Jonboy Meyers redesigned DC's Teen Titans for "Rebirth," and did with Marvel's Inhumans for "ResurrXion." With three issues on the stands now, Meyers is able to talk about the designs and how much they factored into the story and the surprises of the first few issues - from Medusa's illness to the man behind Black Bolt's mask.
Meyers has become known at the Big Two as an artist brought in not only to illustrate a series, but also to redesign characters for a drastic new take from the ground up. Bringing in his animation experience, Meyers cranks out various designs - and iterations of designs - to explore what a character could (and should) look like - and his work here on Royals is no exception.
Newsarama talked with Meyers in-depth about his designs for Medusa, Gorgon, Marvel Boy, Maximus, and the other Inhumans of Royals, discovering how much thought and revision went into each look, and ultimately what led him to leave the book after three issues in pursuit of more creative rewards.
Newsarama: Jonboy, when you moved over to Marvel to work on Royals - what was it that inspired you to create the looks and designs for Marvel’s Royal Family?
Jonboy Meyers: Great Question. Believe it or not, there were no initial talks in the beginning about the look or design for Royals - but after reading series writer Al Ewing’s pitch (which is pretty Dope IMHO - Al’s the best), I knew this was something different…. really different. And reading it, I felt like this was going to redefine who these characters were and how people view the Inhuman Royal Family in general.
For those of you who haven’t been reading, let’s give you the skinny: the Terrigen Mists as we know it are gone. Medusa has abdicated the throne to a new younger generation of Inhumans, with the family going on a suicide mission into outer space to find out where they come from, who they really are, and to discover new sources of Terrigen… Oh, and Medusa is also dying.
That was the selling point for me; with the ending of Inhumans vs. X-Men, it’s a very nice way to close that chapter on who those characters were and to do something completely different. Though after talking with series editors Wil Moss and Charles Beacham (Awesome editors, by the way) about what they wanted to do look-wise, they told me it was up to me on what I wanted to do - just as long as it fit the tone for series.
Artists are storytellers too.
Here’s where artists become storytellers and help to flesh out narratives. Al’s pitch only specified that they were going into space, Medusa was dying, and it was pretty much a suicide mission; seven would go, and six would return… Pretty bleak, right? But no suggestions, look-wise. It’s pretty much on me to establish it.
I knew that Medusa is pretty much the lynchpin to the series - everything pretty much revolves around this strong, fierce, determined leader who is dying, but is trying to make amends and find a means to save her people. So her design would be the model for everyone else within the series. Her look had to be solid and believable.
I initially tried to spin up some designs which are basically her “superhero” look - they all look fine, but nothing really landed. When I looked at the designs, I was like “Meh….nothing really stands out to me. Been there done that.”
People have already seen a “superhero” Version of the Inhuman royal family, so maybe… Maybe I need to do something different.
Nrama: So you don’t think the traditional “superhero” look would have worked at all for Royals?
Meyers: Yeah, I really don’t think so.
I think if we went with the traditional hero look, readers would have felt like it’s just the same old stuff. But doing something new, this is a perfect jumping-on point. And what’s the point of wearing a mask in space? It didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I don’t think readers would believe it as well.
I began thinking about what would possibly work, and it finally hit me when I watched Mad Max: Fury Road. It all clicked.
These are desperate people, going all in to somewhere they have never been, to try and find out just who they really are, and they’re probably not all coming back. So the art and design has to support that sort of narrative: “Inhumans In Space”. Very much like Lost in Space - this family is going into the unknown. So something sci-fi is the way to go and it all became easier from there.
From there I started to work up what a space look would be for the royal family. My initial concepts were something completely different, but nothing really stood out and really didn’t feel like Medusa at all - and most looked super lame.…
But the first rule of doing concepts for characters is “What are you trying to say about who these characters are?” Some of these initial designs are fine, but nothing really felt “Inhuman” or “Royal” to me… this is a regal, royal family flying into space.
So I went back and took a look at all of Jack Kirby’s designs for the characters. What I found is that each royal family member has their own specific color, and speculated that maybe the colors denote a royal rank for each of them.
Purple and blue are queen and king; brown for a knight, yellow for a duchess, etc.
From there all these characters started to come into their own. And the look started to match the narrative. They had to have all of their respective colors; they had to still feel regal with some sort of royal hierarchy to the design and they all needed to have a very Kirby space vibe to it and the costumes should reflect who these characters are.
Nrama: So break it down for us, character-by-character.
Medusa - Sticking with her “Purple” theme, I made her “Deposed Queen” look similar to her standard uniform look - still very regal-looking, with only the tiara, royal cloth, and jewelry dropping off. Her hair color also gets noticeably dull and shorter. And I really thought it was important that as she loses her hair; t o show that she is still owning what is happening to her, and it makes her stronger because of it. I think it’s important to show that it’s not Medusa’s hair that defines her as a character, but who she is as a leader and as a person. That’s what's super interesting to me. I also worked up a “Space Armor” look and a cloaked version since they’ll need stuff as the series progresses - but even those designs still look and feel unique to that character and still work within the “Lost in Space” narrative.
Gorgon - again sticking with his comic colors - he’s our strong guy and there’s not a need to throw a lot of stuff on him. His base suit feels right and I worked up a “Space Armor” look and a cloaked version as well. He is Medusa’s right hand and his loyalty to Medusa is shown in his choices in space armor and clothes. He’s kinda aping her a bit - I think it’s the best way to show how loyal he is to her and her cause.
Flint - He’s one of three non-royals in Royals. I wanted this base design to feel like his original look, but with some nice accents and all of the Royals characters have a similar unify look to a certain extent. I did want him to have a bit of a squire look to him, and most of his look has a cloak or hoodie feel to it to signify that he’s hiding something a bit. It’s talked about in Royals #1 a bit: that there is no reason for him to go on this suicide mission, but there’s something within him that compels him to go.
Crystal - Again repeating the same base colors here. I’m not a fan of her short hair, especially since Medusa is losing hers; it would be nice to do the opposite with Crystal, but these events happen right after Inhumans vs. X-Men and hair doesn’t grow that fast. But I thought it would be fun to make something old new again by bringing back a jacket that is a nice nod to her old leather jacket from her 90s Avengers days.
Marvel Boy - Man I love this character…though I was really hoping we would get Quicksilver. But alas it was not meant to be, and Marvel Boy is key to the series. So I still wanted to work a sense of “arrogant, but cocky” look to him into the design. He’s a very underrated character and it’s nice to make him front and center again. I also wanted to work a nice Kree-inspired look to him hence the fin on his armored form. It’s my nod to the classic Captain Marvel look.
Swain – Man, I did not like Swain. But after reading Al’s pitch, it totally changed my mind. I decided to go more of a space pirate feel that kinda apes her classic look but looks less ridiculous; and then I high tech’d up her glasses a bit and a little more of an attitude with the “Punk Rocker Peacock” look to her hair.
Maximus The Mage - I love the Idea of Maximus and I’m so glad he’s onboard. Al Ewing’s story is really going to make you like the character; not as a madman, but as the team’s science guy and brains. Kinda like Spock, but well… Spock with his own agenda and an attitude. I wanted to have his look emulate his brother a bit, it’s something that younger siblings usually do - and I think in the back of my mind he wishes he could be as great as Black Bolt, though I don’t think he’d ever admit it. I also incorporated a bit of a monk-lile attire to his look; I want to show the readers that he’s not exactly the same character as before. He’s becoming something more, though can he be a team player and a hero? Time will tell.
The Ship Astarion: I wanted to do a ship design that would be unique to the Inhumans. My initial thoughts were along the Space: 1999 look, or giving it an “X” profile to the wings, but… meh, it just didn’t feel right. But I love the idea of shapes and took the shape of a manta ray and fleshed out the design from there. I just wanted it to look a bit tank-y and feel like it can take a pounding in space and still keep going… which is what the team will need going forward, especially since space is a very cold, dangerous, lonely place.
Meyers: It’s coming along fine, I did about two issues worth of stuff on Royals, but after that, I was going to be moved to another book, but in the end I decided to pass on it...
Nrama: What were you intended to move over to?
Meyers: X-Men: Gold. Just a couple issues to help out while they line up the next few arcs. It was not for a regular gig; just more of a fill-in sort of thing.
Nrama: Is that why you passed?
Meyers: It wasn’t anything against Marvel or anything like that. They have been really, really great and supportive.
Working on an X-book is definitely a dream project…but, well… have you ever watched Robert Kirkman’s Manifesto to Comics? I finally watched it. I think at some point, every artist has to think about their future and longevity for their career for the long run. I mean working on a big name book helps, but I’m talking about doing something that is going to help me and my career for the future.
And I think for me, two issues on an X-book is not going to do it. If I decide to stay in comics I need to be something more than just being the artist for a book. I really would like to (not all at once, but build up to it with a publisher) help plot or co-plot the books I’m working on with a writer. You know, collaborate more and be part of the process. And maybe even one day write as well.
The way comics are structured these days, it’s definitely a lot better to be able to plot, write, and draw than just draw. Especially given the development cycles in comics; it can be challenging to bring in income while waiting for a project to get greenlit, which can take months. Though to their credit, some publishers do give you covers and fill-in work until the projects are ready to. But in my experience, most do not and you are on your own to make ends meets until the project is a go.
Same with design work; that can take weeks to do, though it’s considered part of your page rate…ouch.
And I want to do more than just do art and design for publishers. And if that’s not in the cards - to do more, be more involved, be more invested in what I’m doing - then it’s probably not for me.
I’m not sure what that means, but maybe that means doing a creator-owned project or something like that — which directly benefits me, not as an artist, but as a creator.
And in my mind, I don’t see myself as an artist, I see myself as a creator. Maybe Kirkman is right… but I think that’s up for every single creator to decide for themselves. If nothing happens I can always go back into video games and be just fine.
I really hope that makes sense, and I don’t want to offend anyone or any publisher - this is just where I’m at creatively these days and I’m very grateful for every job and opportunity that I’ve had in comics. I love Comics! I just want to do more for my industry and I want to do more for the books that I’m working on.
Check back with Newsarama later this week for a look at Jonboy Meyers' unused X-Men: Gold redesigns and more on what the cartoonist has planned next.