Part of Panel Discussion's mission is to look at the ways and places where comics and video games intersect and here in Crossover, we'll be talking to game creators about the comics stories and creators who've shaped their sensibilities.
So far in Crossover, we've spoken to game creators about comics. This time, we're talking to a comics artist about his craft and how video games intersect with it.
Drawing Spider-Man's a high-pressure gig. He's the best known character from Marvel Comics and the Ultimate update of the character had one artist for a good long stretch of time. Adding to the pressure is the fact that all-new character Miles Morales is now the Ultimate Universe's web-slinger, with a new costume and new powers to boot.
As the new artist on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, it's David Marquez's responsibility to make Miles Morales and his new costume as appealing to readers as Peter Parker and his outfit were. I e-mailed with Marquez—whose debut issue on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man came out last week—about how he's making Miles feel different than Peter, why drawing comics means that his girlfriend Tara gets more video game bragging rights than he does and the video game he wishes he could make into a comic.
Kotaku: When did you know you wanted to be a comic-book artist?
I've been reading comics since I was a kid, probably first grade or so. I remember doing this drawing of Robin in class one day and my friend leaned over and just said "wow!" It was a great feeling and I think that was the start of it all – simple operant conditioning. B.F. Skinner eat your heart out. But it wasn't until college that I started really considering it seriously and started going to conventions for portfolio reviews and the like. I eventually graduated (B.A. History and Government – not at all art related) and, on a bit of a whim, applied for an animation position on A SCANNER DARKLY and was hired on. That job convinced me that art was a viable career choice and the rest, as they say, is history. With lots of ramen.
Kotaku: Who were your artistic influences when you were growing up?
Name your Image artist and they're probably on the list, ha, ha. The first big influence was Jim Lee, back during his Uncanny X-Men run. And WildC.A.T.s was totally my jam. After him, I fell into a decade-long obsession with Travis Charest – eventually broadening out to include a bunch of the late 90s/early 2000s superstars: Bryan Hitch, John Cassaday, J.G. Jones, Frank Quitely to name a few.
Kotaku: Have you ever drawn Peter Parker as Spider-Man? How do you try to make Miles feel and look different when he's in costume?
I have drawn the traditional Peter Parker Spider-Man, but only for personal sketches and commissions. With Miles I guess there are a few basic tricks to keep him from looking too much like his mainstream counterpart. The first focuses on his proportions: Miles, being a kid, has a larger head in relation to the rest of his body, and I like to keep him very skinny. And while he's in good shape, I don't ever want him to appear too muscular, keeping him stringy and sinewy instead.
Beyond his build, I try to have him act in a fairly distinctive manner as well. He's completely untrained and inexperienced, so when he's bouncing around and leaping off buildings and walls, I try to make is actions feel just one notch above uncontrolled flailing – like when he lands safely, it's really almost by accident.
Kotaku: What's the hardest thing to draw on the Miles Morales version of the Spider-Man costume?
I think it's probably the webbing – for such a seemingly simple design element, there's actually a great deal of detail in the pattern. For example: where do the individual strands bend upwards vs hang downward? How many strands are there? I'm not 100% consistent from panel to panel, but I do my best to keep it convincing throughout.
Kotaku: When approaching established characters like the Fantastic Four, how do you balance the line between honoring what's come before and making sure the look of a new take like Season One appeals to modern-day audiences?
That was undoubtedly the hardest part of drawing Fantastic Four: Season One. From a design standpoint, we were aiming for "timeless, but contemporary," and I really tried to draw on clothing and fashion styles that kind of straddled the tight-laced 1960s of, say, Mad Men, and more contemporary looks. Luckily, there's a pretty strong preppy vibe in a lot of today's fashion and that blends well with the timeless, "Classic American" feel of FF.
So, as a case in point, I patterned Reed Richards directly off Don Draper – a clean cut 1960s-era professional man, and Sue Storm was very heavily influenced by January Jones' Betty. Johnny Storm drew pretty heavily on James Dean (with a faux hawk, anyway). My Ben Grimm looked a heck of a lot like the dad from Wonder Years, mixed with a kind of grown-up Little Rascals fashion sense. So hopefully, all of these tickled people's memories, making the characters feel a little more familiar.
From there, I tried to give the settings and costumes and powers a near-future aesthetic – lots of clean lines and bright lights – to bring the slightly retro feel of the characters into the exciting world of sci-fi adventure that so defines the FF.
Kotaku: Do you draw your work entirely digitally? When did you start? How does that affect your speed?
I do work entirely digitally, and this is something I picked up while working as an animator on A SCANNER DARKLY. It was actually at the suggestion of my girlfriend that I try applying the skills I learned from the movie to comics, and once I tried it out, I never looked back. Without a doubt, the greatest benefit of working digitally is the speed – I can pencil and ink a page in Photoshop in sometimes 1/3 the time (or less) it'd take me to do so traditionally. One of the main reasons is that, since I can always erase or undo a line that I don't like, I feel much more comfortable and confident as I draw. There's no need to belabor every line, in fear of messing it up. And since I have a very clean, precise inking style, digital is a HUGE help.
Kotaku: Video games are a powerful temptation for procrastination when you manage your own workflow. Are you an avid gamer? When do you fit it in?
I'm definitely a gamer, but like you've pointed out, work has to come first. I'm mostly a big adventure/RPG guy. I'm currently playing Mass Effect 3 (on the last mission, actually), which has been such a great game. My girlfriend and I had just started dating when the first Mass Effect came out, and we ended up playing through that game together (she's a badass in the Mako – I miss that tank), so this game has been a big part of my life the last few years. And naturally, we've played through as FemShep.
I've done my best to avoid multiplayer, as based on my friends' experiences, it seems like the ultimate time-suck. But, thanks to ME3, I've played a bit of multiplayer (gotta get the Military Readiness up!), and I gotta say it's a whole lotta fun, even if I'm TERRIBLE at it.
Kotaku: What games are your all-time favorites? What are you looking forward to?
A few games I've gotten into: the Assassin's Creed franchise, Metal Gear (I broke down and bought a PS3 just to play MGS4), The Elder Scrolls games (going back to Morrowind, and Skyrim is fantastic), Fallout, Batman Arkham Asylum & Arkham City and one of my all time favs: the Katamari series.
Right now, I'm really looking forward to having some time to go back and finish some of the games I've picked up over the last year. I haven't finished half those games I listed earlier, while in the meantime my girlfriend has beaten several of them a couple times over. I hang my head in shame every time I see her gamer score creep higher and higher above mine. Sigh.
Kotaku: What games do you admire for their art direction/ Have you ever been artistically inspired by something you saw in a video game?
Oh absolutely. I really love the art department at BioWare – the designs for Mass Effect and Dragon Age blew my mind. I actually just got the Mass Effect digital art book from Dark Horse, just so I could stare at all the concept art.
One of the dangers, though, with drawing too heavily from video games for comic art is the difference in detail. There's a very good reason most costumes in comics are fairly simple: you are going to draw it over and over and over and over again. I love all the crazy detail you see in these video game designs, but most of them would be a NIGHTMARE to draw on a monthly basis.
Kotaku: If you could adapt any video game story into comics form, which would it be? Why?
Going back to one of my earlier favs, I think a Katamari comic would be INSANE, and insanely fun to both write and draw. It would be trippy and epic and all the crazy emotional abuse the King of All the Cosmos lays down on the Prince is storytelling gold.