After a three-year stint at DC Comics working on titles including Justice League of America, Batman and the weekly series Trinity, Mark Bagley is back at Marvel, the company where he started his comic book career via 1983’s Marvel Try-out Book.
He’s worked on Amazing Spider-Man, Thunderbolts, New Warriors and Mighty Avengers, but he may be best known for his unprecedented, uninterrupted 111-issue run on Ultimate Spider-Man, all with writer Brian Michael Bendis. Returning to that comic is his first order of business back at Marvel, with March’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #156, part of the upcoming (and ominously titled) “Death of Spider-Man” storyline.
Newsarama talked with Bagley via e-mail on reuniting with Bendis, what he learned at his time with DC, what fans can expect from his new work, and a little rumination on what might be coming next. (Also, enjoy a nostalgic look back at some of Bagley's covers from his original run on Ultimate Spider-Man.)
Newsarama: Mark, you certainly worked on a lot high-profile books over at DC for your three years there, but did you always envision a return "home" to Marvel at some point?
Mark Bagley: Yeah, pretty much. If things had worked out perfectly at DC I still would have a soft spot in my heart for Marvel. I'm glad I took the leap, and one day I may return to DC (if they'd have me). But I really love Marvel's characters, and universe.
Nrama: Three years is a pretty significant amount of time — in what ways did you develop as an artist in your stint with DC, and how do you see it applying to your forthcoming working back at Marvel? What kind of valuable lessons or perspective did you gain from working outside of your comfort zone?
Bagley: I might leave that for the reader to determine. But I definitely made an effort to improve my basic drawing skills… my use of shadow, my understanding of facial structure. I'm just trying to get more grounded in my skills. All of this will apply to my work at Marvel… If I'm not getting better, then I'm getting worse. I don't believe an artist can figure out everything he's doing… to stop growing as an artist and not decline as an artist. You are either doing one or the other.
Nrama: Returning to Marvel, was there ever any question that reuniting with Brian Michael Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man would be your first project back? It seems so perfect, but was it maybe just a sense of fortuitous timing?
Bagley: There was a big question of me returning to Ultimate Spider-Man. I wasn't going to do it. I really was adamant about not returning to this book, not because I don't love working on it, but because I think it would not be good for me as an artist. I had actually agreed to another project as my return to Marvel when Brian called with the idea of coming back for this limited ark, and we agreed that it would be a wonderful way to return. I was fully intending on working with Brian again… we are too damn good together, and we have way to much fun as a team.Nrama: You've talked about how natural it was to pick up the working relationship with Bendis — you've worked with a lot of writers in your career, but you guys guys have produced so many comic books together at this point, how unique is the dynamic between you guys?
Bagley: It's been like putting your old favorite coat back on. Really, we seem to just "get" each other. Our relationship is different. Brian and I don't really talk a lot… he's always on the go, juggling about six balls as once. When we do talk it's a lot of fun. I don't know how much we have in common politically, socially and such, But we are pros who love what we do for a living, and we both get jacked up with the excitement of telling terrific stories. It doesn't hurt that fans seem to really like what the combination of our talents produces.
Nrama: Since leaving the title, how close have you kept up with the developments in Ultimate Spider-Man? Obviously, a lot has happened in the comic — did you have to do some research before starting back up, or were you pretty much good to go?
Bagley: No B.S., Ultimate Spider-Man is one of the few books a month I still pick up and read. Brian's stories are as terrific as ever, and he's working with some phenomenal artists. Ultimate Spider-Man is still one of the most enjoyable reads in comics.Nrama: Your work definitely has had a consistent, recognizable quality throughout, but there's definitely also been an evolution from your earlier work on titles like New Warriors and Amazing Spider-Man, to Thunderbolts, to Ultimate Spider-Man, up to your DC work. You've started on the Ultimate Spider-Man issues at this point — visually, can we expect something pretty close to what readers will remember from your original run on the title, or are you perhaps taking a bit of a different approach?
Bagley: I hope they see improvement in my work. As I said before, I'm trying to be a better artist, and I'm curious to see the difference. I look at those first issues of Ultimate Spider-Man that I drew, and man that seems like a century ago. I swear I think all I see are my mistakes and weaknesses. It is true that most artists are their own worst critics. I am trying to be less catoony… but still keep the vitality in my drawing that you get from cartoon shorthand. It's tricky, there is always the danger of killing the "life" in your drawing the more "realistic" you try to become.
Nrama: And you've said that you're planning on doing more illustrating around Marvel beyond USM. I know it's obviously too early at this point to talk specifics, but what might you have your eye on? Maybe some characters or teams that you never got a chance to really explore your first stint with the company? Or maybe some that you would like to revisit?Bagley: Oh, I've got an idea or two. But I don't think that this would be a good place to talk about them That being said, I love the Marvel pantheon… Fantastic Four, Avengers, The Hulk, and more. I look forward to having a good time on whatever I end up working on.
Nrama: On that same token in the past three years a lot of new creators have risen in stature at Marvel — any writers you may be hoping to get a chance to work with that you haven't yet?
Bagley: Tricky question… anybody I don't name gets their feeling hurt (writers are notoriously sensitive)… let's just say I'm open to working with anybody who loves this medium, and wants to tell great stories.Eager to see Mark Bagley's new Marvel work?