Italian artist Sara Pichelli has been steadily rising in the Marvel ranks in recent years — NYX, Eternals, Runaways, X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back — and this month marks her biggest assignment yet, teaming with writer Brian Michael Bendis on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #15, out Oct. 27.
It’s a title with an impressive artist history — Mark Bagley on 111 consecutive issues followed by Stuart Immonen followed by David Lafuente; who’s staying on the book, rotating arcs with Pichelli.
Newsarama talked with both Pichelli and Bendis for a two-part Q&A on what this new addition means to the future of the title.
Newsarama: Sara, congratulations on the Spidey gig — how big of a fan were you of the title character before the assignment?
Sara Pichelli: I'm a pretty big fan of Spider-Man but my boyfriend (he's an artist too) is the "definitive" fan, that's why when Marvel offered me the Spidey gig he wanted to choke and marry me at the same time!
Nrama: What about the Ultimate Spider-Man title specifically? It's been a fan favorite and highly influential title for a decade now, what's it like to be adding to that legacy?
Pichelli: It's a huge responsibility! I'm very excited but I know I'm going to deal with a complex universe and fans! So I'm trying more than my best to maintain the quality of this book that all the previous artists did masterly before me.
Nrama: You've been building your Marvel resume, and this is your highest-profile work for them yet — how meaningful is that for you at this stage in your career?
Pichelli: Every step of my career in Marvel was important; the books I did before helped me to adjust and improve my style page by page. They gave me the opportunity to collaborate with many good writers and learn different ways to tell a story … now I'm facing a bigger step, that means a bigger chance to improve my work … drawing a comic icon like Spider-Man and working with a great writer like Bendis mean a lot in a comic book artist's career … I'm sure I'm going to learn a lot from this experience with Brian.
Nrama: Spider-Man has been pretty much completely driven by male creators throughout his 47-year history — as a female, do you think you bring a unique perspective to the character?
Pichelli: I swear you will never see Peter in a shocking pink skirt!
Jokes aside, I don't think that art is matter of gender, I think only the life experiences build a person and his view of life, so I hope the readers like mine!
Nrama: Even though your past Marvel work involved younger characters just like Ultimate Spider-Man, are you approaching this assignment any differently?
Picheli: Well, I've many years of Ultimate Spider-Man to reckon with! This time my approach is different, I'm studying a lot to understand who Peter Parker is and the best way to give the readers my version of him without betraying his long history!
Nrama: Brian, from Mark Bagley to Stuart Immonen to David Lafuente to, now, Sara Pichelli, you've worked with some incredible artists on Ultimate Spider-Man. How vital has that been to the book over your decade-long run?
Brian Michael Bendis: That's like asking: how vital has oxygen been? [Laughs.] It's the most important thing. It is a visual medium. They are all brilliant at their jobs, which makes my job gloriously fun.
Nrama: After working with Bagley on more than 100 issues, you've now worked with three different artists in the recent years. From your end, does the tenor of your scripts change depending on which artist you're writing for?
Bendis: I try to write specifically for the artist. I try to write for that artist’s strengths and I try to write something I think the artist might be surprised they are excellent at. I try to write a story that fits in their world. I do that with every artist I've ever worked with. I have found the results I have gotten with this mindset have been crazy good. For this book in particular the one thing and artist needs is the ability to have all the characters to really act. To really understand the mindset of every single character. There's no real small supporting character. Each of them has a major role in the life of Peter Parker. And a lot of them don't always say what they mean and for an artist to be able to illustrate subtext is one of the true fine arts of this business. All four the artists who have been on this book are able to do this.
Nrama: David Lafuente and Sara Pichelli have fairly complementary art styles, but each definitely have their own unique vision. For you as the writer, what does Sara bring to the title?
Bendis: She brings outstanding character work and panel design. I was thrilled with the samples that I've seen from her and doubly thrilled with the work that she's done. What she was given to draw for issue 15 is a little thankless in that it's a "where is everybody's minds at" issue after the gigantic dramatic fallout of the Chameleon arc. Everybody's lives have changed and we need to spend an issue trying to figure out where everybody is, where everybody's going. It is a little thankless for an illustrator but as you can see from what I imagine are the preview pages being shown along with this article she handled it beautifully. So I have tried to make it up to her big time in the subsequent issues. She has some fun stuff to draw in the next few months.
Nrama: Marvel's been doing a lot to highlight female characters and creators this past year, but it's still relatively rare for a female artist to be on a high-profile, mainstream superhero title like this — Spider-Man especially has been a comic dominated by male creators. Within that context, how important do you think it is for Sara to be illustrating Ultimate Comics Spider-Man ?
Bendis: Everybody brings their own life experience to the table. It doesn't matter where you're from or how you grow up on what you believe in. that's what artists do. So we'll see beyond the obvious European slant of her illustration style what she will bring to the book over the course of the year. I don't know Sarah but based on her work I imagine she dresses much better than I do because all of the characters in this book have started dressing much better. And I was also surprised that I couldn't think of another female illustrator who had tackled Spider-Man on a monthly basis. I'm sure there is someone. Marie Severin maybe. But Sarah is definitely in definitely an elite group.
Nrama: The Chameleons story arc that just wrapped up was one of the most tumultuous in the title for quite a while. What can you tell us about how Peter Parker rebounds from all that, starting with #15? It looks like things may be quieting down a bit in terms of high-stakes superhero adventure, but amping up in terms of Peter Parker's personal life — plus, there's the renumbering in November with #150, which obviously is huge.
Bendis: In issue 15 it's a little more interesting to see how everybody around Peter rebounds from all that is happened. It has effected everyone in his life and every relationship that he has. Not every relationship will be healed and not every relationship will continue. There are some pretty dramatic goings-on in the last half of this issue as more and more fallout falls out. As far as what happens to Peter, that is going to be more of a question for our 150th anniversary issue. It is not only our 150th anniversary issue it is also the 10th anniversary of the Ultimate Universe. Which obviously we're all very proud of. What I've decided to do for this issue is not only feature David and Sara's work but the work of a handful of independent creators who I think are amazing and magical. When I first came to the book I was an independent creator just like them and I thought it was just fitting to use this issue to spotlight some creators the way I was spotlighted when we first started. Each artist will be given a small story that is one of the Ultimates expressing their view of who Spider-Man is as a superhero and what needs to be done with him next if he is allowed to continue.
It’s a triple-sized Marvel Comics bonanza and every single page of the issue is really, really exciting. At the end of the issue is a very big status quo change for the life of Peter Parker. As big as any change ever.