For many artists, being an in-demand cover illustrator t is a job you dream of. But for Mike Mayhew, he wants to be more than that.
After years of being best known for his covers at Marvel and various licensed books around the industry, Mayhew recently re-committed himself to actual comics work -- first with the eight-part The Star Wars series from Dark Horse, and now with two one-off issues at Marvel with Guardians Team-Up and the forthcoming Avengers #43.
As the California artist tells Newsarama, his style of artwork which delves into photo-realism was quickly pulled into service for covers. But with his eight issues on The Star Wars under his belt and two rapid-fire one-offs done, the artist wants to "contribute" to comics in a "more substantial way", both through work-for-hire projects like Marvel but also doing creator-owned work.
Newsarama: Mike, you recently completed The Star Wars in what was for many the last major book of the Dark Horse era of Star Wars comics. What was it like doing all that in light of Dark Horse's waning days and also the waning days of George Lucas' involvement with Star Wars?
Mike Mayhew: It was an exciting time to be working on a Star Wars title, since it was right after Disney acquired it. Star Wars was something I never had a chance to work on before, yet was so huge to me as a kid. George Lucas was going to be more hands on with The Star Wars, but ultimately he washed his hands of anything Star Wars to focus on other things. Initially, I remember designing the characters being very nervous that he was going chime in on them. I think he did see all the art along the way.
I remember thinking it was unknown whether Dark Horse was going to lose the license. It felt as if there was a certain amount riding on the success of the series. In the end it did very well for a Star Wars comic at the time, and was in the top 40 every month it came out. I’m very proud of it, and it was a blast to work on.
Nrama: Correct me if I'm wrong, but at eight issues that's the longest run you've done on a comic since Zorro in the 1990s. What was that like, doing full art like that?
Mike Mayhew: That’s probably right. I did 6 issues of Vampirella for Harris circa 2001, and a few issues after that. I did Fear Itself: The Homefront for Marvel for seven issues, but that was only 14 pages a month. So yeah, it was a challenge, but one I had been wanting for a long time. I actively fought for interior assignments after getting notoriety as a cover guy, and it wasn’t easy. I got into comics to tell stories and it’s something I want to be known for.
Nrama: And you also did the recent Guardians Team-Up #3. Going from one space book to another -- but what's it like dropping in like that, getting to know all those characters, for one issue?
Mayhew: I was thrilled to get on board Guardians Team-Up #3. All the time I was working on The Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy comics started coming out and I watched it carefully as I felt it set a new visual standard for space opera comics. Didn’t want The Star Wars to be slacking compared to it. Then after the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and the recognition they have, it was a blast to play with these characters. And, the X-Men too! The X-Men was my go to book as a teen, so I have a lot of love for them.
“Black Vortex” is an awesome event to be a part of. Sam Humphries has created something super compelling. Its loads of fun, yet pushes familiar characters in directions that are really surprising. All the chapters were almost produced simultaneously, so seeing the other amazing and diverse artists work while I worked on my chapter was very, very inspiring. I can’t wait to see what readers think of it.
Nrama: And after that, your next full issue is April 1, Avengers #43. You weren't the original artist involved, so how did you get onboard?
Mayhew: I guess by meeting my deadline for Guardians Team-Up #3. That day I was looking for stuff to do at Marvel after something else fell through. My editor Katie Kubert hooked me up with Tom Brevoort who had an opening and I jumped on it. I’m a big fan of Jonathan Hickman’s writing, and knew that this would be unlike anything else I ever did. The story is epic beyond belief. It’s so big it’s set in the entire solar system. The heroes you know and love are doing things that would make Zeus crap his pants.
Nrama: In addition to these two one-off issues, you're also one of Dynamite's main cover artists with Vampirella, Battlestar Galactica and Lady Demon among others. What's a day at the office like, so to speak, for you doing these covers as opposed to interior multi-panel comics pages?
Mayhew: When I’m working on painted covers like the ones I do for Dynamite, the goal is to get two or three done in a week. It’s not easy, but it just doesn’t pay to linger on them forever. I used to spend a week or more on a painted cover, and I think these covers look just as good in a lot less time.
Nrama: On that Lady Demon #2 cover I noticed a bold choice for you in terms of colors, with that flat coloring which makes your work pop in a new way. What was the decision-making behind that?
Mayhew: Honestly…I was in a hurry. I’d done my first month of three cover paintings for Dynamite so I hadn’t yet hit my pace, but that month Marvel came through with three other covers, two of them painted. Variants for Amazing Spider-Man, Axis and Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool. I did a con in Edmonton in there too. So, I needed to get my three covers for Dynamite’s next month done quick. I was just trying to keep it simple and get it done. Sometimes that works.
Nrama: Besides all of what we’ve discussed, what else are you working on? Do you have some project on the back-burner you pull out when you're waiting on a script and noodle away on?
Mayhew:I’m really mad at myself that I haven’t put more creator-owned work out there. There’s a lot of reasons for that, and I have a lot of time invested in a few projects. I am determined to make that a priority and hope to have something out soon. These are projects that I’m writing too, so it’s been humbling to learn a new craft. Exciting too.
Nrama: I've seen you work with a number of writers recently, but I'd still say the best partnership I've read is you with Brian Michael Bendis. Brian's a busy guy, but any chance you and him could work together again in the future?
Mayhew: I love Bendis. He gets more amazing every year. Think of what he’s done with Miles Morales in Ultimate Spider-Man, and also Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men books and Powers. Even the fact that Jessica Jones is getting her own show on Netflix. If anyone else did one of those things that would be an achievement. Yet Bendis twinkles all of them at us like gems on the Infinity Gauntlet. I don’t know what he’s got up his sleeve next, but I’m ready to work with him anytime, anywhere. He truly is a leader in every way in our industry.
Nrama: Lastly, big picture -- what do you want to accomplish next in comics?
Mayhew: I just want to contribute to this medium in a more substantial way. Whether it’s making the art I make for Marvel or Dynamite more compelling, or whether it’s through developing a creator-owned voice. I want to prove I deserve to be a vital part of this fantastic medium. All eyes are on this medium that has never generated more excitement. The talent pool in the last five years has just gotten incredible, and it’s humbling to think of just how much great material there is.