This week, a new creative team takes over Marvel’s all-female Avengers spin-off A-Force. Along with writer Kelly Thompson taking over sole writing chores, artist Ben Caldwell joins the book as the regular series artist.
Caldwell is bringing with him his eye for personality and character development, reflected in new character designs he’s created for Dazzler and Nico Minoru. Caldwell shared some of his developmental sketches for those designs with Newsarama, along with a few hints at what lies ahead for A-Force.
Hint: There will be some heartbreak, plenty of explosions, and pie. So much pie…
Newsarama: Ben, you’ve taken over as the artist on A-Force with #5. What’s your approach to depicting a team full of such visually dynamic characters?
Ben Caldwell: I have a "cartoony" background, which for some reason seems to be considered an insult in comics, but in my case it means that I try to boil down every character, or scene, or whatever to their most characteristic basics, then rebuild from there. In this case, it meant making sure each character had a face, body, etc. that was a clear reflection of who they are. I also try to express that through characteristic expressions and body language for each of them. These physical clues affect a reader as much as the actual plot and dialogue - that is, if I'm doing my job properly, which is always a debatable point.
And one of the things I really focus on in my work is the relationships between characters. I mean, I have no idea if it works or not, but enough editors have decided that it does to keep me busy. So a lot of the fun for me is having the A-Force characters play off of one another. There's no shortage of personality on the team!
Nrama: You’re no stranger to drawing superpowerful women – in particular, you’ve got quite a history with Wonder Woman. What draws you to that subject matter, and how has it influenced your art style?
Caldwell: I just like drawing interesting people, and lots of interesting people aren't white dudes. It was never a particular plan!
In general, I try to infuse my characters with a certain grace and simplicity. I suppose that translates well with female heroines. It probably helps that I think of them as characters first and women second. That is, this is a group of extremely fit and photogenic women, and obviously part of my job is to show that, but it's always within the larger context of what these individual people are trying to do, and why readers should care about that.
Nrama: A-Force has an all-killer, no-filler roster that draws from every corner of the Marvel Universe. Which characters have you really connected with? Who do you think is the best reflection of you on the page?
Caldwell: That's not really a fair question! They're all already interesting characters, and part of my job is to connect with everyone I'm drawing, so I can do a decent job of drawing them. Dazzler has great emotional range, Carol has a crisply elegant body language.
But I guess She-Hulk is the most fun to draw. She punches dragons and drinks like a fish! Also, she talks a lot with her eyebrows, and I can really respect that.
Nrama: A-Force #4 teased new looks for Dazzler and Nico Minoru. Did you have a hand in those designs? Have you (or will you) flexed those muscles for A-Force?
Caldwell: I did redesigns for Nico and Dazzler. Though some characters (like Captain Marvel) wear specific uniforms at all times, those were two characters who were more likely to wear something more akin to street clothes. Although in each case I wanted something that was distinctive enough to work as a costume, and also hold up against the other costumes in the group.
The general new direction for Nico was suggested by G. Willow Wilson. I worked off of modern Japanese fashions to give her a series of different but clearly related outfits. I think the idea was to move her in a more (subjectively speaking) "sophisticated" direction to reflect her evolution.
Dazzler's design was simply an extrapolation of her current look, and trying to reflect where she is in her life right now. I also looked into a lot of styling reference from the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Not only was that the original inspiration for Dazzler, but that was an interesting point where a lot of musical acts were moving from a raw DIY feel to something more sleek. It seemed like a natural fit for Dazzler, both for her origins and her current situation, and I've done several designs for her that range from the current punk style to something brighter and more light-oriented. And blue-r.
Nrama: Simultaneous with you coming on board, Kelly Thompson has taken over as sole writer on A-Force. What’s it been like working with her? Have you found each others’ voices yet?
Caldwell: I've worked with Kelly before on illustrations for her "storyteller" novel, and we've been friends ever since she covered my “manga Wonder Woman" pitch years ago. So I think she knows what to expect from me, and she has a pretty open writing style that I think fits my own sensibilities well. We're pretty much on the same page in terms of the sort of storytelling we like, and also what sort of sparkly armor pseudo-Norse mutants from alternate dimensions should wear. That goes a long way.
Nrama: Who’s the rest of your art team for A-Force? Are you inking or coloring yourself, or do you have some support?
Caldwell: I penciled and inked the first issue, but with the schedule we are on that wasn't a long-term plan. Scott Hanna will be inking from #6 on, while Ian Herring is doing the coloring duties for the book. Occasionally, I have specific notes or suggestions, especially for costume design, but they know what they're doing!
Nrama: There are some big, cosmic concepts at the heart of A-Force – alternate realities, sentient universes – what are you most excited to draw coming up?
Caldwell: Apparently I'm not allowed to draw the White Rabbit. But outside of that I’m just excited to see what Kelly throws my way. The unique thing about comics is that if someone can dream it, someone else can draw it!
Nrama: Without getting too spoilery, what’s on your drawing board right now?
Caldwell: Well, I just finished a scene with [REDACTED] destroying pretty much all of [ALSO REDACTED]. It was a fun departure from what people usually associate with my work. And there's some evil architecture. Well, it's too soon to tell - perhaps it is simply morally apathetic architecture.
And a quick cover (Some ladies kicking stuff, just as a change from my usual work).
But the fun thing with comics (or the horrible thing?) is that you never know what you have to draw. So you're always trying and learning new things, whether you want to or not!
Nrama: Moving forward, what can fans expect from A-Force? What are your goals with the series?
Caldwell: Don't ask me, I'm just the monkey with the pencil! But several of the characters will be put through the wringer, which is great because you'll get to really see who they are, and also because that involves explosions! Also, based on history I'd say there's a 79% chance that Dazzler will be dead for at least a few panels. Pie gets eaten, but I don't want to say what kind of pie because I think the readers would rather experience that in the story.
For me, the guts of the stories are (as always) this group of people - all the designs, and splash pages, and even scenes and stories are just the delivery system for getting people to love or hate them, and follow them through their monthly lives. I've been lucky that all the writers I've worked with - who have a very broad range of styles and interests - have always managed to put the characters out there in a clear way, which makes it easier for me to figure out how to squeeze the most drama or humor or explosions out of any given page.
Also, you can probably expect lots of odd cameos and fictional company logos, because apparently that's a thing I do.