Darth Vader is taking down a planet by himself -- and Marvel has called in Leinil Yu to help.
Yu is drawing this week's Darth Vader Annual #1, a tie-in to the ongoing Darth Vader series and the current "Vader Down" crossover. Written by Kieron Gillen, in this issue Darth Vader is sent to the volcanic planet of Shu-Torin to enforce Imperial will in the wake of Star Wars: A New Hope.
Although Yu has worked in comic books for 20 years as of this coming January, this is his first time inside the Star Wars universe -- and it will be an extended stay, as he's scheduled to take over Marvel's main Star Wars title with February's #16. Newsarama spoke with Yu about his approach to the iconic property, and just how dark he's drawing Darth Vader.
Hint: there's a lot of black ink.
Newsarama: Leinil, you’ve done some variant covers for Marvel’s Star Wars books, but Darth Vader Annual #1 will be your first interior work in the franchise. Is the Star Wars universe a place you’ve wanted to work for a long time?
Leinil Yu: Yes and No. I am a huge fan, obviously. It’s a huge influence in my artwork (all the movies and particularly Doug Chiang’s art from Episode I) and sci-fi in general is really my favorite genre, artistically. I may be known as a superhero artist but I really love drawing ships, robots, mecha and technology.
At the same time, drawing likeness is a challenge for me and it’s an aspect in art that I have not immersed myself in. I think I can copy photos well enough but I don’t want my book to look too photorealistic. I want the characters to still look like my drawings and still resemble the original actors that they are based from. I really like how J. Scott Campbell and Phil Noto handles likeness a lot, bearing full resemblance while still maintaining their cartoony style. It’s challenging but fun.
Nrama: That style, as you say, has a well-worn, battle-hardened aesthetic that really fits with the lived-in vibe of the Star Wars universe. How do you balance that gritty feel with the clean lines of the Empire while drawing Darth Vader?
Yu: It’s really just self-control. Grit is really about the rendering and textures. I can hold back on the rendering and make sure it’s appropriate to the scenes I’m doing.
Nrama: You’re listed as the sole artist on Darth Vader Annual #1. In recent years, you’ve used a few different techniques in your art, including colors directly over your pencils, working with an inker, and everything in between. What style are you going with for this book? Are you working with an inker or colorist?
Yu: Although I did all the art on the cover, the interiors are inked by Gerry Alanguilan, my long-time art partner and colored by Jason Keith.
I’m going for a cleaner look and at the same time, more toned down posing. I wanna cut down on the typical superhero athleticism we are often used to.
Nrama: The solicitation for Darth Vader Annual #1 talks about the Dark Lord of the Sith bringing an entire planet in line with the Empire. Will we see Vader fully unleashed, and how do you convey that level of power on the page?
Yu: It’s actually quite an intimate issue where Vader deals with the very top of the planet’s leadership instead of fighting its whole army. Make no mistake; there is a ton of action. Vader is so powerful that he really barely exerts much effort in dealing with any threat.
Nrama: Vader’s appearance reflects his union with the Dark Side of the Force. His all black, cloaked visage seems like a perfect fit for your style. What tricks are you using to visually embrace the Dark Side, and make Vader stand out?
Yu: I made the decision to use as much black on Vader as possible. Usually, you would leave it to the colorist to fill in the dark shades of grey. I’m going for a starker look that looks beautiful to me even without colors. I also want Vader to stand out against the background.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Shu-Torin, the planet Vader visits in the annual? Did you get to design that?
Yu: It’s a Volcanic laden mining planet with interesting inhabitants. Kieron Gillen’s plot just gave me a lot of interesting visuals to work with. It’s a mix of the gritty mining industry and royal class. Interesting stuff.
Nrama: Marvel works closely with Lucasfilm to make sure the Star Wars books fit closely with their established canon. What’s it like working in the context of that relationship?
Yu: Lucasfilm is very hands- on and very detail-conscious. It’s gonna be a bigger challenge on the upcoming Star Wars interiors where I’d be dealing with actor likeness. I think I got Vader’s look down quite easily and referenced, not traced. What the readers are getting are authentic, Lucasfilm approved products with story arcs you can place side-by-side with your movie collection.
Nrama: Speaking of the movies, the Star Wars universe has a distinct, widescreen aspect. Is that something you’re playing into with this annual?
Yu: Not consciously. I thought about it and there was a time where I was doing nothing but widescreen panels. It’s actually a very easy path to take, but it’s also limiting and inefficient. “Normal” layouts is much more challenging but more efficient in telling a story.
It also depends on the number of panels. The fewer the panels per page, the more likely I’d use widescreen panels.
Nrama: What’s it like working from a Kieron Gillen script? How much control did you have with the story?
Yu: It’s quite easy and a lot fun. I think he gave me a lot of freedom and I tried to remain faithful to his initial ideas. It’s a collaboration and I hope he’s happy with the final results.
Nrama: This is just one issue, but you’re already announced as taking over the main Star Wars ongoing series. Which Star Wars character do you want to draw most?
Yu: The main Cast, Luke Leia, Han and Chewie but I’m just starting to play with them and finding my “style”. I don’t want a picture book, I still want it to look like my comic art. I always thought Boba Fett looks cool too.