Iconic X-Men artist Whilce Portacio is returning to Uncanny X-Men in July, joining writer Matt Fraction as the title goes into a new direction after "Second Coming."
The artist is best known as a creator of the X-Men character Bishop, and as one of the Image founders, the group of six artists who left Marvel in 1992 in order to found a new company for creator-owned properties.
After a debilitating coma in 2000 that hindered his artistic abilities and kept him on the sidelines for a few years, Portacio returned to comics two years ago and recently began drawing Spawn with series creator Todd McFarlane writing. He's currently working with five of the six Image founders on the "jam-session" project Image United and also recently introduced Fortress to the Image Universe.
Newsarama spoke to the artist about his return to Marvel and why drawing the X-Men appeals to him because of his Asian heritage.
Newsarama: How did you find out about the opportunity to work on Uncanny X-Men?
Whilce Portacio: Well I was working with Axel Alonso on an issue of Deadpool Corps when he e-mailed me saying Nick Lowe would like me to call him. He needed someone to draw the issue where Kitty returns to the X-Men and I didn't need to think twice so I said I'm your man. I read the plot and was instantly hooked on Matt's words. Funny, this issue wasn't really written with me in mind, but the story is so appropriate for me and my history with the original X-Men team, so I took it as an omen of what could come to pass...my return to the book.
Nrama: And what did you think when it first came up?
Portacio: In the past few years my wife and I have been taking advantage of the many convention invites to travel together, and at all conventions I am constantly reminded of my connection with Uncanny. So leading up to the call with Nick I have been constantly thinking about the possibility of returning to this book. So, when I was asked to do first one issue then one arc I can say I had no immediate reaction to Nick on the phone because I felt it was right timing, and after doing an issue of Hulk, and then an issue of Deadpool I knew we were heading in this direction...
Nrama: Why did it appeal to you?
Portacio: I grew up on the original X-Men, and every time I have ever been asked to do an X-book my first consideration has always been "is the original team involved?" Having grown up in an Asian family where I was the eldest I have an emotional attachment to the concept of rising to fill the shoes laid before you. I see Scott that way, someone who is born with all the attributes of leadership but someone who is emotionally not up to the job, but the job is his and no one is better at it so he must go forward regardless. I realized reading "Kitty's return" that Matt was trying to put Scott in his place of leadership and getting comfortable with it...I need to be there as that happens to Scott. I have no idea where Matt is ultimately taking Scott but I hope it is to a good place for Scott...
Nrama: How might your art be different from the last time you were on the comic?
Portacio: This is technical, but back then we were told not to use too many "shadows." "Don't draw this book too dark." This time around I intend to use those blacks I am so fond of. Of course, only if the scene requires it. Another thing that is different with me this time is I am more and more interested in quiet and/or emotional scenes and "acting" out those situations. Fortunately for me Matt can deftly handle both emotional scenes and epic/action scenes that the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee influences within me always crave to do. Fortunately with me on ink duties is an old student of mine Edgar Tadeo. Like Scott Williams before him, Ed knows me inside out as an artist. I can count on him knowing exactly where I want to go. Especially when I get in the mood (as I often am) to experiment with new techniques and styles. I know Ed will keep up with me and not get confused.
Nrama: What characters are you looking forward to getting to draw?
Portacio: I never really drew Magneto before. I don't really count this last "Kitty" issue because in it Magneto is uncharacteristically not Magneto. So I am hoping he has a major role in my coming arc. I am planning some epic shots of him. Also, Warren, I have always handled him as the Avenging Archangel, I am just now collecting my thoughts on handling him as the original Angel. The wings won't be too different because when I did Arch's steel wings I based them on real wings. Having spent most of my time drawing the elegant Jean Grey, it'll be interesting to draw in her place Emma Frost. I've never really handled many, let's say, "Bad Girls" so this will be it. Though it seems Matt is "softening" her up a bit. Let's see if that progresses and then I might inject a little bit of Jean into Emma...
Then of course there is the multitude of new X-Men...I am only beginning to "meet" them one by one...
Nrama: Have you had to do research on some of the new characters and costumes? Are you having to catch up on what's happened?
Portacio: I've told Nick that a lot of my time with the "Kitty" issue was either in Google searches or e-mailing Daniel Ketchum for reference for everybody's new costume. From a design standpoint I am amazed at the different teams and the variations of the basic new costume design. I'm gonna have to buy a new memory stick and fill it just with costume reference.
Nrama: Are you aware of what's going to happening with Second Coming, which you'll follow?
Portacio: I am now only drawing a special "set-up" story before I draw the arc proper. This first story only deals with preparing character motivations for my arc. So no consequences yet of what went in the issues before. It's actually a nicely personal story, and therefore smaller story, kind of like the quiet before the storm type thing. It deals almost solely with Scott. Wait until you see his co-star in the story, who is a major star in his own right. So, right after this story I will be reading Second Coming before I actually start on the first issue of my actual arc.
Nrama: Have you discussed the comic yet with writer Matt Fraction? What do you think of working with him on the comic?
Portacio: Matt and I haven't had much time to talk properly yet (except for e-mails) because the office is entangled with getting Second Coming out. What with Matt tying that up and at the same time feeding me story, its understandable we haven't yet had time to yap...soon...
Nrama: Will you still have time for Image United and your other projects?
Portacio: Fortunately, my other projects like Image United, I am able to ink my own stuff. When I ink my own work I don't actually draw, I quickly lay out and then "draw" with the ink. Anyone who has done this knows it is kind of liberating doing this. It changes my style making it looser and tighter at the same time because I can add or subtract from the drawing whenever I want to. So drawing Uncanny with my usual tight pencil style and then in between inking my own stuff here and there is the best place to be right now. Having "come back" to comics, so to speak, there's so much I want to do and this seems to be a smooth way to do just that.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about your new gig on Uncanny X-Men?
Portacio: To me, a good Uncanny book is full of epic situations that Scott must figure a way out for the team, all the while dealing with the huge amount of emotional baggage everyone collectively has together. Kitty's back (though unphased, but what's new about that...), so that means Peter is energized again and raring to show off for his Lady Love. Scott has Emma for support and he sees the problems to solve ahead of them all, for Scott, fun puzzles to solve. (Now how do we figure out how to bring back Bobby's Japanese girlfriend?) Scott has the whole of mutantkind behind him in all of its crazy iterations/power configurations/sizes and shapes...all just waiting for direction. And in the middle of it all on the inside we have our arch enemy/friend Magneto...ahhh fun times ahead.