Eisner-Winner Takes WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN on a Field Trip

Ramón Pérez is the artist behind the most critically acclaimed graphic novel of 2011, Archaia's Jim Henson's Tale of Sand. That book won three Eisners (including "Best Graphic Album - New") and three Harveys (including the analogous "Best Graphic Album Original"), cementing the industry reputation of the Toronto-based illustrator.

Pérez followed that up with the five-issue John Carter: Gods of Mars, an Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation for Marvel with Ultimate Comics Ultimates writer Sam Humphries, and he's sticking with the publisher for a five-issue stint on the Jason Aaron-written Wolverine and the X-Men, starting with January's issue #25.

The story sees Wolverine taking the Jean Grey School on a field trip to the Savage Land, where they'll encounter some of the usual denizens — plus Wolverine's brother, Dog, first introduced in the Origin miniseries. We talked with Pérez to learn more about the story and his plans for it, plus check out exclusive new interior art from his upcoming run on the book.

 

Newsarama: Ramón, the last few projects you've done —John Carter: Gods of Mars, Tale of Sand — were not in the superhero genre, and obviously Wolverine and the X-Men is a very mainstream type of book. Was the motivation basically it had been a while since you drew a superhero comic, so it was now something different and fresh for you rather than the standard?

Ramón Pérez: That's pretty much it. I've kind of just dipped my toe into the shallow end of superheroes over the course of time. A lot of the stuff I've done was just one-off issues here and there, and the longest series I've done for Marvel was John Carter. I figured this was a great opportunity to do a longer stint on a premier title for the company, and work with a writer I respect.

I always loved team books growing up, and I was a huge X-Men fan. When I first started collecting, I was buying Uncanny X-Men and also X-Men Classic at the same time. It's just a great opportunity to visit a character I grew up with — Wolverine — and be part of a team book, which I always think is a different dynamic than just a solitary superhero book, because you have all these different personalities and characters interacting with each other.

So I thought it'd be something different. I like the tone of the book — it has its dark moments, but there's a certain levity to it, which I like. It just felt right. I often just go with my gut feeling, and when Nick Lowe called me up and proposed the arc, I pretty much jumped at it, thinking it'd be a fun opportunity to do something in the superhero genre.

Nrama: Had you been following the series before getting the gig?

Pérez: To be honest, I hadn't. I barely collect any books anymore. [Laughs.] I tend to buy trades, because I found after a while I kept buying singles of comics and never reading them.

Once Nick called me up, I asked for the current run of the book, and he sent me PDFs of every issue. After reading them, it definitely inspired me even more, because I got a real great sense of the feel of the book. I had read Jason Aaron's work on Scalped and The Other Side, so I had never actually read his more lighthearted, superhero side. But after reading them, I'm hooked now.

 

To sit down and read them, and get familiar with the characters, it took me back, and once I read it, I was like, "This has the great, same feel of those old Claremont books." The people are real, they're not just these dark, angry stereotypes.

Nrama: The book's main two artistic voices have been Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw, who have two very different styles, and now you're coming on board, and you're very different from both of them.

Pérez: Yeah, I think I fall between the two somewhere. I loved Bachalo growing up, and Nick I was very unfamiliar with, but I definitely fell in love with his work. He's got this great detail that harkens back to the old-school stuff, like old Arthur Adams work.

Nrama:  The story you're working on focuses on the newer characters, right? Mostly students, plus Wolverine?

Pérez: It's Wolverine taking the kids out on a class trip into the Savage Land for on-the-job training, Wolverine-style.

That was the one disappointment, if you can call it that. I was really looking forward to maybe tackling Beast, or Warbird, or Doop; all these unique characters. But at the end of the day, I'm getting to tackle six unique characters on their own, and kind of put my stamp on them.

Nrama: Plus, the Savage Land surely offers all sorts of unique artistic opportunities.

 

Pérez: Oh, yeah. And Jason asked me if there were any Savage Land residents I wanted to draw. So I was like, "I want to draw Ka-Zar. And could we shove in Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur?" I don't know if that's going to happen, but I put in the request. [Laughs.]

Nrama: You're known for changing your art style depending on the project. How are you approaching the Wolverine and the X-Men arc? Is it similar to any past work from you?

Pérez: I'm probably tackling it similar to the Deadpool Team-Up issue I did. Just a classic, clean, superhero line. It's not going to jump around too much stylistically. I'm not going to go as cartoony as I have on John Carter, for example.

The beauty of this book is that I have the most wiggle room that I've ever had on a series. I tend to always be slammed with these really tight deadlines, so it's nice to be able to give something some TLC over a period of time. I really want to go in there and give each character his own personality and dynamic physically, not just have them be templates of each other. So I've been sketching around, trying to figure out my version of the characters — my happy ground between Bachalo and Bradshaw — and seeing where it goes.

Nrama: To move slightly away from Wolverine and the X-Men, over the past year, Tale of Sand at Archaia was a huge hit for you, culminating with multiple Eisner and Harvey awards. In a practical sense, how has that changed things for you? Are you getting more offers, seeing more doors open than before?

Pérez: Before the Eisners came along, I think I had a great respect amongst my peers. A lot of my work came from fellow colleagues contacting me and asking me to work with them — which was great, because that way I was always guaranteed I'd be working with someone whose work I liked.

Hey, That
Hey, That
 

Working on Tale of Sand, I think, really gave me the opportunity to do things my way, and play with storytelling, which would be harder to do on a regular issue with a full script. On Tale of Sand, I was working from a screenplay, where there were no page breakdowns, no panel breakdowns. I really got to just do my thing and have fun with it. Luckily, Archaia was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity.

With the success of that book, before the Eisners even happened, when Sana [Amanat] contacted me to work on John Carter, she also gave me that leeway by allowing Sam [Humphries] and I to work old Marvel style. That was a lot of fun, too, because it gave me the confidence to play around my way without having to stick to the tried and true classic comic book methods.

Then with the awards, and the compliments, and the great reviews — which have been fantastic — I think it allowed me the freedom where people contact me to bring my experience to the table, rather than just fulfill a script. I think it's given me the opportunity and a little more clout, if you will, to do things my way. I never really thought I was doing things out of the ordinary, because I always did it that way. If you look at some of my older work, I was doing self-publishing which kind of had that similar voice. Whenever I went to work at Marvel or DC, I think that sometimes I'd tighten up just a little bit. The past year and a half has been the largest sweep of comics work I've done in my career, so that, in combination with the awards and everything else, lent a nice cred to what I do, and just gave me the confidence to follow through and do my thing without second-guessing myself as much as I used to.

Nrama: So other than Wolverine and the X-Men, do you have anything else in the works at this point?

Pérez: I'm in talks on some graphic novels with Archaia again, possibly, depending on how timelines work out. One would be potentially a romance graphic novel, which I think I'd have a lot of fun with. I've talked to Nick about returning, if things work out well, to Wolverine and the X-Men for another arc, maybe.

 

More and more offers are coming in, so I'm just kind of playing it by ear. A lot of great writers have contacted me, who I'd love to work with. Unfortunately I have less time now, so I have to pace myself a little better. There are a lot of great opportunities, but nothing's solidified for after Wolverine and the X-Men

I have a couple of online projects that I've been working on that have been neglected horrendously, so I want to kind of return to them and wrap them up, and hopefully maybe published for 2013, 2014 as graphic novels, as well. Really, right now, the main focus in time management. [Laughs.] I'd love to work on some other superhero stuff, whether it's a one-shot or another arc, but I'd love to also work with Brubaker on a crime book or something, or Bendis on Spider-Man, or a nice western with Palmiotti — it'd be fun to dabble in all of those other genres.

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