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!

STGCC 2015 Day 2: Mega Picture Post

And here we go with Day 2! Let’s roll. 

The family that Star Wars-es together stays together

Yub nub!

Elektra

Black Bolt

Felicity, complete with Windows 8 Surface!

Selfie with CW!Ollie’s main squeeze

Darth Revan

Sabermarch’s wares

Dear Mistah J!

“Yub nub!” “Utinni!” 

Black Cat-scratch fever!

You will notice a running theme with Harleys and lil Mistah J.

“Hello Zepp”

Hot Toys’ Millennium Falcon interior diorama

Vacationpool!

Joking Snake – Batman and Metal Gear Solid mash-up!

Lil Ms. Marvel and Lil Hulk! D’aww.

Pitted as many Jokers against as many Red Hoods as I could

“All this fighting, it’s senseless”

Younglings in training at Fightsaber’s workshop

M. Bison says “YASS!!”

Actual levitation!

Attempt at a vaguely arty shot

“Girl I work out”

Bewitched, Bebladed and Bewildered 

Who watches the Watch_dogs? 

Mind-blowing Bumblebee.

Rul as Jason – destiny

“Now fight!”

Maro, who makes a most adorable Babs. 
Skyline Sirens 
“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood.”

Ready to believe you, Egon!

“MOM! DAD! UNCLE BEN!” 
In anticipation of the all-female Ghostbusters movie

Beardbusters!

Shaun’s really rad Arkham Knight 

Felicity being wistful

Kylo Ren, the mysterious villain of the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Neptys Ennoae as Wasp with Gwen as Ant-Man!

WASP AND BUMBLEBEE. This gave me so much satisfaction.

It’s not a comic con unless there’s at least one Slave Leia

M. Bison has his sights set on time travel – beware!

Doof Doof Doof! 
Ahh Jim Cheung’s smile. *Melts*

Ants at a picnic

More Ame-Comi Wondy action!

Old-school enthusiasm!

Conner!

Hi again Stella

Shaun the Jurassic Park ranger with Bessie the Dilophosaurus! Good girl Bessie! 

The Hooded Photobomber

“BLOOD BAG!”

Drag!Wonder Woman!

Slade has destructive designs on the Bat *flicks*

Epic showdown! Onlookers are most amused.

Back to back badasses

Bullets and bracelets!

The family that Avenges together…

Hey Sally!

Jaye as a Portal Turret, with her Companion Cube of Holding

Elevenapalooza!

Princess Kory in the house

Shiny shiny Ollie

Yes yes, I don’t know who these characters are and took the photo because Theresa and friend are attractive.

See son? That’s a professional. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Kai with Red Hood Beyond!

You wot m8?

Re:Spawn

Whovian selfie

11 photobomb 
“Come along Po…I mean Clara”

Everybody wants Clara!

Clara doesn’t know what to make of the Attack Eyebrows 

Adam Hughes, comics pinup artist extraordinaire

Orkabat Cos and Judith as Bishoujo Psylocke and Ms. Marvel respectively

I blurted out “look, a Dick!” without thinking. Way to go Jedd. 
SHAZAM!

Team Arrow and a Feline Photobomber

Theodora as Selina and Lil Bruce
Selina and her mini-me

What evil lurks in the hearts of men? 

Selfie with Aunty Shirley, everyone’s favourite neighbourhood cosplaying Aunty! 

Scarlet Witch

V8!

“Bruce why?”

Nothing to fear but fear itself

Frasier as Peggy Carter and Jenny as Skinny Steve

Selfie with my Batfam friends Sarah, Kie and YQ!

Dead Jason party – bring your own crowbar 
“I am a failure lol”

“Dick you’re irreplaceable!” – Bruce circa 1942 or thereabouts 

All will cower in fear of Darth Cass! 

Go away Wade.

“Drive me like one of your Italian cars”

Clara and the Stig – it’s a veritable BBC party in here!

Twinsies! 
“Dad Dad DAAAD Dad Daadddd” “Arrgh kids!”

Missy’s cookies tempt the Doctor

People mountain; people sea

Catwoman, Harley and Lil Bruce!

The thorn among the roses

KA as Spider-Woman 

YQ giving the Kotobukiya statue pose a go

Invinc is very pleased with the shuffling trick – exactly why it’s silly doesn’t show up in stills, you had to be there.
“You’ve been struck by a smooth criminal mon ami”

Very esoteric.

Ellie!

Pirates have shoulder parrots, Catwoman has shoulder kitteh.

WITNESS IMMORTAN JOE!

STGCC 2015 Day 1: Mega Picture Post

Here’s the first part of my annual Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention Mega Picture post! Brace yourselves, it be a long one.

A very Imperial welcome

Hot Toys’ First Order Stormtroopers

Mysterious Force Awakens baddie Kylo Ren

KidsLogic’s actually-hovering DeLorean

Life-sized Hulk vs. Hulkbsuter display

“Get me outta here!” 

Fightsaber’s demonstration

I do know the power of the Dark Side

“Not so tough without your ship, eh?” “Ditto”

Well, technically an Ant-Man figure of any size could be considered “life-sized”

Michael Keaton and Adam West Batmen

The very epitome of cool.

Rocket and Groot, cosmic besties.

Loki conspires, as he does.

Anyone seen my daughter?

Cosplay celebrity Stella Chuu

“LET OFF SOME STEAM, BENNET!”

The King of the Seas on his pincer throne

Beguiling, even as an unpainted prototype

Writer Wayne Ree and artist Gene Whitlock, who together form Global Beards!

Raven

My pal Jaye as 2015 edition Marty McFly

She’s got the worried Michael J. Fox face down.

Assemble!

Hoverboards that can actually hover! Disclaimer: not intended for use over water.

Immortan Joe takes shape.

With my friend Gwen as Han Solo

Neptys Ennoae as Shao Jun from Assassin’s Creed Chronicles

First of many Red Hoods this weekend

Honey Lemon from Big Hero 6

Digging the “Jabba as satay vendor” diorama

Stay!

Agent Peggy Carter

Red Hood

Harley Quinn, an ever-popular character choice.

Alexander Jameouson Tan as the Joker, all too proud of himself for having killed Jason Todd

Brian Dennison as a thoroughly on-point Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish

A double serving of Harley! 

Digging the combination of biker and tactical gear this Red Hood is rocking

Mezame as Margarita Guy from Jurassic World!

Tadashi and Hiro from Big Hero 6

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

Exquisite craftsmanship on that crown!

Ghostbusters and Back to the Future – so 80s I can’t even

Check out the detail on those proton packs!

First Order Stormie backpack! So cute. 

Jack Frost and Booker DeWitt – eh, I’ve seen stranger mashups

Party like it’s 2099

Booker, catch!

Cap and an old enemy

“Put me down Quill! This is demeaning!” 

Baroness and Storm Shadow from GI JOE

“2015 is all this and no Jaws 19! We’ve got to fix things Doc!”

But soft, what light from Yondu window breaks?

Talking comics with C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Jim Cheung and Adam Hughes

Capn’ Spidey

Theodora as Black Widow taking it out on lil Loki

Ame-Comi Wonder Woman

Deathstroke

Green Arrow

Goofing with Ollie – just about my fave selfie of the day

People mountain; people sea

Daenerys and her dragon.

Deadpool, perfectly in character

Ollie Evolutions

Joey as Ms. Marvel

Peggy and plushie Cap!

XM Studios’ phenomenal work

XM Studios Daredevil

XM Studios’ conceptual Japanese-styled Batman

All of these designs are really well thought out!

There’s always a Man…

Sam as Hulkling, chewing on Loki

Kie as Wiccan with Sam as Hulkling

Talking comics with C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Jim Cheung and Adam Hughes

Marvel superstar artist Jim Cheung, best-known for co-creating the Young Avengers with Allan Heinberg

Such a handsome fellow. Swoons.

Stella Chuu getting her Power Ranger groove on

Wait, I thought you guys were brothers! Nevermind.

Jenny as Elsa

Frasier as Rorschach from Watchmen

Wonder Woman, Supergirl and lil Batsy

Quicksilver is not impressed

Trench run diorama! 

The Simpsons enjoying a live performance by the Bith musicians. Yes yes the genre of music is called Jizz, I know.

Glowy glowy

Jim Cheung with his creations Wiccan and Hulkling

The 12th Doctor and Missy

Not a hugger.

Regeneration makes you taller?

The ever-lovely Belle as Zatanna Zatara!

Z is for Zelfie

Darren as Slender Man – those proportions are perfect!

Rorschach vs. Slendy

Michael Baypool

Rorschach and Baypool!

F***in’ Money!

Matching Mum and daughter Leias

Dave as Leonidas, making me feel inferior as always.

Ant-Man

Suicide Squad Joker and Harley

Suicide Squad Joker and Harley

Natasha has red on her ledger, but Blue Sky on the brain.