Richard Isanove is one of the most popular colorists in modern comics, but in 2014 he’s stepping out on his own – as a writer and an artist – and doing it with one of Marvel’s most popular characters: Wolverine. Announced at New York Comic Con on Friday as part of the “Amazing X-Men & The Marvel Universe" panel, Richard Isanove will be taking on the artist-oriented Savage Wolverine series beginning in January and taking the famed X-Man into the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s.
Beginning with January’s Savage Wolverine #14, Isanove’s four-part story takes the Canadian mutant down into the American Midwest as a moonshine bootlegger looking to make some money. What he ends up with is a quartet of teenage orphans on his hip and a promise to one of his few friends to save them from the eyes of the mobsters who killed their family. Long before he would become an X-Men, an Avenger or even a superhero, in the 1930s Logan was just a man – but this story promises to show how he’d become something greater.
Newsarama: Richard, what can you tell us about this arc of Savage Wolverine you’re doing?
Richard Isanove: Like the other arcs of Savage Wolverine, it's a self-contained story. It's set at the end of the prohibition era. Logan is a bootlegger who gets in trouble with some local hoodlums and leads them in a chase through the Northwest, leaving behind a trail of death and mayhem.
Nrama: The 1930s was a crazy time – crazier if you imagine Logan right in the middle of it. What led you to this era, and what do you think it brings out in Logan?
Isanove: I don't really like to draw tech. I figured that one way to get away from it would be to have the story take place either in the jungle or in the earlier part of the 20th Century. Frank Cho already did the jungle so early century it was. Plus the costumes and cars of the 1930s are definitely fun to draw. And, I got to buy a real size replica of a Tommy gun for reference.
I wanted to explore a more human aspect of Wolverine’s personality. I read a lot of John Steinbeck as a kid, so if you're trying to set up a human drama, the Great Depression became an obvious backdrop. George in Of Mice and Men is a little flexible when it comes to respecting the law but he has a very strict moral compass. I think that definitely also can apply to Wolverine.
Nrama: I hear Logan gets roped into some responsibility when he gets tied down to taking care of a group of orphans. Can you tell us about these kids?
Isanove: They are the four kids of one of his rare friends. He has to drive them from Minnesota to Colorado. They range from 12 to 19 and each present a different challenge
Nrama: Wolverine’s at his best – or worst, for him – when he has a big threat to face off with. Just who or what is Logan going up against here?
Isanove: First of all the kids take him for a spin but he also faces two very special organized crime enforcers. One of them is French. I figured that since everyone makes fun of us, I should jump on the bandwagon. I'm pretty good at doing the accent.
Nrama: This story is years before Logan became a proper superhero with the costume and all that. Where’s his head at as a character?
Isanove: He's definitely not a very social guy. He lives in the woods in Canada and makes a living bootlegging his homemade moonshine.
Nrama: This isn’t your first dance with Wolverine – in addition to coloring him numerous times, I remember a short you did with writer Bruce Jones for X-Men Unlimited #48 that was memorable for me. But what’s it like to come back to such a well-known character, and doing both the writing and the drawing?
Isanove: It's actually a wish come true. Daredevil and Wolverine are two characters that I always get back to. They were my favorite characters as a kid and they seem to pop up at crucial times in my life. I'll pass on my childhood, but I met Joe Quesada when I joined Daredevil: Guardian Devil and that's also when my daughter was born. My son was born when I started on Origin.
I drew that X-Men Unlimited story in France when my dad was dying of cancer. In a way, it's a fond memory because he would sit next to me at night when the chemo kept him awake, and we'd talk for hours. I used him as a model for the scientist in that story. He was always very supportive and was very excited to see me draw my first story.
Nrama: You’ve done full art here and there on things like The Dark Tower, the previously mentioned X-Men Unlimited short, and also that great American Eagle story with Jason Aaron awhile back. What’s it like to be able to full transition to drawing your own work after years of being known primarily as a colorist?
Isanove: It was not an easy transition. When I started, I applied at Top Cow to be a penciller but since they already had the likes of Dave Finch, Mike Turner, Joe Benitez and Brandon Peterson, I was a little out of my league. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me, and figured I'd get there someday. In the meantime I needed a job and they needed colorists. Turned out I was pretty good at it so I just kept going as long as I enjoyed it.
In the last few years, coloring's been getting less and less fulfilling and I've needed to do more. My problem is that it would be very hard for me not to color my own drawings. So it's not easy doing a monthly book.
That American Eagle story you talked about, that was sort of a try-out to see if I could take over for Jae Lee for a one-shot of The Dark Tower. As I was wrapping up the issue, they told me that after all, Jae was going to take the whole next story arc off, so that he could spend more time on the final arc. I did seven monthly issues of The Dark Tower and it nearly killed me. I gained 15 pounds, slept a maximum of 4 hours a night and worked 7 days a week.
That's why the mini-series format works out so great on this project, they accommodated the schedule so that I at least could get some sleep.
That said, I am getting faster, so we'll see.
Nrama: I’m really looking forward to reading comics you’ve written. Do you have big plans going forward about doing more writing?
Isanove: I'm thinking of doing a creator owned project, in the United States or in France, but that's down the line. For now, I'm focused on this book and we'll see where it leads.
Hopefully to plenty more, because I'm really enjoying this.
Nrama: Last question Richard – what’s it like stepping into being a writer/artist and doing it with a character as popular as Wolverine?
Isanove: It's really an incredible thing.
I wish I could go back to see the 12 year-old me, as he frantically tries to copy John Byrne's drawings of Wolverine breaking his chains in Uncanny X-Men #111, and tell him what lies ahead.
After Origin, I thought the only way was down, then came 1602 (with Neil Gaiman!), then The Dark Tower (with Stephen King!!!) and now this. I am really aware of how lucky I am.