Posts Tagged ‘ Captain America ’

Captain America Right On Time

As a fan of the New York Jets many would diagnose me as something of a masochist. For years the team was awful and thus head shrinks began speculating that the fan base really needed to lose and have something to complain about because we would not know how to accept success.

Well as a long-time diehard fan of Marvel Comics I could not have predicted such glory days for the characters and comics I grew up with. I began reading Marvel Comics – especially Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil and Hulk – in the mid 80’s. I suffered through the speculator boom in the late 90’s and was dumbfounded when Marvel went bankrupt. I worried my heroes were defeated by the almighty dollar after having survived numerous attacks from Dr. Doom et al. Now Marvel is surging. They’re the top publisher and their films can do no wrong – and they’re really good. Iron Man was sensational and Robert Downey, Jr. has been reborn and was born to play Tony Stark. Thor was very good and a super fun movie with very good performances and now Captain America has stormed the screens and de-throned a certain little British magician for top spot on box office even if for just one week.

The movie was brilliant. Again, Marvel has struck casting gold with Chris Evans. He was excellent as the Human Torch and he played Cap perfectly. He showed enormous heart, which is what Cap is all about at the very core. The size of Steve Rogers heart is so much more incalculable than his frail 98 pound frame. That is the true message of the story. If Spider-Man is all about responsibility than Captain America is about never giving up no matter what hand you are dealt.

New Captain America #1 cover by Steve McNiven and Mark Morales featuring the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America.

There was immense pressure with this film. What time period do you set a movie about a man out of time? The schlock, uninformed Hollywood studios and directors of a decade ago would have butchered the movie by ignoring the history and setting Cap’s origin in modern-day Iraq or Afghanistan. Thankfully Marvel was in control and did it right by setting the film in WWII. The cast was sensational: Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, and Hugo Weaving were superb. They even added the Howling Commandos! The action was top notch and the FX were kept to a very un-Michael Bay minimum so as not to overload the senses. It was such a joy to see. I even loved the mock propaganda tour replete with catchy theme song (that I thankfully can’t get out of my head!) With nods to the Original Human Torch and even a prop cameo of the oh so wonderful Captain America Comics #1!!! It was just a fanboys delight and so much more. A very good movie very well done. Go see it. I promise you will enjoy it! Go Cap go!

The Chase

You can imagine what it must have been like in the wild west, during the gold rush, or when silver was discovered near what would be Tombstone. In those days you had to seek out and pursue your fortune. It was hard. Now there is no way to equate that life and death pursuit with chasing down original comic art but sometimes the correlation fits. Anyone who has used the word “grail” to define a piece of black and white artwork on an 11×17 piece of art board knows of that which I speak.

One of my holy grails - the cover to Captain America Omnibus by the brilliant Steve Epting

Recently I was fortunate enough to finally run down one of my grails. Thanks to Spencer Beck over at The Artist’s Choice and more importantly thanks to Steve Epting. Captain America has long been my favorite character right next to Spidey. My grandmother made me a Captain America costume one Halloween for me to march in the Bay Ridge’s Ragamuffin Parade in Brooklyn, NY. This was in the late 70’s so while her work was outstanding (she made the shield and all) let’s just say nobody would mistake me for Chris Evans stunt double.

My pursuit of Epting’s brilliant masterwork cover to the Captain America Omnibus was a 5 year process. I researched, sought out, made impassioned pleas, and finally when I had just about given up I found out Steve was ready to part with it. I moved mountains to get it to. Trading away art and comics from my long time collection. But when you find something that is special and that means so much to you personally you do what you have to do. It is why we have this collecting bug and it is the defect we must live with when we collect for the love of this hobby of ours.

Steve’s piece long reverberated with me because I read the series he and Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark and Mike Perkins and Butch Guice so masterfully crafted into an Eisner award-winning opus of super hero espionage as it came out. Then I bought the Omnibus and read it again. And again. It is that good and then some. Some critics (and sadly some writers) have miscast Cap as a Man Out Of Time who cannot be relevant for today or whatever modern era he is written in. I say that is the copout of a lazy unimaginative writer. The type of writer who would use a supporting character to chastise Captain America for not knowing what Facebook is or what an ipod is during Marvel’s much ballyhooed event of a few year’s ago – Secret Invasion. It was a lame lambasting of one of the best, and most enduring comic characters of all time. What Brubaker and Epting did was to blow that tired assessment up. Cap can and has evolved but he still clings to the time he was from, the simpler era where at least in our four-color world we still say in black and white instead of shades of grey. Cap has always been about right and wrong and those ideals are not exclusive to any era. Somethings never change and when it comes to Captain America I am glad for it. Brubaker showed a steely Cap who did not suffer from bygone naiveté and Epting’s art was dark, somber, moody and film noir yet vibrant and electric. It was cinematic. It was not hyperealistic nor Alex Ross-like but rather the perfect melding of real world imaging with our comic book mind’s eye vision.

It has been a pleasure chasing this piece down and I look forward to the joy of owning it for years to come and all that is left now is to move on to the next chase.   

As a footnote to this posting I wanted to add the fact that this posting of the piece on CAF was dedicated to my dad who we just found out will be undergoing treatment for colon cancer. My dad took me to all the comic conventions as a kid and stayed the long hours, watching and helping me to wheel and deal, and would hunt down comics for me as gifts. He always supported and encouraged my insane love of Marvel Comics. In little league if I had a great game it often resulted in my being rewarded with several issues I needed to complete my run of G.I. Joe. My dad has always done his best and that is what he preaches. It is his mantra and not much different from something Cap would say.

Captain Marvel: Axel Alonso At Marvel Helm

My Marvel tour culminated in a sit down with new Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso. I had met Axel several years ago as he guest lectured one of Danny Fingeroth’s Comics & Graphic Novel Storytelling classes at NYU. Axel was amazingly generous and gracious then and nothing has changed. He has had Vertigo and been a Marvel Knight, but now he’s got the keys to the kingdom. He’s a made guy. He’s a big kid whose sandbox happens to be Marvel’s vault. His toys are global brands. No time-outs.

Jason Versaggi:              So I guess from your perspective now, you’re editor-in-chief.  What does an EIC do?  What’s your daily responsibility look like?

Remember that one kid in the neighborhood who came over to play with the Darth Vader case filled with ALL the Star Wars figures?

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, the first thing is it means that I have to get myself off the monthly titles that I was working on directly.  So, it’s taking more of a macro role.  So, I’m not as involved perhaps in the minutiae of books so much as the big picture stuff.  So, the hardest part of becoming [EIC] is giving up my babies.  [So, you see] story arcs I had in progress that are now being edited by other people.  I’ll be reading script and giving notes but there’s only so much I can be involved in any of those stories now.  So, it’s much more about longer-term planning.  I just ran my first summit where I went in with a specific story that they wanted us to tell.  We’ve been talking about it for a while.  We’ve been entertaining for a while and I wanted to explain why I felt that we got – this is the great time to tell it and what are possible inciting incident to kick things off.  So again part of it is learning what it means to sort of lead the editorial group in a macro one.

 Jason Versaggi:              I know that you’re just getting into the role here but from what you’ve seen and what you’ve experienced so far, how do you think the role now in 2011 is different than anybody else who’s previously had the spot?

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, the big difference is that Marvel is now owned by Disney which means that it’s much more similar to what it’s like when I worked with Vertigo which is a subsidiary of DC Comics and Time Warner.  We have a parent company and so I’m aware of that parent company and my responsibility to that parent company.  I’m also aware of our relationship with the studio.  It’s a very different situation because even when Joe [Quesada] came in, Marvel was a Mom-and-Pop Shop, I came a week after him not knowing it would be around a year later.  People forget how vulnerable the company was at that time.  I assembled a great crew of people who obviously really knew what they were doing both on the West Coast and the East Coast and things turned out fine.

 Jason Versaggi:              You’re one of the custodians of these global brands now and these properties and how much are you involved with the film aspect which is like tied into so many other platforms.  Everything is multimedia now like what is your relationship with those guys?

 Axel Alonso:                  Yes.  I mean our relationship is one where we’re consulted, but it’s not as if we’re irrelevant to the West Coast operations but [let me rewind].  I’m becoming more and more aware what they’re doing with my new job.  Kevin and his crew have a master plan which involves a creation of a universe on a cinematic level that is respectful of the old fans and clearly in order to be successful needs to reach the new fans, fans like my son who can’t wait to see Thor or Captain America.  The long and short of it is that I’m aware of what’s going on there.  I’ve read scripts.  I’ve seen footage.  I’m mindful of that, of what they’re doing.  In some occasions, they have a little bit of ripple effect of what we do where the aesthetics of the movie that you might see reflected in our comics with the synergy but the long and short of it is that I think we complement each other, but we don’t have a profound effect on what Kevin’s doing.  They’ve consulted myself, Joe, Tom [Brevoort] – they’ve flown us out to LA to meet with [Bob Rowe] and discuss story but mostly it’s a think tank.  We’re not editing scripts.  I think Joe as COO probably has more input now than he ever has before but that’s a question better asked of him.

 Jason Versaggi:              I know that you come from a journalistic background and you probably can edit scripts in your sleep.  How do you work with an artist? How do you edit an artist when you see someone turning in pages, what’s your process regarding say, “You know what?  This is right.  I want to see this here.”  How do you…?

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, it’s pretty simple.  When you’re working with a rough artist or a raw artist, you make thumbnails the first part of the process.  With thumbnails, what they’ll do is they’ll [render] very loose – and I can show you some examples, how they see the page, how they would layout the page, and now, what you do is you check those thumbnails and review.  Usually, I do a primary course with them.  I explain to them the importance of varying camera angles, the importance of an establishing shot with really setting up a scene, the importance of close ups for characters really so that you feel them and you feel them as actual characters in the story.  So, I walk them through a primer and think that they should be thinking and I usually suggest that they work in a simple [grid] format simply because at that stage of the game when you’re breaking in, it’s usually good if you’re standing on terra firma.  You’re not trying to change the way that people look a comic layout when people don’t even know you yet.  So, I normally ask that they work within specific maybe tighter parameters, and I’ll just edit the hell out of them from an art director’s perspective.  Once thumbnails come in, I’ll critic them.  I’ll explain to them why a shot’s not working, why a shot’s redundant, how maybe they keep their camera static, and the good ones, they learn over time.  They assimilate all these information and they come out the other side as fully formed from the artist within a couple of project.

Support your local comic artist. Nice to have friends like Skottie Young to render the digital you. Here's Axel on Comic Book Resources.

 Jason Versaggi:              In your opinion, who are some of the artists who have blown you away with how well they can tell a story without use of words?

 Axel Alonso:                  Yes.  I mean who first comes to mind is Steve Dillon because Steve Dillon, you can look at a few Dillon comic book and fully understand the para-relationships, the emotion…

 Jason Versaggi:              They could express that.

 Axel Alonso:                  …everything.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Axel Alonso:                  Just based on our direction.  Again, it’s easy to say that about Steve because he never tries to be dynamic per se.  He understands the importance of a dramatic moment but his career isn’t built on [two-page slashes] he still values his art.  I can say that most if not all of the tough guys are amazing.  John Romita, Jr. might be the best in the business.  I can’t think of an artist who I put more confidence in going to a project not knowing anything about it.  It doesn’t matter what that project is.  It doesn’t matter.  It will be better if he draws it plain and simple.  There’s any number of other people – Bryan Hitch, the level of detail he brings, I don’t think there’s a more cinematic artist out there.  Steve McNiven, amazing draftsman and amazing storyteller, never a boring page.  Mike Deodato – I could just keep going down the list.  These guys just really know what they’re doing.

 Jason Versaggi:              Well, going back to guy like Romita Jr.  If he’s on a book, if he’s drawing a book, as an editor, how much input will you take from him if he wants to give you like, “Hey!  I think I want to contribute on the writing side.”  What’s the give and take?  What’s the…?

John Romita Jr. Kicks Ass.

 

Axel Alonso:                  Well, it’s kind of two questions.  I mean when John gets a script, John draws a script and calls up his editor and explains why he’s taking latitude with something.  John on occasion might be pacing.  He might carry a couple of panels to the next page.  When he does he usually communicates about that first, and he’s never wrong.  Also for someone who’s forgotten more about comic book stories that what most of us will learn, he’s also extremely gracious when on the rare occasion you call him and say, “Did you think a panel is not quite working?”  They misread the point.  Maybe the writer wasn’t clear enough but again, you always look at him as being part of the stories on process.  In fact, you do with everyone.  Every time you get into a project with a writer and an artist, the writer is turning over their story, their baby, to an artist who’s going to make it sink or swim that’s why good artists are so coveted because they’re at least 50% of the story. 

 Jason Versaggi:              So, the artists have to have the ability to be an editor before they even start drawing.

 Axel Alonso:                  It helps, yes. I mean certainly they need to have the art director’s instinct in order to be able to do this and generally speaking an artist will hopefully have a better art director’s instinct but the editor once they’ve had a career long as that.  The long and short of it is that you’re always better when an artist is smart.  There are artists who are amazing draftsmen, but they’re not good story tellers.  They miss the point of the page.  They’ll invariably put an importance on the wrong panel or they’ll misunderstand the importance of an artifact in the scene.  Two guys fighting in a room and there’s a knife on the ledge, if one of them grabs it and stabs the other, and the artist won’t see the importance of seeding that ledge even if it’s in the script, [seeing] that ledge and [seeing] that knife, and the existence of that knife.  They’ll bury it and most of the time, all they’ll do is shot it from above looking down.  You get the gist.

 Jason Versaggi:              They’ll take it out.

 Axel Alonso:                  Exactly, and I’m using a clumsy example there but again there are certainly a number of artists in the industry who are like that then there are artists who are so damn smart that they’ll call you saying, “This page doesn’t make sense.”  If they’re working with a new writer especially.  You’re not giving me a sense of what point A to point B is.  So, yes.  It definitely helps if an artist is smart and a good story teller.

 Jason Versaggi:              So what they did to save the comic industry – once a month collecting them into trades and getting them into book stores – the Barnes & Nobles of the world.  Now, we’ve got the iPad apps. Is that what’s really going to make everything all right again in the industry?

 Axel Alonso:                  I wouldn’t go say everything that’s going to – is going to make everything all right.  I’ll say that it’s an exciting, new horizon for our media.  Certainly I know that I no longer buy music.  I download music.  There might be the rare occasion when I want a CD because of some extra feature, but I can imagine the comic future in which I buy some comics at an affordable price than watching my iPad or download them onto my iPad so that my son can read on the plane when he’s not doing video games and watching a movie, but I also fully expect it in that world that there will be books I need to [shelf] and there will be comics where I need to read…

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Axel Alonso:                  …but not all.  I’m only speaking for myself.  I’m excited by the prospect of a world in which I can get on a plane with issues one through one hundred of a certain comic book and just flip through them and read them in leisure and when I can easily turn them over to my kid who’s very much a digital kid.  By the same token, I love that hardback on my bookshelf.  Yes.  Again, I’ll always want my Absolute Ronin by Frank Miller on my shelf.  I’ll want my Preacher hard cover wherever the most chichi version of that is.  So, again that’s the way it goes.  I think it’s great, and I think the retailers – there’ll always be a place for those retailers. I know some people are worried.  If readers are anything like me, they’re going to still go to bookstores.

 Jason Versaggi:              Do you see or is there anything developing now where like you’re telling stories designed specifically for that platform?

 Axel Alonso:                  No.  We’re still telling comics for periodicals.  What we’re trying to do is we repurpose those and find a way.  So again it’s still a wide open terrain right now.

 Jason Versaggi:              Okay.

Axel Alonso:                  We’re too small an operation to be trying to do both at the same time.  We’re mindful of it but right now when we put together a comic book – it’s nice the way the comic book portions translate to the iPad.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

Axel Alonso:                  I think we’re exploring more in the world of motion comics, and it’s amazing some of the stuff we’ve done which haven’t been publicly seen yet.  It’ll change the way with motion comics.  I saw a motion comic book for a book I had edited previously.  I heard rumblings about it for a while.  When I saw it, my jaw dropped.  It was like watching a movie. 

 Jason Versaggi:              It’s weird. I used to [give them a try too] for the first time, going into them very reluctantly and then coming away saying, “Wow!”

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, let me tell you I’ve never seen anything like the trailer I saw and again, that’s not partisanship at all.  That’s just pure fact.  What I saw changed the way – in fact, I’m not even sure I would call it a motion comic even though it is.

And that concludes my day at Marvel. Special thanks to Jeff Suter and Axel Alonso. The offices are not the same as when Stan ran his bullpen but the spirit still permeates the fixtures and the furniture. You really feel like the folks here are all in. They care about the characters they guide and the stories they tell. It was established a long time ago when I was a kid but that is why today, I still Make Mine Marvel.

Surf on Panelers,

JV

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

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

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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