Monday, September 28, 2009
By Jeffrey O. Gustafson
British artist Mike McKone is best known for his work on Teen Titans, Fantastic Four, and Exiles. Recently, he has made a big splash penciling the return of the Black Cat into the life of Peter Parker in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man as well as his cover work on Deadpool and Punisher. Last week I chatted with him (while he signed books and sketched for our customers - click here for EXCLUSIVE photos) about his process, which characters he’d like to work with, his upcoming work, and so much more. The FULL interview follows the jump
You’ve had some notable runs on Teen Titans and Fantastic Four… Is there a particular team or group that you prefer to draw?
I really enjoy drawing Exiles, actually, because it was a different setting and different costumes [each issue], so that was a lot of fun… a little bit more work than it is drawing the Fantastic Four.
In the back of your first Fantastic Four collection with J. Michael Straczynski, there are some pictures of a clay model you did of Ben Grimm. Do you often use sculpture reference in your work?
It was just for The Thing. I was never going to be able to have the plates on his body consistent, so I thought the least I could do was try to get the plates on his face consistent. The easiest way to do that was to take a—I had a phrenology bust, and I just got some kids’ plasticine [and worked on it] until I got the shape I wanted. Because he didn’t have to look human, it was pretty easy to do.
I just moved here a few months ago and I was going to bring it, but in the years since I made it, the plasticine had dried out. When I picked it up, it fell apart, and I was left with the phrenology bust. So it was a one-off, now it’s a none-off.
Is it more difficult to draw characters with abnormal body proportions like Morph or Reed Richards?
Mr. Fantastic is difficult, because he looks odd if you don’t if you don’t stretch him in just the right way. But Morph is real easy to draw – it’s not so much the stretching with Morph, it’s that he can change into anything, which is a lot of fun to draw.
Do you prefer to work off detailed scripts, or do you prefer what’s known as the “Marvel Style”…?
I really don’t mind, because it’s-- if I have to add stuff, then that’s just part of the job, if I have to condense a really detailed script, again that’s part of the job. Generally, I’m just working with the script up until the point where I’ve drawn the thumbnails, and then I leave the script behind. Once I know the placement of the characters and what they are meant to be doing in a thumbnail, then I don’t really have to refer to the script. There’s an old joke that you read it once and whatever you don’t remember cannot really have been that important. It’s not quite as mercenary as that, but I don’t mind.
Are there any characters that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?
Ooh… I really like the cosmic characters, actually.
I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cosmic stuff…
Yeah, one of my best friends is Andy Lanning [noted inker and co-writer with Dan Abnett on Marvel’s cosmic books - Jeff]. I’d really like to work on some of the stuff that they are working on.
Speaking of inkers, with inking over your pencils, do you prefer a particular inker--
Yeah, I prefer Andy, really. I mean that’s not to say the other inkers that I’ve had have been bad or anything, it’s just that he seems to be able to make me look a little bit better than anyone else. He works primarily in pen, and I like that a lot. He doesn’t allow himself to be overworked – I think he pretty much divides his time between myself and Phil Jiminez. So he really spends a lot of time on the inks, and I appreciate that. And I guess he can do that because he’s a writer, too. But apart from his personality, I like him a lot! [Laughs]
Do you have any desire to do creator-owned work?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a few things I could [have done], it’s just a question of finding a place to do them.
How did your current Amazing Spider-Man gig come about?
Steve Whacker asked me to draw a couple of issues, which I did. Then he asked me to draw a couple more, and I said I couldn’t, I was going to DC. And he said, do you mind if we offered you a contract? They made a better offer than DC, and I’ve really enjoyed drawing Spider-Man.
So you’re exclusive at Marvel, right?
Yeah, Marvel were good enough to sponsor me for my work visa so I could come and live in New York.
Now the work visa, that’s a benefit to creator exclusivity that hadn’t occurred to me.
Well, I’m not even exclusive in the way I used to be exclusive because I’m actually an employee of Marvel now. I pay taxes… I guess I’ll be invited to the Christmas party, now.
How long are you on the book?
This is a two-issue arc, you mentioned you’ve got another coming up?
Yeah, I’m going to be doing an arc with [CLASSIFIED writer]… It’s [CLASSIFIED character], but I’m not sure if you can [reveal] who it is.
It’s on you now! [Laughs]
So I won’t mention that…
(Customer: He runs the blog!)
That recorder should have been a dead giveaway! I don’t know if I’ll do that first, or a [CLASSIFIED character] thing with [CLASSIFIED writer].
Some of the Spider-Man writers live in New York, Marvel editorial is in New York… When you work with a writer, do you meet with them, or is it all scripts?
It’s all just scripts. I try-- Its not that I got anything against the writers, or editorial, it’s just that I spend so much time working on the books, that who wants to spend spare time with them? I talked to Dan [Slott] a couple of weeks ago actually, and we’re going to meet up and talk about what to do [together…] That could be useful actually.
[JHU Manager Steven Norman] How did you get the recent Green Lantern gig?
Eddie Berganza asked me if I would do it, and I said no. And then he called me up a few months later and said “OK, I’ve put you in Previews so you’ve got to do it!” [Laughs] Honestly, that’s how it happened. I was just about to start work on Spider-Man and I had to push that back three months to do Green Lantern. Never make friends with an editor because they will abuse you! But I got to work with Geoff [Johns] again, so it was all good.
[SN] When you guys started the Titans series, did you decide on the black t-shirt for Superboy or was that Geoff’s call?
I think it was more his, actually, because I just did a generic superhero costume type thing. He wanted least one character with regular civilian clothes. At the time I thought it was crazy, but it came out perfectly, because it just worked for the character. And he’s really easy to draw.
[Customer] That must have been easier than with Exiles where you had to redesign everyone in the Universe every two issues, right?
I did that for two years, but it wasn’t meant to be that way. The locations were meant to change, obviously, but the costumes were meant to remain constant. But I’ve got a terrible memory for costumes, and since I designed most of them, I could never remember them, so every issue I changed them!
Is it difficult to convey emotion when you are dealing with fully masked characters like Spider-Man or Deadpool?
Not particularly, I rely a lot on body language. Deadpool is a lot easier because you can kind of draw on his mask, as it were, showing through the mask. With Spider-Man, I just rely on his gestures and body language to do it, a tilt of the head…
I asked Steve Dillon this when he was here a couple of months ago: Do you prefer to draw regular clothes or do you prefer tights and capes and the like?
Actually, I used to be afraid of drawing people in regular clothes, because I just couldn’t draw them well enough. But then I did Vexed for six issues where everyone was wearing regular clothes, so I was forced to do it. After that, I didn’t mind at all. For me, it’s better to draw people in [regular] clothes, because you can suggest movement much more easily then when people are wearing skin-tight costumes.
But original art tends not to sell when if you’ve got a bunch of civilians running around in regular clothes. [Laughs].
Interview and photos by Jeffrey O. Gustafson.