Jonboy Meyers made a name for himself with his shockingly kinetic artwork in DC "Rebirth"'s Teen Titans, then was brough to Marvel to redesign the Inhuman royal family for Royals. For a time however, Meyers was in-line to draw the newly launched X-Men: Gold title - although he ultimately stepped down from the project, it wasn't before he completed some redesigns to the team and several villains.
Following in our previous talks with Meyers about his designs for Teen Titans and Royals, Newsarama reconvened with the artist to explore his ideas for this "Gold" X-Men squad consisting of Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Prestige, Nightcrawler, and Old Man Logan.
Newsarama: So, we talked last about Royals but then you mentioned you worked briefly on X-Men: Gold before deciding to step down. Can we see those designs?
Jonboy Meyers: Oh, sure! Since I’m not working on it and no one paid for these designs why not…. Though for myself I think I figured out what X-Men: Gold is all about: it feels like a love letter to the 70s and 80s, Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men stuff. It feels so right, and looking at Ardian Syaf’s designs, his stuff felt super dated to me, but I know why now.
Though I thought if I were going to do it, I would try to make an old look still feel a bit newer.
Newsarama: Were you originally slotted to draw the first arc of X-Men: Gold, or were you to come in after Syaf's arc?
Jonboy Meyers: No, As far as I know Ardian was the main guy from the get-go with a revolving art team every arc. I think he and Ken Lashley were the two main guys. Of course, that all changed with Ardian's removal from the book, and me being offered a two-issue arc.
Nrama: What ultimately led you to pass on it?
Meyers: Well, working on an X-book is definitely a dream project, but at some point, every artist becomes a creator … and that means thinking about their future and longevity for their career. 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 for the long haul and it's nice for once to create and design something for myself just once and I think that means doing a creator-owned thing that I can not only draw but write as well.
Nrama: Nevertheless, you did some design work on the book before you left. You said that X-Men: Gold felt like a love letter to the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era. Give us a peek behind the curtain - how did you come to that conclusion? What did you, and what should other artists, look for when trying to determine what's called for?
Meyers: I think looking at Ardian's initial character designs all feel like and to me live in that era, and speaking for myself the writing brings it back to that era as well: mutant fear and hysteria. It's like a return to basics for the X-Men. For every artist, I think it's good to wrap your design sense and art around the spirit of the writing since it's super important for art to match narrative. To me it's getting back to the basics for who the characters are.
Nrama: Ok, let’s go.
Meyers: First up, Storm. I love the old Dave Cockrum designs. I just wanted to push the design a little bit more, though I’m not quite sure if I hit it or not.
Nrama: I noticed in all your Storm designs, you kept the hair and the headdress the same. Ororo's had several hairstyles, and has gone back and forth about that particular headdress. Why did you decide to keep it in these designs?
Meyers: In drawing the series I want to totally revamp them, but since it was just a two-issue arc I have to stick to the same design sense that has already been created. But Marvel was totally open to me slightly start to tweak them.
After that, Colossus.
One of my favorites. I just mostly tried to fix how the costume hangs on his body a bit and slight tweaks here and there.
Then Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde.
Kurt’s costume is well, perfect as is. Kitty has always struggled with a base look. I’m not sure if any of these are winners or not however. And Lockheed was done just for fun….
Nrama: Nightcrawler - I'm curious, why do you think that existing design is so, well... "perfect?"
Meyers: Well, Kurt's costume is so iconic and well-beloved that you want to stick to things that fans and readers resonate with. It feels right and familiar. If a character’s looks change too much from how we know them, there's not much for readers to hold onto and it can be off-putting; it's smarter to make characters look close to or the same as we remember them. I don't think it's smart to alienate core fans and readers right out of the gate if nothing is familiar and the characters are unrecognizable; there's nothing to hold onto and it might as well be new characters. I hope that makes sense.
Nrama: Kitty - you're the expert. Why do you think she's never had a solid 'base look'. Is it just a matter of no one coming up with it yet, or is it something about the character?
Meyers: I think it has a lot to do with the multiple narratives around her. She's changed a lot through the years and I think she's had multiple identities which I think waters her down a bit. But I think the narrative of her as confident leader, just as Kitty Pryde and not Sprite or Shadowcat or whatever, helps solidify her and that's something you can build around-- unless of course she takes another codename.
And after that, Prestige and Logan.
Man, I long for Wolverine to come back. I like the idea of going back to the status quo in comics, but do something different with the character -but Old Man Logan is hard not to like.
Nrama: And speaking of new codenames, Rachel Summers – formerly known as the Phoenix, Marvel Girl, and a few others. Here now in X-Men: Gold she’s going by Prestige, and has a cape. Capes seem far less common at Marvel than DC, but you use one here. Can you speak to that?
Meyers: Yeah, I agree though I think I stuck with the cape because I had to stay familiar with Ardian's original designs. She's such an interesting character though - but I think the name change to Prestige was a bit confusing to me. To me, she's Rachel Summers and the smarter progression would have been to call her Phoenix, and and build her look around that since to me it's more character progression. But not knowing Marvel’s plan for her, I'm sure her new persona fits into that.
Lastly, I did some X-Men villains for fun. I’m a big fan of all the classic X-villains, especially Omega Red. And I know that the Russian mob is a “thing” in media these days, so I did some characters there. I’ve got a Mister Sinister and Sabretooth somewhere on my hard drive as well.
I hope people like these and I hope folks get a bit more of an idea in what kind of thinking goes into how the “sausage” gets made, design-wise. I hope this inspires folks to put a bit more thinking into their designs and to make the "old"… well, "New."
Nrama: So, we've talked three times now about costume design: Titans, Royals, and X-Men. Which of your designs do you think now are the most memorable?
Meyers: Hard to say - but it's a toss-up between Teen Titans and Royals - but maybe Teen Titans is the winner since I got to take the characters back to a more classic look and modernize them a bit.
Nrama: And are there any tips you'd give for other artists out there on designing superheroes?
Meyers: Yes, for design I think it's best to build around what fans and readers are 1) familiar with, and 2) a look that people love. Then you want to modernize that a bit and make it practical.
I think it's a huge disservice to make classic characters look so alien to how people know them; you want to build around what people already resonate with that character and their general look. They pick up a book they know right off the bat who that character is, and they already have an emotional attachment to that particular character, so build off of that. Don't reinvent the wheel if you don't have to, because if you do, people may not totally get on board with that. And you don't want bad design to be the reason why fans and readers don't connect with a book.