David Nakayama: Big Hero 6 and More

Talking to David Nakayama

The Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men are not the only super-heroes in the Marvel Universe. And the Marvel Universe is as big as the publisher, editors and creators imagined it.

In fact, before there was a Marvel Mangaverse, there was Big Hero 6, a super-hero team defending the honor of the Land of the Rising Sun against some of the worst villains the Marvel Universe has ever seen. Headed by former X-Men member, Sunfire, they were introduced by fan-favorite Scott Lobdell and artist Gus Vasquez in 1998.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Japan’s premier superteam, a new Big Hero 6 series written by Chris Claremont is due to hit stores on September 10th. This time, Hiro (the smartest boy in Japan), Baymax (his trusty robot companion), Honey Lemon (with her all-containing handbag), Gogo Tomago (somersaulting into an unstoppable energy ball) will be joined by two new members with up-and-coming artist David Nakayama teaming up with the veteran X-Men writer to chronicle the new adventures of Japan’s finest.

Nakayama may be a new talent to fans of the MU but he is a graduate of the Joe Kubert School and was winner of Wizard’s “Be The Next Top Cow Superstar”. That’s right. Thanks to his winning the contest, he had the opportunity to work under the guidance of one of the industry’s living legends and Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri on such projects as Proximity Effect, City of Heroes, Witchblade and Revved.

Could he possibly be making tsunami-level waves with his latest work on Big Hero 6? Let’s get to know him better in this special meet and greet session with the soon-to-be-superstar.

Newsarama: Hi, David, thank you for taking the time to chat. What was it like working under Marc Silvestri?

David Nakayama: It was great. I've taken a lot of art classes at a bunch of different schools, but studying with Marc in the Top Cow bullpen was the most productive learning experience I've ever had. Besides being a master draftsman, he's got this amazing ability to size up your drawing and tell you exactly how to fix the mistakes. A lot of art teachers are clueless when it comes to practical advice. Marc, on the other hand, knows exactly what to tell you, and I think that's why he's been able to help so many young artists over the years.

NRAMA: How would you describe your art style back then?

DN: Um, how about 'crappy'? It was kinda cartoony and rubbery and not consistent at all. I had a lot of artistic bad habits to unlearn, that's for sure.

NRAMA: Who're some of your artistic influences?

DN: Adam Hughes, J. Scott Campbell, Kevin Nowlan, and a whole bunch of Japanese illustrators. And I started collecting comics just about the time Image hit big, so I'm sure there's a healthy dose of [Jim] Lee, Silvestri and [Todd] McFarlane in there somewhere as well.

NRAMA: What brought you to the Marvel Adventures line of comics where you drew Hulk, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four?

DN: I grew up reading all the Marvel titles, so when I got the offer to draw those characters it was a total no-brainer. I still get a huge buzz any time I'm drawing one of the iconic characters.

NRAMA: And how did you land the Big Hero 6?

DN: A few issues into the Hulk run, Mark Paniccia called and asked how I might feel about working with Chris Claremont. So I told him how the first comic I ever collected--and the book that made me a fan of the medium in the first place--was Uncanny X-Men, back when Claremont and Lee were on it. So yeah, they had me at 'Claremont.' No-brainer #2.

After Mark's call, I thought there might be a Claremont project in future, but I had no idea what it would be or when it would come. So I kept my fingers crossed. And when they offered Big Hero 6, I was psyched. I mean, it occurred to me right away that this was the guy who wrote the classic Wolverine/Mariko storyline, so talk about a perfect fit, right?

NRAMA: In your opinion, how much have you grown as an artist?

DN: I try really hard to use each new project as a learning experience and to tailor my drawing style to fit the tone and theme of the book. On Hulk for example, we were telling lighthearted adventure stories about the strongest superhero in the Marvel Universe, so I brought in some cartooning techniques to emphasize the humor and a whole bunch of shadow and crosshatch to chisel out the Hulk's form.

Big Hero 6, on the other hand, is about a team of Japanese super-heroes, so I thought it'd be really fitting and cool to add some anime flavor to the mix and create a sort of East meets West fusion style for the book. I've also got to give a lot of credit to my partner in crime, Emily Warren, who's nailing the cel-shaded coloring style and giving it that great anime-on-paper look.

NRAMA: Would you say that you've been influenced by manga as well?

DN: Y'know, it's weird. I don't read or collect a lot of manga, but I'm a huge anime fan, so all the Japanese techniques come straight from cartoons and art books, which I collect like a maniac. There's definitely some Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Nobuteru Yuuki, and Masamune Shirow influence in the Big Hero 6 style.

NRAMA: How has the whole experience been?

DN: Excellent! We started off with a lot of enthusiasm, and it's only grown from there. Claremont's telling a really entertaining fish-out-of-water story that brings our heroes to New York, and it's been a treat to draw. And even though the art team was assembled especially for this book, I really feel like Terry, Emily, and I kind of 'got' each other right away and somehow avoided that awkward period of adjustment where nobody's style is meshing. We hit the ground running on this one, and that's really encouraging.

NRAMA: That said, were you familiar with the characters at all?

DN: I remember the Scott Lobdell series from the 90s and knew a couple characters by name, but I hadn't actually read it until I started doing research for the new series.

NRAMA: From the previews, it looks like you've re-designed Hiro, Baymax, Honey Lemon and Gogo Tomago. Who did you have the most fun with, and who was the most challenging to revamp?

DN: I had a blast re-imagining the characters, and all four of those were fun, but Hiro and Honey Lemon are probably my favorites. Hiro is a boy genius/inventor, but he started with the plainest possible costume--t-shirt, bowl cut, and glasses. My goal was to give his new look some personality, and we did that by giving him a disheveled 'mad scientist' hair cut, heavy jacket, and a Tokyo Giants t-shirt, among other things.

Honey Lemon is a party girl whose sex appeal should be obvious, but her original outfit was this sort of baggy Chairman Mao shirt that completely covers her form. So I thought it'd be cool to redo that element as an open bolero jacket and actually show some midriff. And to be even cheekier, now she's got a lemon-shaped tattoo right above her beltline and some wild red accents in her hair.

The biggest challenge was Baymax, who's now a giant mecha instead of a reptile, and that was tough mainly because he had to be built from the ground up.

NRAMA: And who's that guy with the samurai swords and the other one who could turn into a lizard/dragon?

DN: Those're our brand new characters, Wasabi and Fred. Wasabi's a sushi chef/knife expert, and Fred's a Japanese-American who, from the looks of it, transforms into a Godzilla-like creature. But stay tuned on that one...

NRAMA: Most recently, the creative team of Zeb Wells and Seth Fisher showed us what the Japan of the Marvel Universe looked like in 2005's Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan. What is the Land of the Rising like in the present?

DN: In issue #1, you'll get another good look at Japan in the Marvel U., but the story eventually takes us to NYC, where the team has to acclimate to American culture. Wait 'til you see what they're up to in issue #2.

NRAMA: Which Marvel characters do you hope to draw next?

DN: I definitely wouldn't mind drawing more BH6, but I'd also love to take a crack at the Marvel staples I grew up with. You know, like the Avengers, X-Men, Spidey, or Hulk. I'll never get tired of those guys.

NRAMA: What else are you working on?

DN: I do some cover work on the side, particularly for Zenescope. Actually just finished a cover for Grimm Fairy Tales with Christina Strain on colors, and another one for Beyond Wonderland #4, with Emily. And--shameless plug time--you can check 'em out, along with Big Hero 6, Hulk, and other work at davidnakayama.com. Sorry about that. Had to be done.

Click here for a preview of Big Hero 6 #1

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