Jane Foster has gone from Earth to nine other realms since becoming Thor, but this January she is taking point in a galaxy-spanning war -- with the Shi'ar. Teased earlier this year as part of the announcement of "Marvel NOW!", the story begins in The Mighty Thor #15 by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman.
Newsarama spoke with Dauterman about the upcoming arc, as well as recent events in the series as it counts down to this 2017 story. The California-based artist discussed the the recent "topsy-turvy" issue where Jane and Thor were seen side-by-side, his detailed knowledge of Mjolnir, as well as his his and colorist Matt Wilson's approach to the series.
Newsarama: Russell, what are you working on today? What's on your drawing board?
Russell Dauterman: Ahh, I don't think I can tell you much about what I was drawing today! [Laughs] Gladiator is on the page, I can say that - everything else is a spoiler. There's been a lot of Gladiator this week. Earlier in the week I was also drawing Jane having a face-off with Cul, and Heimdall sans helmet, which was fun. That's one of the cool things about this book, that even though it stars Thor, there's a really rich supporting cast, so I get to draw a variety of great characters.
Nrama: Marvel just released The Mighty Thor #11, the end of your "Lords of Midgard" arc with Jason Aaron. This issue really saw you tilt some panels and some action. This is something I've seen you do before, even in Cyclops, but not to this degree. How did the idea to do it like this come about?
Dauterman: Yeah, I love playing with composition and panel layout. I'm always thinking about the page as a whole, and about what the panel shapes and their positions say about the action and emotion happening within each frame; how the layout is an extension of the storytelling. When Thor whacks Odin with her hammer in The Mighty Thor #4, the panel borders are totally askew, as if her hit was so hard that it tilted the splash page.
For this issue, Jason said to feel free to make the pages as topsy-turvy as I liked, so I ran with that! I wanted the reader to get the same sense of freefall and chaos that the characters within the story were experiencing. I started out with panels that were fairly basic and straight-forward, and then as Roxxon Island started to tilt, the panels followed suit. On the next few pages, I tried to make the panels tumble into each other, while also rotating the action within them and blurring edges. I tried to push things further than I normally would - hopefully it worked out!
Nrama: I’d say yes. This isn't Dutch angles, which have become very common in comic books, but something else. Was it more difficult mapping out the page layouts when doing this?
Dauterman: Sort of, but not that much more difficult because it was just an extension of what I would do anyway (albeit crazier). The layout stage is the most stressful part of comic-making for me, but it's also the most fun. Aside from seeing the page when it's done. [Laughs]
Nrama: It seems it was a conscious decision for Joe Sabino's lettering to not go askew like your art. Can you talk about that decision?
Dauterman: I'm guessing Joe wanted to keep the word balloons straightforward so that the book didn't become a chore to read. The panels and their contents are rotating constantly, and to have the balloons follow suit would have meant needing to turn the book in a different position to read each panel. That would be cool under the right circumstances (I think a Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman issue did something to that effect and did it brilliantly), but in this case there was too much going on for the balloons to also be off-kilter. So I think that was a smart call on Joe's part.
I think the sound effects are different, though. I draw most of those myself and think of them as an extension of the art. So I wanted the effects to mimic the action of the panels and heighten the topsy-turvy-ness. And since those effects are part of the art, Matt gets to color them and incorporate them into his palette.
Nrama: Speaking of advanced visual storytelling, there was some real visual comedy on display in page 12, with the golden Roxxon Island running into the skyscraper. How much of this was you, and how much Aaron in putting this page together - and also holding back on teasing it more in the preceding page?
Dauterman: Jason's scripts are really excellent - I love working from them. His scripts are thoughtful and descriptive, while still giving me the right amount of leeway to work out details. So for this page, Jason described what happened and broke the action down into three panels, and then I finessed that into the layout, deciding what to feature and how. I don't think the Empire State Building was mentioned in the script previously, and I like that it's a surprise.
I wanted that page to be a very clear visual break from the chaotic pages that preceded it. Throughout those, the panels got crazier, the camera angles got tighter, surroundings were blurred. I tried to give a sense of what it would feel like to be in that chaotic situation. And then when Thor stops the island from crashing and the action stops, we get a very straightforward, zoomed-out, still shot. I wanted that to be an exhale.
And Matt nailed it with the color. His palettes are always fantastic, and I love how he has the gold island contrasting with the purple background on this one.
Nrama: You are doing a framing story for October's The Mighty Thor #12 about Mjolnir, with the inside story illustrated by Frazer Irving. Can you talk about your framing story?
Dauterman: Yeah, this is our second flashback story. Like the previous one, I'm drawing the present-day sequence and another artist with a totally different style is drawing the flashback portion. My bit here picks up right where #11 left off, with Thor being teleported by Mjolnir to a place where she'll hopefully get some answers as to the hammer's origin. Frazer's pages for that origin are gorgeous.
Nrama: You've been drawing Thor for essentially two years now, with your first issue coming out December 2014. You've probably drawn Mjolnir more than Thor or Odinson at this point. Was there any kind of learning curve for you in drawing Mjolnir, and finding ways to depict its powers and movement?
Dauterman: [Laughs] Well, the first thing I did after getting the Thor job was to buy a plastic Mjolnir! [Laughs] There are many embarrassing reference photos of me posing with that hammer. I spent some time in the beginning figuring out how I wanted to draw all the characters, Mjolinr included. I try to treat the hammer as having a personality. So just like I pay attention to how Thor stands and make that different to how Jane stands, I try to be conscious of how the hammer moves and make that unique and interesting, whether it's zig-zagging or just lowering itself so Jane can grab it, like in #11.
Nrama: Yourcover to The Mighty Thor #12 brings the hammer into focus, including the cracks and blemishes. Do you pay attention to where those are in terms of drawing them?
Dauterman: Oh yeah. I'm constantly referring back to previous times I've drawn things for consistency. Every knick doesn't always match up, but in general I try get the major cracks to match, and the strapping along the handle too.
Nrama: Artists get asked to do commissions and sketches all the time - have you been asked to do one just of Mjolnir yet? If not, do you think this issue will prompt it?
Dauterman: Not just of Mjolnir, no. But someone on Twitter said to me recently that he wanted to get a tattoo of my Mjolnir drawing. That would be pretty neat!
Nrama:After October’s The Mighty Thor #12, Steve Epting is coming in to do a few issues while you get ahead with the next arc - the very-much-teased "Asgard/Shi'ar War". First off, when do you anticipate that will begin, issue-wise or month-wise?
Dauterman: Issue #15 in January! Very excited about it!
But yeah, Steve Epting is doing a two-parter in #13 and 14, which is about Thor teaming up with a new League of Realms. His pages are beautiful. We're lucky to have him and Frazer on board.
I'm still doing covers for their issues, though, and I also designed a few new characters that will be showing up in Steve's pages. Two are new League of Realms members, and one is a new take on a classic character. Excited for people to see that.
Nrama: Let’s jump ahead to talk about your return, the onset of the Asgard/Shi’ar War. Thor has had some brief dalliances with Shi'ar before in some event books, but never to this level. What can you say about what instigates this war?
Dauterman: Well, Jason's entire Thor run has been about what it means to be a god and what it means to be worthy. There are certain Shi'ar who have some opinions about that, especially when it comes to Thor. I don't think I can say too much more without spoiling things!
Nrama: Are there any particular Shi'ar characters you're most interested in drawing? Maybe some of those Paul Smith or Dave Cockrum designed ones?
Dauterman: Oh yeah, I love all the Cockrum-designed Shi'ar stuff - the feather hair, the eye markings, the bug ships! It's all so wonderfully weird and great. His designs for the Imperial Guard are fantastic. And the Paul Smith/Chris Claremont run of Uncanny X-Men is one of my favorites, so I've definitely been revisiting that too.
When I first found out about Jason's plans for this arc, I was itching to draw the Imperial Guard. I put a lot of them onto the #15 cover, including Plutonia and Manta, who are some of my faves. I love Manta from the “Dark Phoenix Saga” days (the John Byrne sequence where she blasts Nightcrawler is awesome). Gladiator is a highlight too. Purple Superman with a mohawk? Yes, please.
Nrama: What's been your reference library for this upcoming arc?
Dauterman: I combed through the Shi'ar-related issues of Uncanny X-Men that Cockrum did, as well as the Byrne and Smith ones. Those are all gold. I want to hew closely to that original aesthetic, but I also looked at lots of other depictions of the Shi'ar, the Guard, and various other characters, and picked out the details I like from those. I'm a huge Frank Quitely fan, so I'm influenced a lot by his depictions too.
Nrama: …from New X-Men.
Big picture, what are your aspirations/goals for this upcoming arc?
Dauterman: Jason's plan for this arc is really big and unexpected, especially for a Thor story. There are some things coming up that really surprised me, and I can't wait for people to see.
I'm definitely excited to play in the Shi'ar/space opera sandbox. I got a taste of it during my run on Cyclops when I was drawing the Starjammers. And getting to draw the Imperial Guard is a real treat for my 9-year old self who was obsessed with the “Dark Phoenix Saga.”
A highlight of this arc, though, is the juxtaposition between the fantasy of Thor and the sci-fi of the Shi'ar. Seeing those worlds collide is really fun - Norse longships vs. alien bug ships, magic and swords vs. blasters. It's exciting for me to find different visual ways to depict the characters and powers for each of those genres, too. And I'm trying to work that contrast into the page layouts and panel shapes, also.
I just designed some Shi'ar characters who will feature prominently in the arc - I'm very excited about them. I got to really revamp them and add some new vocabulary to the Shi'ar aesthetic. Tried to flex some different muscles from the fantasy stuff I've been drawing. I also wanted to feature the bug ships and incorporate more of that look back into Shi'ar design. I love that the first time we saw Lilandra she was dressed in that bug spacesuit.
Nrama: From the outside, this arc seems pretty ambitious and not something someone could just jump into early on in your run. Do you feel that way, now that you and Jason are two years in, and Jason starting a bit before you even?
Dauterman: Right. This is definitely something we couldn't have done off the bat. Our first story, the entirety of our first volume, was about the mystery of the new Thor and establishing Jane as the Goddess of Thunder. Since then, we've been showing her heroism from different angles: she dealt with very Thor-ish problems in Asgardia, then had to deal with a very different, Earth-based threat in the "Lords of Midgard" arc, and now we're expanding outward with Thor fighting aliens. And there's a big overarching plan to all of this, as we build toward the War of the Realms.
Over the summer, I started year three of working on this book and I'm just as excited as I was with Thor #1. Working with Jason, Matt, and the whole team has been a dream, and I'm really excited for what's coming up. I hope people enjoy it!