Mark Brooks: Crafting The Initiative #20 Cover

Brooks on The Initiative #20 Cover

Avengers: The Initiative #20, final cover

When Marvel released their previously-held-back solicitations for the Dark Reign event, one of the newly revealed covers featured a striking image of Janet Van Dyne sitting with an emotional Hank Pym curled up on her lap.

SPOILER WARNING FOR SECRET INVASION

The image reflects the status of the two heroes at the end of Secret Invasion, as Wasp was killed in the battle while Hank Pym was returned to earth after being replaced temporarily on earth by a Skrull.

In other words, it's not a good time to be Hank Pym.

Drawn and colored by Mark Brooks, the Wasp/Yellow Jacket cover will appear on Avengers: The Initiative #20, which is scheduled to go on sale on January 2nd and is co-written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage with pencils by Steve Kurth.

While Brooks is the current penciler on the soon-to-end Ultimate X-Men, Marvel fans are aware that he's also a frequent cover artist for the publisher as well. Newsarama talked to Brooks about the process for developing his cover images, how he approached this cover in particular, and what wrestling has to do with it.

Newsarama: There are many striking covers every month, but this one really stuck out as capturing the emotion of Janet's death. When did you find out about that cover, and did you know right away what the subject matter was going to be?

Mark Brooks: Yeah. I knew about it awhile ago. They didn't know right away that the covers were going to be held back from solicitations. So all those covers you saw with the new January and February solicitations were all finished for those solicitations when they were supposed to appear. Then I think they held the covers back because they could contain potential spoilers. And mine, in particular I guess.

NRAMA: So you found out that Wasp was going to be dying? And that was the genesis of this cover?

MB: I did find out, although I wasn't sure of the details. I'm in the habit at Marvel of not asking too many questions. I'm a big Marvel reader. I read so many Marvel books that if I ask too much, then my books aren't as interesting anymore.

NRAMA: Can you walk us through the process for doing covers? And this cover in particular?

MB: Well, most books where I'm doing the cover, I'll get the synopsis of what the story's about, and I'll sit down and think of some ideas. But with Dan Slott, he's really good about giving a lot of ideas about what he'd like. Now, he's not the kind of guy who is married to whatever he says. It's not like, "draw this exactly as I say!" He just comes up with some ideas that he thinks are cool and I kind of run with it. Sometimes I'll stick very closely to what his idea was, but sometimes I'll just take chords from his idea and combine it with my own idea.

But with this one, he'd said that he would like Wasp sitting on the cover somewhere looking vacant, and Yellow Jacket curled up in her lap. Very visual. But that's really all he said. And I decided that this should be a very straight-forward, stoic kind of image. I decided to leave it without a background, because I thought this should just have the white background so you really focus on just the characters.

NRAMA: The image is very emotional, but Wasp is wearing no emotion. Is there a reason for that?

MB: Yeah, she's supposed to look vacant. You'll have to read the issue to see why. There's a reason Hank looks so much more miserable and she looks like she's just kind of there.

NRAMA: So it's more than just a visual representation of her being dead?

MB: Right. There's a point to it.

NRAMA: You provided us the images showing the stages of how you developed this cover. Can you walk us through these images and tell us what they are?

MB: Sure. Normally, I'll just start off with a preliminary design. It's usually just a sketch so that I can see the layout. I did start out with a preliminary design for this. It's pretty basic. It's just to get an idea of the positioning of the figures and things like that. I really wasn't focusing on getting their faces exactly right. I just wanted to make sure I had the design right. That's the stage that I shoot over to Marvel for approval. I sent that over, and Marvel approved it.

Brooks' preliminary cover for Initiative #20, based on Slott's description

After that was the photo reference, and I know a lot of comics fans are also wrestling fans, so this is kind of interesting. There's a couple who lives across the street from us that my wife and I have become friends with. It wasn't until the third time we hung out that I found out she was one of the Nitro Girls. She's a mom now, and her and her husband are friends with us. She kind of has that Wasp look, with dark hair and dark eyes. So I asked her if she would mind sitting in as the Wasp for some reference photos, just so I could get the facial shot. So she did. And she was actually kind of geeked to pose for the cover. So she sat in for me. And I even had her husband curl up in her lap, just so I could get placement correct.

Photo reference Brooks used, featuring Melissa Peterson, aka WCE Nitro Girl Spice, and her husband Jim

From there, I tightened up the preliminary image, and that was basically the pencils. And I took that right to ink and then to colors. So the interesting fact about that cover is that Spice from the Nitro Girls was the reference for Wasp.

Brooks' pencils for the cover

Brooks' inked pencils for the cover

NRAMA: When you know that you're going to be the one coloring your own image, do you pencil it differently? Is it a little bit different approach?

MB: Oh, it's a totally different approach. If I know I'm color, I can leave a lot of stuff out in the inks that I know I'm going to be adding in the colors. I know what I want when I'm working with another inker or a colorist, so I'm a little more detailed because I want to make sure they know what I mean. But when I color myself, I can leave things out because I know that I can add them later.

NRAMA: This has a fairly simple color scheme. Was that also on purpose?

MB: Yeah. I knew what costumes they wanted for the two characters. It's the same costume she wore in Secret Invasion and the one she'll have on in the issue. So I wanted to make sure there was continuity there. But I also like the whole black and yellow thing that the two of them have. So I think it makes it a much more striking cover. If you start adding different colors to it and things like that, it can become too complicated to the eye. I wanted it to be very simple. I wanted the only reds in the entire piece to be their flesh tones. I think it really draws your eye up to her face.

NRAMA: We know you've got a few more issues of Ultimate X-Men on your horizon, right? To finish up, is there anything else you want to tell your fans about your upcoming projects?

MB: I'm working on Ultimate X-Men #100 right now. It's the big 100th issue, so that's a lot of fun because there's a few extra pages. It's a really cool issue; you'll see. It's the final issue of the series, before Ultimate X-Men ends. As much fun as it is to be there at the beginning of a series, I have to say that I love ending a series. I think it's fun because you get to tie up all the loose ends and get to touch on a lot of cool plot points. And I've never gotten to work on a 100th issue before, so that's really cool.

After that, we'll have to wait to see.

Marvel's Dark Reign Coverage

 

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