Chris Samnee's run on Captain America ends April 11 with #700, and with it his ten-year run at Marvel Comics as a whole.
Samnee is one of the past decade's top artists, and has worked his way up to be one of Marvel's most in-demand (and versatile) artists. His Daredevil run with Mark Waid and colorist Matt Wilson earned an Eisner Award, as well as a nomination from the National Cartoonist Society. (Of course, he started comics in 2006 with a nomination for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award).
After Samnee himself announced his departure from Captain America and Marvel, speculation quickly arose as to where he'd end up next: DC, a creator-owned book, or possibly some third option? Samnee himself has been mum about where he lands next, leaving people guessing and heavily anticipating his next move.
Newsarama had the chance to catch up to Samnee and get the details of his early career, the well-remembered artblog Comic Twart, the feelings of being burnt out, and if he’ll ever step away from comics.
Newsarama: Okay Chris, so last month, you announced you are leaving Marvel after ten years of being with them. You've worked on some other projects here and there like Angel and Faith with Christos Gage, but Marvel has been sort of your home for the past decade. Does it feel surreal at all leaving them? Does it feel like ten years?
Chris Samnee: It does feel like ten years. [Laughs]
It does feel a bit strange to leave. I've had a chance to work on a lot of fun projects over the years with lots of great people - both collaborators and editors, but this felt like the right time to move on to new things and new opportunities.
Nrama: Some fans might remember the Comic Twart sketchblog from back in the day, where you had guys like Mitch Gerads, Evan Shaner, Mike Hawthorne, Declan Shalvey, and Francesco Francavilla, guys are who basically running the art scene now in comic books. Did you ever once think even seven years ago you'd be where y'all are now?
Samnee: The reason the group of us got together to do Comic Twart was because we were all fans of each other's work, so it doesn't at all surprise me to see guys like Mitch, Evan, Francesco, Declan, Mike and everyone else go on to do awesome, high profile work. I think it's impossible to foresee where a career in a field like comics will go, there are so many variables in terms of what kind of projects you're offered and those you find success on. I certainly hoped for this kind of career but I also worked really, really hard to help make it happen.
I turned in a book every four or five weeks for almost ten years and worked behind the scenes to be on projects that would advance my career as well. In my opinion, a lot of success in this industry is in working hard and making smart career choices so it makes sense that all those hard working, smart folks from Comic Twart are so successful.
Nrama: You know, even in your young career, you had already worked with the likes of Greg Rucka for part of Queen and Country, and even been nominated for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer award back in 2006. You hear stories of creators still making the hustle even coming up like you did, can you tell us a bit about your career around this time?
Samnee: Oh sure. Well, things really all started when I did Capote in Kansas with writer Ande Parks for Oni Press in 2004-05, which is the book that I was nominated for the Russ Manning award. After that, I did three issues of Queen & Country with Greg.
Both of those projects were done while I was working at a Borders Bookstore for my day job, so I would work my shift then come home and draw comics until I went to bed. My wife and I had an agreement that I would keep my day job until I could land steady work at Marvel or DC, so I was still shelving books at Borders during this time.
I was waiting on script from Greg for my fourth issue of Queen & Country - who was doing that insane 52 schedule at the time - and got offered Area 10 at Vertigo which was part of a new crime line they were putting out.
It was at that point that I quit Borders so I could work on comics full-time. I was young, with no kids yet, and had a lot of passion for making comics and getting into the industry, so I really worked full-time in comics while I was also working full-time at the bookstore. Around this time I was still doing as many conventions as we could so I could get portfolio reviews and be in touch with editors. I stood in a lot of lines and heard from a lot of editors that they liked my stuff, but had no idea what kind of book to put me on. When Area 10 came along it was a nice big chunk of work that I felt like l could safely quit my day job.
Nrama: You've told me before that you think your pencils are awful and prefer inking yourself, why do you feel that way?
Samnee: I've inked myself for so long that it would be a complete waste of time to do detailed, tight pencils like many artists hand over to inkers. My pencils don't have to work for anyone but myself so it doesn't make sense to put that kind of time in it. That's what I mean by awful. If I worked with an inker, I could make them more detailed and tighter. I'm not bad at penciling - I just do most of my drawing in the inks so it would be redundant to tightly pencil a page. I actually prefer the energy of inking over very loose pencils as I find that the more times I draw something, the less fresh it feels. I like keeping that energy in the inks, so since I don't turn in my pencils to anyone I don't find it necessary to spend a lot of time on them.
Nrama: So let’s go back to Thor: The Mighty Avenger with Roger Langridge and Matt Wilson, the latter becoming a constant collaborator, was your first big project at Marvel. How do you feel about your work around that time? Do you feel like you'd do anything differently style-wise?
Samnee: I've learned a lot over the years since Thor but I can honestly say, besides us being forced to wrap up the series without giving it a proper ending, there isn't a thing I'd change about Thor. I'm still so proud of that book and my work on it. It was honestly a dream job - it felt like Roger, Matt, our editor Nate Cosby and I were making creator-owned comics. There was so much creative freedom and Roger wrote a story that I really connected with.
It was sweet and earnest and fun and romantic and funny and just such a joy to draw all of it. I don't know that I can overstate how much I loved working on The Mighty Avenger. It's still bittersweet to look back on it since we didn't get to end it the way we wanted, but I'm so grateful that I got to work on a project like that with such talented and wonderful collaborators like Roger and Matt. Really, I loved it and I'm still so proud of it.
Nrama: There's been some speculation, okay...a lot of speculation of what you're doing next.
With you being at Marvel for so long it opens up for a ton of material now and I'm sure you've been approached by everybody and their brother to work for them, but what's at the top of your list to check off?
Samnee: Aw, I don't want to give too much away! It's been kind of fun reading all the speculation and hearing what books people would like to see me on. I don't think it's any huge secret that I would love to do some Batman. I'd love to do some Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane comics. There's stuff outside of comics I'd like to work on - animation, storyboarding, kids books. And telling my own stories that I write and draw - that is definitely on my list also.
Nrama: You've been doing comics since you were 15, do you ever fear about burning out and becoming a barista again?
Samnee: There have definitely been times already when I've felt burnt out. There's not a ton of days off for comic book artists - it can be taxing to be constantly on a deadline like I have for most of the last ten years.
Most of the time I've taken off has been when we've had a new baby and that's not terribly restful or relaxing either. But I love making comics and part of not burning out is taking projects that I'm genuinely excited about. I've been very lucky in that regard and I have more freedom than ever now to be on books that make me excited to draw every day. So no, aside from making a latte in my kitchen for my wife, I don't see myself putting those barista skills back to work.
Nrama: Let's talk about what work your most proud of at Marvel. Is there something that might not be critically acclaimed but something you give yourself a pat on the back when you think about?
Samnee: Well, I already talked about being proud of Thor: The Mighty Avenger so I would say outside of that, the work I'm most proud of is my twelve issues run on Black Widow. It was the first time I got to do the bulk of the writing in addition to the art, and from a creative standpoint, it was really fulfilling and fun. I felt like I got the opportunity to push my storytelling to another level and really be behind the wheel for once.
And I know that this doesn't answer a question, but I would be remiss to not talk a bit about how insanely lucky I was with my collaborators at Marvel.
My first few jobs at Marvel (Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man and Agents of Atlas) were with two of my favorite writers (and friends) Paul Tobin and Jeff Parker.
The experience of working with Roger, Matt, Nate and Rus Wooton on Thor: The Mighty Avenger was as close to perfect as anything can get.
I also got to work with huge talents Ed Brubaker, Marc Andreyko and Bettie Breitweiser on Captain America and Bucky back in 2011.
And of course, there is no better team to be a part of then-Team Daredevil/Widow/Cap - Mark Waid, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna.
Getting to work with a fantastically talented group of creators that also become your friends is the best part of working in a collaborative medium like comics.
Nrama: So what's ahead for the next ten years, where do you see yourself?
Samnee: I would love to have some projects that I get to write and draw. I hope to spend a lot of time making creator-owned comics. I'd love to dip my toe into animation or film work or character design. I definitely have some big goals that I'm already working towards but I imagine I'll still be drawing comics in ten years, or at least I hope I'm still drawing comics. I don't have a ton of other skills to fall back on!