Marvellous by Design: Ryan Meinerding interview

MARVELLOUS BY DESIGN


Marvel Studios Visual Development head Ryan Meinerding talks crafting the look of a cinematic universe

By Jedd Jong

A decade and 20 movies in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going stronger than ever, with hardcore fans and casual viewers alike watching with rapt attention with every film that’s released. In the beginning, before the MCU became the juggernaut it is today, the success of this franchise wasn’t such a sure thing, and studio head Kevin Feige was not sure if audiences would respond well enough to warrant the studio moving forward with the interconnected series of films.

Audiences have more than responded well, and a big part of the appeal of these movies is how they look, and how the design that goes into each MCU movie crystallises decades of material from the comics drawn by hundreds of artists and brings it to life onscreen.

As the head of the Marvel Studios visual development team, Ryan Meinerding has had a hand in crafting the look of the costumes, character designs and locations for practically every Marvel Studios film. Meinerding had worked with Iron Man director Jon Favreau on a version of John Carter that did not come to fruition. Favreau brought Meinerding on board, and alongside comic book artist Adi Granov and other artists, Meinerding devised the look for the first film in the MCU.

It’s staggering to think that most every image on screen in an MCU film began as a piece of concept art that Ryan and the visual development team working under his direction created. As a guest of the 11th Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), Ryan is in Singapore to meet fans and speak about his experience working on the MCU movies.

Ryan spoke to my good friend Tina Gan (a.k.a Red Dot Diva) and I at the preview of STGCC. He covered his journey with Marvel Studios so far, the character he is fondest of designing costumes for, the strength of the visual storytelling in MCU films, what it’s like working with different directors brought onto the movies, and how the visual development team works to ground the designs in reality.

JEDD: This is the tenth anniversary of Marvel Studios. Looking back through the ten years, can you take us through your history with the studio?

RYAN MEINERDING: Wow, that’s a large question. I was brought on board by Jon Favreau, I worked with Jon Favreau previously. I got to work on Iron Man 1 to design the Mark 1 and did keyframe with Adi Granov on Iron Monger, and we were trying to figure out the boot test sequence when he’s building the suit in his garage, and a couple of other things. After that project, Marvel asked me to come back to stay on board and help them figure out some of their next films, so I worked on early passes on Captain America, on Thor, and after that period of time, we went straight into Iron Man 2 and Thor.

I had recommended Charlie Wen to help come on board and help figure out Thor, so we worked together on Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. After that, when we were going to work on The Avengers, Marvel Studios asked if I would hire more artists and form a time. We hired Andy Park, Rodney Fuentebella, Jackson Sze and eventually Anthony Francisco, and that team has stayed the same throughout the rest of the movies. We hire freelance artists as well, but it’s a real joy having been there from the beginning, creating a team and having the team deliver on all of the films since The Avengers. It’s a real treat, all the artists I get to work with on a daily basis are amazing. The fact that the cinematic universe has grown from the singular movie to something that’s 20 movies large and still going strong is really incredible.

TINA: How would you describe the essential MCU look and feel?

RYAN: Since Iron Man was the first movie and he’s one of the few superheroes whose superpowers are based in technology that could actually be created, I’d say there’s a grounded quality to everything we’re trying to do. We’re usually trying to make things feel as real as possible, whether it’s about making a suit that can make you fly and having super strength, or whether it’s designing a suit for Captain America where it feels like a real tactical thing, while still retaining the iconic look from the comics. Usually we’re trying to take something iconic from the comics and turn it into something that feels as real for the story world that the directors and producers are looking to create.

JEDD: In any adaptation, especially with comic book movies, there’s always a ‘war’ between iconic imagery and original thought. How would you describe fighting that war?

RYAN: I don’t know if we ever look at it as ‘original thought’. We’re usually trying to take what’s iconic and try to make something that feels real, and honestly add enough detail to it that with HD cinema and HD TV screens, the characters don’t feel too simple. The characters in the comics were always designed to be simple and iconic so they could be drawn over and over again, and we’re trying to take those icons and really flesh them out in enough reality in concept and aesthetics to make them belong in the real world, so they feel almost more real than real.

TINA: There are many moving parts in a film production, so when you have a design for a costume, where does the costume designer come in? Do they have a say after your designs have been approved to make alterations?

RYAN: Film in general is a huge collaborative experience. We are fortunate enough to get the designs approved by going to meetings with the producers and directors, and the costume designers are in those meetings as well. If they have concerns or they want to have input and say “we don’t think this will work”, we work around that. Once we finish and have the designs approved, they take the designs and see what will really work on the actors, and the actors have input on what will be comfortable and what they’re looking for in the costumes as well. There’s always a give and take, we’re giving and taking when we’re trying to get the designs approved, and they’re giving and taking with what they can accomplish.

Alexandra Byrne, who’s an Academy Award-winning costume designer whom I’ve gotten to work with on a few movies like Thor, Avengers and Avengers 2, described the collaboration with us the best I’ve ever heard it. She said, “we can achieve something together that we can never achieve on our own.” We come at it from a concept artists’ point of view of loving the characters and wanting to do justice to the comics, and they come at way from what’s the way this costume can be built that can look the best on the actor, and those two things together end in a result that hopefully elevates the character to a place that they couldn’t have gotten to without us working together.

JEDD: Different directors have different styles of working with people. What was it like working with Jon Favreau vs Joss Whedon vs the Russo Brothers?

RYAN: Jon is great to work with. He loves working with artists, he’s an artist himself. On the first Iron Man, my desk was 20 feet from his office. He was very involved with things. He was very collaborative, he’d say “come up with some ideas about how Tony can build the suit in his garage”, and I would come up with ideas and  pitch him and he’d say “I like this, I don’t like this”, that was always really exciting.

Working with Joss is incredible too, he’s a lot of fun. In presentations he’s the guy who’s making everybody laugh, he’s just fun to be around. He was incredibly collaborative too, he has very distinct ideas about what he wants to get out of a costume, what we would bring to it, and he would react to it.

The Russo Brothers are also really cool because they have a lot of notions about grounding the costumes. They want them to feel real, to feel really practical. In most cases that ends up like the Captain America movies, pushing Cap towards a very tactical feel. Each director I’ve worked for has been amazing in their own way. It’s been a real joy to work with such talented filmmakers and try to deliver what they’re looking for.

JEDD: The MCU is unique in that it’s the first successful cinematic universe in this era of movies, and many studios have tried to emulate, but never to the same degree of success. From your point of view, what is the balance between keeping a cohesive overview of the universe while ensuring each movie and each character has their own personality? What is that like visually?

RYAN: I’d like to say that I was responsible for the whole universe, but Kevin Feige is really the guy that has all that working in his head. We as the visual development team are fortunate enough to just try to make every movie work, and Kevin will give notes on what he thinks is going to work in the long run. I think the real useful part of the visual development team and the work that we’ve done on the characters and how it fits in with the movies is the visuals are so tied to the story.

If you look at Captain America in the first movie and the first time he put on the costume, the costume was essentially the look from the comics, but it was him in the USO show and it was something he thought was silly and wanted to walk away from, even though he was a symbol of something greater than himself. When he got a chance to put on his own costume, he chose things that were a little cooler, he had the helmet, he had the leather jacket and the pants. When he came back from that mission, he could see the value in not only being a soldier but a symbol, and that translated into his look for the movie.

That sort of desire to tie the visuals and the character to something very concrete in the story is something that I feel is unique to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because it becomes so tied to that story, it allows you to move on from that in the next movie. It’s not like you’re constantly searching for the single Captain America costume that’s going to work, it’s what is going to work for this movie and this story point and allow that visual to represent that one moment. So in the next movie, the icon can be broad enough, and the next movie can have another grounded point.

 

In The Avengers, Coulson makes him his costume and he’s a symbol again, but he feels uncomfortable as a man out of time. In Winter Soldier, when he’s actually meant to be in contemporary time periods, he’s more of a stealth figure. All of that stuff allows for a very grounded notion of “this is the character’s journey, this is where he’s been, this is where he’s going in this movie.” That kind of stuff speaks to Kevin’s overarching view and understanding that the journey is larger that just one single thing.

Honestly, if we’d landed on a singular really, really strong version of Captain America and it wouldn’t change, all of a sudden it would take away the storytelling possibilities. The fact that we’ve been able to change, the icon is flexible enough to be reinvented several times in the films, that’s actually one of the strengths of it. It’s not necessarily that we need to have that one definitive version.

JEDD: And even now as Nomad when he rips the star off, that’s storytelling too, visually.

RYAN: Totally.

TINA: Which was the most challenging movie to work on, and which was your favourite?

RYAN: The most challenging movies are always the Avengers movies, because there are so many characters. With every Avengers movie, there are more and more characters, so it just winds up being harder and harder to do. You’re trying to give each character as much love as you would if they were in their own movie on their own, but there are upwards of 30, 40, 50, 60 characters in some of these Avengers movies. My favourite character, I love designing Cap costumes because that storyline, that journey that he’s on, is one that I’ve been able to work on from the beginning, and I’m very fortunate and happy to have been working on from the beginning. Spider-Man is also very fun to work on.

JEDD: In the MCU, I think Kevin Feige did something smart in starting off with Iron Man, which is based in technology, before branching off into the fantasy and cosmic realms. Which of the realms do you most enjoy working in?

RYAN: I definitely have worked more in the grounded reality of Iron Man and Captain America. Cap is slightly different, Winter Soldier wound up being more like a political thriller, but I enjoy all of them. I think the strength of the universe now is that it has so many different aspects to it. Bringing them all together into the Avengers movie is also a terrific, fun thing to have characters bouncing off each other that you never thought you’d see. Iron Man bouncing off of Doctor Strange bouncing off of Guardians, it’s a lot of fun.

TINA: Is there something particularly cool that was designed and thought of that did not make it into the movie?

RYAN: On Iron Man 1, we designed looks for JARVIS, him as a computer system, as a wall installation. There were going to be some things when Obadiah breaks into the house, JARVIS was going to be disabled and you were going to see what he looked like.

We also had some fun ideas for Hulkbuster. When Hulkbuster was going to land in South Africa to fight Hulk, we were pitching ideas that he could take over office buildings, he would have enough reach in the technology that he could light up different office windows to point arrows, to say to pedestrians “leave the area”. We had fun ideas like that, Tony is really looking to protect all the people around him.

I don’t know if there’s anything specific besides small things like that. I’m very fortunate in that a lot of things I’ve worked on have been able to become the look that’s on screen, so I’m generally excited about the way the characters turn out in the films. In the explorations that we do, we always try to explore enough things for each character that the directors and producers feel they have enough choices to work with.

JEDD: I love to take ownership of the work I’ve done, sometimes it’s me being a little selfish, but I like to take credit for what I do. What happens when you watch the movie and go, “oh, that’s a head Andy Park did, but that’s a body I did and Charlie did the wings”. Do you look at yourselves as a team, or do you go “oh, that’s mine!”

RYAN: We always try to be very respectful of if somebody’s doing a design that’s being responded to, we try to let that artist run with it. There are times when what you’re describing happens, but hopefully we’re all a team enough that we can be excited that what’s on screen looks good and be excited that we got to work together and collaborate on it.

STGCC 2016 Preview Day

For F*** Magazine

STGCC 2016 – PREVIEW
F*** gets a taster of the latest edition of the pop culture maelstrom
By Jedd Jong

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Yesterday, F*** was at Terra in Suntec City’s Sky Garden for the press preview of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC). The annual event, organised by ReedPop, is in its ninth year. Reed Exhibitions assistant project director Lin Koh repeatedly referred to this year’s instalment as “crazy”, “massive” and “insane”. She had the numbers to back it up – a total of 43 invited guests, including writers, artists, cosplay celebrities and musicians, will be meeting fans and holding panel discussions at the convention. We were told that it’s up from last year’s figure of 29. 263 companies will be participating, releasing 193 exclusives and new products at STGCC between them. 45 000 attendees are expected over this Saturday and Sunday.

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This year, STGCC will host its first ever computer game tournament, the STGCC eSports Mountain Dew Cup 2016. An exclusive mystery Be@rbrick figurine will be unveiled, and exclusive Hot Toys figures being sold include Disco Iron Man, Resistance Outfit Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Knightmare Batman from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Hot Toys booth is always a highlight of the convention floor, and this year’s display will include a staggering 1/6th scale diorama re-creating the spectacular clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man from Captain America: Civil War.

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We were introduced to a panel of Singaporean artists, comprising manga artist Rachta Lin, sculptor and toy designer Daniel Yu, illustrator Andy Choo and T-shirt designer Xuanming Zhou of Xmashed Gear.

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Yu had some practical advice for those looking to become full-time artists. “As artists, we need to have the mindset of an entrepreneur, because at the end of the day we’re running our own business and cultivating your brand, you’re trying to establish yourself.” Yu’s resin sculptures and collectibles have been exhibited in cities including Tokyo, Beijing, London and New York.

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Choo related an encounter he had with a member of the public when he was drawing caricatures in a local mall. “There was this rich-looking lady, and she asked me ‘so where did you study?’ I said ‘NUS (National University of Singapore). I majored in economics.’ She replied ‘Economics! Your parents must be so sad that you became an artist, what a pity.’ And I was like ‘I think my parents are quite okay with my job right now.’” He added with a grin that he drew her nose a fair bit bigger in the caricature. “I feel that we need a few Joseph Schoolings in our art industry to really help inspire more young artists,” he continued, referencing the Olympic Gold Medal-winning swimmer. Choo conducts workshops, and remarked that many of his students were able to land spots in polytechnic animation courses from which they were rejected a few years earlier.

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Next, we met four international guests: Spanish comic book artist Emma Ríos, Malaysian illustrator Hwei Lim, American comics writer Nick Spencer and British collectibles designer and sculptor Jon-Paul Kaiser.

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Ríos described the current popularity of comic book movies as a “dream come true”, having read a lot of superhero comics in her childhood and named Captain America: The Winter Soldier as her favourite. However, she also added that she is beginning to feel a little fatigued “because there are starting to be so many of them”. Ríos cited Katsuhiro Otomo, famed for writing and illustrating the Akira manga, as main the artist who inspired her to create comic art. Ríos’ credits include the fantasy horror western Pretty Deadly, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Marvel Titles Doctor Strange and The Amazing Spider-Man. Ríos and Lim met at an art workshop and became best friends – the duo are collaborating on the fantasy series Mirror, published by Image Comics.

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Spencer listed Brian Michael Bendis, Keith Giffen, Peter David and Chris Claremont as inspirations. Spencer was the subject of much ire and raised plenty of eyebrows when he penned the controversial issue Steve Rogers Captain America #1, revealing the good Captain as a Hydra spy. The mystery behind the shocking twist has since been explained, but some fans didn’t wait before sending death threats Spencer’s way. Spencer explained that unpopular story arcs are part of any comic character’s ebb and flow over the decades, making reference to the Winter Soldier story arc by Ed Brubaker that was once reviled for bringing Captain America’s loyal sidekick Bucky Barnes back from the dead and making him into a villain, remarking “People had to live with Bucky being a bad guy for a year!”

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Ríos, Lim, Spencer and Kaiser were presented with a tasting platter of Singaporean food. While Lim was familiar with the cuisine since she’s from neighbouring Malaysia, it was a novel experience for the rest of the panel. They sampled salted egg yolk croissants, mooncakes, egg tarts, bubur cha cha (a coconut milk sweet soup) and Hainanese Chicken Rice. It went over well – Kaiser visibly enjoyed the mooncakes, while Ríos exclaimed “I could live here!”

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The artists performed demonstrations for the press: Lin drew a journalist clad in a Pikachu hoodie, Ríos and Lim painted stunning ink and watercolour pieces side-by-side, while Kaiser customised a blank Munny doll with micron pens.

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Other guests who will be attending the convention include Star Wars: Poe Dameron artist Phil Noto; Lumberjanes creator Brooke Allen; Injustice and All New Wolverine writer Tom Taylor; Macross mangaka Haruhiko Mikimoto, and digital artist Sakimichan, who has a massive online following.

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STGCC 2016 is being held from Saturday 10th September to Sunday 11th September at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore. One-day passes are priced at $19, with two-day passes at $28. Please visit www.singaporetgcc.com for more information.

STGCC 2015: Adam Hughes interview

As published in Issue #69 of F*** Magazine

Text:
THE AH! FACTOR
F*** talks to pinup artist extraordinaire Adam Hughes at STGCC

By Jedd Jong



Comic book fans everywhere know those familiar initials all too well – “AH!” Adam Hughes is in town for the annual Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), appearing as a special guest in Singapore for the very first time. Hughes is accompanied by his wife and manager Allison Sohn, also an illustrator.

Hailing from New Jersey, Hughes is a prolific comic book artist who has built a reputation for drawing some of the most drop-dead gorgeous women in all of comics. His work harks back to the golden age of pin-up art with its playful sexiness, while also coming across as lifelike, cinematic and vibrant.

Over the course of his storied career, Hughes has drawn for the likes of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Wildstorm, in addition to adult publications such as Playboy and Penthouse. His career highlights include prominent cover artist runs on Catwoman, Wonder Woman and Tomb Raider. Sideshow Collectibles has produced a series of statues based on Hughes’ designs and his original art is highly sought after in the comic art collecting community, running for a pretty penny.

While he initially seemed a little intense and wasn’t prone to smiling a lot, Hughes is engaging, enthusiastic and humorous during the interview, giving witty, well thought-out answers to our questions. Sitting down with F*** at STGCC, Hughes shares his thoughts on the evolution of the pinup, reveals his favourite female and male comic book characters, speaks about the successful partnership he has with his wife and provides insight into the unexpected challenges of being a career artist. He also recounts his fascinating brush with Hollywood in the form of working on the teaser poster for Joss Whedon’s ill-fated Wonder Woman movie.

How has the art of the pinup evolved from the days of Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas to today?

As far as a first question goes, pretty tough [laughs]. It’s changed because of the perception of women in society. With very few exceptions, all the great pinup artists were men, there were only a few women doing it, and they were depicting idealised versions of women. As time has gone on, women aren’t meant to just be attractive or just be the mother to your children, they’re their own people; they have their own place in society and can do anything they want. The pinup has changed to reflect women’s power, as far it’s not just them in cute situations. It’s not just them going “oh, a puppy is pulling down my bikini bottoms, ooh!”
That’s one of the things that interests me and challenges me as a pinup artist: I’m hired to draw strong, powerful women and I want to make them look attractive. Nobody ever talks about the fact that when I draw Superman or Captain America, I want to make them look attractive too. My main job is to portray a character and I don’t do as much pure “cheesecake pinup” as I used to, but I still try to inject an element of humour and good-natured sexuality of the pinup into the stuff that I do. I do think the way that it has changed is that it’s trying to be a little more…I don’t know if ‘respectful’ is the right word, but aware.
You’re not just drawing a thing that’s to be looked at, you’re drawing a person, definitely more nuanced, but also more aware that you’re drawing a character, you’re not just drawing something that’s meant to be looked at and appreciated for its beauty. When I draw Catwoman or Wonder Woman or any character, I go “what’s this character thinking? What’s this character feeling at the moment?” not just “how small is this character’s costume today?” It sounds like a strange dichotomy, but it’s the way I work.
You were once named “the greatest cheesecake artist” and in response, you said that instead of “embracing” the title, you were giving it a “warm handshake”. You do more cover art than interior work; would you call yourself a frustrated storyteller?

I’m not an especially frustrated storyteller, I’m only frustrated with the fact that I don’t get to tell stories as much as I want. That’s not because people don’t offer me comics to draw, it’s because I’m so slow. I would love to be one of those people that’s just so prolific and works on everything, I would love to tell a million stories, maybe I’ve only got 20 stories, I’ve only got enough time to tell 20. That’s the part that frustrates me. As far as telling stories in single images, I don’t have a problem with that because I’m allowed to, I’m allowed to use a cover to tell a story instead of just portraying a character in a pretty way.
What’s your opinion on diversity in comics today?

There’s not enough of it. However, I don’t feel that the correct solution is a hammer. When there’s a problem in the world, whether it’s in something as silly as comics or in the real world, the workplace, in education or something like that, a lot of times people tend to go way overboard in their response to it, as opposed to a measured response and an incisive response [that] will actually get the most results. There are two responses to any great social issue: ‘I’m going to sleep through it’ or ‘let’s have a revolution!’ Maybe there’s a response somewhere in between apathy and anarchy, where you can go ‘let’s try to make this better’.
I would love more diversity across the board in all media, but I’m not a fan of ‘artificial diversity’, where you go “let’s just make this more diverse for diversity’s sake.” I believe in everything, whether it’s diversity or characters, locations, storytelling, any aspect of a creative endeavour, I think that it should always be organic, it should always come from “what am I trying to say with this story?” If you’re trying to tell a story and for some strange reason, a character has to be a white guy, then he needs to be a white guy. You should only change it to some other thing if making the character, say, a female Asian, actually makes the story better. You shouldn’t be doing it because “we don’t have enough female Asians in comics,” but because you’re saying “this story would be good if it were a white guy, but it would be amazing if it were a female Asian” or something like that. That’s what I think about diversity.
Unfortunately, today is such a reactionary era that I just realised, while I’m talking to you, that I could get into a lot of trouble and I’m just going to have to take that if it comes my way. I just want it to be for the betterment of story, not to fulfil an agenda. Hopefully we get to a point where people stop looking at, say, the cast photo of a new Star Wars film and counting the white people and black people, counting the men and counting the women, [and instead] see how it plays out.
What issues have you encountered in finding a balance in depictions of comic book women such that they are alluring and sensual while also empowering and dignified?

I haven’t encountered any issues until lately. It’s just a subjective thing – what offends one person is somebody else’s idea of pure art. That spectrum used to be much broader. Nowadays it’s a little rigid – there are people out there, especially in the west, who are getting upset at the way I’ve done business for 20-30 years. It’s like “I haven’t changed, was what I’m doing wrong 20 years ago or is your perception of what’s right and wrong, has it changed?” Sometimes the sheer aspect of depicting someone in a glamorous manner is offensive and everyone should look like regular folk to them. Gosh, I wouldn’t have a job if that were true! For the time being, I’m still safe, but I still lock my doors at night.
Your most popular pieces feature the characters in a more light-hearted context, since many pinups tend to be more playful. What are your views on the “battle” of lighter and happier vs. darker and grittier portrayals of characters?

I think it’s a silly battle. I think it’s not an important battle. I think everything that’s meant to be fun should be fun; I don’t like it when light-hearted characters are made dark just for the sake of shock value. I think there’s an important aspect to the darker side of things as well. I think it’s a non-issue, not a real battle.
How do you overcome artist’s block?

I spend most of my time scratching my chin and looking at the blank sheet of paper than I do actually drawing. It’s either video games, I will sit there and go “I’m gonna go kill somebody digitally and I’m gonna pretend they’re artist’s block”. Either that or I vacuum. I know a lot of artists who go “I’m not getting anything productive done at the drawing table, I’m going to get something productive done elsewhere” – that way, at the end of the day when you didn’t get a darn thing drawn, you still feel like you were a useful part of society because my floors are spotless.
What is the nature of your creative and business partnership with your wife?

Extremely productive. We’re lucky, we both have a lot of the same interests [and] we both like a lot of different things and bring new stuff to each other. My work enables to her to have the freedom to pursue her art; her work enables me to have the freedom to just focus on my artwork. We just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and we’ve been together for just over 13 years – longest relationship for either one of us. We would walk if it wasn’t working, we’re tired of abuse [laughs]. It’s a great relationship, we get a lot more done, it’s much more enriched. If we were on our own, we’d be surviving, we’d be doing okay, but because we’re together, we thrive.
You’ve drawn some of comic’s most beautiful ladies and did a pinup for Fairest from Fables. Who do you think is the fairest of them all?

I would say Catwoman. If I were drawing all the characters at the same time, I would make sure Selina is the prettiest.
What makes Catwoman one of the characters you’re fondest of?

I love damaged goods. I think the reason why people like the Batman universe so much is everybody in the Batman universe is damaged goods. I’ve always said that everybody in Gotham City is awful and the only reason why Batman is the hero is because he’s the least awful person in Gotham. Selina Kyle should have it easy. She’s beautiful, she’s smart and she’s talented, and yet, there’s something inside her that drives her towards a life of crime and she wouldn’t turn away from it. It’s not just thrills, there’s something bent and broken in her, just as it is with Batman and the Joker and probably even Alfred. If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, 100 people have to take care of that house and Alfred is the one guy who has to dust, clean, make the food, clean the sheets and patch up the owner every night he comes home shot. I’d be miserable too. I think that’s why.
Which is your favourite live-action portrayal of Catwoman be it in movies or TV shows?

Oh, in Dark Knight Rises. About 20 minutes into Dark Knight Rises I went “Okay, I don’t care if Batman doesn’t show up, can we just have two hours of Anne Hathaway doing cool stuff?” because it was way better than any of the Batman stuff.
Who is your favourite male superhero?

My favourite male superhero is Captain America. I love Captain America. Last year I drew my first Captain America cover ever and I was nine years old while I was drawing it.
He’s very different from “damaged goods”.

Yeah. Nobody likes a perfect character, it’s finding the character flaws and finding how the character overcomes those flaws. Those character flaws are the same as the obstacles in their careers. It’s like for Captain America, one of his obstacles is the Red Skull and the Legion of Hydra. One of his other obstacles is he doesn’t really fit in – I love him and I would kill to do a World War II Captain America story but I love the idea of a guy who isn’t where he belongs anymore and there’s no going home.
As you get older, all of us are separated from where we were born, not just by distance, but also by time. If you go back to the school you went to, the town or village you’re from, it’s changed and you go “wow, that’s not the way I remember it.” When Cap first came back in 1964, World War II had only been over for 19 years – the only thing different was “well, the Beatles have long hair”. Everybody he knew was probably still alive and I love the fact that as more time goes by, he’s 70 years out of time and soon he’ll be 100 years out of time. He’s becoming Buck Rogers. I find the tragedy of that very appealing.
What is the hardest part of being in the comic book industry?

The hardest part – this is going to sound vague and slightly Zen – it’s all the stuff nobody prepared you for. When you turn your hobby into your job, there’s that initial “oh crap, I have to draw even when I don’t want to draw?” When we’re kids and we’re all doing our favourite creative things, whenever we want, we all wish there was no school so we could do our favourite creative thing every day. The minute someone tells you to do it and says “you have to have all this done by Friday”, it can really become a chore. “Wow, my hobby’s no longer as fun as it used to be.” When you’re a kid and you want to grow up and draw comics, it’s just like “I’m going to sit around all day in my underwear and watch cartoons and draw comics and it’s gonna be great” – [but] there’s a whole brochure of stuff that nobody tells you.
I always think back to nine or ten-year-old me, if I time-travelled and went back, what I would tell him – one, it would be lay off the pizza. Two, I would say “in the future, the same guy who plays Judge Dredd plays Dr. McCoy, and it’s awesome, everybody’s happy” and three, I would sit him down and go “here’s all the stuff you’re not going to be ready for when you break into the business.” The expectations put on you, weird things – this is going to sound like I’m complaining that my diamond shoes are too tight, but career management – nobody teaches you how to manage a career.
I look at genuinely famous people, like politicians or athletes or actors and actresses and I go “your life is no longer your own” and you hope that there’s somebody somewhere that says “here’s what happens the first time somebody takes your autograph and sells it on eBay, here’s what to do the first time somebody stalks you.”
Comics fame is really dubious, but there are issues. We will get stuff mailed to our house, with a letter from somebody saying “oh my god, I love your work, could you please sign this comic that I sent you” to send it back using some self-addressed stamped envelope. The first thing my wife and I do is go “how did they get our address?! Close the blinds and lock all the windows!” It’s weird stuff like that. We worry sometimes, what if some crazy fan who didn’t get a sketch gets upset and decides to do something about it? Gosh, it could happen anywhere!
Nobody tells you when you’re a kid “by the way, you’re going to have to pay your own taxes.” In America, you’re responsible for paying your own taxes, it’s what self-employed artists do. It took me the better part of 18 years to get my tax problems sorted out because I made so many mistakes early on. So much stuff; that’s the hardest part.  
What are your thoughts on old school (pen and paper or watercolours) and new school (programs like Illustrator and Photoshop)

I’ve got my feet in both worlds, because I draw on paper and then I scan it and colour it in the computer. I don’t care, to me, all that matters is the final product. If your best tool is digital, then do it. These purists say “it’s not really painting unless you’re using oil paints” and it’s like “well, for you, but for this other person over here, they sing with a stylus and Cintiq tablet.”
If you make art and you only use ketchup and mustard and you only make these glorious Iron Man paintings by just squirting condiments onto a board because that’s how you’re most comfortable, then do it. I used to try and paint for real all the time, and it never works. Very frustrating. The minute I started colouring digitally, everything gelled into place, because I think that art medium, they should be like your shoes and your car and the chair you sit in. They should be so comfortable, you’re not thinking about it. Imagine walking somewhere and thinking about your shoes every step of the way – you wouldn’t get where you’re going because you’d be going “oh, the left one’s a little tight, the right one’s squeaking” – you wouldn’t think about where you’re going.
As an artist, if you’re thinking about your tools while you’re working, you’re not spending time being creative. You’re thinking about the mechanics of drawing, which you should have worked out already. That’s why every artist should just draw all the time; to get to the point where your pencil or your stylus or your paintbrush is an extension of your hand and you’re not thinking “oh, this paper’s fighting me today” or “I don’t like this pencil” – you’re just sitting there and going “Batman is sad! He needs rain, rain will make him seem sadder.”
That’s why I don’t care about the medium at all. When I see a beautiful piece of artwork, I never seem to ask what the medium is anymore. I used to be concerned about that; now I just go “that is a beautiful, wonderful piece of art that tells a story.” Don’t care where it came from. Unless it’s like “oh my god, I need to steal that, let me find out how that person drew those clouds.”
What was it like working on the Wonder Woman poster for the Joss Whedon film that didn’t pan out back in 2005?



When Joss Whedon was making the Wonder Woman movie, I got a call from DC saying “you’re going to get a call from Joel Silver”, who was the producer of the Matrix films, the Lethal Weapon films. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he was the crazy director at the beginning and I was like “him, he’s calling my house?” So he called, and the character he played at the beginning of Roger Rabbit was way more normal than how he is in real life. I said to my wife, we were just dating at the time, “this guy’s a cartoon!” He then said “hold on, hold on, I’ve got Joss Whedon on the other line.” So, all of a sudden, I’m in a conference call with the producer of The Matrix and Joss Whedon, and I’m going “this is the weirdest day ever.”
I only had a weekend to work on it, I only had two days. They had no costume design, and I knew this film was not going to get made because they were both telling me what to draw and it was all different. Joel Silver’s going “make sure she’s buff, make sure she’s really strong!” and Joss Whedon’s saying “but not too buff!” I felt like a divorce attorney. When they announced that it didn’t go through [it made sense]. It was fun, I wish I could’ve drawn more of Wonder Woman, but there was no costume, there was no actress, and if I had an extra day or so, I could have made it something real special, but now it’s just “hey, I worked in Hollywood for eight seconds! Yay me!”

STGCC 2015: Jim Cheung interview

STGCC 2015: JIM CHEUNG INTERVIEW
by Jedd Jong
British comic book artist Jim Cheung is in Singapore for the first time as a special guest of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. Cheung has drawn for Marvel and CrossGen and has risen as one of Marvel’s superstar artists, having been named a “young gun”, a potential superstar, by Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada in 2005.

Cheung is probably best known for pencilling Young Avengers. Alongside writer Allan Heinberg, Cheung created characters such as Iron Lad, Hulkling, Wiccan, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) and Speed.

At CrossGen, Cheung pencilled Scion and has gone on to draw such titles as New Avengers: Illuminati, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade and X-Force for Marvel. He has also done cover art for Avengers vs. X-Men and World War Hulk: Warbound.

Speaking to other journalists and I, Cheung looks back on his career, shares his inspirations and influences, weighs in on the aesthetics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and talks about his persistence in getting a page right.

It has been ten years since you were named one of Marvel’s “young guns”.

Oh, don’t remind me! [Laughs]

What was that like and looking back over your career, what has the journey been like so far?

It’s been a hell of a journey, I would see. It was definitely a surprise to be named a “young gun” back in 2004…2005, because I’d already been in the business a good ten years, so to be named a “young gun” was definitely unusual. It was definitely an honour, definitely a privilege to be amongst so many artists and such enormous talent. I guess it did in some ways further my career a lot. Thanks to that book, Young Avengers, it really helped my career a long way, because that was my big return to Marvel because before that, I went to work for CrossGen for a few years. It was an unusual point to jump in, the fact that it became a hit was definitely a big bonus.

What are the main inspirations for your current art style?

Current art style? It’s really like a bastardized style of a lot of my favourite artists. I kind of look at artists that I like and critically break it down, take different elements of what I like and try to incorporate it into my work and then it just becomes natural, that’s just the way it’s always been. I’m more an assimilator in a way, because if you look at my early work, you can see it’s very crude but then it gets more and more refined, because I’m looking at other people’s work and getting influenced by it. That’s why when I went to CrossGen, I was able to be in a studio with a whole bunch of artists for the very first time, and I was able to “steal” from them quite comprehensively.

Who were some of these artists who inspired you?

At CrossGen, there was a whole bunch of people. I worked very simply back in the day. When I was in London, I never worked with a lightbox before, then when I went to CrossGen, I saw people working with lightboxes so I got very curious. I developed a style where I started doing layouts very roughly and placed them underneath the finished board, whereas before I used to draw everything straight and I didn’t think about moving it over, once I started doing that, pieces started becoming starting much tighter. And looking at other artists’ work, like Greg Land who was also in the studio, seeing how much photo reference he was using, how he was using it, how Steve Epting was using the blacks in his pages, things like that were adding to my work.

What went into creating the characters who formed the Young Avengers, alongside Allan Heinberg?

Basically, I was just given the descriptions from Allan and from Tom Brevoort, the editor, and I just went away and did some rough designs. I kept doing multiple designs until I was comfortable with something to hand in to show them. A lot of them were very crude to begin with because they just basically said “do younger versions of the Hulk, of the Avengerscharacters.” So I was trying to give it a more modern twist while retaining a lot of those classic elements in making those characters, so it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of playing around, a lot of moving things around.
Is there a project you’ve worked on that you’d like to tackle?

I haven’t done any DC stuff in a long time and I’m very curious about that. I’d love to do some Batman stuff, some Justice League, although I really should be shying away from doing team books because it takes me forever to do them. For some reason, they keep hiring me to do team books, like Axis and certain characters.

As an artist, what are your thoughts on the visual style of the films that form the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

I love the fact that they kind of look like superheroes, although in some ways, I’m less keen on some of the complicated outfits because I like things clean, simple, visually arresting. With the movies, sometimes they can get overly complicated with their designs, I think it takes away…it kind of gets generic after a while. If there are rivets and buttons everywhere, then there isn’t that much colour, it can look very samey-samey. That’s some of the issues I’ve had with the movies, some of the characters could be interchangeable and it wouldn’t even matter. I understand that, because they have to make it sophisticated for the movie audience, but at the same time, it can be overdone. The good thing with the Marvel movies is that at least they still somewhat resemble the comic book versions, they’re still very distinctive.



How do you overcome artist’s block?

Partly why I’m so slow is because I’m constantly struggling to get things right, that’s why when people ask me to video myself and put it up on YouTube, my process and how I draw, I’d be like “70% of the time will be erasing what I’ve just drawn so it will be a very, very boring video.” I get artist’s block, unfortunately, I’m too stupid to walk away, I just keep hammering at it. Sometimes I will switch to other pages and they’ll come easier.

What do you struggle in getting right, is it the composition?

The composition, the way I draw a face, it can never come out right sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s important to have a different perspective on things, which is why with the lightbox it lets you switch things over, so you turn the page over, everything’s completely different, so sometimes that helps as well.

If you had a chance to work on a movie or television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, would you be willing to do it?

I don’t think I’m really suited to it. I’d certainly be interested; it’s a whole different field.

Which series would you be interested in?

I want to do a Young Avengers series, yes [laughs].
Is there a character in particular that you enjoy drawing the most?

I really enjoy drawing Thor, I kind of like the Thor eras that I grew up with. I don’t think I’m the best at drawing Spider-Man [but] I do enjoy drawing Spider-Man. I’ve become very comfortable drawing Captain America, even though his costume just becomes more and more complicated. Favourite character…default characters are usually those guys. I’m so used to drawing Marvel characters, that’s the problem, when I’m finally asked to draw DC characters, I’m like “how do you draw Batman again?” [Laughs]

How much leeway to you get to re-interpret a character? When you’re assigned to a book, do you get a chance to redesign the characters’ costumes?

Sometimes. If I’m asked to redesign a costume, then I will try to stay faithful to…I grew up in the 80s so I have a certain image of those characters, so if I’m asked to redesign those characters, I often refer to those as a starting point in a way. Some of the costumes have deviated so much, they look so different than how they used to look that it’s a completely different character with a totally different costume. So I like to bring it back sometimes with more familiar elements. I try to play around with that.


What was your gateway into reading comics?

Very early on, it was Spider-Man. In the UK, they used to reprint all the comics, the weeklies, so I used to come home, after lunch, and read it.

So it was always superheroes rather than war or horror comics?

I did read some of that stuff, but I didn’t really take to it. I read 2000 AD, but I always went back to Marvel characters. I just like the Spider-Man character, maybe it’s because with 2000 AD the stories progressed too slowly, they were always too short, six pages, there was never enough story and by the next week it was another six pages. It just didn’t flow as well.

Most British creators cut their teeth on 2000 AD, how did you break into comics?

I just didn’t start like I was “supposed” to. Back in the 90s, I didn’t really know how to break in. I didn’t know you had to do samples, you had to show them to the right people, so that’s what I did, it just happened to be that the people I showed them to were from Marvel, so I was lucky enough to get my foot in the door there.

What would you say is the hardest part of working in comics?

The hardest part is keeping your game up, I would say. The quality of the artwork these days is amazing. There are kids coming out of high school with better Photoshop skills than I can achieve right now. There’s a level of technology that I never had, they’re so comfortable with those programs, it’s a challenge to try and keep growing.

Does your process involve any digital work?

It does, yes. Nowadays, I do a little fumbling, I scan them in and I play around with them a little bit, I move around elements until I’m happy.



If you were tasked with reimagining the Young Avengers as they are now, what changes would you make?

The way it currently is? I would probably bring it back to the old team. No disrespect to what Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen did, it’s just wasn’t the same team for me, because they were introducing all these new characters and for me, it didn’t quite come across the same way. Maybe it’s the writer; Allan had a certain way with the characters as well. I enjoyed those core characters that I helped design, it’s very personal.

What was it like creating the Comic-Con promotional poster for the new season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and would you like to see movie posters return towards hand-drawn art, as unlikely as that may be?

It was actually quite an honour to do that poster for Comic-Con. I don’t think I’m the strongest guy when it comes to likenesses, so I try to shy away from that as much as possible, but when I was asked to do it, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and do something that was like the movie posters, James Bond-style, all the elements, like similar to the old classic James Bond movies. That’s what I wanted to do. Luckily it turned out okay, I think. There’s a few things I would change, but there are always things I would change.

Are there any things in geek culture that you’re looking forward to, be it movies, TV or other media?

I’m trying to stay away as much as I can from the Star Wars stuff, you can’t escape it unfortunately. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how that turns out. I’m also curious to see how the Marvel movies progress, to show the Infinity War. Like everybody else, I’m excited just the same, even though we all have a rough idea of what the story’s going to be like from the comics. It’s always cool to see on the big screen.

In your opinion, what is the most important component of visual storytelling?

The most important element is just clarity of storytelling, making sure the reader can follow everything that’s moving along. One of my rules when I’m laying out a book is that every issue can be somebody’s first, so you’ve got to make sure that it’s clear enough for somebody to pick up, or they aren’t going to be able to follow the story. I’ve picked up books where I’ve tried to read the story, but it’s so confusing because things are bouncing around all the time, it’s lost me even as a seasoned comic book reader. When I see that, I think that’s just missed opportunities – but again, that’s just me being very, very critical. It’s always easy being critical of other people’s work, failing to notice your own flaws.

What do you feel is the reason behind Marvel putting you on a lot of event books?

I don’t know, I think maybe they think I can handle the multiple characters, that’s why they give it to me. I also consider it a privilege, they think that I’m worthy to work on those tentpole events. I don’t question it too much, I just enjoy the opportunity.

Are you involved much with the planning of events?

Not at all, not at all. They just bring me in and show me the script.

Has there been a moment in the industry where you geeked out on a meeting a hero of yours?

I tried to avoid meeting my heroes as far as I can. Sometimes, it can affect your perception of the way you read it, I don’t know if you’ve ever met your heroes, sometimes if they give you a disappointing [first] impression, it affects everything you see from them afterwards. In some ways, I try and avoid that, but the people that I have met are great.
Thanks for an excellent interview Jim!