Immonen Illustrates Classic and Current X-MEN in Marvel NOW!

Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen's All-New X-Men is still four months away from debuting, but the very loyal, very vocal X-Men fanbase are already anticipating (or fearing) what the creative team has in store for Marvel's mutants; especially with the attention-getting high-concept of the original five X-Men — Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast and Angel — traveling from the past into the present, not liking what they find, and sticking around.

Last week, we talked to Bendis about his plans for the series, and this week, we've got an interview with Immonen, discussing his visual approach to the book, preparing for his first ongoing stint with the X-Men of the classic Marvel Universe, the Jack Kirby costume designs for the classic X-Men team, reuniting with Bendis and comparisons to past work like Legion of Super-Heroes. (No Stuart Immonen art from All-New X-Men was available at press time.)

 

Newsarama: Stuart, let's start with the obvious — much like All-New X-Men writer Brian Bendis, your main previous work in the X-titles was Ultimate X-Men. What excites you about taking on the "classic" (in more ways than one) X-Men, especially as part of the major Marvel NOW! relaunch?

Stuart Immonen: Oh, um, plenty! The original X-Men are classic in so many ways, and their ongoing popularity despite (or maybe because of) years of re-working and transformation. Having the chance to get back to as “square one” as possible in their convoluted history is rare and worth grabbing.

Working on the Ultimate titles was in a sense like getting to shake clear the Etch-A-Sketch of continuity; anything is possible and doesn’t require slavishly adhering to 50 years of storylines. This is a similar situation; the characters are young and naïve; their powers and personalities are not yet fully developed, so we can run with new ideas. Being able to put the original five in situations where they interact with other characters they don’t yet know very well, or whom they think they know but don’t at all is an opportunity that doesn’t come up very often, and Brian has such a great handle on character dialogue, especially with young people, so it’s a been a blast from page one. Marvel’s also throwing a lot of support behind the title, and the in-house response to the pages has been very positive; I’m looking forward to seeing what readers think.

 

Nrama: One of the major hooks of All-New X-Men is the original X-Men coming from the past into the present. Obviously there's a clear precedent for those characters in that era — what's your artistic approach to them, and visually expressing that they are indeed from the past (albeit not that far into the past, due to the way comic book time works)?

Immonen: Brian does this thing early on which reminded me of one of the first scenes in The Hunt For Red October in which, as Sean Connery delivers his dialogue in Russian, the camera moves slowly in to an extreme close-up of his mouth. There’s a slight pause, and then he starts speaking English and the movie carries on. It’s a much better device than having English-speaking actors fake foreign accents or extensive use of subtitles. So in All-New X-Men, we pick up the story of the Original Five directly from a sequence in one of the Lee/Kirby issues and the dialogue starts out verbatim, but quickly becomes nuanced with modern touches. I’m a bit more ham-strung as far as the look of the characters goes, but the panel compositions are more contemporary from the get-go, and once they’re out of civilian clothes, it’s even less of a hurdle. The goal is to make them look out-of-place, but not definitively from a particular era. They don’t wear hippie rags or say “groovy”; thankfully, riding fashion and cultural trends faithfully was not yet in the minds of the creators, so we dodged a bullet there. That apparently hasn’t stopped people from making comics about Dazzler, however.

 

Nrama: And on the same note, will they stick with the classic Jack Kirby costumes, or are you planning on bringing them into the present a bit in that regard?

Immonen: After quite a bit of discussion, we collectively decided to keep the original costumes as is, at least for the first story arc. I am not a fan of the gym shorts and balaclava look — I think it was not Jack’s finest hour — but in terms of the story, it makes the most sense. I have updated the appearance of the fabric in a very slight way, but even so, have maintained the slightly ill-fitting nature of the tunic; it makes it more interesting to draw than the usual superhero prophylactic, and besides, it feels right.

Nrama: From talking to Brian, it looks like the series will utilize a rather large cast, which is certainly something you're used to, especially after Fear Itself last year. From wherever you might be in the process, how does the scale of the book in terms of players involved compare to some of your past work? And how many are characters that you've never illustrated before?

 

Immonen: Don’t forget my first big ongoing job was on Legion of Super-Heroes with one of the largest cast of characters in the business. And I know Brian was worried that I might balk at this aspect, having just finished a cosmic-scale title, but it actually doesn’t matter that much. If they were real people, it would be a worry to keep things straight, but it’s often a relief to switch gears and draw a different body type or hairstyle or age or gender. At this point, we’re just a few issues in, so you have the modern X-Men and their young counterparts, but no other characters from the Marvel U yet, so it’s all pretty manageable. Missteps and re-draws tend to only happen when characters are being revised in other books, but since everyone I’ve had to draw so far is in the X-office, I don’t have to deal with getting information from two or three or more editors.

As far as characters I’ve never drawn, I think it’s limited to most of the cast of Wolverine and the X-Men; however, they are also the most numerous.

Nrama: And are there any of the X-Men — beyond the original five — that you're specifically fond of, or find especially visually compelling? And since it looks like several major characters are getting redesigned in the Marvel NOW! era, have you been involved in that process?

Immonen: I honestly don’t think about the work in these terms; I try explicitly not to have favorites, since — going back to my days on Legion — I know that every reader has a favorite character, so I attempt to draw whatever’s in front of me at any given time with equal enthusiasm.

I've basically been focused on the task at hand, and am not really aware of what’s happening in other books. There are no major redesigns in our title. Yet. That I know about.

 

Nrama: How does working with Bendis on All-New X-Men compare to past collaborations like Ultimate Spider-Man or New Avengers?

Immonen: Well, in a nutshell, Brian’s a pro. He bends over backwards to make the collaboration work which doesn’t go unappreciated and he throws himself fully into each project, which is an infectious attitude. Being able to maintain our relationship (as well as that with inker Wade Von Grawbadger, which in our house is referred to as my other marriage) over so many years is definitely a plus. You get to know and exploit each others’ strengths as well as make improvements to the weaknesses, which ideally makes for better comics. There’s also a kind of shorthand which develops, where one party says it needs to be more “purple” or “be bop” or “fish sandwich” and you know what they mean.

 

Nrama: You've worked on many major comic book icons over the years, do you find that there's any type of distinct visual "feel" or mood that's unique to the X-Men — maybe something, albeit possibly subtle, that has been consistent with the best interpretation of the characters over the decades? And if so, is that something you're looking to emulate, or maybe subvert and take in new directions?

Immonen: Hm. There might be, but I don’t know what it is. Like I said before, the X-Men have been through so much over the past number of decades, that they are practically unrecognizable from their earliest days, which is actually something we’re emphasizing. I also don’t like to think too much about what’s come before as it can quickly become daunting. Apart from Lee and Kirby, it’s not lost on my than I’m following in the footsteps of Dave Cockrum, Neal Adams, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Lee, Frank Quitely and John Byrne (among too many others to list) as well as my talented contemporaries. I’m really just trying to do my best and not choke. But the readers will be the judge of that.

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