Sam Wilson might be new to the mantle of Captain America, but All-New Captain America artist Stuart Immonen is a veteran when it comes to drawing iconic superheroes. From his time in DC in the 1990s of being one of the main Superman artists onto his current run at Marvel – now in its 10th year – being one of its most trusted artists with Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, All-New X-Men and more. After spending the past two years with Brian Michael Bendis establishing the original X-Men in modern times in All-New X-Men, Immonen was recruited to stand alongside Rick Remender to establish former Captain America sidekick Falcon as the new wielder of the shield in All-New Captain America.
Newsarama talked with Immonen about the nuts and bolts of the series that debuted in November, from drawing a solo title after years of team books, to the unique artistic possibilities with the series given Falcon’s flying fighting style and Wilson getting a grip on the usage of the iconic shield.
Immonen, considered an artist’s artist by his peers, talks about what’s important when he tackles a project like this, as well as certain aspects of the series that hits home – including why Cap’s falcon, Redwing, might be his favorite character to draw in the book. For this interview, Marvel has supplied a rare look at Immonen’s raw pencils for the upcoming All-New Captain America #2, as well as the pages after inks by long-time collaborator Wade Von Grawbadger.
Newsarama: Stuart, what’s it been like so far, acclimating to this new project All-New Captain America given the buzz about the character, the new writer, and working under a new editor?
Stuart Immonen: Acclimating is an accurate way of looking at shifting onto a new project, at least for me, but it's not my first rodeo; I think the longest I've worked with any one character was four years on Superman, and even then, I drew Action Comics, Adventures of Superman and the eponymous title, under three different editors and with a dozen collaborators. So, it's business as usual. It certainly helps, though, that my association with Tom Brevoort goes back-- well, way back, prior to my exclusive with Marvel-- some time which permits a certain amount of trust on the part of all involved. Rick has been a pro from the beginning and is always first in the email loop to praise someone's efforts.
Nrama: You worked on Captain America for on several occasions, from shorts in two specials but also drawing him as part of New Avengers. What’s it like now drawing Captain America who is very different in his characteristics, his identity, and also the way he moves in terms of his flight?
Immonen: Well, we're talking about three different characters, written by four or five or six writers, appearing in different contexts. The requirements for illustrating an eight-page story are as different from that of an ensemble-cast mini-series as they are different from a solo ongoing. Whether or not they're named Captain America or Ruby Thursday matters less to me than whether or not their characterization is consistent and actions logical... storytelling concerns. Rick has his finger on the pulse of Sam Wilson, knows his backstory and uses it to inform his actions. The flying is second nature to Sam... it's the shield that gives him the occasional problem.
Nrama: This is your first time drawing a solo (or at least small ensemble book) in five years, since Ultimate Spider-Man. What does that present to you in drawing the pages and having a more central focus in most panels?
Immonen: Has it only been five years? Seems like another lifetime some days. As you might expect, it's easier in some ways; focusing on a single central character means being able to portray that character more consistently over a shorter period of time. You get to know them, not only how they look, but how you think they might act, their body language, their range of emotions. But in terms of the number of characters per page or per scene, it's not much different than a group book. Sam's up against a Hydra Army, or a pantheon of Captain America villains, or on a crowded street, or crashing through a nightclub... Rick loves dense story and I'm doing my best to give it to him.
Nrama: You’re not the type to hit every convention or do massive amounts of signings, but does the buzz surrounding Sam Wilson becoming Captain America in this series ever make it to you at your drawing table and have any effect at all?
Immonen: When people ask, "Why don't you come to Convention X?" the answer is usually because we haven't been asked to attend. But it's true that our appearances tend to only add up to two or three a year. At any rate, I'm aware that mainstream media picked up on the story and saw some of the segments and articles from news outlets and hopefully that will translate into people reading the book. Buzz doesn't affect how I draw, though. I'm doing my best whether it's for a hundred-copy print run or for a hundred thousand.
Nrama: I know you’re a bit of a bird-watcher in your free time, and drew that excellent 50 states bird variant cover of Deadpool. So does having a central character in All-New Captain America be a falcon in Redwing make things more interesting for you to draw?
Immonen: I couldn't find any information on the specific species of falcon, so I have loosely been drawing him as an Orange-breasted Falcon, which doesn't have red wings, but is reddish from below and native to Central America. Birds are hard to draw. I read recently that Katsuhiro Otomo also says he has trouble drawing animals, and while it made me feel better, it didn't make it easier for me.
Nrama: Carlos Pacheco designed the costume for this new Captain America, but you’re the first one to be drawing it on regular basis. In doing it so many times already with issue #1, and the issues you’ve done that haven’t come out yet, what have you found in drawing it that sticks out to you? Not negative or positive necessarily, but what sticks out?
Immonen: I like it very well of course; I think it visually expresses the idea of "Captain America" and is instantly recognizable as such, while addressing some of the classic Falcon costume elements. I've probably streamlined it a little, but that's more due to demands of speed and efficacy rather than trying to put my own personal stamp on it.
Nrama: In the first issue, I really enjoyed those panels of Captain America flying quickly – zooming, so to speak. Breaking it down artistically however, those panels require a lot of trust in the colorist to make those backgrounds seem like more than blank space. You’ve been working pretty much exclusively with Marte Gracia since late 2012, so speaking about these panels (but also in general if you like), were those a conscious aspect you were bringing to the book given Cap’s abilities?
Immonen: Thanks, but... flipping quickly through the first issue, I count 21 panels of Captain American flying (not tumbling, falling, jumping, landing... stick with me here) and of those, six have limited or no background elements. Six panels in the whole issue. I'm glad you liked them, but I worked hard on those other hundred-and-some panels, and when the story rushes from one location to another-- jungle, underground cavern, temple ruins, Hydra base exterior, Hydra base interior, river of lava-- all those settings need to be established... drawn, in detail. And while it may not dazzle with pyrotechnics, I believe firmly that the reader needs a visual break now and then, some relief, a beat in the story, especially in an extended rapid-fire action sequence. More to the point, though, unlike some artists, I don't make a lot of notes for an inker or colorists; Marte has a rock-solid vision of what he wants the work to look like; he's like a force of nature-- it would be foolish to try and interfere.