David Marquez is still a relative newcomer to the world of comic books, with work from Archaia like Days Missing and Syndrome under his belt, along with credits on Top Cow's Pilot Season book The Asset and Marvel's Secret Warriors.
February 2012 brings his highest-profile work to date, the Marvel original graphic novel Fantastic Four: Season One. It's the first-released of Marvel's new reader-aimed "Season One" graphic novels, telling a new story set in the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's seminal Silver Age Fantastic Four run.Newsarama talked with Marquez for an in-depth email interview, touching on everything from the influence the source material has on his work, the advantages of the graphic novel format, working with Fantastic Four: Season One writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and updating a distinctly '60s period of comic book history for contemporary audiences. And courtesy of Marvel, enjoy several exclusive concept sketches and black-and-white pages from the book. Newsarama: David, let's start with the obvious question: In Fantastic Four: Season One, you're getting the unique opportunity to revisit one of — if not the — most revered periods in Marvel history. How much of a fan are you of the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four run, and the team and concept in general?
David Marquez: Well, I'm a huge art nerd, so I was of course a big fan of Kirby's work from those formative Marvel years, but I'll be honest that prior to this project I had never actually sat down and read through the early Jack and Stan stuff. My first real introduction (aside from the occasional issue I picked up growing up in the '90s) was the Waid-Weiringo run in the early 2000s, and I've really been digging what [Jonathan] Hickman and his art teams have been doing these last couple years.
That said, in preparation for drawing this book I picked up a collection of that original Jack and Stan FF, and I've really enjoyed it.
In terms of the FF as a concept — when done right it's arguably the best that comics can offer. It's a concept that lends itself to the most sweepingly cosmic tales while also providing ample material for touching, introspective character arcs. There's really no limit to where the FF can take you. In particular, I personally really get into the character dynamics. There's a very complex set of relationships among the even among the core FF characters, and that grows exponentially as you start bringing in characters like Namor and Doom.
Nrama: Part of the aim of the Season One graphic novels is bringing Silver Age Marvel into the modern day — but they're also in continuity. So how much influence are you able to exert, visually, in updating things? It looks like the costumes are pretty similar to what we're all familiar with, albeit with some modern touches.
Marquez: We wanted the characters to feel comfortable in a contemporary setting, but this project is very much a love letter to the original stories by Jack and Stan. In terms of character design, we really wanted to keep things simple — I did a few rounds of costume designs, but ultimately it was agreed that it was best to stick with the original designs, with a simple nod towards modern fabrics, construction, and styling. The costumes are so iconic that it'd be a shame to try something horribly different, and also, these are meant to be the reintroductions to the origin stories, not reinventions.That said, while I've drawn on the artists who've come before me on FF, I think I've found a fairly distinctive take on Johnny's flame effect, and to a lesser extent, on The Thing. I really wanted to sell the Human Torch as not just a dude who's one fire, but a living heat source — and with the help of the awesome GURU-eFX art team, I think we've landed on something pretty awesome. Ben, in his rocky form, is a joy to draw — I get lost drawing all the facets and crags, and his face just lends itself so well to great expressiveness.
With the villains, I had a little more leeway in the design process. But again, there's a very good reason why so many of Kirby's original designs have stood the test of time. So while I may embellish here and there, the core of the characters haven't strayed too far from what readers are used to.
Perhaps the biggest updating, at least compared to the original FF stories, is in terms of tech. I love Kirby tech, but it's not something that I find easy to work into my own art style. So that, plus the very conscious effort to couch this book in a contemporary (or at least near-future) setting, gives the look and feel of the baxter building, Reed's lab, all his inventions, etc a pretty different look and feel.
Nrama: To that end, what can you say about the process of bringing the classic FF into today? Is it a pretty smooth transition? And is the end result to make it feel distinctly contemporary, or maybe just more of a "timeless" atmosphere?
Marquez: From the very beginning we were looking to create a balance in terms of how "modern" this reintroduction of the FF would feel. In terms of my contribution on the art side… Looking at the core FF characters, you can see this in the specific way I draw and clothe the characters. I really wanted to make sure the designs were fresh, but not jarring or inappropriate. Johnny, the youngest member of the team, is probably the most "modern" in terms of appearance, though I did draw on James Dean for inspiration. Sue, also, is very firmly cemented in the 21st century. To balance that, I try to have her always dressed properly, even conservatively, as a way to link her to a simpler (purer?) time.For Reed and Ben, I pull strongly from a nostalgic design sensibility. Building off the family dynamic, I envision Reed as Capital-D Dad, blended with a sort of professorial archetype, and some readers may catch on to a subtle Mad Men influence. For Ben I went even further back in time for inspiration. He was a rough and tumble Jewish kid from the lower east side, and I kinda picture him as something of a grown-up Little Rascal.
So while I do have a pretty modern art style, and that will unavoidably cast the FF in a certain light, I've done my best to tie these characters to a sort of timeless, "classic American" design aesthetic.
Nrama: Season One is Marvel's biggest foray into original graphic novels in a good while, and unlike some of the other creators working on the books, you've got a good amount of experience with it on books like Syndrome. Does your approach differ at all in the OGN format versus single issues?
Marquez: Haha, I was actually just speaking to a friend about how I've kinda fallen into having these longer-form, graphic novel type stories become "what I do." Just luck of the draw I guess…
But really, no matter what I try to do the story credit — whether it's 20 pages, or 200. Every story I've worked on has its own pace, its own beats to follow. It's my job to make sure that the pacing of the script is complemented by what I draw, and that follows the same rules no matter the overall length.
Nrama: From your own standpoint, what do you think the advantages are of the graphic novel format in superhero comics, a genre where it hasn't been utilized much in recent years?
Marquez: I'm a huge fan of graphic novels and am glad to see Marvel taking the initiative to pursue this with their characters. And I'm even more enthusiastic to be a part of it!
I think that the graphic novel's biggest advantage is that it provides the reader with a complete story — a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's the full experience bundled up into one package. Moreover, the production schedule for something like this works a bit differently than on a monthly book and it can be easier to present the reader with an experience that is not only self-contained, but consistent. It's much less likely to see rotating art teams on a single 120-page book.
That said, I love serialized fiction. There's a lot to be said for the anticipation that builds during the month-long wait between issues, and the visceral joy of grabbing my books from my local comic shop when Wednesday finally arrives. It's a very different, but also very rewarding way of reading comics.But that kind of brings us to a broader issue. Beyond issues of specific storytelling devices and structures — who is going to read them? Like I said, reading monthlies is an incredibly rewarding experience, but also a very invested one. And I say that with more than one meaning of the word in mind: it's an investment of money, of time, and it's also an emotional investment. The month-long wait between issues isn't something everyone is going to want to endure, even if it often enhances the final reading experience. And many current monthly books, especially in the superhero genre, are built upon decades of history and continuity. Graphic novels offer an alternative — there's more upfront cost, yes (let's say $20 for a full GN, as opposed to $3 or $4 for a single floppy), but what the reader gets in exchange is a complete, self-contained experience. For those who may not want to dive headlong into the sometimes-arduous process of getting into monthlies, a GN can offer them a different way to enjoy the medium we all love so much. We in comics can be proud of the enthusiasm and devotion that characterize our readership, but I for one believe that comics can and should appeal to all kinds of readers — and graphic novels are a great way to reach out to those who may be looking for a slightly different reading experience.
Nrama: And since it is a 136-page book, how much of a time commitment is such a project? Have you been working on the book for much of the year?
Marquez: I've spent the majority of 2011 working on Season One. I've done some side work with my friends over at Top Cow, providing a few pages for Magdalena, but FF has really eaten up the vast majority of my time. Everyone involved in the Fantastic Four: Season One — from my editor Lauren Sankovitch, to Roberto, to the amazing color team of GURU-eFX and everyone else in the production line — is fully committed to making this book as great a product as possible. And I'm very proud of the work I've done on the book thus far. I can't wait for people to see all the art that hasn't been shown yet — that splash of The Thing that Marvel released is just the tip of the iceberg!
Nrama: The early period of Fantastic Four — and the Silver Age of comics in general — is obviously closely associated with Jack Kirby. How much is he influencing your take on Season One?
Marquez: Very strongly. I mean, Kirby wrote the book on drawing superhero comics, and by the very act of drawing superheroes, one can't help but be influenced by him.
But beyond the implicit influence Kirby exerts – this is the guy who invented the "larger-than-life", superheroic style that we all associate with the genre — in many cases the influence is much more direct. The carefully astute reader will hopefully catch at least a few of the many homages that we've thrown into the book — some more obvious than others. Like I said before, as much as we want this book to appeal to new readers, this really is a love letter of sorts to the original stories, and we want there to be plenty for the veteran comic fans to pick up on.
Oh yeah, and there's Kirby Krackle.
Nrama: On this book, you're teamed with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. How has the collaboration process with him been?
Marquez: Oh man, absolutely fantastic. Roberto is an incredible writer, a generous collaborator, and really an all-around great guy. Even starting with his scripts, Roberto has given me great material to work with — scenes of city-wide destruction, fast-paced action, iconic splash pages and stunning reveals. But these are balanced by much more sedate, and often very touching character moments, which I honestly think I enjoy even more than the action. He has a great grasp of character, and it's a joy to flesh those parts out.
Roberto also brings a real enthusiasm for the project, and to the FF in particular, and that enthusiasm is contagious. I think I speak for us all when I say that this book has been a blast to work on.
Nrama: In David Pepose's interview with you for our "Artist's Alley" series earlier in the year, you talked about in comics you have to be able to draw anything. So with that in mind, what are some unexpected things you've drawn for Fantastic Four: Season One?
Marquez: Well, while this isn't exactly unexpected, perhaps the biggest energy commitment has gone into drawing New York City, and trying to do so convincingly. In addition to a great adventure story (though it's so much more than just that), Roberto has also written a veritable tour guide to NYC. While I've visited New York a couple times, I am by no means familiar with the city, so I've really had to do a great deal research (thank you, Google Earth!) to try to sell as "authentic" a portrayal of the city as I can. I don't know if I've fully succeeded, but it's proven yet again that with every project there are a million new things to learn.Visit David Marquez online at his official website. More from Newsarama on Season One:
- X-MEN: SEASON ONE Aims for New Readers with Old Characters
- Marvel Reveals SEASON ONE Cover Designs
- Marvel SEASON ONE Graphic Novels Introduce Readers to Icons