Posts Tagged ‘ Frank Miller ’

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

That Other Dynamic Duo: Phil Hester & Ande Parks

A few years ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Phil Hester for Comic Art Fans and thought it was high time to revisit this savvy comics pro and bring in his sometimes storytelling cohort Ande Parks. Panel Surfing was lucky to chat with this fan favorite duo about their comics creative process both as artists and as writers.

Jason/Panel Surfing: Tell me a little about each of your backgrounds growing up.

Phil Hester: I grew up in a tiny town in pastoral Iowa, and after school and marriage, returned there. My kids are attending the same high school my wife and I did.

Ande Parks: Suburban kid from Kansas. Almost an only kid.  My sister was eight years younger.

Panel Surfing: Were you both comics fans as kids? What led you to the industry?

Hester: Totally. My dad’s job called for us to move a lot, so I was perpetually the new kid wherever I went. Comics provided a kind of constant for me, and since I had an early talent for drawing, especially comics, doing so for my new classmates became a way to break the ice.

Parks: Liked comics as a little kid.  Became passionate about them in Jr. High.  They were a good, personal means of escape for me during my parent’s divorce.  I got into comics because: I didn’t know what the hell I was doing in college, I wanted to do something I liked, and I wanted to be a little part of something that was important to me… providing the same kind of valuable escapism that was so impotent to me as a kid.

Panel Surfing: Tell me a little about your artistic educations.

Parks: Almost nothing.  A little in High School.  A year plus of college, and then working my ass off on my own and with guys like Mike Manly and John Heebink in a studio outside Philadelphia.

Hester: Of course, it was born in the comics I read; Kirby, Byrne, Eisner, Ditko, Miller, Steranko, Wrightson, Staton… and on and on. I absorbed those artists more than imitated them. I wasn’t good enough to ape them, but they seeped into my bones. I went to art school and on the first day, head unbowed, proclaimed Frank Frazetta to be my favorite painter. Not my favorite current painter, or fantasy painter, but favorite painter of all time. I never lost my love for Frank, but as I worked for my BFA in drawing, my horizons expanded immensely. I went from Frazetta to Rothko. I eventually graduated with a major in drawing and minors in sculpture and painting from The University of Iowa.

Of course, that whole time I was getting a secondary education in cartooning through form letters from editors at Marvel and DC, most notably Mike Carlin, Jim Shooter, Eliot Brown, and any other editor unlucky enough to be on cold submission duty. I sent in a submission every 4 months or so.

Panel Surfing: Your styles mesh so well together in an animated film noir type of way. Talk about some of your favorite projects together.

Parks: I like Green Arrow best, because of what it meant to our careers.  It was the first chance we got to show a wide audience what we could do together.  Also fond of the stuff we’ve written and drawn together: The Wretch and Uncle Slam.

Green Arrow by Hester & Parks

Hester: I should say that I’ve been pleased with everything we’ve done, at least on Ande’s part. I still cringe over most of my work, but Ande always pulled his weight. I think a book we did for Bob Schreck at Dark Horse called Freaks’ Amour was the first time our look was really defined. Up to that point I had been trying to be a poor man’s Alan Davis or Steve Rude, and with that book and its dark subject matter we kind of cut loose and went with our instinct for flat, graphic blacks, glyph-like shapes, and spontaneous line making.

When we came together on Green Arrow we got to marry that heavy, Jose Munoz-like style with our predilection for jaunty Toth/Fradon-like super heroics. I don’t think I’ve ever done that to my satisfaction, but the uneasy marriage of our natural cartoony drawing styles with a noir approach to lighting and composition can lead to interesting results. Of course, under all that is my attempt to live up to Miller, Eisner and Krigstein storytelling.

Honestly, the job I’m usually happiest with is whatever we’ve finished last, and that’s a couple of issues of The Darkness we did in ’09, or maybe the Daredevil/Magdalena book we did before that.

Panel Surfing: You are both artists who also write…or are you really writers who can draw?

Hester: I think the latter. We’re storytellers and we work in comics. Drawing and writing are different steps in the storytelling process, but they remain on that same storytelling continuum. They’re almost inseparable in my mind. When I write, I picture how I would draw each scene. When I draw, I imagine each character’s inner monologue.

Parks: I’m much more a natural writer than artist.

Panel Surfing:  Does it make either of you a better writer being accomplished artists and vice versa?

Hester: I hope both. I definitely gives you a better command of the form as a whole to have a grasp on what it takes to be effective at each stage.

Parks: Having a visual sensibility helps as a writer.  It helps you call for shots that are effective, and actually possible!

Panel Surfing: Phil, how did it feel getting nominated for an Eisner?

Hester: Pretty cool! Actually The Wretch had just been canceled by Caliber the week before, and I was just setting it up at Slave Labor when Dan Vado called me to give me the news. I thought he was calling to tell me he had second thoughts and was passing on the book.

Panel Surfing: What was it like getting to work with writers like Kevin Smith, Judd Winick, and Brad Meltzer?

Hester: A blast.

Parks: Thrilling!

Hester: Each time a script came in it was a master class. I learned a ton from working with those guys, and Mark Millar, Greg Rucka, Brian Bendis, Robert Kirkman, Warren Ellis… really pretty much every writer I worked with. I’d have to be pretty thick to fail to pick up anything from those folks.

Panel Surfing: I loved your work on Green Arrow and especially loved the tongue in cheek Ant-Man series. If either of you could have full creative control on a character or book who would it be?

Parks: I would have said Captain America or Batman a decade ago.  Now, I just want to work on my own projects.  Making my own graphic novels is what really gets me going.

Hester: I’d actually love to return to Swamp Thing, or any of the darker corners of DC; Ragman, Creeper, Doom Patrol. At Marvel I’d love to write the Fantastic Four, or write and draw Dr. Strange or Daredevil.

Hester & Parks Irredeemable Ant-Man

Panel Surfing:  Do you guys collect other artists work? Is there any of your own work you have attachments to?

Parks: We both collect original art.  I still have quite a bit, including some great stuff that hangs in my studio and my house.  The work of brilliant artists inspires you when you feel lost.  I keep some of my own stuff.  I kept one Green Arrow splash, for example.

Hester: I’ve saved maybe twenty of my own pieces in twenty years of drawing comics, so that should tell you how I feel about my own work. I have my first Swamp Thing splash, Batman splash, a few covers, a few pages I’m proud of the storytelling on, but not too much else.

I have a big original art collection. Not one of those blockbuster key cover kinds of collections, but representative pieces from most all of my favorite artists. It’s dominated by Kirby, Miller, and Toth. Then there are my quirky predilections. Ande and I probably own 20% of Tony Salmons’ body of work. I have a ton of Zaffino. Can’t get enough Pat Boyette.

Panel Surfing: Are there any artists who were major influences on your work? Who were some of your favorite creators?

Hester: I’d say my whole career has been a failing attempt to reconcile all my disparate influences. Kirby, Ditko, Toth, all the EC guys, Miller, Eisner, Wrightson, Staton, Steranko, Krigstein… look, I could do this all night.

Parks: Miller is the man for me.  Dick Giordano was my big inking hero.  Klaus Janson, too.  I love Neal Adams, Kirby, Frank Robbins.  I like guys who do it big and bold.  I like storytellers.

Panel Surfing: What are you guys currently working on?

Hester: No drawing gig, currently, but that may change soon. I’m writing The Black Terror and The Green Hornet for Dynamite. I’m a few years into my run on The Darkness at Top Cow. I’m writing the oft delayed Golly and Firebreather at Image, and I’m wrapping up Days Missing for Archaia/Rodenberry.

Parks: Writing a bunch of stuff for Dynamite and working on a few graphic novels of my own.  I have a GN in the can, that is being drawn.  It’s called Ciudad.  It’s about a South American kidnapping.

Panel Surfing: Are there any future projects you can share now either individually or as a collaboration?

Hester: If we draw something it’ll almost certainly be together, but I think we’re committed to establishing ourselves as writers right now. I may have a new work for hire book in the works at Dynamite, and some creator owned projects from Top Cow and Image. Too soon to say, though.

Check out Cartoon Network in the fall for their TV movie adaptation of Firebreather, though!

Parks: Can’t talk about the graphic novels in the pipeline yet.

Panel Surfing: It is the Hester & Parks reunion party and you guys are having pizza and kicking back with a flick. What’s on the pizza and what are you watching?

Hester: We’re probably sitting back to back because he’s ordered sausage on his pizza and wants to watch Citizen Kane again, while I want the spinach, tomato and mushroom deep dish and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Parks: Lots of sausage and other fats.  Phil’s off his latest diet kick, and I’m saying screw it to my cholesterol.  We’re watching something big and stupid.  Maybe Caddyshack?

Hester: Maybe we split the difference and eat some Arthur Bryant’s barbecue and watch Lawrence of Arabia.

Always fun and insightful talking with Hester & Parks. For more from this talented tag team you can follow Phil and Ande on Twitter. You can also keep up with Ande Parks over on his blog and learn more about those upcoming graphic novels.

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