Wednesday marks the beginning of Marvel’s Original Sin event with the special #0 issue prologue, and for artist Jim Cheung it’s the latest in a line of high-profile books he’s been asked to draw. For the past few years Cheung has found himself as the “go to artist” when it comes to big events at Marvel, from Infinity to Avengers Vs. X-Men and before. In this outing he’s only contributing to the #0 issue with artist Mike Deodato Jr. drawing the series itself, but make no mistake – Cheung is one of Marvel’s upper-most echelon artists, and they treat him as such.
It’s a long way from Cheung’s start, filling in on Justice League Task Force and the Ray, but with Original Sin #0 he’s re-teaming with a writer he last collaborated with almost 20 years ago in Mark Waid. In 1996 Cheung helped pencil two issues of Waid’s epic run on The Flash, and in the intervening years his skill and creativity on the page have grown by leaps and bounds.
Newsarama spoke with Cheung about illustrating this first chapter in the Original Sin saga, and we delved into the British-born artist’s fascination with cosmic characters like Watcher and the Beyonder. Cheung revealed that Original Sin #0 was done in the classic “Marvel-style” of writing popularized by Stan Lee during his tenure as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, and the artist that in drawing the final days of Uatu the Watcher he looked back to Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic depiction of the bald-headed alien in Fantastic Four, as well as John Byrne’s Fantastic Four and Gene Colan’s origin for Uatu in Tales of Suspense.
Nrama: Jim, to start things off easy, can you tell us what’s on your drawing board today that you’re working on?
Jim Cheung: Today, I'm working on a promotion image for an upcoming Marvel story. I'm not really allowed to say what it is just yet, but it’s pretty cool, and I'm getting to draw some classic characters for the first time. Original Sin #0 has been wrapped for a little while now, so I'm moving onto the next project. I'm not the fastest guy around, and Marvel are more than aware of that, so I'm just doing some smaller gigs while they work out the next assignment to offer me.
Nrama: This Wednesday Original Sin #0 comes out, working as the prologue to Marvel’s summer event. Recently you’ve settled into the role as one of a select few “go to artists “for Marvel in drawing their big events, most recently with Infinity. What’s it like being in this position doing such high-profile books?
Cheung: I feel very fortunate that Marvel like my work enough to place me on such books. I certainly don't take it for granted that they will do so, which is why I always feel a certain amount of trepidation when I start, because I want to make sure it won't be the last.
Nrama: For Original Sin #0 you’re working with Mark Waid, a CrossGen vet like yourself and someone who you worked with very early in your career – on The Flash. What’s it like working off Mark’s script pages here?
Cheung: Mark is actually working 'Marvel-style' for this book and turned in a plot, which threw me for a bit of a loop, since I have been working full script for quite a number of years now. Not having everything laid out for me, took me a while to get my bearings, but it worked out fine in the end. I just had to brush away those cobwebs and recessed memories of how to do it. Hopefully the rustiness won't show and I'll have included everything that Mark asked for.
Nrama: You’re well known for drawing teen heroes with Young Avengers, but this time out you’re drawing Sam Alexander – Nova. What’s it like drawing younger characters as superheroes, and balancing the idea of making them look powerful while still drawing them in a pre-adult frame?
Cheung: It's certainly not part of a larger plan, but I do seem to land on projects with younger characters. I guess it may be because of my art style, since I draw faces on the more youthful side; part of my manga influences, I suppose, and Marvel may be aware of that. I don't mind really, so long as there's an audience out there that enjoys those books.
Nrama: I’ve read you’re a big fan of certain cosmic characters like the Beyonder. Where does Uatu the Watcher fall into that, and what’s it like drawing him here in Original Sin?
Cheung: I tend to defer a lot of my preferences to what I read growing up, and the Watcher only made occasional appearances along that journey. I mostly enjoyed his appearances in Fantastic Four by John Byrne, but never really bought any of the What If? books, where he was more heavily featured, since they weren't easily available in the United Kingdom.
It's been fun trying to draw my interpretation of him though, and I've been trawling over the various versions throughout the years. Ultimately though, I've gone back to the classic designs I saw when I first encountered him.
Nrama: You mention Byrne’s Fantastic Four, and in an interview you did about Infinity you mentioned you were digging into Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four run for inspiration there. Where are you finding inspiration here for this Original Sin prologue?
Cheung: Same place. You can't go too wrong using King Kirby's work as reference, though I have been looking at the original version of the Watcher's origin too and that was drawn by Gene Colan. I'm updating it to a certain degree, when requested by the Mark, but otherwise I try to keep that retro feel whenever I can, partly out of respect for the original work, and partly because I like that retro vibe feel too.
The only major departure from that approach has been the Watcher's home, which I'm basing off of Mike Deodato's design. There have been a few different versions through the years, but for the purpose of this story, and for continuity's sake, I'm following Mike's lead, which is incredible by the way. It's definitely appropriate for the character as it loses a lot of the more fun, retro designs seen previously, and really helps enhance the alien nature of the Watcher. I usually prefer to go with set precedents, but in this case, it's an appropriate update. It's very stark and cold, and actually shows how alien and lonely it must be, to be the lone guy on the moon.
Nrama: Besides doing interiors for these event books, you also keep real busy doing covers for various titles all over Marvel. What’s it like doing so many covers and being selective about those interior comics projects?
Cheung: It's a treasured position for me to be honest, and one that I hope to never take for granted. I grew up reading these characters, so getting to draw them now has been a thrill. Marvel has offered me some great creative projects over the years, so I have little to complain about. Each one has been its own individual challenge, so I get to push myself artistically and hopefully learn a little more and improve every day.