Wakanda is in the midst of a tumultous change thanks to series writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, and with this week's Black Panther #166 he is adding to that with the return of Ulysses Klaw and the debut of new series artist Leonard Kirk.
Kirk, who joins the series following a stint on All-New Wolverine, comes to Black Panther with self-professed excitement and a little intimidation in following Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse. The Canada-based artist is using the designs they left behind, however, as the series joins Marvel's overall "Legacy" initiative.
Newsarama spoke with Kirk about Black Panther and the return of Klaw, as well as the early collaborative efforts with Coates to establish how to denote sound with a sound-based character.
Newsarama: Leonard, first thing’s first - what's on your drawing table right this moment?
Leonard Kirk: I recently wrapped up an issue of Black Panther so, at this moment, I actually don’t have much on my table. Today, I am preparing layout pages for the next issue, drawing out the format lines on Strathmore paper. I prefer to draw my layouts fairly small, fitting four on a single 8 ½” x 11” sheet. Later, when the layouts are done, I will blow them up and use a light box to complete the pencils and inks.
Nrama: Your Black Panther run starts Wednesday with the newly-renumbered #166. What's it like, generally and specifically, picking up the slack and joining in on a title that already has a storyline and a general style defined?
Kirk: It can be both intimidating and exciting at the same time and that was certainly how I felt when I was first contacted to draw Black Panther. The series already had a fantastic launch with Brian Stelfreeze. Following both him and Chris Sprouse made me a little nervous but I wasn’t going to let that stand in the way of enjoying myself. However, as stressful as it might be to start in on a series well underway, it can also be a relief. A good deal of the settings and character designs were completed long before I jumped aboard. I enjoy putting my own footprint on a project and I am sure I will have many opportunities with this book. But there is something very relaxing about not having to create a world and simply being able to dive right into the storytelling.
Nrama: Ta-Nehisi is still relatively new when it comes to writing comic books, but we have here the first few pages of Black Panther #166 and you two appear seamless. How’s it been for you, this collaboration?
Kirk: I would also say that the partnership is pretty darn seamless. Ta-Nehisi has adapted very well to writing comics and he allows the artists a great deal of freedom. There was a good deal of time between being approached to join the series and drawing my first issue. Even so, things were moving pretty quickly, once I got started. Ta-Nehisi’s writing made it very easy to maintain a solid pace.
Nrama: In this first story, you're bringing back Ulysses Klaw and making him a big threat again … that opening scene with his sound wave coming is ominous and terrifying. What's it like drawing him and his unique abilities?
Kirk: That’s something I really hadn’t given much thought until I started putting stuff down on paper. How does one display sound, visually, without relying on the traditional trappings of sound effects, vibration lines, and people clapping their hands over their ears? Well, those are still pretty hard to avoid but Ta-Nehisi included a description, along with a small picture, of the kind of soundwave he was looking to associate with Klaw and I ran with that.
The one suggestion I tossed in was dropping the sound effects and a single word balloon from a scene where Klaw is using his powers against a small army. Ta-Nehisi had already avoided using any sound effects or dialog for earlier scenes with Klaw and I liked the idea of continuing that. I liked the twist of displaying Klaw’s sound powers with no sound at all.
Nrama: I don't know if you work with a TV on in the background, but there's a Black Panther movie coming out - featuring T'Challa and a version of Klaw. Is the movie impacting you in any way/shape/form when it comes to drawing the comic book Black Panther?
Kirk: I do sometimes work with a TV on in the background. But whatever’s playing on the screen needs to be something with which I am already familiar. Usually, I will play TV shows or movies from my collection.
I am very much looking forward to it but the movie has had little impact, if any, on how I draw the comic. First, I don’t want to deviate too much from Brian Stelfreeze’s designs. And second, I’ve only watched one trailer so far… because I don’t want any freakin’ spoilers!!
Nrama: [Laughs] So what is influencing you on Black Panther, in addition to Stelfreeze’s foundational work? Any specific artists, moods, stories, or anything come to mind?
Kirk: Brian’s earlier work on the series has already been a big influence on me here. I have always been a fan of his work but there are specific aspects of what he has done in this comic that I have tried to maintain in my own pages, particularly his designs for the characters and Wakanda itself. Beyond him, I can’t think of too many direct influences. Indirectly, I would say two of my biggest influences are Stuart Immonen and Mike Mignola. I love both of them for their storytelling. And I enjoy Mignola’s evolving economy of detail more and more.
Nrama: You seem to be on this for the long haul - what are your personal goals with Black Panther #166 and your work here the next few months and beyond?
Kirk: My personal goal is pretty much the same as it is for every project. I want to tell the story as best I can. I’ve always felt that if the reader could look at my pages and get the gist of the story without a single word of dialog on the page, then I’ve done my job.