Mike Mayhew: Jean Grey, Savage, and More

Mayhew on Jean Grey, Savage and More

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Mike Mayhew has been creating photo-realistic and highly detailed artwork for more than a decade already. His work has been seen in publications from the industry’s Big Two and other smaller publishers in comics such as She-Hulk, Mystique, Elektra, Storm, X-Men: Phoenix – Warsong, Spawn, Witchblade, Red Sonja, Vampirella, Zorro and Lady Rawhide as well as Upper Deck trading cards.

Early this month his fans saw the release of Spawn #179 where Mayhew and outgoing writer David Hine introduced Thomas Coram, the Hellspawn of the World War I era, and in August, he and writer Sean McKeever are set to present the first adventure of the X-Men's mightiest mutant in the X-Men Origins: Jean Grey one-shot. Rounding out the year, Mayhew will see his first creator-owned comic book in print. Entitled Savage, the project was co-created with Steve Niles, Jeff Frank and Dan Wickline and will be coming from Shadowline in October.

We sat down with Mayhew for a brief chat about his inspirations, his early works and his upcoming projects.

Newsarama: Hi, Mike. Let's start at the very beginning - who or what was it that inspired you to become an artist?

Mike Mayhew: Comic artists inspired me! I grew up on Neal Adams Batman and Power Records that featured art by him, as well as Warren horror magazines. I’m an only child and always was drawing something. To me, comic artists seemed to be the best artists in the world! Not only were they able to draw anything you can imagine, but they can tell a story with static images. In my teens, I was massively influenced by [Frank] Miller, [Bill] Sienkiewicz, [Benie] Wrightson, Brian Bolland, Steve Rude, and countless others.

NRAMA: Even back then, your work on Zorro and Lady Rawhide had a touch of photo realism, right?

MM: Zorro demanded a certain amount of realism because I had to depict a historical environment, horses, and swordfights, so there was little room for stylization. I started snapping Polaroids of myself and others to get convincing poses and facial expressions. I had seen this done very successfully by comic artists like Steve Rude and P. Craig Russell, and of course in illustration with the likes of Rockwell and Bama.

NRAMA: By the time you went to Harris to illustrate Vampirella, it was pretty evident that photo realistic art was the way forward for you. Did you engage models in your line of work then?

MM: Vampirella was the first book where I cast the roles. I didn't want to worry from panel to panel whether I had the same face or body type for Vampirella. Since the main character had to be incredible alluring, I went to Ford Models and found just the right girl. She posed for me throughout the entire run for the covers and interiors, giving the body of work a consistency. Every single Vampirella drawing I did was based on a photo I took of her that was lit the way I wanted, conveying the exact emotion I needed.

NRAMA: You've got a couple new projects coming up, namely X-Men Origins: Jean Grey from Marvel and Savage from Image Comics. But first, let’s talk about Spawn. How was that experience?

MM: Working on Spawn was awesome. First off, I got to design a Spawn from the ground up, which was super-cool. I got to work for my friend Brian Haberlin, who I have a ton of respect for. And, working with a writer as talented as David Hine is a joy. His passion and ideas kept me on my toes and wanting to deliver his story to the utmost of my abilities. To top it off, Andy Troy did the best color job on a book I've ever had in my life.

The story went from the bowels of Hell, to trench Warfare at the Battle of the Somme, to the class struggles of Victorian England. It's a very rich story with complicated characters and racial overtones. My work is all in fully rendered pencil, and when coupled with Andy's color it looks virtually painted. Some of the panels are uncannily photographic.

NRAMA: Moving on to X-Men Origins: Jean Grey, this one’s been a long time in the making, right? Sean McKeever's said that he's completed Jean Grey in 2006…

MM: Yes, I have taken a long time to do the painted art. Marvel would never give me a deadline, so I used it as an opportunity to take a “master class” in painting. It was the biggest challenge of my career, but my art is undoubtedly better for having gone through it.

Savage actually came right about the same time that Jean did, and it's been a fun, loose alternative to the very strict approach I took on Jean Grey.

NRAMA: We’ll get to Savage in a bit, but on Jean Grey, who do you model her after? After all, Famke Jansen's played Jean in three X-Men films and clearly, she's not the young Jean Grey on the cover to X-Men Origins: Jean Grey

MM: Jean Grey was the toughest role I ever had to cast. Mainly because we are depicting Jean at age 12 and age 16. A lot happens to a girl between these ages, so I couldn¹t rely on the same person to play both roles. Again I went to Ford Models, because of the wide selection of talent they had, and also the professional arrangement when working with minors. The main Jean, as seen on the cover is portrayed by Ashley Benson, who is on Days of Our Lives, and is the star of Bring It On 4.

NRAMA: How did you find working on Jean? And what was it like to collaborate with Sean McKeever on the project?

MM: The project was difficult for me. I was painting entire pages with multiple panels, which I had never done before. The amount of detail forced me to abandon my acrylic and airbrush methods, because cutting frisket for five panel pages was impossible. I switched to watercolor. This alone caused a major headache of having to "learn on the job". Sean McKeever was eternally supportive and optimistic, as well as my editor Nick Lowe. These guys created an environment for me that I felt safe to really do art that I felt was the best I could possibly do no matter what.

NRAMA: Moving on to Savage now. How did you hook up with Steve Niles, Jeff Frank, and Dan Wickline for this project?

MM: This is my first creator-owned project. This series creator, Jeff Frank approached me for the book with Steve Niles attached. When Steve became busy, Dan Wickline stepped in and fine tuned the scripts. It's been a blast for me, and just nothing but fun. I guarantee that this book will be something that people will never expect to come from Mike Mayhew, and that's one reason I wanted to do it.

NRAMA: With Vampirella under your belt, you're certainly no stranger to horror comics but are you changing your art style for Savage?

MM: As I said earlier, I grew up on Warren horror magazines and monster movies. As a kid, I was a monster fanatic, and would draw them all the time. The style I'm using for this book is all pen and ink, giving the art a lot of life and spontaneity, and allows for more stylization that's going to come in handy for the creatures...

NRAMA: Will it feature a female lead?

MM: Nope. I love drawing the ladies as you know, but I've purposely gone some other directions, like with the WWI Spawn book and Savage, so I don't get pigeonholed as a "girl artist".

NRAMA: Finally Mike, what other projects are you working on?

MM: Well, after I finish up Savage, I'm set to do a 2-3 issue series at Top Cow with a writer I'm thrilled to be teaming up with. I also plan on getting on more covers now that I've flexed my interior muscles. Oh yeah... and my wife and I are having our first baby in July!

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