Everything might be "All-New" and "All-Different" at Marvel, but Jane Foster has moved past the "All-New" stage and found out just how rough it is as Thor.
As series artist Russell Dauterman tells Newsarama, next month's The Mighty Thor #3 has the god of thunder dealing with high-level threats from frost giants, Malekith, Malekith's wedding, the Asgardian royal family, and...
who else but Loki. An army of them. While Thor and Loki might be neck-and-neck for being the black sheep of the Asgardian royal family, that doesn't mean they can get along.
But Russell Dauterman is getting along with Thor and writer Jason Aaron. After transitioning over from Cyclops in 2014 to take on Thor's adventures, the Los Angeles-based artist has become a key part of Mighty Thor's recent successes. Newsarama talked to the university-trained illustrator about upcoming storylines, recent character designs, and dealing with a lot of Lokis.
Newsarama: Russell, this is the second volume of Thor you’ve worked on with Jason Aaron. How has Jane Foster/Thor evolved since she first took up the hammer?
Russell Dauterman:She's a lot more confident in being Thor now. In our first volume, there were a lot of firsts for her - her first time flying or throwing the hammer or punching a Frost Giant. There was a rookie vibe to a lot of her superhero-ing. She went through some heavy stuff in that series, and had to come into her own pretty quickly. In the new series, she's had more time to grow into the confident, self-assured, strong character she is now.
Plus, the Odinson is M.I.A. and war is breaking out all over the Ten Realms, so Thor is also needed even more now than she was before. And Jane Foster is needed too, in her role with the Congress of Worlds. The stakes are higher now, and Jane has had to rise to meet them.
Nrama: Likewise, how has your working relationship with Jason Aaron evolved now that you’ve been working together for some time?
Dauterman: Well, I'm a lot less nervous now! [Laughs]
I was pretty intimated when starting Thor, partly because of all the media attention the book got, but also to be working with one of the best writers in comics, especially someone whose work I love. I'm a fan of his, for sure.
In the beginning, I would approach every script he sent with a technical eye and could only think of how I would compose each page, hoping I could do it justice. Now I feel more comfortable, and my first read of his scripts is really just as a fan - they're exciting. His scripts are so well-written and nuanced - they're excellent to work from.
I think our styles clicked pretty much off the bat, which helped. Our storytelling sensibilities line up. And that's definitely gotten better after working together more.
Jason's fantastic - I love working with him.
Nrama: In Mighty Thor #1, there were some truly gut-wrenching scenes of Jane working through her chemotherapy juxtaposed with the politics of Asgard – a shocking act in a mundane world, against a banal exercise in a land of fantasy. How do you balance those tonal shifts while maintaining consistency?
Dauterman: I think the consistency comes in through character work. Whatever the character's feeling needs to show through on the page. No matter how mundane or fantastical the circumstances are, the emotion of the scene is what keeps it real and meaningful.
I hope that people get a sense of what Jane's feeling in those treatment pages from the look on her face, her frail hands, or her body language. That's what makes it real. But the same is true when she's Thor. In that shot of her flying up through the clouds, her body language is confident, her head is up, she has a little half smile, her physique is strong. I hope those things shine through and make her feel like a real person in that moment too, even though she's holding onto a magic hammer and flying.
There was also a lot of technical stuff in that hospital scene I wanted to get right. Jason sent reference of the types of equipment and treatment rooms he was picturing, and I did my own research too. I wanted to make that stuff as real and grounded as I could, partly to do justice to anyone who might relate to Jane's situation, but also to help contrast the difference to Jane's life is as Thor. That juxtaposition was probably my favorite thing about the first issue. Despite all the other-worldly craziness that's going on, there's still this very human problem that Thor has to deal with.
Nrama: There are some influences in your work on Mighty Thor that are rarely associated with the Norse Gods – shades of Winsor McKay and Moebius – that reflect a kind of fairy tale/fantasy aesthetic. What lead you to that idealized style to depict a world that is so often about sword and sorcery?
Dauterman: That fantasy stuff is ingrained in my DNA, and I absolutely love getting to draw it in this series. I've always loved fantasy, and different kinds. Growing up it was Disney fairy tales, He-Man, The Last Unicorn, Gargoyles, so many others... Now it's mythology or Game of Thrones. So my aesthetic is really a combination of all that. Getting to draw giants or elves or witches, that aesthetic comes out very naturally.
I see the Thor world as encompassing a lot of different types of fantasy. There's so much sci-fi coolness in the Jack Kirby stuff, to more fantastical imagery with Walt Simonson, and a very Nordic, gritty vibe with Esad Ribic. So I think there's room to add some more flavor, while staying true to what came before.
Especially in this new series, we're getting to explore more of the Ten Realms, and a goal of mine is to give each of them its own design aesthetic. That opens the door to bring in other influences. I want to add to the Thor world and still keep everything cohesively "Thor."
Nrama: You get to draw a lot of fantastic stuff in Mighty Thor. What’s your favorite part in that Thor world to draw? What was your favorite to design?
Dauterman: All the character work we were talking about earlier is my favorite thing to draw in any comic, and there's tons of that to do in The Mighty Thor.
But also, drawing the fantasy aspect of this book has been a huge treat for me: the elves, Alfheim, the Frost Giants, witches, war unicorns, moss mammoths. Jason's thrown some incredibly cool stuff into the series and I love getting to draw it.
I've really loved designing the elves and Alfheim, especially giving their queen, Aelsa, a new look. There was a fairly literal 17th Century aesthetic already in place for the Light Elves from previous series. I took that and mixed in a lot more fantasy touches, and exaggerated the 17th Century silhouette to echo flower pedals. Every design thing in Alfheim is flower-based, even Aelsa's castle and the buildings around it.
Odin and Freyja were some of my favorites to design, too, with his antler helmet and her big hair with winged headdress and shoulder pads. I tried to give them a good mix of classic Asgard with some more modern touches.
I'm also really pumped about the Muspelheim characters. I got to design the Queen of Cinders and her minions. They're super twisted and weird fire creatures. Can't wait to for them to show up again.
Nrama: Speaking of showing up again, Loki is back in the book. What’s your approach to the God of Mischief?
Dauterman: I'm glad to finally get to draw him! I take a big cue from Tom Hiddleston's performance. He's so brilliant as Loki, so I've tried to look at his facial expressions and body language and echo that.
Loki's really interesting because you never know if he's friend or foe. Getting that ambiguous, mischievous grin right has been something I've been working on.
I love drawing Thor and Loki together and showing the friction there. So far we've seen Thor interact with Malekith, who's mischievous too, but in a different, more malicious way. He's playful about it though, with a flamboyance. Loki is more subtle. He doesn't have as exaggerated gestures, so I've been trying to find more subtle ways for him to carry himself, focusing on his facial expressions.
Nrama: There are some big moments coming up in Mighty Thor, like the wedding of Malekith and the throwdown between Thor and Odin. Without getting too spoiler-y, what’s on your drawing board right now?
Dauterman: Well, I just drew Odin blasting Thor across the universe, so things are getting pretty tense! The issue I'm doing now is the big showdown between the two of them. All the tension that's been bubbling since Jane picked up the hammer is boiling over in this one. It's a really big issue with some definite consequences.
Nrama:Matt Wilson is one of the most sought after colorists in the business right now, and his dreamy colors fit perfectly with your delicate linework. What’s the working relationship like between you two? Do you tailor your art to suit your creative partners?
Dauterman: I love working with Matt! He has incredible taste in color, and comes up with some really beautiful and unique palettes. He brings so much to the book. His colors are perfect for it - dreamy was a great word to describe them. And I love the combination of his colors and rendering style with my line art.
There's a synergy to working with Matt that I love too. Like with Jason, our styles complement each other really well, and our sensibilities line up. We talk about how we'd like the book to look, especially in the beginning. And with this new volume there are some new stylistic things going on that I really love.
Matt and I have a system that works really well, I think, where I'll separate out all the effects in the line art, which gives him more freedom to work with them. I'll set up something, like magic powers or snow, and he'll add to it and make the whole thing come together. Even though our parts of the process are separate, doing stuff like that and talking about the overall vision of the art help make it look seamless.
Nrama: The next issue, Mighty Thor #3, comes out January 13. What can people expect in that? What are you most excited to draw in future issues?
Dauterman: Issue #3 is one of my favorites that we've done so far. I think people will definitely get their Loki fix from that one. I was up to my ears in Lokis, drawing that one! Each issue I like more than the previous one, which is refreshing and exciting.
I'm really happy with where the book is in this new volume, with Thor's identity revealed. The setup is out of the way and we're at the meat of Jane's story now. I'm really pumped to draw the finale to our first arc, which has been all about the War of the Realms. There are big battles, lots of character drama, and some really meaty scenes I'm excited to do.
Really, I'm just very happy to be telling Jane's story with Jason and Matt, and the rest of the team. Hope people dig it!