She-Hulk has dropped the pronoun and added some new pathos for the new Hulk title which launched this week. And according to series artist Nico Leon, its all with the "serious goal" of adding a new fact to the character - one whose path "will be going through the darkest emotional conflict in her She-Hulk legacy."
Leon is working on this new series with writer Mariko Tamaki, both their first time launching a new Marvel series. Leon started at Marvel just one year ago, and quickly grew from being someone who got into comics by reading Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man to being the one drawing him in recent issues of Spider-Man.
Now, as the Argentenian artist works on his first solo series of his own, Newsarama caught up with him to discuss his origins, his take on Jennifer Walters, and his goals for both the title and for himself as an artist.
Newsarama: Nico, what are you working on today?
Nico Leon: I am just starting to work on the third issue of Hulk. I can’t say anything about it yet, but I guess I can say that the voices of Mariko’s cast for this issue are beyond awesome.
Nrama: You just finished up an arc on Spider-Man with Brian Michael Bendis before segueing to Hulk, which is your first ongoing series of your own. This comes just over a year since you first debuted at Marvel. How do you feel about that?
Leon: I can’t believe it yet. Well, I didn’t even hav the time to think about it. [Laughs]
2016 was an unreal dream-like year to me. It was full of work; I think I did 11 and a half books this year, and I was able to draw all the characters that I love (even interacting with each other). That is something that I didn’t dare to dream about before now. I did dare to dream about becoming the main artist of a series sometime in my life, but never thought that the moment would come so fast. I am really really thankful with all the people that made this incredible 2016 possible.
Nrama: Let’s go back to your comic book origins - prior to Marvel, you did a webcomic and also a graphic novel for Arcana called Mastema. Can you tell us about your start in comic books?
Leon: My start in comics was kind of weird, I think. I knew that I wanted to be a storyteller, but being a comic book artist was something that I never considered. To me, animators, manga-ka, or comic book artists were like stars in heaven, completely unreachable; one can’t even consider to be a star in the heaven. So I studied modern literature at university, trying to find my way into the storytelling world.
Around four to five years ago, it just happened by chance that I lent my guitar amp for a comic book artist talk panel at a small convention in my town (I was a guitar player in an anime cover band then). That was the first time I saw and heard an industry artista; he was real, and he was a common, regular person. It was kind of a “eureka” moment to me. It sounds dumb, but I realized that he was a person the same as I am; the only real (and huge) difference between us was the knowledge on the field. I thought then that becoming an artist to tell stories was, at least, not impossible.
Some weeks after, one more time just by chance, I read Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 2 by Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor. It was a bomb to me, those pages had life on them, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and everything about that book was superb. I can say that it changed my life, after reading it (or before reaching the middle) I knew for sure that I wanted to tell stories as a comic book artist.
I was about to have my degree on Modern Literature then, but the new feeling and goal was so big that I felt that I had been wasting my time all my life and needed to catch on faster I was at the time, so I dropped university and started to study everything at my reach about comics. A couple of months after I had my first artist gig with Mastema, a graphic novel by Curtis Lawson (you guys need to check out his books), I loved all the process of making a comic book, and I never stopped studying and drawing since then.
Nrama: So what were your goals then for comic books?
Leon: My instant goal at that moment was to become a Marvel artista. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol.2 was so strong that gave me a purpose in my life, and I wanted to try to make people feel the same that I felt when I read that book. Books can change lives, not always a permanent change as it happened to me, but at least a change during those 10 or 30 minutes that you have the book on your hands. My main goal then and now is to give a real experience; to make the readers feel, to hope, to learn, to care about the characters, to smile or hopefully laugh about something in the book.
Nrama: So how did you get connected with Marvel? Who was your contact?
Leon: I am from a small town in Argentina and it was nearly impossible to me to travel to big conventions and have the chance to have a portfolio review. My first contact with Marvel was through my former artist agency, RADEBU. My agent was awesome. I think I met him and have my first Marvel script in the same week. It was unreal. It is unreal since then.
Nrama: So your first published work at Marvel was doing three of the final issues of Guardians 3000 - an ensemble book, which is no easy task. How was that for you?
Leon: It was an awesome experience. Having all these characters interacting was so so hard. I remember there were panels with 14-16 characters at one time, and plenty of them talking at the same time (at the Times Square! [laughs]), but I enjoyed the pages so much. All the team behind the book were very supportive with me.
Nrama: You've bounced around, but its with three issues on G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel that you seemed to find your voice - or at least fans began to take notice. What do you feel was the issue where you particularly hit your groove?
Leon: I think it was a point between Ms. Marvel #4 and #5. I am a huge fan of Ms. Marvel since the first book, it’s my number one favorite series in the whole American market. I couldn’t believe they asked me to be a guest artist there. It was a great challenge to me, as a fan I made it personal; it was completely necessary to me to make sure to not let down any reader.
Adrian Alphona created a whole new world and visual language for Ms. Marvel and I wanted to “talk” in that language during my run, kind of using my way to talk, but in his language. I studied his issues a lot. I like to adjust my style to each book and I am constantly out of my comfort zone, but during Ms. Marvel I found a beautiful place to be that I could call my “comfort zone.”
I think Adrian Alphona and Sara Pichelli are my mentors, only that they don’t know that I am their pupil.
Nrama: And fast-forward to now, and Hulk #1 came out this week. How is it for you?
Leon: On Hulk we are exploring a new facet of a known character and I really like to not know 100% what is going to happen because Jen is also uncertain about it.
I really love to work with Mariko, and I am sures he has a larger plan in mind. I think her scripts are beyond awesome and they are flowing in a very graceful way, I have no idea what paths she is going to take, but I am very excited looking forward to find out.
Nrama: Did you do any preliminary work leading up to your first page of Hulk? Sketches, design work, etc.?
Leon: As the matter of fact, I didn’t. [Laughs]
My work process involve lots and lots of written notes gathered on different files full of pages, lots of references, readings, even watching series or movies about the subject, taking screen captures and then still adding notes on them. When I have all that info mixed in my head, only then do I grab the Wacom’s stylus, at that moment the idea that I have is so vivid that only a couple of rough sketches do the work.
Nrama: Ultimately, what are your goals with Hulk?
Leon: My first goal is always make the readers feel. With Hulk, this is a serious goal and it is very very important to me. Jen is a beloved character and she will be going through the darkest emotional conflict in her She-Hulk legacy. There will be a lot on feelings inside the story, but at the same time, outside the story (as we are also not successful super heroes on duty) I think we have the rare chance to build a kind of empathy with Jen that wasn’t possible earlier.
Nrama: You're still very early in your career, but what are your big goals in comics now? Are there certain characters, types of projects, creators, or other things you want to do for yourself?
Leon: They all are secret. [Laughs]
Outside the comic book world, I would like to explore animation and publish a very short manga in Japan at some point in the far future, but they are dreams more than goals because I have no plans to do anything at all about those in the near future. [Laughs]
For now I am very happy and thankful to be around in the comic book world.
Nrama: Last question - I noticed you have yet to do any cover work for Marvel - not even variants. Is that something you're interested in?
Leon: I really would love to do some covers. While the thing I enjoy the most is to tell stories on the interiors, to have the chance to do a cover would be awesome; it is a completely different challenge. Unfortunately, I haven’t been asked yet. I am still new and a slow artista at that, so I need to compensate that lack of speed by working all the time that I am awake. I would have had to reject any cover proposal due lack of time, honestly. I hope to manage better my working time for this upcoming 2017 and, at least, have the chance to be able to say “Yes.” [Laughs]