NYCC '09 - Joining the Four: Hickman on Fantastic Four

Early FF sketch by artist Dale Eaglesham
Early FF sketch by artist Dale Eaglesham
Early FF sketch by artist Dale Eaglesham
Early FF sketch by artist Dale Eaglesham

It was announced Friday at the New York Comic Con that Marvel Comics has tapped writer Jonathan Hickman and penciller Dale Eaglesham to follow-up Millar and Hitch as the new creative team on Fantastic Four. Following up after the creators of The Ultimates is a tricky matter (just ask Jeph Loeb), but the mixture of Hickman's raw talent as seen in Secret Warriors and Eaglesham's solid and confident linework look like they're up for the challenge. But did they know editor Tom Brevoort is comparing their upcoming run to Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's start on New X-Men.

No pressure, guys.

As Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch pass the torch to the new duo of Hickman and Eaglesham, we asked editor Tom Brevoort about the shake-up.

"It’s good to shake things up every now and then," Brevoort explained. "Up till this point, I’ve been selecting very established writers to helm Fantastic Four, so when the time came to start thinking about Mark’s replacement, my mind leaned towards bringing in somebody a little bit more virgin, somebody who’d approach the book in a contemporary way, and who could give it a new, modern voice."

"Jonathan’s writing is deep, complex, thoughtful, and he’s got a very distinctive voice and point of view—these all struck me as things that would be of value in a Fantastic Four writer," said Brevoort, who also edits Hickman's work on Secret Warriors." And Dale was a happy confluence of elements—when we were speaking about him potentially coming over to Marvel, and I mentioned Fantastic Four as one possible assignment, he became very enthusiastic. Dale’s proven with JSA that he can handle a team book (and compared to the mob scenes he’s had to illustrate on that title over the last few years, the FF should be a walk in the park), his storytelling is immaculate, and he’s got a good sense of energy and mass to his work. Plus, it seemed like a good fit to pair a newer writer with a seasoned illustrator."

This isn't the first time working on Fantastic Four for either Hickman or Eaglesham; Eaglesham worked on the characters way back in an issue of What If? and Hickman wrote the forthcoming Dark Reign: Fantastic Four which is scheduled to come out before his first issue of the main title. But as it turns out, Hickman's been writing this for some time.

"Actually, I got the Dark Reign: Fantastic Four gig after the regular series," explained Hickman. "I had just turned in the series bible for Secret Warriors, and Tom sent me kind of a cryptic "don't hold me to this, but what are your thoughts regarding the Fantastic Four series..." email. From there I pitched and everyone seemed to like it, so... here we are."

Seeing as how the Dark Reign: Fantastic Four miniseries will be released in early Spring prior to his debut on the main title, one could speculate that it might act as a prequel of sorts. But does it?

"Yes and no," said editor Tom Brevoort. "Yes in that the events of one will have some bearing on the other. No in that the style, tone and approach to the regular Fantastic Four book I expect to be quite different. On Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, Jonathan was having to solve a very specific set of challenges in terms of bringing the characters in line with the overarching Dark Reign environment. On Fantastic Four, he gets to set the agenda a bit more, and we’re looking to create the sort of re-imagined starting point that Morrison and Quitely’s first issue of New X-Men was for a lot of readers—not too much pressure there."

As for what readers can expect from his upcoming stint on Fantastic Four, Hickman's holding out.

"I don't really want to touch on stories too much as Millar is finishing up and we just might be commenting on what he and Hitch have done, but the characters will be the family primarily, but we'll have a massive amount of characters moving in and out and back in again each month as we build things up in a feedback loop of epic proportions."

But he can give one clue. "Our first stoyarc [is titled] "Solve Everything" – the scope increases from there."

When asked what he thinks of Hickman's ideas for their run on Fantastic Four, Eaglesham is excited.

"Something unique is brewing already," said the artist. "I feel that Jonathan and I are on the same page with the direction of the book. Jonathan is going to bring large-event energy and enthusiasm to the title but that energy is tempered by a keen interest in smaller character studies. I think we are going to stretch our legs out and run on this title and I really look forward to Jonathan testing my limits as an artist."

Pushing further, we prodded Eaglesham to tell us what he's looking forward to drawing with Marvel's first family.

"I'm looking forward to depicting real people in extraordinary situations," Eaglesham said, matter-of-factly. "Everything about the superhero genre is extraordinary, and frankly not very believable. However, I think a space exists between our common reality and this fantasy of super-powered humans, a tiny gap where we stop monitoring the absurdity of it and maybe even embrace it a little. That magical gap is the humanity we infuse into the book, the characters and the world they inhabit. If there is enough humanity, and it rings true to us, then the wonder of it (and not the kitsch of it) unfolds for the reader.

"Geoff and I explored it in the pages of the JSA and Jonathan and I will explore it here as well. I am looking forward to an epic journey across the pages of the Fantastic Four with this humanity beating solidly at the heart of it. The bigger the action, the bigger the threat, the more I like it. Hopefully, we’ll cross into science, fantasy and fiction, like the Fantastic Four always has. I sampled some of that when I drew six issues of Sigil for CrossGen and I loved it. I am a huge proponent of adventure stories in comics, journeys of exploration, as opposed to basic good vs. evil, so I hope we get to travel a little in the series. I also have to say that my first comic book experiences at the age of five were of 12-cent Lee/KirbyFantastic Four. To be drawing this book is an unbelievable honor for me. "

As a new creator steps in to a long-running series, a look back at what came before is natural. Hickman previously stated he didn't read Fantastic Four growing up, and that gives him a unique – and fresh – vantage point. "I didn't grow up reading Fantastic Four, so I don't have any childhood affection for 'back to basics' or anything like that. To me, all of my reading was research, so I was looking for what resonated with me for the now... not whether or not the story was good/entertaining.

"I know that's not what you're looking for, but my experience was way too analytical and detached for a romantic answer. I am enjoying Mark Millar's work right now, but I'm a big fan... Ultimates 1 and 2 were pretty much the perfect superhero comic in my opinion."

Over the past few years, Fantastic Four writers have struggled with placing the characters in a modern day world integrated with the larger Marvel Universe. Although the Millar/Hitch run succeeded in the modern-aspect, their issues remained largely removed from the current events of Marvel – Secret Invasion, Dark Reign and so forth. When asked about how he sees the FF in today's world, Hickman was secretive.

"I'm not going to answer this, because it'll completely give away where we are going with the book," the writer said." I will say that it's going to be a different look at the Fantastic Four and a unique experience when compared against the spectrum of Fantastic Four lore."

As the series editor previously stated, the pairing of the relatively new writer in Jonathan Hickman is offset by the talents of veteran penciller Dale Eaglesham. Eaglesham's been working in comics for many years now, but in years past he's primarily called DC his home. But with his run on JSA with Geoff Johns complete and his exclusive contract over, he's decided to join the House of Ideas.

"I have been at DC for the past 10-11 years but the first ten years of my career I spent at Marvel," said Eaglesham. "I love the DCU and have felt comfortable working with its characters, but Marvel is where I first began back in 1985 and the Marvel universe is still very much in my blood. This is part of the reason I am returning there. As an artist, the move to Marvel is a homecoming to some very familiar and favorite characters and very simply, a change of scenery. After 23 years in the biz, I felt the need for a shot in the arm, and a return to my roots is something that will do that."

Roots is an apt word, as Marvel was the place of Eaglesham's debut in 1986 on an issue of The Savage Sword of Conan The Barbarian. Although absent for the past decade, the artist calls this not just a return but a "home coming".

"It’s a great feeling to be back after so long," Eaglesham said. "I began reading Marvel comics from the age of six and drew their characters for many, many years prior to actually working for them. Looking at it that way, my association with Marvel and its characters goes deeper than the actual time I spent working there. Marvel goes back to my artistic and creative roots and it’s intricately connected to that sense of wonder I experienced as I was discovering the possibilities art presented to my imagination. For this reason, Marvel has always seemed like the “Camelot” of comics for me. I’m thrilled to be back."

If Marvel is the Camelot of comics, then the Fantastic Four would be the royal family. And for writer Jonathan Hickman, he's got big goals on making it right.

"The goal on any book is to do memorable work," said the writer. "I'd hate for someone to read something I wrote and have them think it was trite, or an afterthought, or rushed, and on and on..."

"When we were starting Secret Warriors, Bendis and I agreed that the goal had to be our run being a definitive Nick Fury story," Hickman explained. "You know, name your top all time Nick Fury books, I'd really like for people to say Steranko, Hickman... that's the goal, right. Same thing here, shoot for the moon - put everything you have into it. Then you feel pretty confident it'll be good, and hopefully, if everything falls into place, we'll luck up and hit 'great.'"

More New York Comic Con 2009 Coverage:

NYCC '09 Video Page

NYCC '09 Mini-Site

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