Stuart Immonen on Finishing FEAR ITSELF and What's Next

FACING FEAR: Q&A w/ Fraction & Brevoort

 

Fear Itself #7 arrived at comic book shops on Oct. 19, making it official that each issue of Marvel's 2011 event series shipped on time. Not an easy task, especially given that the first and last installments were oversized, meaning that the creative team produced approximately nine issues worth of material in a seven-month timeframe.

That's an impressive feat in any era, especially on the part of Fear Itself artist Stuart Immonen. The comics veteran — who's worked on Action Comics, New Avengers, Nextwave and plenty more over the years — talked to Newsarama via email about his experience illustrating the book, meeting deadlines, working with writer Matt Fraction and what he's working on in the near future.

Newsarama: Stuart, with all seven parts of Fear Itself now out in the world — your first event book of this nature since 1996's The Final Night — what are your general reflections on the experience, looking back? For an artist, how much more involvement and feedback from editors on an event title like this than there is in a typical work-for-hire series?

 

Stuart Immonen: Well, primarily it was a lot of work — more than I anticipated, actually, and I'm usually a pretty accurate judge of these things. I had to put aside a bunch of other things, even projects as minor as an extra cover assignment, in order to meet the deadline requirements, especially at the end, when we were all working so hard to complete the series and not cut corners.

As to feedback, I've been working for Tom Brevoort and Lauren Sankovitch for years now, so the relationships are fairly well established at this point. Axel chimed in once or twice, just to let us know he was keeping an eye on things, but for the most part it was business as usual with Tom's team. If there were notes from other editors, they would have been vetted by Tom, I suppose, and passed along to me, but I wasn't aware of any. Only very occasionally was it necessary to tweak the art, so I assume my work passed muster.

Nrama: Like any series of this nature, there were a ton of major moments in Fear Itself — the Worthy getting their hammers, Bucky's apparent demise in issue #3, the Thing/Hulk/Thor three-way fight, and the climactic battle in #7. Do you have any particular moments that you're proud of from the book?

 

Immonen: I'm very critical of my own work, and probably wouldn't use the word "proud"… but the final issue turned out pretty well. I think I managed to hit the dramatic beats Matt was asking for after Thor's battle with the Serpent. Oh, and I know editor Jeanine Schaefer really got the tender moment in the brief scene with Spider-Man and Aunt May in issue 6. She's an emotional bellwether I can rely on; if it resonates with Jeanine, we did it right.

This is not to say that we also didn't pay attention to the big scenes, too — nothing was treated casually.

Nrama: Given that #1 and #7 were both oversized, you effectively drew nine issues worth of comics that came out (on time!) in seven months, and from what I understand, there wasn't much lead time. How much did Fear Itself consume your working life during that period? And how much time off did you take upon completion?

 

Immonen
: There's never much lead time any more — it's just the way things are, but we had enough time. My deadline schedule was laid out before I began work, and I stuck to it; there weren't any surprises. Although, as Matt pointed out, just about everything else that could have happened, did. Both his and my computers died; there were earthquakes, storms (I had to push a FedEx truck out of a snowdrift to get a package of art out), deaths in families, illnesses, moving to new cities. The end of days. And yes, for my part, basically all other work was put on hold, but I ended putting the pencils to bed three days early, and I didn't feel the work was compromised because of it.

As to time off, I'm only just now coming around to working full time again, so that's almost two months. It wasn't just Fear; I really haven't taken a vacation in more than ten years.

Nrama: As stated earlier, you've worked on event books before, but Fear Itself definitely had a huge cast, from the Worthy to the Asgardians to the Mighty and non-powered civilians. Where do you think this ranks among books you've worked on in terms of pure numbers of characters?

 

Immonen
: Unquestionably at the top. Even my run on Legion of Super-Heroes doesn't compare. And the number of characters is not in itself the wearing aspect; part of it is in establishing the grand — even cosmic — scale page after page. The figures have to be so small to “sell” some of the bigger moments, but you can't skimp too much—they have to remain recognizable, even when the figures are only a centimeter high. Backing the point-of-view away from the action is something I've struggled with my whole career, but often it's the best angle to make the point.

Nrama: On a similar note, how much input did you have in designing characters like the Worthy and the Mighty? I know Marko Djurdjević was involved with the designs of the Worthy, and there was collaboration involved between all parties. How big of a part of the process was that for you?

Immonen: That was all Marko. I designed Dei-Sin, but that was it. Honestly, I was happy to offload that burden on someone so ably equipped to handle it. I tried to do the designs justice.

 

Nrama
: Can't talk about Fear Itself without mentioning the series writer, Matt Fraction. This was the first time the two of you worked together, and you were definitely diving into the deep end. How do you characterize the experience of collaborating with him on such a lengthy, high-profile story?

Immonen: Matt's a consummate pro — the scripts were lively and inspiring and had lots of good bits I felt I could take in interesting visual directions. While I feel like we both put our best foot forward throughout, I think by the end, we agreed that we were just getting to that “collaborator marriage” stage where we were in effect completing each other's sentences. I knew what he was asking for and he knew what he would get. When it all shook down, we talked about whether or not we could continue working together on some other project — always a good sign — I guess it remains to be seen if the stars will align.

Nrama: Speaking of Matt, one thing that I discussed a lot with him and Tom Brevoort in our monthly Fear Itself chats was fan reaction to the series, as readers always have very unique expectations for these types of events. Did you follow any of the online chatter at all?

 

Immonen
: To the extent that I'm on Twitter, I would see comments, but it's generally best practice not to go digging for it. If people liked it, great, I'm really glad. We want to entertain. If they didn't, well, I probably already know how I fell short and have criticized myself for it and have silently promised to do better next time. I try to put it all on the page, every page. If it's not a reader's cup of tea, that's OK, but it's not for lack of effort. Each issue takes at least a solid month to produce; for my part, it's 6-8 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week — that's… um... at least 150 hours for a 15 or 20 minute read. If someone put that much effort into their tweet or message board post, then maybe we'd have something to say to each other.

Actually, that all sounds pretty negative. The short answer is I don't look. I don't have the ego or the constitution for it.

Nrama: Moving onto the future: What are you working on next? You've been announced as drawing Secret Avengers #21 in January, which is you reuniting with Warren Ellis — is that issue at all similar to the Nextwave vibe, or a completely different direction? Also, you've mentioned in past interviews a graphic novel titled Russian Olive to Red King — what's the latest update on that?

 

Immonen
: Yes, I'm doing an issue of Secret Avengers with Warre. It's not at all like Nextwave; if anything, it's more like our work on Ultimate Fantastic Four.

I'm honestly not sure what's next for me at Marvel but we're talking. And Russian Olive to Red King is a work that progresses… slowly. Kathryn [Immonen]'s script was completed not long after Moving Pictures, our first OGN for Top Shelf was published, and I've been picking at it ever since.

Unfortunately, like just about everything else, it was put aside during Fear, but I'm about a third through it now, and as soon as my Marvel schedule is solidified for 2012, I'll be better able to figure out how to slot it in. Moving Pictures took about three years to complete, and Russian Olive will be about the same length, or longer, and in color. I'm not willing to rush through it, though. 

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