews, which is our monthly catalogue, which solicits our published product – comic books.  Then to take that and then apply that to going more in the mainstream direction.  We had Wizard Magazine that we would advertise in and we had ads in comic books, minimally advertising other comic books, but what we did, we expanded that.  We said, “Whatever ads we don’t fill, we’re not just going to throw in editorial content; we’re going to tell the readers, ‘Hey, you read the X-Men?  Look what’s going on in Cap.'”  So with one person working on all those projects, what we did is we created a singular idea of the brand Marvel.  It’s a very bad time, this company was in a bad shape, and again, I was kind of part of the cleanup crew, if you will.  So the role of an art director changed over that time as a person who was just involved in the production of the comic books to someone who was involved in all aspects of the brand Marvel. 

 Jason Versaggi:              And now with multimedia?

 Jeff Suter:                     It’s a long answer, but there’s a lot involved.  My department works on everything from ads, retail posters, convention, design and execution of the booth – all material that you find in these conventions, expansion into – working with licensees.  It goes on, and on, and on.  Now, online, [to new] comics.  You can go on, and on, and on.  This is like we took the brand and applied it to every facet that we could and still are.  So the role changed with design and the brand being the bigger picture. 

 Jason Versaggi:              I guess because – I mean as technology has changed, the need for more art has probably increased tenfold.  In the 60s, what they’d do to promote, they would take the image of the comic books, slap it in the inside and say…

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes, and every once in a while, Stan would yell, “Jack, I need a pinup.” 

 Jason Versaggi:              This is how we’re advertising art now.  You need artwork for everything.  I mean it’s the…

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes, but you had Jack Kirby sitting at the table and Stan would go, “Jack, I need four heads.  We’re going to do pins of whoever [signed in],” but it was all right there under one roof and it’s – but we have gotten back to that having – getting artwork other than just covers and stuff like that.  So that’s one stuff that we get to work on and we do have that done, and of course, we have generic artwork that we produce for licensees and what not, but we don’t really use that for the publishing end because we want to be very specific to the creative team and stuff like that, but it’s hard if a guy’s working on a 32-page book or a 22-page of content and say, “Hey, can you throw a teaser image together?”

The King in his kingdom

 Jason Versaggi:              Imagine.

 Jeff Suter:                     You have to try to use that artwork in a lot of different ways, but it’s great with the internet.  I mean you have an online teaser, then we make that into a house ad, and then we make it into a mini poster, and then it’s a banner at a convention, then it’s a T-shirt.

 Jason Versaggi:              It has a long shelf life and I imagine that…

 Jeff Suter:                     As long as the creative team has a long shelf life.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes, that’s where it starts; that’s why they get paid the big bucks, but I mean I guess fans don’t really realize that if I’m a fan of the book and I want that, I don’t [realize] just how much more – sometimes.  I mean I guess they do today, but so much more is behind that where it’s pushing that out to other platforms.

 Jeff Suter:                     Right.  I mean now you have the – I don’t really – they couldn’t really do like the movies.  They couldn’t really do them right until recently, until technology caught up to Stan Lee.  I mean honestly, you couldn’t pull up a Fantastic 4 – anyway, you couldn’t even pull up a 1962 version of Fantastic 4 until the last fifteen, twenty years.  You know what I’m saying?  So at that point, it was already 30 years old.  So yes, luckily, technology caught up with Stan and we have all these fantastic movies which help move books and – I guess you do have a certain built-in crowd.  I mean I don’t think there’s a single person that wasn’t a fan of Iron Man that didn’t go see the movie.  Why would they not?  I mean especially – thank God it was fantastic.  Thank God Marvel Studios are now – we have an active role in our motion pictures which gives us just that much more opportunity to reach out. 

 Jason Versaggi:              I guess it doesn’t hurt that now – I mean I guess if you were going to make a Fantastic 4 movie 25 years ago, twenty years ago, you had to rely just on that.  Now, you can make a movie like that and say, “I don’t have to make $200 million with the movie because I’ve got so many other avenues for this to be successful.”

 Jeff Suter:                     You’re absolutely right, though, but also, that we can put these characters under one roof now, finally.  The ball had to start rolling outside of that roof and that’s still going strong.  I mean…

 Jason Versaggi:              Batman, Amazing Spiderman, X-Men First Class. 

 Jeff Suter:                     Wolverine, whatever.  Even FF, I mean people would say that the FF movies were not successful; they were absolutely successful.

 Jason Versaggi:              I enjoyed it.

 Jeff Suter:                     They were absolutely profitable, but however, when we’re talking about the characters that are under the Marvel Studios roof, you’re going to get that Avengers movie that everyone has been waiting for for 40 years.  You’re going to get that now.  You couldn’t really do that.  You can’t have Sony and Fox over here and New Line.  You know what I’m saying?

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Jeff Suter:                     You got to spread out.  So thankfully, that was part of the business plan.  It was early on part of the business plan back in early 2000. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Well, you could see the direction and you could see it all set up.  I mean so far, it looks like it’s brilliant and hopefully it continues to be that way. 

 Jeff Suter:                     They’re comic books.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.  They’re supposed to be fun.

 Jeff Suter:                     You’re right.  It’s fun Shakespeare. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Absolutely.  Well, the way Stan wrote it back then, people thought it probably was Shakespeare.

Now and forever, "The Man"

 Jeff Suter:                     That’s what I’m saying.

 Jason Versaggi:              So with so much – back to technology.  If so much is being done digitally today from the way books used to be produced, what does an artist today have to know about old school disciplines that are always going to be applicable?

 Jeff Suter:                     That’s a good question and Joe Quesada is one of those traditional artists, pencil on paper on board, and is now – and I’m not saying exclusively, but for the most part, what Joe is still – when he’s able to do some art, he’s now doing on a wacom tab.  So he’s penciling digitally, which essentially at that point, you don’t really need an inker.  Now, you can go in and you can adjust the levels in Photoshop and now it doesn’t need to be inked.  So it’s not on paper, there’s no pencil involved, and you don’t need an inker, and then it’s colored digitally.  Richard Isanove, who does all of Joe’s stuff and it’s all amazing.  I mean he’s a digital painter.  With that said, it took many, many years for one technology to really build up to that point to where these are now.  I don’t think anybody can say of digital painting that it’s not art, that it’s not a work of art.  Okay, maybe you can’t pick it up and you can’t hold it, but it is fantastic and it’s really – honestly, you had to have a guy like Alex Ross who essentially is working with gouache on board and an airbrush to get what people call “hyper-realistic”.  Well, now, you can see the texture in the metal on Iron Man. 

"Jeff Suter report to Conference Room Iron Man for your Panel Surfing closeup."

 Jason Versaggi:              It looks like brush stroke.  It doesn’t look like it’s…

 Jeff Suter:                     No.  Because it’s caught up.  Once again, technology’s caught up with what’s going on and I mean it can only get better.  See, I’m saying it’s caught up, but maybe ten years from now, we’re going to be like, “Oh, God.”  “Read this article about Jeff Suter that”. You know what I’m saying?  I come from old school design, meaning that I started out stripping film for my dad who was a pressman, and we had a little two-color printing press on our basement, and that’s where I started.  I was sixteen years old, and I started stripping film and stuff like that.  So I come from the old school print, ink on paper.  I had this discussion today and now I’m working on a computer all day long, but it’s the same thing with these guys who – the pen and ink guys.  There had to be a crossover.  There will always be a place for a pencil on paper in my opinion. 

 Jason Versaggi:              What we have to do is look at – one of my favorite artists today is Mitch Breitweiser and see how his pen and ink stuff looks and then see when it’s painted. 

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes.  Mitch is a really good example of that, too, because he understands that and he embraces it.

 Jason Versaggi:              It really enhances his work. 

 Jeff Suter:                     Right.  Skottie Young would say the same thing and again, these are guys that come from traditional ink, paint on board, and canvass, and stuff like that.  I pretty much stand by that technology has caught up with the medium or the medium’s growth, technology, [either one or two].

 Jason Versaggi:              Does this mean that the inkers are going to become extinct?  The old school?

 Jeff Suter:                     Well, I’m not saying extinct, but ever literally since day one, this is what it came down to – that the first time that a book was not inked.  Now, I’m not counting painted stuff that got scanned in and you go right to press.  I’m talking about scanned pencils right to a colorist.  That process occurred for one reason and one reason only – the penciler got his work in late, and this had to go on press on time, and we had to skip a step.  It was experimental, it was the first time, and I’m not saying the first time worked as well as it should have or looked as good as it should have, but it was like, “Whoa, it’s different.”  It looks different.  It wasn’t traditional hard lines on everything; it’s softer, it looks stylistic; it looked like we meant it.  I want to say [with me]; I’m not saying it was even this company.  I’m saying as a collective, it happened out of necessity.  So was that the start of a particular media going away?  Maybe, but again, I’m convinced that there will always be pencil on paper and ink, in one form or another.

 Jason Versaggi:              Hopefully.  Just like John Lasseter says, they’re going to keep the traditional animation at Disney.  Disney keeps running stuff…

 Jeff Suter:                     That’s another thing and that’s one that – they look different.  I mean you have to admit.  The digital will never look like analog; it’s the same thing until technology catches up on it.

 Jason Versaggi:              There’s still that certain charm that people hear in the record player.  So hopefully, there’s room for all of them.

 Jeff Suter:                     I know people who still put on vinyl.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.  Who are some of the artists in the industry whose work that either influence you or affect you, past and present?

 Jeff Suter:                     I don’t have a comic book background.  That was one thing that when I was brought in to Marvel, I was brought in for my expertise in – a few different ways is my technical expertise in digital output.  I ran a digital output company.  I was lucky enough to be involved in a company that when things went electronic, I was able to go from plate making and mixing chemicals to scanning, and output, and all that.  They did cross over because you still need to process film.  I had that background already, so it was the digital guys that knew the digital process and they didn’t know anything about film processing.  Well, I was just in the right place in the right time.  I was a hard worker and I was given the opportunity.  So I wasn’t necessarily of the comic industry; I was of the print industry.  So my influences were just good product – beautiful finely-produced magazines or any kind of print.  That fascinates me, this enlargement on this wall because I used to do enlargement, you know what I’m saying?  So to see how well it was done and applied to the wall or the framing on that print back there – because I ran a frame department for a certain amount of time.  It was being involved in all of these different parts of the industry of presentation, if you will.  It’s marketing and it expanded once I got into advertising and design and typography.  They’re all interconnected and the more you know about the whole, the better you’ll be at doing the individual parts.  So my position here is – I’m an asset because I know all the individual parts that make up the whole as opposed to just knowing this or just knowing that, just knowing.  So I guess I oversee that.  So my influences are basically good presentation marketing.  Typography, I’m a big huge fan of [type].  My wife was very influential in my dumbing down of typography, which made it smarter.  It’s very, very hard to do clean design in the comic industry, but it can be done. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Well, let’s say, the way they used to do in the 60’s where it was all over the…

 Jeff Suter:                     Well, that’s what I was saying.  It’s very…

 Jason Versaggi:              Take that and then put ten word balloons or…

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes, but it can be done. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Jeff Suter:                     I’ve tried.  I think that’s what I’m trying to do.  Alright, if you want to say that the guys in the industry right now that really inspire me, it’s guys like Joe Quesada who had a design background and who became an illustrator.  You know what I’m saying?  He gets it.  He gets the whole picture, I mean becoming a writer, and an editor-in-chief, and overseeing the explosion of what happened with this industry and this company.  So it’s guys like John Romita, Sr. who again, worked 70 hours a week and oversaw everything up until the end, but it was just a different world then.  You know what I’m saying?  It’s different, but it’s the same and he needed to know every single part of the process.  So it’s guys like that.  It’s guys who have a grasp of the bigger picture. 

 Jason Versaggi:              How’d the podcast develop?

 Jeff Suter:                     Well, the podcast, it’s funny you say that, the podcast developed again of just something that I technically had knowledge of.  I’m a professional musician; that’s my side job. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Wait, that’s your alter ego and this is your secret identity.  That’s your…

 Jeff Suter:                     No, this is my Clark Kent. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Jeff Suter:                     That’s my superman.  I got it.  By day, Peter Parker and Spiderman.  Brand X, sorry.  So how this approached was we used to do weekly or bi-monthly press conferences with the comic press.  The online comic press was still blossoming at the time.  There were a couple of websites that would cover our press conferences, but the rest of it was Wizard, CBR, the mom and pop [new shops] and stuff like that.  So our retailers would call in and we do basically sales press conference about a project or have somebody on the phone, have Brian Bendis on the phone.  So John Dokes who is a big sales guy now, but was my boss at the time, came to me and said – also a part-time musician, said, “How would you go about recording these press conferences so that we can post it online?”  “Well, okay, let me think about that.”  Thought about it, a couple of mikes and a laptop, and then preamp, we should be good to go.  I had a background in recording; this can’t be any harder than recording a guitar or drums.  We started doing that and I realized, “God, this is boring.”  It’s a press conference, so I said, “We have to come up with a format.  A radio makes sense to me, a radio format.”  Q&A, one on one.  We started with groups of creators which just simply did not work. You cannot have three writers talking about the same subject.  Sorry.  The format doesn’t work.  So through about one year of a learning curve, I came up with a singular – “You know what?  I’m going to host this, I’m going to have one or two guests and talk about one project.  Let’s get a schedule going.  What’s your big pushed coming up in a couple months?”  Luckily, I had other people that would do the scheduling, stuff like that, and I’m just very comfortable on stage and it’s even easier in front of a microphone for me.  I just try to be myself.  Again, there’s a little curve there, but I think they roll off the tongue now. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.  I mean you get to talk to some cool folks.  It sounds like it’s a fun…

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes.  Well, that’s the whole thing and it’s a break.  I mean it’s work, and then I do the mixing, and add in a few sound effects and some of these intro music, and outro music.  I mean it is what it is.  It’s a sales tool.

 Jason Versaggi:              Oh, yes, it works.

 Jeff Suter:                     So again, I can get behind that because it’s helping me market our product. 

 Jason Versaggi:              You’re just packaging the brand in a new way…

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes.  I mean you might as well do one.  I’m me on those podcasts; I don’t – I’m not putting on a show.  I really am goofy, and I laugh like an idiot, and I’m perfectly happy with the guys who are comfortable on the show to dig into me a little bit, and I think they usually expect me to dig into them a little bit, too.  Just try to be myself and try to get some of the questions that – it’s very hard to get an answer out of these guys because you don’t want to spoil.  I mean storytelling is – if you tell the story before the story comes out – so we just try to get people pumped up about stuff. 

 Jason Versaggi:              “Did you hear the podcast? Suter spoiled Fear Itself.” 

 Jeff Suter:                     That’s the thing, and the beauty of it is if just something come up, I can take it out because I am [crosstalk].  I’m responsible for it and I’m the guy who edits.  I don’t think I’ve ever [let] anything out.  I can be wrong, though.

 Jason Versaggi:              Do you do them all here?  Does anybody call in?

 Jeff Suter:                     Well, we do call-ins most of the time, but it’s nice when there’s like a convention going on or they’re doing a creative retreat or something, try to get somebody one on one.  I mean it’s just nicer, face to face. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Well, any big projects you’ve got on the horizon that you’re just psyched about?

 Jeff Suter:                     Well, Fear Itself, which is our big – I don’t want to say crossover, but it’s 2011’s first big event and that involves lots of gods, and hammers.   There’s a Spiderman storyline coming up where the entire island of Manhattan gets spider powers, so I’m looking forward to it, [which is very throwback].  I mean it’s very throwback. Stan would do it.  How about everybody on Manhattan gets…?

 Jason Versaggi:              Why not?  That sounds cool.

 Jeff Suter:                     So that’s because – and there’s some very, very good X-Men stuff coming up that I can’t get into detail about, some Fantastic turnovers, Fantastic bad guys, and some old players coming back.  The X-Men stuff is really, really, really good and I’m looking forward to that.  Looking forward to do some video trailers on that, too.  I do a lot of the comic book trailers.

 Jason Versaggi:              Those are pretty awesome, too. 

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes, those are fun for me because I get to compose the music.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes, another great tool. 

 Jeff Suter:                     You know what I’m saying?  Or do the narration, or record someone doing the narration, or fun sound effects.  I could do a little video editing and sometimes I get some of the other guys to do some of the video stuff, and then I can just concentrate on the music, but for the most part, I do most of those.  Again, it’s just another thing.  It’s like trying to apply what I enjoy doing to my – like composing music for doing our videos and stuff, as a musician, I’m doing this on my day job. 

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.  You wouldn’t think it works, and then you hear the motion comic, and then when you get it, you’re like, “Wow.  It really works.”

 Jeff Suter:                     [Ironically], yes.  I’m not saying they’re all perfect, but…

 Jason Versaggi:              No, but I remember the ’60s, 1966 Marvel shows where they just would take a panel and they’d put in…

 Jeff Suter:                     Yes.  I remember the albums where it was just Stan narrating and then they recorded it to albums and…

 Jason Versaggi:              So that’s the progression of it and it works. 

 Jeff Suter:                     [Proved] fantastic, yes.

 Jason Versaggi:              Where can people see you perform your music?

 Jeff Suter:                     Oh, my band – well, you can check out my website which is hardcoverrocks.net.  I play mostly in northern New Jersey, in Burton County area, and Paramus, New Jersey, a place called “The Orange Lantern,” play at a place in the lower, lower, lower, New York state, Sloatsburg, New York specifically, which is the Rhodes North Tavern which is a fun venue.  I’m pretty much booked through December at this point.  I took this winter off.  Thank goodness I took this winter off with the way the winter was.  So yes, you can check out the website and you can check out me on Twitter, I’m Jeff Suter at Twitter, and generally, I’ll tweet or let people know when – “Hey, check out my website, today it’s updated,” but that’s my side job and let’s rock and roll.

 Jason Versaggi:              That is rock and roll.

I really appreciated Jeff taking the time to sit down and chat and also for the walking tour of Marvel’s new offices. I dare anyone to fall asleep in a meeting held in either Conference Room Thor or Conference Room Hulk. The Marvel tour continues next with the sequel to this chat: My conversation with Marvel’s new Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso in the next Panel Surfing.

Panel Surfers Assemble!

JV

Life Imitating Art: A Conversation With Real Life Comics Hero Jerry Robinson

When I heard that a true comics legend – Jerry Robinson – was auctioning off two pf the most important pieces of original comic art ever to be uncovered I had to try to talk to him. Luckily the folks at the ComicConnect.com auctions were able to put me in touch with him. While the auction will be ending on December 1, 2010, Jerry’s story will be one the lasts a very long time…longer than the eight decades his comic book story has already been going on.

Detective Comics #69 original cover art by Jerry Robinson.

The historic double guns Joker cover above by Jerry Robinson is just one of a pair of iconic images of classic American art form that will be sold this week for the artist by ComicConnect.com. The other will be his cover to Superman #14 by Fred Ray.

Jerry has done just about everything an artist can do in the industry and then some – not the least of which was co-creating The Joker and Robin, the Boy Wonder. For Jerry, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a journalist and he has enjoyed a momentous journey. From  a career that happened by chance to creating some of the world’s most memorable characters to real life heroics and actually making life altering differences in the lives of his friends and colleagues.

I had set out to interview the man and put it in print for you to read but after an hour plus conversation I decided to let you hear the man himself tell his own story in his own words. It gave me great joy to just sit back and go along for the ride. Please take some time to listen to this remarkable man tell you a remarkable story. It includes heroes (and even a villain), passion for a romantic era in American culture and the emergence of comics as a true literary art form from a pioneer with the foresight to call it so.

Panel Surfing is thrilled to chat with comics legend, Jerry Robinson. Be prepared as it is a long conversation at an hour and twenty minutes, but it is well worth it as Jerry crams that 80 minutes with 80 years worth of comics industry insight. Truly inspiring and enlightening. Just click on Jerry’s name above for the full conversation.

 

Superman #14 original cover art by Fred Ray

If Jerry Robinson were playing Texas Hold ‘Em he’d be going all in with a pair of bullets. Here is his other ace – the gorgeous patriotic cover to Superman #14 by Fred Ray. Listen to my conversation with Jerry (click his name above) to learn the amazing story on how he wound up with this cover.

As a long time fan and student of the comic book medium as a storytelling tool and the industry getting to talk with Jerry Robinson was like a Masters crash course in comics and a real treat. Many thanks to Vincent Zurzolo and Stephen Fishler of Metropolis Comics for making it happen along with Jerry’s son Jens as well as Jerry Robinson.

Keep on Panel Surfing,

Jason Versaggi

Reading (Comics) Is Fundamental

Those old RIF PSA’s ringing in my head as I decide to talk about what led me to appreciate comic art in the first place: Reading.  Comic Books were how I learned to appreciate reading, how to love reading. I read any and all comics I could get my hands on from the comics on my favorite toys, shows and movies like G.I. Joe, Transformers and Star Wars that eventually served as my gateway drug to the world of super hero comics.

I knew about Spider-Man, and Superman, and Batman, and Captain America as a young boy having followed whatever adventures lived through syndicated television and sure the colorful comics I saw caught my eye but until you get that all important allowance or paper route comics weren’t as accessible 20-30 years ago as they are today.

Now I am well versed in the Marvel canon and can teach courses on the history of the Marvel Universe both fictional and the real life history from the creators point of view. Lately I found myself wanting to read more and learn about how other creators told their stories so I decided to embark on a reading tour of all things comics not published by Marvel. There’s tons of good reading out there. I’ll talk about some of my favorite indie reads in an upcoming post but right now I’d like to focus on DC.

 

I have always loved DC's Sci-Fi super-heroes like Adam Strange and Captain Comet.

For me I have always had a working knowledge of the DC Universe and collected and read the comics in the 80’s and 90’s with many of my favorite titles including Batman, Detective, Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Vigilante.  I am a sucker for the old school stuff. I love the nostalgic Golden and Silver Age stories and characters but I just never got further than Green Lantern and Atom’s early adventures in Showcase comics with regard to DC. Now I have my collection deeply invested with Marvel Comics with many near complete runs of all the major titles. I don’t have the financial resources nor the space to start up a DC collection. However, since I love original comic art and the beauty of the black and white pen and ink page I have decided to start reading all of the DC classics from the start in their line of Showcase Presents trade paperbacks. Low risk, high reward if I like the stories and I can get them in bulk for a low price. If I don’t like a book it just cost me the price of a paperback. I am starting out with some old favorites that I am currently enjoying like Adam Strange with Superman and Green Lantern on deck but I am casting out to my comics friends in cyber space. What titles do you recommend? What should I be reading in DC canon and what will I not be able to put down? I’d love your feedback as I continue to…

Panel Surf,

JV

Chris Samnee: TMA (The Mighty Artist)

One of the most popular artists skyrocketing up the Marvel depth chart is Chris Samnee. His soothing nostalgic style will make you yearn for the Marvel Age of Comics. Chris took some time out to chat with Panel Surfing about his work on Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Verily.

Jason Versaggi: Where are you from? Tell me a little about your background.

Chris Samnee: I grew up in DeSoto, Missouri, which is a small town about an hour south of St. Louis.  I moved to St. Louis after high school and this summer my wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon.
JV: Were you a comics fan growing up?
Chris: Absolutely!  I got hooked on comics when I was little, 5 or 6 years old, when my grandma bought me a three-pack of Batman comics at the drugstore.
JV: What did you read as a kid? Any titles or characters that were favorites?
Chris: I loved Batman and anything Batman-related like Batman and the Outsiders and Teen Titans.  I got into Spider-Man around age 10, and from there got into other comics.

 

Batman by Chris Samnee from the collection and CAF Gallery of Brian Jones

 

JV: Your style is very evocative of the old Marvel House Style days of John Romita. I think your look on Thor:The Mighty Avenger draws some parallels to Marcos Martin’s Spider-Man. Who influenced your style?

Chris: Artists like Alex Toth, Milt Caniff, Steranko, Romita, Sr., Kirby, Mazzucchelli and Steve Rude have definitely influenced how I draw.  I’m not sure all those influences come across in what I do, but I definitely like the cleaner, simpler art of the Silver Age artists.
JV: Have you been compared to any artist’s? Did you set out to try to ape some different looks and how did your own distinct style develop?
Chris: I’ve noticed with Thor: The Mighty Avenger, I’ve gotten quite a few comparisons to Toth, Mazzucchelli and Darwyn Cooke – all of which I’ll gladly take!  I’ve never really tried to copy any one artist but I always find myself taking bits and pieces from artists that I admire.  As for my own style, it wasn’t something I set out to develop, it just kind of evolved with each project I worked on early in my career.  I really started out working on black and white books, so that probably accounts for some of the heavy shadow work and negative space I use.  I still feel like I’m fairly young in my career, so I’m sure my style will continue to evolve with each new project I do.

 

Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Chris Samnee

 

JV: What projects have you worked on that you had the most fun with?
Chris: Well, I can honestly say that I’ve never had more fun than working with Roger Langridge on Thor: The Mighty Avenger.  I’m drawn to the more goofy, fun, Silver-age influenced titles, so this one is right up my alley.  Every moment of working  on Thor: TMA has been a joy.  I also really loved working with Jeff Parker on X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas and with Paul Tobin on an issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man.  They’re also creating such fun stories, again, exactly the kind of stories I pick up as a reader.  I loved working on The Mighty (DC Comics) with writers Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne as well.
JV: Where can fans currently see your work?
Chris: Well, monthly in Thor: The Mighty Avenger (issue 5 is out next week).  I also did the art for Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, an OGN with Joss and Zack Whedon which will be out through Dark Horse at the end of November.  I post sketches on my blog almost daily ( http://www.chrisssamnee.com ) and regularly contribute to a group art blog called Comic Twart  ( http://www.comictwart.com ).
JV: Are there any future projects you are working on that you can talk about?
Chris: Just continuing to work on Thor: The Mighty Avenger along with a few covers for other titles.
JV: If you could relaunch a character or book who would it be? Which title would you love to do an epic run on?
Chris: I’d love to relaunch Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane, but as Superman’s Wife, Lois Lane.  I love Lois and Jimmy and of course, Superman.  I think a book like that would be a ton of fun to work on.  I’d love to do an epic run on Batman.
JV: What is your creative process like? How and where do you work on an issue of Thor: The Mighty Avenger?
Chris: Well, I get script from Roger and read through that a few times.  The first read-through is just to get a sense of the story.  On the second read-through, I make drawings in the margins and start to work out my thumbnails.  From there I do 4″x6″ thumbnails of each page and send those off to my editor for approval.  Once approved, I print the each page’s thumbnail at 11 x 17 size and lightbox them in pencil onto bristol board.  Those get sent to my editor for approval.  Once approved, I then ink each page with brush pens.  At this point, I’m still doing everything traditionally.  As for where, I have a studio/office in my house where I work almost exclusively.  I have difficulty working around other people or in a place with a lot of distractions.
JV: Do you prefer full script or Marvel Style? Describe the interaction between you and your editor(s).
Chris: Full script!  I actually don’t think there are many writers who still work in Marvel style.  In fact, I’ve only seen one Marvel style script the entire 15 years I’ve been working in comics. I actually like to know what the writer has in mind for each panel, and I like to see the dialogue so I can have the characters “acting” appropriately for what they are saying.
As for interaction with editors, it really varies from editor to editor.  My process is pretty much the same regardless of what editor I’m working with.
JV: Who would you geek out at a Con?
Chris: Since I’ve done so many conventions, I’ve actually been really lucky in that I’ve met so many of my heroes already.  I remember being nervous to meet Mike Mignola (who I met at C2E2 this year) and when Steve Rude reviewed my portfolio about 5 years ago.  Those might have been geek out moments!
JV: What is up with your twitter icons hat? Is that your hat or is it just worn by your avatar?
Chris: Nope, that’s the hat I wear.  I’ve worn it since I was a teenager.  It’s probably the easiest way to recognize me at a show.
JV: Your work has created a mighty Asgardian hunger so you order up a pizza and take a break with a movie: What’s on your pie and what are you watching?
Chris: Well, I’m lactose-intolerant, so hopefully no cheese!  As for the movie, you can’t go wrong with Superman: The Movie or Indiana Jones or King Kong.  I can watch those any time.
Thanks for chatting Chris! We look forward to more awesome work on Thor: The Mighty Avenger. If you can’t get enough of Chris and want some more Samnee you can purchase his art from his Etsy store and you can also follow Chris on Twitter.
Go surf some panels,
Jason

The Devil We Knew

Was having a discussion with an art collecting friend about the status of Matt Murdock as Daredevil and thought it merited mentioning here. With current storyline in Daredevil and the Shadowland mini series and specials Marvel is taking Matt Murdock down a villainous path that at least appear to culminate in his demise. Or are they?

Daredevil #511 cover by John Cassaday

I felt bummed when I heard #512 is it for DD. I was also surprised at the direction they took Matt in with Shadowland and even in his book making him leader of The Hand. A pretty big shakeup and kind of turning him into a villain even though I thought it was a red herring. Now there is some precedent here (well a lot of precedent if you examine the comic universe history of resurrection). Let’s look at one parallel. DC  shook up one of their major characters big time with Hal Jordan back at the end of Action Comics Weekly. They even killed him off in The Final Night. He resurfaces as the  Spectre for a little while. Now he’s back being Green Lantern and atop DC food chain where he belongs with a blockbuster movie coming out. DC has been known to cause other media stirs here and there killing off Superman and now taking the same approach Marvel has with Captain America as they reintroduce the formerly whacked Batman Bruce Wayne back into their “continuity.”

Cover to Action Comics (Weekly) #642

Marvel has become the undisputed champ of setting up their IP’s for future media plans. Kill off major character. Big news. Bring back major character. Big news. Said character gets 5 new ongoing and mini’s which all lead up to characters new movie and video game franchise. They did it with Iron Man, Thor (remember he was gone for 2 years!) and we are seeing it with Captain America. Is there any doubt Steve Rogers will be Captain America again? He HAS to be. He had his own “Reborn” mini and they already announced Andy Diggle will be doing Daredevil: Reborn. Will it be someone other than Matt Murdock? Maybe temporarily, but I doubt the one and only DD will be gone for good (or long) and who knows….maybe all this upheaval is being done to set up a Daredevil movie franchise reboot. While I liked the Ben Affleck movie it seems like I’m in the minority. That is Panel Surfing’s prediction kids. Marvel Studios wants to do their DD film and the groundwork is being laid to entrench DD as a major player like he was in the days of Frank Miller.

One other thing that is certain is the creation of all this great theme artwork that fans can get in on and collect as a finite theme.

And for all things Daredevil Panel Surfing recommends you check out the definitive DD site over at ManWithoutFear.com.

Welcome to Panel Surfing with Jason Versaggi

What’s up panel surfers? Welcome our first posting. What is panel surfing you ask? Well basically it is the scientific study of the American art form medium known as sequential story art. In actuality it is just me talkin’ about comic art.

While there are many “ages” used to mark the industry’s or hobby’s era’s of growth the American Comic Book has really been flourishing since what is known as the “Golden Age” which saw the industry explode during the World War II years between 1939-1945. While publishers today run victory laps if a title sells 100,000 copies it was nothing back then for titles to hit the million mark as Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Captain America became best sellers to our Armed Forces overseas and to a generation of youth in America. This is really the birth of the medium that Hollywood has fallen in love with today.

In the 1970’s and early ’80’s burgeoning specialty shops sprung up all over the country selling just comics. You could still find some treasure troves in backwoods garage sales (our forefathers ebay) if you were lucky and knew what you were looking for and comics started to become bigger business on the secondary market. There were titles published specifically for this new reader…the collector. Comics weren’t just living at the newsstand anymore…they were moving into a fancier neighborhood.

The ’90’s saw the speculator boom and bust which nearly ruined the industry when investors flocked into the stores to buy up multiple copies of issues thinking they would be worth their weight in gold in the years to come. Supply quickly exceeded demand and for the most part the quality of the product would not stand the test of time. One thing that would though was the third party grading system introduced at the end of the decade of speculation and all of a sudden comics were really big business all over again. High grade issues were now commanding 5 and 6 figure prices and the now we have those same garage sale hunters of the ’70’s and ’80’s lecturing to us in three piece suits on the safety on investing in comics over the unsavory stock market. And this less than 50 years after comic creators used aliases to work in the industry and hid from witch hunters like Dr. Frederic Wertham who said comics were turning kids into killers.

But it is true. High grade comics are tremendous investments. But that makes them hard to enjoy and isn’t that what the medium was invented for? To create fun stories to enjoy? Well the natural evolution of many a comic collector eventually leads them to original art. It is now very de rigueur for the one time geek culture that is all grown up now. The investment stats are there as we will look at and discuss in future posts but the enjoyment can be derived 24/7 as well. You don’t have to seal up your treasure in an airtight case and stick it in a vault. A frame and your favorite wall to look at will do just fine.

That is what Panel Surfing will primarily be devoted to. Studying, evaluating , and discussing the great and deep world of original comic art. From interviews with publishers, creators, artists, writers, and collectors, we’ll look to educate anyone and everyone on original art. We’ll also look to talk about trends in the hobby and medium and spotlight upcoming artists.

I also love pop culture so you are going to get my musings on that subject too from time to time. Movies. TV. You name it. I have a cartoon education so I can finally put my Warner Bros cartoon frame of reference to good use thanks to the internet. Hollywood has made the comic industry a farm system for source material and as a billion dollar industry it is a subject that merits attention.

So I hope you will stick around, contribute to the conversation, and help us all grow and perpetuate this great medium and hobby we have been such active participants in since the Golden Age…

Surf’s Up,

Jason

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