Adi Granov is Marvel's go-to artist when they want to see the future -- be it futuristic armor in Iron Man or far-flung science fiction with Star Wars. And Granov doesn't mind at all.
Although early on in his career he balanced cover work with interiors on Necrowar and Iron Man's "Extremis" arc, the Bosnian-artist has settled into being one of the most high-profile cover artists in the industry -- being Marvel exclusive for over 10 years.
Newsarama talked to Granov about his Marvel work including their Star Wars license. The artist also discussed his aspirations for future comic book and film work, along with what sort of interior comic book work he'd like to do next.
Newsarama: Adi, my first question is an easy one -- what are you working on today?
Adi Granov: Today I am working on a tight prelim for a large Marvel poster. The sketch has already been approved, but unlike with normal comic covers, for these more mainstream posters I have to make sure all of the details are correct before painting.
Nrama: Early in your career you worked on Star Wars illustrations for Wizards of the Coast, and now you're back doing more for Marvel. Can you talk about your affinity for Star Wars?
Granov: It's kind of backwards, but I became a much bigger fan of Star Wars through working on it, than I was prior. In former Yugoslavia, where I was born, I don't remember Star Wars having as big of an impact as it did in the United States or the United Kingdom. I love science fiction, and the Star Wars world and especially the overall aesthetic have really appealed to me, but I didn't have the connection to the various characters until I got to illustrate them. To be fair, it was the same case with Iron Man, I having never read any of the comics prior to working on the title. It seems to work!
As you mention, one of my first professional illustration jobs, many, many years ago now, was illustrating Star Wars books for Wizards of the Coast, including a cover, which was such a huge achievement for me at the time. I am kind of embarrassed now by how bad that image is, but it's part of the history, and I am super happy to be able to return to the Star Wars universe at this stage in my career.
Nrama: And illustration-wise, what are the unique challenges with the Star Wars concepts and characters for you?
Granov: The existing characters and designs are so familiar and ingrained in people's minds that even the smallest mistakes are glaring. It's such a detail-oriented universe, and so many fans are familiar with every single nuance, that it's very important to be true to the designs and personalities. For instance, while working on Darth Vader covers I had to understand when in the timeline they would be placed in order to know which version of his costume to use, or whether I should be combining elements from multiple ones as the comics were taking place between the movies, etc.. Some of the things which were, in the movies, done out of necessity, budgetary constraints, improvements, etc., are now considered canon and I felt I really needed to study a lot of the elements I took for granted before in order to pay respect to the characters and the fans. I really like that kind of detail oriented logical approach to illustration, so it was a large part of the fun.
Nrama: Another facet of Star Wars is many of the characters are based on real people, actors. How is dealing with that, compared to drawing Marvel characters?
Granov: I think for someone like me, with a more realism-based style, the biggest challenge is the likenesses, which are often not meant to be absolute but idealized. Of course, there are plenty of photographs around, but they are over 30 years old and have been seen millions of times, so if you want to create something new and unique you have to study the features of the actors and try to translate them into new poses and expressions. In comics you are generally allowed to do your own interpretation of the characters, but with Star Wars literally everyone is familiar with the actors, so it's a fine line to walk between adding your artistic style and staying within the bounds.
Nrama: I interviewed you over a decade ago when you were doing Necrowar at Dreamwave. A very different time for both of us -- how do you look back on your early years in comic books?
Granov: Well over a decade ago! That was a very low point for me in my personal life as I was very poor and trying to recover from some less than smart career choices. Technically, working for Dreamwave could've been considered another bad career choice, due to how it all ended with the company, had it not been for the work I produced attracting the attention of Marvel, which changed everything. Many people don't realize that I didn't come into comics from nowhere, I was working in games and doing illustration for many years prior to ever doing comics, and for a while going into that seemed like a terrible decision, but it all worked out in the end.
Nrama: After Necrowar, you've been almost exclusive to Marvel in terms of comic books and comic book covers. Are you under an exclusive with Marvel? And do you have any interest in doing DC characters, or outside work such as European comics?
Granov: I signed my first exclusive contract with Marvel (for comic book work) in 2004 and have resigned or had contracts extended ever since. This question comes up from time to time, and while I would be more than happy to work on DC or other characters, I've always been very happy with my relationship with Marvel and, by extension, Marvel Studios, Disney and Lucasfilm. It probably sounds like a safe corporate answer, but if you look at the things I've done, with the movies, toys, merchandising illustrations, etc., Marvel and I have been very good to each other. I often do non-comic work for other companies, and can even do creator-owned comic stuff, but although it's been something I've been planning on for years, there has been very little time. I need to renegotiate my deal though to include a couple of Disneyland passes!
Nrama: As you mentioned, through Marvel you got involved extensively in films, from the Iron Man movies to Avengers and even Amazing Spider-Man 2. Is that something you want to do more of?
Granov: The answer is yes, but with some reservations. I really love working with the Marvel Studios artists, like Ryan Meinerding, and with the directors, but naturally, with such high financial stakes, the artistic process gets diluted as more and more people get involved in decision-making. On the first Iron Man movie it was literally just Jon Favreau, Ryan and another great designer, Phil Saunders, and I, talking and drawing. I live in the UK, so Jon would call me at 2am and we'd spend hours talking about Iron Man, and most of those conversations ended up major scenes in the movie. It felt like being a part of something really exciting.
Nrama: And could you see yourself doing non-Marvel, or even non-superhero movies?
Granov: Similarly, it really depends on the circumstances and the people involved, but if things aligned, definitely. For instance, I would absolutely love to work on a Mad Max movie with George Miller. I think I'd love to work on Star Trek, and it goes without saying, but working on Star Wars would be pretty amazing.
Nrama: I recently bought the re-issue of Tool's "Opiate" album and found you doing work for them. How did that unique project come about?
Granov: Tool has been my favorite band for 20 years. I absolutely love, love their music. Adam Jones, their guitarist and art director (creator of their amazing videos) and I became good friends over the years, so we're always talking about doing various things together, and Opiate was one of those projects. We'll do more as soon as we have time. He is a huge comic book fan and has even co-written an X-files/30 Days of Night comic with Steve Niles.
Nrama: Getting back into comic books; you got your start doing interiors with Necrowar, but your last interior work was Captain America: Living Legend. You've very in demand to do covers, but can you talk about your feelings on sequential art and how you came to terms yourself in being primarily a cover artist?
Granov: To be fair, I originally never intended to do interior work, I wanted to illustrate covers and posters, but kind of jumped in when I was offered it without quite knowing what I was getting into. I am a real lover of the process and the technique of illustration, so covers and other work like that allow me to push that side of things much further than it's sensible on the interiors. Doing covers is also much more about quick gratification as I spend a few intense days on a piece, finish it and move onto the next, while working on a comic that cycle is a lot longer, for me at least, where it only feels complete when the whole thing is. It's somewhat comparable to the difference between a sprint and a marathon, one is all about the full out explosion, while the other about endurance.
Nrama: Do you have a desire to do interior comic book work in the future?
Granov: My painted style is quite time consuming, so it's a very large time and financial commitment to do interior pages. I love doing it though, so I get swayed from time to time to do more, and in fact, I've been chatting with Marvel about doing something small next year. I would be very reluctant to commit to something larger as it takes so long. Having said that, Iron Man: Extremis is considered such an iconic book these days, but boy did I get lots of complaints when it was months late back then. In retrospect, with everything it has done for the Marvel movie universe and Iron Man specifically, it's tough to think it wasn't worth waiting for!
Back on point, the short answer is yes.
Nrama: And you're identified primarily with Iron Man, but I feel like there's something else in your work -- something cosmic. Are there other characters you'd like to do more with at Marvel?
Granov: I wonder what it would be like if the first Iron Man movie wasn't such a success. I've actually been doing very little Iron Man for years, but the popularity of the character and the endurance of Extremis really loom large. Long may it continue!
I am a really big fan of the Inhumans, Gurdians of the Galaxy, the Silver Surfer and Galactus. I'd be very happy to work on any of them.
Nrama: Last question -- what do you want to be doing five years from now in terms of illustrating that you're not doing currently?
Granov: I'd love to have won a large lottery and spend my time painting a crazy sci-fi epic for my own amusement. In reality though, it's tough to think what more I could want than what I am already doing. I'd love to do more work with Adam and Tool. I'd love to illustrate and design my own line of statues and action figures. That would be pretty great.