2009 saw him return to Marvel Comics with a new look – or a new style, I should say – in the pages of Jeph Loeb’s run on Hulk. Gone were the lithe, crosshatched figured and instead was a full-bodied classic cartooning style. Churchill’s decision to do this was two-fold – one was to give him an easier style as to not aggravate his injured shoulder, but also because it was his original style when he first started comics. And after finishing up his four-issue run on Hulk, Churchill decided to really express himself and he jumped into creator-owned comics with the recently released series Marineman at Image.
Marineman shows a marine biologist and underwater documentary presenter named Steve Ocean who’s living life to its fullest, while also doing his duty as the superhero known as Marineman. Much more than just a sea-faring hero like Namor or Aquaman, Churchill’s Marineman betrays a life-long love of the water for this UK cartoonist – one he talks about in the backup features with each issue. With two issues already on the shelves, Marineman #3 is set to come out February 16th and we talked with Churchill about this book and character – a character he originally dreamt up when he was eight years old.
Newsarama: I’ve been told that retailers under-ordered this series and a lot of people haven’t even seen it on shelves to pick it up. For those that may be behind the curve, what would you say to them to prep them to pre-order and jump onboard to issue #3 on February 16th?
Ian Churchill: Marineman #3 is an origin issue and as good a time as any to jump in and start swimming!
Steve Ocean aka Marineman is a marine biologist and underwater documentary presenter for TV. He seems to have everything going for him - good looks, a job he loves and a close circle of friends, but he's got a secret and, when he least expects it, an act of heroism forces his secret to be revealed over live TV and across the internet to very mixed reactions!
There's a healthy dose of character development balanced with an equal measure of action and adventure and a dash of humor to sweeten the pot!
Nrama: Tell us more about what’s going on in this upcoming issue, Ian.
Churchill: Marineman #3 deals with the repercussions of the previous issue's shock ending by way of a television interview. Obviously Steve's friends and co-workers, and the public in general, are all doing a double take and want to know how and why Steve can do this stuff. I'm not saying you'll get all the answers though…!
Nrama: These first issues are building up to a definite story-arc – how many issues is it?
Churchill: This story arc will last six issues with the concluding part currently looking like it will be double sized!
Following that, I have to put the trade together assembling all my sketches and development art plus the few surviving pages of Marineman that I did as an eight year old! It will certainly be value for money that's for sure. By the time that's all done with there's been talk of an interesting cross-over one shot with another popular Image title which would be really exciting and I have more Marineman stories to come…
Nrama: This has been the best water-themed superhero book I’ve seen in years, man.
Churchill: Cool! Thanks for saying that!
Nrama: I know you did an Aquaman short in that 2009 DCU Holiday Special, but like you said, Marineman has been swimming in your head since childhood. Where did the idea for Marineman come from?
Churchill: The Aquaman short story I did with Dan DiDio was a whole lot of fun! We both share a fondness for the Blue Devil, so having done a Blue Devil short with him in the Hallowe'en special, when he asked if I'd be interested in the Aquaman story I was more than happy to say, 'yes'. (In fact that artwork is going up for sale shortly at theartistschoice.com).
I created Marineman man when I was eight years old. He was the first superhero I ever created. I used to love watching the old Jacques Cousteau documentaries with my Granddad and the word 'Marine' kept cropping up. At the time, my Dad was on my case about creating my own characters rather than just drawing Marvel's characters all the time! So in an effort to gag him and to encompass my fascination with the underwater world I added the 'Man' to 'Marine' and that was that! Although inspired by comics, my main influences for Marineman came from the TV shows I was into at the time, and an old movie I liked called Underwater! starring Richard Egan and Jane Russell.
Nrama: Some might say all ocean-dwelling superheroes are the same, but I say no. What are Marineman’s powers like?
Churchill: Well, Marineman himself isn't aware of everything he can do just yet, but - he can breathe underwater which is just so cool! Being into comics, you always get drawn into conversations that end in what superpower you'd like to have and for me it was always to be able to breathe underwater or to fly!
Marineman has webbed hands to help pull him through the water and his skin secretes a kind of film that increases his hydrodynamics, reducing friction at speed. Although he looks buff, most of his physique is actually blubber to keep him warm at depth - the wetsuit is just for show.
He's physically strong and can withstand the immense pressures of the deepest parts of the ocean and has an echolocation ability similar to a dolphin.
Nrama: From what I’ve read, you’ve approached Marineman’s story in a very classic style – almost like a modern C.C. Beck kind of vibe. Since you’ve done so much work with other writers, how’d you acclimate yourself into this style and make it work so seamlessly?
Churchill: That's a huge compliment! And I'd love to have crack at Captain Marvel someday! I think my Marineman style would really fit the character.
Marineman is the comic that I would have wanted to buy and read as an eight year old. At the same time I want it appeal to adults as well and give them a chance to reminisce and remember why they got into comics in the first place. I want it to be that fun comic that you can read with your kids and not have to worry when turning the page that there'll be an image that perhaps they shouldn't see… I want it to be the comic that will hopefully get kids reading comics again and maybe inspire them to become a marine scientist or a comic creator along the way!I'm writing the book just the way I write naturally. I have an idea of what I want on the page and I'll do a little thumbnail over which I'll add rough dialogue and captions. I only use the words I can fit into the space I have available in my little thumbnails which has helped me keep the word count down. I'm a storyteller first and foremost, but being a penciller I tend to think visually rather than literally, so the pictures come first and then the words.
The stories Stan Lee used to write for Marvel back in the day worked on a level for kids and adults alike and I hope I'm capturing elements of that. I've also worked with Jeph Loeb so long that I must have absorbed some of his approach to things. I know that both myself and Richard Starkings (Elephantmen) agree that we gleaned some insight from Jeph as to how to pace a story.
Nrama: I see those years of this stewing in your head paying off – you’ve got a lot of time spent into these refined designs on display – from logos to the design of the Ocean Point Aquarium, a great Bar & Grill I have to visit and even an underwater base. What went into doing these things?
Churchill: Basically a lot of time, thought and effort! To create this world and make it different to what you may find in other books, I felt it had to have that level of detail. Obviously it's not the real world but the more grounded you can make your environment and your characters, the more ready your readers are to take that leap and follow along with them. And the more readers become invested in the characters, the more they'll feel the characters' loves and losses as they happen.
I actually lost a lot of logo designs when my computer died on me a couple of years ago so I had to generate them again. In some ways it was a good thing as it forced me to re-evaluate a few design elements and the logos are now the stronger for it. I was a graphic designer before I got into comics so I'll take any opportunity I can get to flex those old muscles!Nrama: I’ve really marveled at the extra detail you put into this – even the fish! Are these real fish you’re drawing in here, or just figments of your imagination?
Churchill: There's the occasional generic fish for sure, but most of them are real fish you'll find in the sea. I try to make them as accurate as possible although I may use some artistic license with the colors! I have a lot of sea life books that I use for fish reference…
Nrama: It’s really exciting to see you returning to comics and doing a creator-owned book in this new dynamic style – but what’s it been like for you now that you’ve got 2 issues in the can?
Churchill: It's been really exciting for me to finally see Marineman in print and great to get the positive reaction from the readers and reviewers!
As we all know, underwater characters are traditionally a hard sell and I knew that going in, but the marine world is a real passion of mine and Marineman is my first ever creation so I felt I had to throw caution to the wind and just go for it! It's been a lot of hard work and sleepless nights but I tell you, it's all worth it when you get a letter from someone who missed their train stop because they were so engrossed in the story or when you receive Marineman fan art from a nine year old! I'm really proud of the way Marineman is shaping up. It's the first time I've had the opportunity to do the whole kit and caboodle and as such, aside from what happens at the printers, I know for the first time, exactly how my work is going to be presented to the readers. I think Marineman is my best work to date and I know that if I enjoy creating it, that will translate to the page and people will enjoy reading it.
Nrama: This art style you’re using got its proper debut in Red Hulk, but is still relatively new – I bet people get a double-take when they see your name on it. Now that you’ve got 100+ pages under your belt in this style, how has it worked out for you?
Churchill: You know I hadn't thought about it like that! 100+ pages - Wow! No wonder my shoulder aches!When I was first hired I was drawing similar to how I am today. I was hired mainly for my storytelling ability but it was the early nineties and Jim Lee's artwork was dominating the industry and it was hinted to me that I might get more work if I adopted an approach that leaned more that way.
Fast forward a decade and a half and I was recovering from shoulder surgery when Jeph Loeb asked me to take over from Ed McGuiness on Hulk for four issues. Jeph and Mark Panniccia, the editor, both agreed to let me work in my more natural style. I'm a versatile artist and I'm comfortable drawing in whichever style writers and editors ask of me, but I prefer to draw in my natural style - as I do in Marineman. I was really happy with my work on Red Hulk and got a lot of positive response to it!
Nrama: Seriously though, how’s your shoulder been treating you since you've been back into the monthly schedule with the Marineman series?
Churchill: I had a fair bit of lead in time just to make sure it was back to normal, I get the occasional twinge if I overdo things - and I have been over doing things - but on the whole, touch wood, it's been okay.
I'm presently drawing issue five and steeling myself for issue six which is going to be a whole lot of drawing and coloring. I can't thank Alex Sollazzo enough either, for the coloring assistance he's been giving me!
Nrama: And last of all, I have to ask you something about yourself outside of comics. This book betrays a hardcore sea-lover if I ever saw one. How’d you get your sea legs, and do you go out often?
Churchill: I grew up on the south coast of England and I love the sea. I spent a lot of my youth in or around it and now live just a three-minute walk from the beach. I try to get down there as often as I can for some fresh air and Marineman inspiration.
I learnt to scuba dive in Africa, off the Kenyan coast at a place called Tiwi Beach and since then I've dived in Australia, New Zealand, the Fijian Islands, the Maldives, Florida and the Red Sea in Egypt. I try to go diving in Egypt as often as possible but comic books are a hard taskmaster so not as regularly as I'd like!
My favorite dive though was in the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa. I got to dive using the old deep-sea diver equipment, you know - the one with the hard helmet and the surface air supply. It was a fantastic experience, the suit slowly inflates while you're under the water and to purge it you have to whack your head against a valve inside the helmet. It releases the air and kind of vacuum packs your body, sucking the suit to your skin - to be repeated over and over again during the dive until you surface! It was amazing and all the while, 'ragged tooth sharks' were swimming around me while I did a little underwater dance to amuse the spectators! I'll never forget that!Also on Newsarama:
Why They Endure: Comics' Pros Talk AQUAMAN's Sea Legs