Kris Anka is currently trading art chores with Chris Bachalo on one of the comic books’ historically most prominent titles - Uncanny X-Men. Not bad for an artist that’s only been in the biz for three years.
The California-based animator-turned-artist was handpicked by writer Brian Michael Bendis to join the series in 2013, and with it he’s brought his easily recognizable style – with an eye for fashion – to Marvel’s mutants. In the recently released advance solicitations for Marvel’s February titles readers learned Anka was drawing an issue of the upcoming Wolverines series, which the artist says is a one-off assignment done specifically so he can draw one character: Mystique.
Newsarama talked to Anka about his place in the artistic rotation of Uncanny X-Men, taking cues from long-time X-Men artist Chris Bachalo, as well as his new gig as cover artist on Ms. Marvel and the heroes he’d like to draw next.
Newsarama: Kris, what are you up to?
Kris Anka: On this fine Monday morning I begin penciling a variant cover, which I can't tell you about because I don't want to ruin the surprise of the new costume reveal, as well as start penciling pages for an issue of Wolverines I'm filling in on.
Nrama: I was going to ask you about Uncanny X-Men first, but since you mention that –what’s going on in this issue you’re doing?
Anka: I've had the script for about a week now and I'm really excited to draw it. All I can say is it focused on a female I've been wanting to draw for a long while.
Nrama: Wolverines will be a brief hiatus from the series you’ve been doing for the past year, Uncanny X-Men. How has that been for you, drawing Cyclops’ team and working with Brian Michael Bendis?
Anka: It has been nuts, honestly. There is such legacy to these characters that the idea that I get to contribute is frankly overwhelming. I don't think I've quite gotten ahold of it. [laughs] I still often think I'm just doing fan art. Especially with this story line, where it directly deals with the legacy of the X-Men. There is a sequence in Uncanny X-Men #28 that I get to draw their classic costumes and it damn nearly blew my mind. Its great being able to pour my own personal artistic opinions about these characters onto the pages; i.e. how I make Scott stand and pose to represent how I think he feels. It has really helped me figure out who I think they all are.
Nrama: Artists are always focused on a specific page and specific panel – are there larger things you’re thinking about, or trying to work on in your art, currently?
Anka: Not so much just yet. I still feel I'm just keeping myself afloat, trying to figure out this comic's life out. I'm just starting to feel like I have some semblance of knowing what I'm doing so I'm trying to just focus on that for now. I don't want to bite off more than I can chew and try to learn everything at once. I am making an effort to add more details to my backgrounds because that's something I normally shy away from.
Nrama: For Uncanny X-Men, the artist on each issue has bit a bit unconventional; instead of artists rotating arcs, you and Chris Bachalo and a few others are coming in and out on an issue-by-issue basis it seems. You’re still fairly new in the comics business, and have yet to do a sustained uninterrupted run on any comic, so what’s it like jumping around with issues?
Anka: It's a double-edged sword. There is a fun-ness involved in just jumping into the deep end of the pool and having to learn how to swim, especially with such big characters like these. But the constantly shifting gears does wear down after a while. These four issues from this current arc on Uncanny X-Men has become my longest time on any series (five, if we include the girls’ night out standalone issue). It hasn't bothered me too much because I'm fully aware when I come onto a book that this is already someone else's series. Every decision I make is based on what the other artists have done before me. So before I start on any pages on an issue of Uncanny X-Men, I like to get as many of Bachalo's pages from the previous issues so I can line up as many details as possible.
Nrama: What goes into deciding which issues a particular artist will do?
Anka: From my understanding, It's entirely up to Brian. He write's scripts that favor both Chris and I as artists as best he can. So depending on where he wants to take the story, one of us will be brought on to handle the art for that part.
Nrama: Bendis is known to incorporate requests from the artists he works with on things they like to draw. Did you have any, or do you have any you’d like to see more of in the future on Uncanny X-Men?
Anka: There is a sequence in Uncanny X-Men #26 where the students fight the Avengers that came from me. Brian approached me asking who I'd like the students to fight in a Danger Room sequence, and I had been jouncing to draw the Avengers for a while so this fit perfectly. The thing I loved most about all this is that is turned into this really great dialogue scene on whether these kids are good guys or not. Now, I have no idea if Brian had already planned that exchange out prior to my suggestion, but I definitely feel it wouldn't have worked as well if they hadn't been going up against Captain America.
Nrama: Recently I’ve noticed you adopting Bachalo’s technique of the white page gutters and no panel borders. What led you to go that route, and what do you think it adds to the story?
Anka: As I said, everything I do is based on what the previous artist has laid out. So in this case, the white borders. It was a visual motif that Bachalo was doing, So i didn't want to make my issues visually jarring. It's hard enough on audiences when artist's change in the same story (it used to bug me all the time when i was just a fan), so I try to make the transition as easy as possible; i.e., white borders, vibrant colors, etc.
Nrama: You mentioned a desire to draw the Avengers. Are there other books you’d like to jump and do an issue of as a guest artist?
Anka: Mm, I'd like to do an issue of Captain Marvel one day. I would love to do runs on Captain America and Thor once I feel more confident in my pages. Basically just not team books. [laughs]
Nrama: Last question: speaking of Captain Marvel, you were recently tapped to do covers for its sister book: Ms. Marvel. What’s your approach for that character and those covers?
Anka: It has been a lot of fun. Kamala is so different than a lot of the temperaments of the X-Men that she's such a refreshing change for me. She is a hopeful character, a fun one. A lot of the X-Men work has to deal with these guys in dire situations, but with Kamala, I can just draw a joyous girl enjoying her powers. Plus there is a great challenge in the work because it has such a high bar establish for it, between what fans of Kamala have come to expect, and just from working with the editor on the book Sana Amanat. This book is largely her baby, so I'm always striving to do justice by Kamala and Sana.