Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil is over.
This week's Daredevil #18 marked the end of Waid and Samnee’s fan-favorite run, capping off almost four years of storytelling which brought Daredevil out of the shadows and into a much brighter, more positive corner of the Marvel Universe.
Joining Waid in the previous Daredevil volume’s #12, Samnee had the tough act of following Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin on Waid’s run, a task he more than lived up to. Samnee had worked on Daredevil briefly in previous incarnations of the character, but the team of Waid and Samnee (along with colorists Javier Rodriguez & Matt Wilson) accomplished something special, defining Daredevil in the modern era.
Newsarama spoke with Samnee on the eve of Daredevil #18’s release. Now, we’ve caught up with him again to look back over his time on Daredevil as a whole, discussing which of their goals he and Mark Waid were able to meet, as well as how he sees himself fitting into the greater pantheon of Daredevil artists.
Stay tuned for part two of our Daredevil retrospective with Chris Samnee on Friday.
Newsarama: All right Chris, without getting into too much spoiler territory, can you tell us what’s on your drawing board today?
Chris Samnee: I don’t know when my new project is going to be announced, so I don’t know if I should say what I’m doing.
I can say I’m penciling my first post-Daredevil book today. It’s gonna be a regular series for at least a year. The layouts are done, and I’m getting ready to move into pencils. I’d say more, but I don’t want to jinx myself.
Nrama: Fair enough.
Samnee: I’m really excited about it. I’m getting more of a hand in writing than I did on Daredevil. We’re credited as “Storytellers” on Daredevil, which meant Mark was writing, and I got to have my input whenever possible. But in this new series, Mark and I are doing plot together, and then Mark is handling the dialogue. I’m co-plotting. I get to have a really big hand in the story. I feel like I’m flexing some new muscles. It’s really exciting.
Nrama: Moving on to Daredevil, you mentioned your “Storyteller” credit. When you started with Daredevil #12 (vol. 3), you were just credited as the artist. How did that relationship evolve over the course of the run?
Samnee: I just think we had a natural working relationship. We just clicked. We had already been working on Rocketeer when I started working on Daredevil. I took on both jobs at the same time. I did a four issue mini-series, Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom, at IDW. I signed on to do that when I signed on to do Daredevil. Which really could’ve bit me in the ass if Mark and I didn’t work well together, but we really ended up clicking.
When I first started on Daredevil, I was just gonna be a switch-hitter. So I’d come in and do an issue, or a short, three- or four-issue arc. But one thing lead to another, and I ended up being the regular artist. Khoi Pham was also doing fill-ins. But then I wound up being the regular guy when Paolo Rivera decided to head out. And then when Mark and I started talking more on the phone and figuring out how we were gonna do things, it was Mark who decided that I should get more of a credit for what I was bringing to the table than what I was getting just as penciler and inker.
I think the first issue where I was credited as “Storyteller” was #25, the first Ikari fight. I think that might have been my first issue credited as “Storyteller” because the bulk of that issue, Mark gave me the beats and let me fill in the rest of it myself. So everytime Daredevil thinks he has the upper hand, he doesn’t. And the fight ends in the sporting goods store, and Ikari says, “Try the red one,” with the baseball bat. So that fight was all me, and I think Mark wanted to give me credit for the work I was putting in, because it was certainly more than just “Penciler” when you’re left with 12 pages of work to draw and only a couple paragraphs to go on.
I think he was just trying to give credit where credit was due. Not to take too much credit for it! But yeah, it was Mark’s idea for me to get the “Storyteller” credit.
Nrama: In two volumes of Daredevil, you and Mark have built an iconic run on a character that is known for long, critically acclaimed stints by his creators. What were your goals for the character when you joined the book? Did you know you’d stick around so long?
Samnee: Well, like I said, when I came on, I was just gonna be the switch-hitter, and I was thrilled just to be doing arcs on-again-off-again with Paolo. So I wasn’t really thinking longterm, I was just excited to be on it. I’ve been a Daredevil fan since I was a kid, and I was just happy to be a part of the team when then-editor Steve Wacker brought me on. And then after Paolo left, I was like, “OK, well, I guess I’m the regular guy. How long will it be?” And Wacker was willing to just say, “As long as you guys want to keep doing it.” We’ve had several editors since. After Wacker left it was Ellie Pyle, and after Ellie left we had Sana Amanat. And everybody’s just sort of been like, “Finish your story, and when you’re done, you’re done.”
There were a lot of things I wanted to do, there were a lot of characters that I wanted to draw, and we sort of had our checklist. And as we started reaching the end, we decided it was time to pack up and try something different. I wasn’t really thinking I’d be on Daredevil for three years when I signed up, but here we are. It’s probably best not to look too far forward, otherwise it just becomes too daunting. For us, it was just “Get that issue done, get that arc done. What’s the next arc?” And then issue by issue, every four or five weeks you get a book done, and you move on to the next one. Before you know it, they really start piling up.
Nrama: You mentioned you had a checklist of characters that you wanted to get through. In the time that you spent on Daredevil, you and Matt really explored most of his iconic villains, and a few surprises. And you created some new villains, like Ikari. Is there anyone that you didn’t get to tackle that you really wish you’d been able to work in?
Samnee: No. There’s a lot of great stuff that Gene Colan and Wally Wood did that I wanted to pay homage to, but at the same time, they used so much that it would be kind of hackneyed. Like, Gladiator. I’d like to draw Gladiator, but his stories have been told. I don’t know that we’d have anything new to bring to Gladiator. The stuff that Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark did – I feel like that’s sort of the end of Gladiator’s story, and I didn’t feel like rehashing that would have done anybody any favors.
Gladiator, I think, is the biggest one that we didn’t get to do. We looked at Daredevil’s rogues gallery, and sort of checked off the list. Kingpin was a big one, Bullseye – we did something very different with Bullseye. The Jester. I always wanted to have Daredevil fight Diablo, cause I like the visual of a devil fighting a devil. But I got to do that in my short story that I wrote and drew in #15.1. I think we kind of hit everybody that we needed to do.
I really wanted to do Leapfrog.
Nrama: I mean, who doesn’t, right?
Samnee: When we started vol. 4, Mark was wondering who else we could check off the list, and I wanted to really dive deep and get some of the old villains that you wouldn’t think could be serious threats. With Matt having a different outlook on things, I thought it might be a good chance to dust off some of the campier things and try and give them a real spin. So Leapfrog, who is probably, short of Stiltman, the bottom of the barrel, I really wanted to make him a real threat. Putting him inside that giant tank body was something I thought would be fun. Just a giant tank that could jump ten stories high. Something totally different. That was a lot of fun,
And the Owl. We got to do the Owl’s daughter. I think we hit everybody. We even got Kingpin in this last arc. I think that really does it. We got to do San Francisco. The original San Francisco issues were the first issues of Daredevil I started reading when I was a kid. I got all my comics secondhand from a flea market. So the Colan stuff was my first exposure to Daredevil outside a couple of torn up copies of old Steve Ditko Marvel Tales with Spider-Man vs. Daredevil. From there it was Colan all the way. And all of this run has really been a chance for me to make a love letter to Gene Colan.
Nrama: I was impressed that you could take Leapfrog, who really is the bottom of the barrel, and do something cool with him.
Samnee: I think we figured out what to do with Leapfrog and the death of Foggy over lunch. Mark and I, and editor Nick Lowe, all had lunch together, and that’s what we did. We figured out how we were going to use Leapfrog, and Foggy was gonna fake his death. Ant-Man was gonna shrink him down, and all that came together over lunch. We very rarely got to write stuff in person. We’d sort of chat over the phone. But to get to put all the pieces together in person was a lot of fun.
Nrama: You’ve got a reputation as an “artist’s artist;” someone that other creators point to as one of their favorites in the genre. And you’re a fan favorite, too. How has your style evolved since you’ve been working on Daredevil?
Samnee: I didn’t know that many people felt that way. That’s flattering, that’s cool. I don’t know, the original plan was just for me to be a penciler, when I was a kid, but working with an inker, I wasn’t really getting the results that I wanted. The first proper book that I ever took on, they didn’t have the budget for an inker, so I had to start inking myself. That’s when my style really started to come out, because I was so nervous to put ink on paper, that I started putting less lines down and that’s when my Alex Toth influence started coming to the surface, and I’ve just sort of tried to embrace that over the years.
Most of vol. 3 of Daredevil was me trying to pare it down, and vol. 4 was me trying to see what I could put back on the page, how many lines were just the right amount of lines. How many lines I could put without going overboard. There are a lot of comics nowadays that are sort of line heavy, and I don’t think that’s the best thing when you’re trying to hit deadlines, trying to hit every single detail just right. I want a feeling on a page, not for everything to be technically 100%. I want you to feel something when you read it, not just state that “Oh, that’s exactly what a car engine looks like.” If it feels like what a memory of something is, that’s close enough for me.
I’ve never really thought of there being too many other artists’ eyes on it. I’m just trying to tell the best stories that I can, and have fun while I’m doing it.
Nrama: Volume 4 of Daredevil really shook things up for Matt Murdock. You moved him out west, you outed him as Daredevil. What lead to the decision to take him in that direction?
Samnee: I think it was originally in Mark’s old notes, before I was ever on board, that he wanted to take him back to San Francisco. Which is fine by me – like I said, San Francisco was my introduction to Daredevil, with Gerry Conway and Gene Colan. But I think it was Marc Guggenheim who suggested to Mark that if Matt Murdock were disbarred in New York, the only place he’d be able to practice law would be somewhere that he had already passed the bar. And since he practiced law in San Francisco, that’s kind of the only place that Daredevil could go back to, and keep doing what he does. San Francisco was sort of the only option. It all worked out. Whether it was subconscious or not, Mark had planned to do it and then I think other plans got piled on top, and he sort of forgot about it, but that was the only natural place that he could go. I wasn’t really involved in that at all, but I was excited to do it.
Nrama: You really captured the look of San Francisco. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and one thing I really noticed is that you really captured the difference between a city like San Francisco and a city like New York. Did you do a lot of research going into that, or is it something that just came naturally to you?
Samnee: I did a lot of research, a lot of Google Maps, and trying to track down what location is close to the next one, and trying to tie it all together. For Christmas, before volume 4 started, Mark sent out 3 or 4 photobooks of San Francisco to me and – I can’t remember if Javier Rodriguez got them, or Matt Wilson got them – but we all got the same photo reference to go off of. So we all had the same photos if we needed them.
I’m glad to hear that it looks like San Francisco at all, because at the end of the day, it’s a fictionalized San Francisco, the same way that I was drawing a fake New York. I mean, the real Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t look like the comic book version of Hell’s Kitchen, so I was just sort of playing it by ear. There were a few locations here and there in New York that I’d drawn that were real, but for the most part, it was just like, “Does this feel like New York?” San Francisco was a lot more reference, in order to feel like the real San Francisco now. But I’ve never been to New York or San Francisco, haha.
So it works out that it’s sort of the Marvel Universe version of those places, cause in my head, they’re almost fictional. Since I’ve never been to either, I can sort of put myself in a fictionalized headspace of what these places are, and just sort of wing it, and not feel tied to what they actually are. It’s like drawing Gotham City. You’ve seen the movies, but it’s not like it’s some place you can actually go and be there. You just have it in your head.
I probably should have been to San Francisco before I got started, but time crunch on comics is a bear. To get a book done in five weeks, you’re at your desk six or seven days a week and if you want to ink it too, that’s even more time at the board. And I just never had a chance to get out there. But I’m glad to hear there was some sort of consistency between the real thing and what’s on the page.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier Wally Wood and Gene Colan. And you said that Gene Colan and his time on Daredevil were a big influence on you. What do you think it is that those creators specifically brought to Daredevil, and do you see yourself as following in their tradition?
Samnee: I don’t know if I’m following their tradition. I’m drawing the same character. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I don’t think I could live up to Wally Wood or Gene Colan, but I’ve been doing my damndest to try and get as close as I can to the feeling I had when I read that stuff. Daredevil back then was high adventure, it was exciting. And especially if you’re new to comics, to read Gene Colan and Wally Wood and Jack Kirby… To make those your first comics when you’re getting into a new medium. I can’t think of a better gang of guys to be your introduction into comic books.
I’m doing my best. I’m never trying to copy them. When we had flashbacks to the Stuntmaster, I made blue-lines of one of Colan’s panels and tried to ink a Colan panel of Stuntmaster. And one of the Silver Surfer issues, there was a flashback to an old Stan Lee and Gene Colan issue where Matt’s talking in front of a school and for the flashback, I literally traced over a Gene Colan panel. That’s the closest I’ll get to getting to work with him.
Following in their tradition… I don’t know. I’m definitely trying to be as much of a workhorse as those guys. A lot of monthly comics nowadays, people jump in for five issues and jump out for the next thing, and I really like being able to follow an artist on a title for a little while. I like growing some roots and telling an entire story. I hate following a book, and then as soon as you start getting into, they jump off and you lose sort of a throughline. I mean, it’s great to have the writer stay on, but you lose something when half of the creative team moves on to something else.
So Colan was around for a long run, Wally Wood did a lot of issues. And that’s the sort of thing that I like to do, is tell a full story instead of just a chapter. But that’s as close as I can get to those guys.
Come back Friday as our discussion with Samnee continues.