S.H.I.E.L.D.’s DUSTIN WEAVER Talks Its Long-Delayed Return

Excerpt from S.H.I.E.L.D. #5
Excerpt from S.H.I.E.L.D. #5
Excerpt from S.H.I.E.L.D. #5

After a three-year delay, Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver's S.H.I.E.L.D. is complete. Not to be confused with the other series, also titled S.H.I.E.L.D. launching this week by Mark Waid and a bevy of rotating artists however; this is the time-spanning historical S.H.I.E.L.D. series launched in 2010.

The final issues haven't been released yet, or even solicited, but Weaver's glad it's over -- and he's excited about what he's doing next.

Weaver's next big Marvel project is an Infinity Gauntlet title connected to the upcoming Secret Wars and he's also continuing his personal work writing and drawing his webcomics Amnia Cycle and Sagittarius A*, with plans to expand those into print in the near future.

Newsarama talked with Weaver about what’s come across his drawing board in 2014, what he’s looking forward to in 2015, and the interesting path he took to make it here – including a life-threatening illness, a tour of Jim Lee’s studio in the early 1990s, and an internship at Wildstorm. Don’t worry readers, we also ask about Infinity Gauntlet, as well as hitting upon projects he’d like to do at Marvel, DC and on his own.

Newsarama: Dustin, this end of the year has seen you put an end to several things, namely Edge of Spider-verse #3 and finally S.H.I.E.L.D. with Jonathan Hickman. What’s it like to finish things up – particularly S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Dustin Weaver: I was just thinking about how I started working on S.H.I.E.L.D. right around the time my daughter was born. She's five now. This comic has been in my life as long as my child has been alive. It really feels like it's taken a lifetime. Finishing it is hugely satisfying. I think I won't actually feel like I'm done until the finished product is in my hands. It will be really nice to see the actual fruits of my labor.

Nrama: Fans of S.H.I.E.L.D. were pretty bummed out when it went on an unannounced hiatus – almost two years ago now. Some people are quick to blame an artist for a delayed book, but you went and did other projects for Marvel. Can you tell us what put the book on hold initially?

Weaver: I'm the first to admit that I'm not an especially fast artist. I've been late on books before... but you know, not two years late. Back when it was coming out, S.H.I.E.L.D. was coming out every two months and, if I remember right, I was able to keep up with that. Really, if there is anything to blame, I'd say it's the popularity of Hickman. When I wrapped #4 of Volume 2 Jonathan didn't have issue #5 script for me. He was just starting on Avengers and New Avengers at that time and he hadn't had a chance to write the next S.H.I.E.L.D. script. For Marvel, of course, Avengers is the priority so they had no problem with him not focusing on S.H.I.E.L.D. He would get to it when he could get to it. I took on other jobs and so we were both in the same boat-- of getting to S.H.I.E.L.D. when we could. Slowly we've been chipping away at it over these years.

Nrama: The last issue was #4 back in December 2011. Is there going to be a shift in the art since it’s completed so much later and you’ve gotten more experience?

S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 variant by Dustin Weaver
S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 variant by Dustin Weaver

Weaver: There are actually big shifts in the artwork already. To me, from issue #1 to issue #6 there are big changes. But the comic has a set of style aesthetics that I keep consistent throughout. So, though the art changes in ways, I don't think many people notice.

If anything, these last two issues should look better than most everything that has come before. I'm a better artist than I was, and I was able to take all the time I wanted. And I can't speak for Sonia Oback, our colorist, but I'm guessing it's that same for her. From what I've seen, she's really doing a fantastic job on these last issues.

Nrama: That being said, what can you tell us about these final two issues?

Weaver: Hmmm. They are crazy and weird. To me, issue #5 feels like three issues in one. It's got a lot in it. Issue #6 gets more trippy and philosophical. I think they'll both be satisfying... I don't know if I want to say much more than that.

Nrama: Okay, we’ll wait until the issue’s out – or solicited at least. From your current workings back to your earliest, I wanted to ask about a sensitive time in your life: being diagnosed as a teen with Hodgkin Disease. We’ve talked before and you said you were up for talking about this, so looking back at it now, how did that affect your life and your ambitions for comics?

Weaver: It's true. I did chemo, got sick, lost my hair, and missed a lot of school. I was 13. It was during that time of being sick that I decided that I wanted to draw comics.

Actually, early on in my treatment I got an opportunity to meet Jim Lee and visit Homage Studios. This was in 1993. He was my favorite artist at that time. He was really great to me and my family. He showed us the studio, I met other artists like Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio, he took us to lunch, he signed a bunch of my comics, and he gave me an Image Comics hat that I wore the entire time I didn't have hair. It was really that experience that made me want to pursue comics as a career. I spent my days sick at home drawing my first comics. 
I'm still a big Jim Lee fan. I continue to be inspired by him.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 variant by Dustin Weaver
S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 variant by Dustin Weaver

Nrama: Fast forward nearly a decade and in the early 2000s you did an internship at WildStorm under Jim Lee. Given your earlier experience with Jim, what was it like doing that internship – and how did doing it change you?

Weaver: Of course that internship was huge for me. My internship at WildStorm was almost exactly ten years after my trip to Homage back when I had cancer. It felt like I had been working my way back to that place and I had finally made it. It was a surreal experience.

Looking back on the experience I'd say that it was humbling. Having Jim Lee point out all the ways you could have drawn something better can do that. It was also my introduction to how the industry works. My ideas about finally having reached my goal and there being a kind of destiny to it were kind of dashed. My view of things got more realistic. I realized that there are no big breaks and that I still had a ways to go. 

Nrama: Given that connection to Jim Lee, would you ever consider doing work for DC now that he’s co-publisher?

Weaver: I am currently exclusive to Marvel, but if I wasn't, who knows?  I don't have a strong connection to any of DC's characters. So it's not like I've got a great desire to work for them. I guess if they let me write and draw a WildC.A.T.S comic... maybe I'd be into that. I always liked WildC.A.T.S.

Nrama: Showing your old-school credit with remembering the “C.A.T.S.” abbreviation. [laughs]

One of the most exciting projects I’ve heard of from you is one that never happened – you doing an Indiana Jones book. I remember at the time Dark Horse solicited a miniseries with you on it, but drug their heels to the point that you wouldn’t have the appropriate amount of time to draw it yourself. Now that LucasFilm and Marvel are under the same umbrella and Marvel is already doing Star Wars, could you see yourself doing an Indiana Jones book at some point?

Weaver: If there was a really great story I could see doing it.

Back when I almost did that Indiana Jones series, I was really excited to do it. It was the perfect time for that sort of project. At that time I was looking to be taking on higher profile drawing gigs wherever they came from. These days, that's not really where my focus is. Now I'd say I really want to care, on a personal level, about the story that I'm telling. These days, I'm looking to have as much control over the stories as I can. Even if it's not a higher profile or better paying gig.

Nrama: And Star Wars – early on that was a major part of your career, from 2005 to 2008. Any interest from you to maybe jump into it now that Marvel is publishing it? If so, is there something in the original trilogy you’d be interested in tackling?

Weaver: Now that Marvel has Star Wars, the idea of doing something with it has occurred to me. As an artist, I kind of feel like I've already gotten a lot of my desire to create Star Wars stuff out of my system. If I could write or co-write it, maybe. I always thought a Lando Calrissian series would be super cool. That's probably what I would want to do.

Inked page from Star Wars: Rebellion #15
Inked page from Star Wars: Rebellion #15

Nrama: This brings me to my next point: space. You’ve drawn space-based adventuresin Star Wars, in your first Marvel work with X-Men: Kingbreaker, and you've done it in Infinity, S.H.I.E.L.D., and both your current webcomics. You also say it was Uncanny X-Men #277 by Chris Claremont and Lee that is the first comic that made you want to do comics, and that coincidentally featured the Sh'iar, Starjammers, and space. What is it you love about space?

Weaver: I'm actually a little self-conscious about both my webcomics being set in space. Honestly, space isn't necessarily my thing. I don't have any special love for stories set in space. I would say that I do like sci-fi stories and of course the space sci-fi genre is big. The real reason both my webcomics are space stories is because, to me, it seems like the easiest thing I could write. I'm still just starting as a writer so I thought I would start out on something that would be easy. Space fantasy/sci-fi is a genre that I know pretty well and you don't really need to get a lot of reference or do a lot of research. You can kind of just jump in and start making stuff up, as I see it. There's nothing between you and getting the story out. I have other stories I'd like to tell that will require more research. Almost all of my ideas have a sci-fi angle, but most don't involve space.

I was really happy to be working on Star Wars, but it was just the job I got at that time. I was trying to get work wherever I could. I got the job at Marvel doing X-Men: Kingbreaker based on my Star Wars work. So, really I was lucky to get those jobs because I do like space sci-fi, but they weren't really choices that I made.

I think after the two webcomics I've got going now I'll probably step back from the space stuff.

Page from Amnia Cycle.
Page from Amnia Cycle.

Nrama: Let’s get into those webcomics. While you’ve been doing these high profile works for Marvel, you’ve also been serializing online Amnia Cycle and Sagittarius A*. Some people when they get involved with Marvel or DC make that their entire waking life – why was it important for you to make time for these projects now, even if they’re not bringing in any income for you as of yet?

Weaver: I started buying and reading comics just before Image comics began, you know, when all those top artists went off and started their own comics. Well, when they did that it had a big impact on me. To me, that was how you did it. You worked for Marvel or DC, made a name for yourself, and then you left to create something new. This has always been the career model I've had in the back of my mind. I've always wanted to create new things more than I've wanted to work on any existing properties... I guess I'm just getting impatient with myself to make a name for myself. I've got a lot of stories that I want to tell. In a way Amnia Cycle and Sagittarius A* are me starting off easy and without a lot of pressure. I'm finding the act of making my own comics, drawing my own stories to be hugely satisfying.

Nrama: How would you describe these two series for people?

Weaver: Amnia Cycle is an improvised story, meaning I’m writing it as I go. The story of Amnia Cycle centers on a pilot named Tara Donnia who goes AWOL in the middle of a war with aliens to help a strange woman named Amnia escape. When Amnia mysteriously vanishes it sends Tara on an adventure into an area of space called the Shadow Zone to look for answers. What she finds there is that the life she’s been living isn’t the one she is meant for.

The title Sagittarius A* refers to the location of the super massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and it’s where the protagonist, Linus Rad, is heading. Its set in the aftermath of a galactic war with the sentient robot race humanity created. For mysterious reasons concerning his dead father, Linus is making a long journey to the center of the galaxy. As he goes deeper we learn more and more about what put Linus on this mission, the lies Linus lives with and the dark secrets of his father’s scientific experiments.

Nrama: I’m sure you have intention of publishing them at some point. What are your long-term plans for Amnia Cycle and Sagittarius A*?

Weaver: I want to release Amnia Cycle in five double-sized issues, I think. I'm planning on having the issues contain some extra stuff that hasn't been available online. I'm working on getting those issues together as I work on putting up new pages.

For Sagittarius A* I'm thinking of putting out one graphic novel containing the whole thing once I'm done with it. This probably won't be happening for a long time.

Nrama: Speaking of those webcomics and bridging to the recent Edge of Spider-Verse #3, let’s talk about writing comics. Some of today’s top writers began as artists, some balancing both and some transitioning just to writing. What kind of writing do you want to do in your future?

Weaver: I'm sure I will never transition into just writing. I'm not really a writer. I honestly don't think of myself as a great illustrator either. What I'd like to think is that I could possibly become a good comic book creator. I think the act of creating a comic is neither writing nor illustrating, but a language all its own. Writing and drawing a comic feels different to me than doing either one of those things on their own. So, my hope is to create comics.

I enjoy collaborating on story. I wrote a Rocksteady and Bebop comic for IDW that my buddy, Ben Bates, drew and we worked together every step of the way. We discussed the story together, we worked out a lot of the layouts together, and we colored it together. It was a nice way to work. I like that kind of collaboration. It's more collaborative and less like an assembly line.

With Edge of Spider-Verse #3 I did everything myself. I wrote, drew, and colored it. It was the first time, other than my webcomics, that I've done that. I liked it a lot, and I learned a lot in the process. I'm doing something similar on my next Marvel project, Infinity Gauntlet, but this time I'm working with a collaborator on the writing. I'm pretty sure I can't say much about that project yet.

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