Behind the Page: The Stand's Mike Perkins

It's the next best thing to being Captain England.

When 6-year-old Mike Perkins figured out he couldn't go after his first career choice as one of the world's greatest superheroes, that didn't stop him from pursuing his second one: Drawing them.

In the years since that childhood decision, the artist's career path in the comic book industry has taken him from working with writer Mike Carey to inking for artist Butch Guice to sharing penciling duties with Steve Epting during a recent run on writer Ed Brubaker's award-winning Captain America series.

This week, Perkins' career will hit another turning point as Marvel releases The Stand: Captain Trips #1, the first issue in a total 30-issue adaptation of the epic novel by Stephen King. By the time the comic series retells the entire novel, there will be six volumes of approximately five issues each, all featuring settings and characters and pages designed by Perkins.

When the artist talks about his work on The Stand, his excitement is almost palpable, his laughter often interrupting his words, which are punctuated by his British accent. Known for his clean realism and use of shadows, Perkins has been gearing up for the project for a year now, submitting character designs and sample pages for King's approval. Working with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Perkins expects to spend three years working on The Stand adaptation, which is Marvel's second King project after a successful launch of a Dark Tower comic series last year.

As The Stand begins this week with a midnight release of the first issue at selected comic shops across the nation, Newsarama sits down with Perkins to talk about his career and find out more about the artist Behind the Page.

Newsarama: You live in Florida now, but where are you originally from, Mike?

Mike Perkins: A town called Wolverhampton in England. It's right in the center of the country, near Birmingham and that area. So I'm from the Midlands. I should sound like Ozzy Osbourne, but I've kind of lost the accent a little. [laughs]

NRAMA: Oh, I don't think anyone wants to sound quite like Ozzy Osbourne.

MP: That's true.

NRAMA: But growing up in England, what type of comics were you reading when you were young?

MP: We had the Marvel reprints, the black and white reprints, Spider-Man stuff, the Hulk stuff. And we had these great comics called Titans, which was the Marvel reprints but it was, like, a landscape comic. You got two pages on one page. It folded out really long. So you could just sit there and read it.

But then I think what really hit me was when Captain Britain came out.

NRAMA: Was that because you could identify with the character more?

MP: Yeah, but what really struck me was that it was made in Britain. And I think that's when I realized that you could actually do this kind of profession from England. I think Herb Trimpe was actually living in England at the time. I mean, there were always British comics, but I was never really into them, 'cause it was all either really serious comics or the cartoony kind of stuff. And then 2000 AD came out, and I loved that. I mean, it was just gorgeously illustrated. So that's when I really started to look at things like Doctor Who Weekly with Dave Gibbons' artwork, which was gorgeous. And some Steve Dillon stuff when he started up; he must have been 16 or something.

NRAMA: Were you drawing at a really young age?

MP: Oh yeah. I was drawing at a really early age. From when I was 2 years old, I was drawing.

NRAMA: Was it superheroes you were drawing when you were young?

MP: Yeah. That was the kind of thing that was around.

NRAMA: How old were you when you saw Captain Britain and decided you wanted to do this as a career?

MP: I was probably only about six. First of all, I thought I could become Captain England. [laughs] But then I decided that was not going to be. So then I thought, OK, I can draw. People tell me I can draw. So that's what I'd really like to do.

NRAMA: So you've been on this career course since you were six?

MP: Yeah! Pretty much. I actually started to put my own comics together in school and sell them during lunch break. I put the little mini-snacks in it, like Snickers bars. I'd attach them to the front of the comics so people would buy them during lunch break. There's a big tradition of free gifts on comics in England. So it wasn't unusual. They would attach little toys to the front like disc spinners and planes you could make. There's always that tradition in English comics.

But there were different ones that I made. I remember one comic I made called Warp 10. It was an anthology, because most British comics were anthologies. It was all your basic 2000 AD rip-offs. It was just a photocopied and stapled comic, but people enjoyed it. I did a few of those.

NRAMA: Did you take any art classes when you were young?

MP: I had art at school. And then I did a foundation course in art at Bourneville College of Art. Bourneville's a gorgeous place. It's in Birmingham, and Birmingham's a very big, built-up city, but then you've got Bourneville just outside, which was developed by the Quakers. So it hasn't developed. It hasn't been paved over in concrete. And it was where the Cadbury factory was as well, so you'd be at university and a waft of chocolate would come over from Cadbury's factory, which was nice.

But I was accepted into a further degree course, but I didn't do that. I realized that I really knew what I wanted to do. And sometimes in art colleges, people just hang around and don't know what they want to do. But not me. So instead of going on to do a further art degree, I did a business course for a year so I would know how to run my business, which I think a lot of comics artists should take advantage of. Then I started setting myself up as a business, more as a graphic designer, and doing comics on the side.

NRAMA: What kind of graphic design stuff were you doing?

MP: It was small business stuff -- letterheads, business cards, advertising. But it got to a point where I knew I just wanted to concentrate on comics, otherwise the graphic artist part would take over. And people were getting computers, so they could do letterheads on their own. So I got an agent in London who developed a lot of artists known in Europe, like Don Lawrence, who did the Storm, and Chris Weston was with him as well. So I showed him my portfolio, and he told me what I needed to work on.

He said, "OK, go away. Work on it. Come back in six months." And I did. He was actually surprised I listened to him. But I came back, and he looked through the portfolio. And he said, "Meet me back here tomorrow." So I met him, and he brought a 2000 AD script with him! I was like, "Aaah!! 2000 AD!" And the second script was a Judge Dredd script. And I was so scared by that, because I thought I was supposed to build up to this! So that's how it all started, really.

NRAMA: Looking back, what's one of your favorite stories or issues that you've done?

MP: One of my favorite comics that I've done was Captain America #23. That kind of just flowed out. That was when Winter Soldier broke into the SHIELD base, and there was Nick Fury.

NRAMA: Yeah! That was a Civil War tie-in, right?

MP: Yeah. And that one just flowed. I think I did the issue in three weeks. It was just like VHOOOOM. And Frankie [D'Armata] did a really nice job on the colors on that issue. And it all just came together.

Other than that, I really like the run on Ruse that I did when I was inking Butch [Guice] at CrossGen. I really liked developing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at CrossGen as well. And all the work I've done with Mike Carey. I always loved working with him. We started off working on Dr. Faustus at Caliber. We did an adaptation. And we worked together again at 2000 AD on a character that we created. And then the next time we worked together was on Spellbinders at Marvel, which was a good series. So any chance I get to work with Mike Carey is good.

NRAMA: Is there anything you look back on and say, "Wow, I shouldn't have done that?"

MP: I don't know. I think it's just a growth process. I mean, I look at my earlier stuff and say, "Oh, I can't look at that now." But for the time, it was good and it got me further work.

People ask if I regret going to CrossGen, and the answer is, "No way!" It was a great time. The first two years I was there, it was fantastic. Everybody was laughing. Everybody was having a good time. Then things started to go south, but still, it was a good experience. Like I said, some of my favorite things I've done were when I was there.

And striking up the friendships I made at CrossGen, you can't substitute that. When you've got 100 creators in an office space, you really strike up friendships with these people. In the one quad, there was me, Butch Guice, Steve Epting, Frank D'Armata, Laura Martin -- so we really struck up a friendship there. And I think with me, Butch and Steve, we always look at the same kind of artwork for inspiration as well. That came into play on Captain America. Sometimes I didn't know if I was doing it or Steve was doing it.

NRAMA: You say you guys look at the same kind of artwork. What kind is it?

MP: I say the same "type," but we've obviously got different likes. We'll look at the classic illustrated stuff. Butch and Steve have introduced me to so much of the old newspaper stuff -- the American work. We've talked about stuff like Modesty Blaise.

Basically, we really like the black and white work, I think. That's what it comes down to. The use of shadows and developing that use of shadows to get the depth. Steve and Butch introduced me to so many artists. Butch and I shared studio space after CrossGen as well. Again, we just feed off each other and help each other out on different things. And it was a healthy competition at CrossGen as well. Like everyone would put their pages up that they'd done that day, and you'd just walk by and say, "Wow. I've got to try harder!" So that was very good. That made the work there very interesting.

NRAMA: You just mentioned the use of shadows, which is something that really stands out about your artwork. How would you describe your style, or at least what style you're trying to achieve?

MP: I don't know, really. It's more illustrative, I suppose. I guess part of it is being brought up on 2000 AD and the Steve Dillon work and the Brian Bolland work. They did gorgeous black and white work. But I would say my style is illustrative, if that's a style. It's kind of realist, I suppose.

NRAMA: It doesn't seem to rely as heavily on the colors.

MP: No. I always prefer my artwork to look like a piece of artwork. When somebody purchases one of my pages, I want them to have a piece of artwork -- not something that was just put together with other things to make artwork. And there's nothing wrong with that approach. Some artists see it as, like, a piece of production artwork. You know, it needs to get done, so you get it done. There's nothing wrong with that approach. I just choose to go in a different direction, using the grays.

NRAMA: Yet you're known as a faster artist, right?

MP: I can usually do a page a day. Pencils and inks.

NRAMA: Both pencils and inks? In one day?

MP: Usually.

NRAMA: No wonder they've had you helping out on so many different things.

MP: Yeah, usually I can do two pages of pencils in a day. But I prefer to ink my own stuff as well. And there's nothing wrong with the inkers I've used. I mean, Drew Hennessy has always done great work on the pencils. But still, I always prefer my own inking.

NRAMA: CrossGen brought you to Tampa, right?

MP: Yeah. That was from working on the Green Lantern/Aliens thing that Ron Marz wrote, and Rick Leonardi drew it and I inked it. Ron was showing them the work, so that's what got me over to CrossGen. And then I decided, at that time, just to pursue the inking. It was nice just to relax for a couple of years and just ink. In England, you develop everything. You do the inking, pencils, colors and sometimes the lettering. But just to concentrate on the inks for awhile was nice. It was easier mentally. And working with Butch was just great.

NRAMA: When did you decide you wanted to get back to penciling?

MP: My fingers started to itch. [laughs] I was doing things at CrossGen sometimes, like Ruse tie-ins, and Archard's Agents with Chuck Dixon, which I penciled and inked. But it was difficult because a lot of people saw me from the Ruse work or the Green Lantern work, so people perceived that I was just an inker. It was difficult to convince people that I don't just do inking; I do penciling as well. You get stuck into these little categories. The chance to develop Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at CrossGen was also a chance to show people that I could solely pencil, if need be. And it was from there, once CrossGen was over, that Marvel picked up my Visa requirements.

NRAMA: What was your first project at Marvel?

MP: It was District X. I did a fill-in on District X. And then I did a Spider-Man Unlimited story with Bill Rosemann. And then from there, I think it was Spellbinders after that. After I finished up Spellbinders, I was kind of looking around for something to do. And at that time, I'd started inking Epting on Captain America. And I ended up being offered the inking on that. I was a little reluctant to do it, because I was trying to re-establish myself as a penciler. I told them I don't mind doing an issue here and there, but I really wanted to concentrate on doing penciling. But because I said that, they said, "Well, do you want to do alternate arcs on Captain America?" And I said, "Yeah! That's brilliant!" But I still needed extra work, and that's how Union Jack came up. So it's been good. It's all fit together.

But I think it's kind of, you know, keeping my eye on what I want to do. You know, the vision of re-establishing my penciling. I could have just said, OK, I'll do the inks on Captain America. I mean, why not? So it's been good that I've been concentrating on working on that, I think. And it's all led up to working on The Stand.

NRAMA: We've talked before about The Stand. How did you end up getting the job, and what did you think of the offer when you first heard it?

MP: I kind of made it known that I was ready to move on from Captain America, because Captain America is Steve's book, as well it should be, because he started it from the beginning of this run. And I felt that, to push my name a little bit forward, I had to develop something on my own and do a series on my own from the beginning. So I made it known that I was kind of looking. Then I was approached by Ralph Macchio, who said, "Are you interesting in drawing The Stand?" And I was like, "Yeah!"

NRAMA: Had you read the book?

MP: I hadn't at that point. I'd read a few other Stephen King novels before then. But I hadn't read The Stand. And I bought the unabridged version and started reading it, and I just couldn't put it down. It's a riveting read. So I was sold on it.

NRAMA: This is the most mainstream comic you've ever done, isn't it?

MP: Yeah. Definitely.

NRAMA: How does it feel to know your art will be seen by people who have potentially never seen comic art before?

MP: It's both daunting and exciting. It better be good if it's their first experience with comics. That's what pushes you forward. That's what pushes you to make yourself better. Everything has to be perfect. Everything has to be the work of your career at that point. It has to be the definitive version of the novel, because you don't want somebody, 10 years down the road, going, "I'm going to do the real adaptation of The Stand." You look at The Dark Tower, and you know that nobody is going to look at that and say, "Oh, that's not the definitive version." I want this to be the definitive version of The Stand.

NRAMA: It's a pretty big project for you, isn't it?

MP: Thirty issues. It'll probably be about three years.

NRAMA: Will you do nothing else during that time?

MP: Well, who knows? I'm also doing some covers. I like to keep my hand in the superhero universe by doing some covers. I'm doing covers for the Civil War: House of M series. So there are some very nice Magneto images. So that's always nice to play with.

NRAMA: You've said throughout this interview that you've set goals for yourself along the way. First, it was no more graphic design, because you wanted to be a comic book artist. Then it was no more inking, because you wanted to be a penciler. Do you have a vision of what comes after these three years?

MP: No, I'm just concentrating on those goals at the moment. There are certain characters I still want to tackle, but that's down the road. I'd love to do a Wolverine run, but like, a really long one. Like Ed and Steve have been doing Cap. Just do this really long run, perhaps 50 issues or something. And there are certain writers that I'd love to work with still. I'd love to work with Jason Aaron. And I'd love to work with Greg Rucka on something. And I'd love to work with Ed again. There's so much stuff to do.

But I'm glad that I'm stuck in this for the next three years. This is what I've been looking for, really... a nice long run on something that I've developed on my own. So, yeah, I'm going to concentrate on this for awhile and see what comes up next.

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