Comic readers will be getting a load of Bryan Hitch over the coming months. Next week, the superstar artist’s “America’s Got Powers” series with writer Jonathan Ross returns with issue #4 from Image Comics. And as that book continues to serialize into 2013, the long-awaited release of his final Marvel Comics project in Brian Michael Bendis’ “Age of Ultron” event hits in March on an accelerated publishing schedule.
The release of both projects comes with some relief to Hitch who’s focusing on producing more comics and more pages of art as fast as he can. Though “AGP” saw a gap in publication, the series where extra-sized issues are now common is almost finished as power-granting hero Tommy hooks up with a gang of rebels to revolt against the government that turned their plight into a reality show. Meanwhile, “Age of Ultron” presents a last blast of sorts in the Marvel world he spent over a decade in as Hitch draws heroes from Hawkeye to Spider-Man to Wolverine for maybe the last time.
For the full scope on where the artist has been and where he’ll go next, CBR News spoke to Hitch about both projects. Below, the artist explains how teaming up with Bendis on the event comic helped make his decision to go fully creator-owned, shows off pages from his aborted “Ultimate Captain America” series, talks about the delays on “America’s Got Powers” and explains how he’ll keep his schedules on track as he moves into more and more original comics in 2013.
CBR News: Let’s start with the most recent bit of new surrounding your work: “Age of Ultron.” I think for a while, people assumed the long wait for this story involved your work on the title even though you’ve been saying you were done with those pages quite some time ago. What’s it been like to have the full scope of the event out in the open and on the publishing slate?
Bryan Hitch: I’m quite removed from the pages by some considerable time, but it’s great they are finally seeing the light of day. Even though [my inker] Paul Neary and I live very close to each other, I really hadn’t seen more than a handful of them inked so it’s nice to see them actually finished too! I tend towards seeing only the problems with what I draw at the time I’ve completed stuff, but here it’s been over a year since I saw some of those pages, in some cases a year and a half, and it’s nice to look at them with fresh eyes. Surprisingly, they don’t suck!
Yes, I’m well aware there’s an assumption that if a book I work on is delayed or late for any reason, it’s down to me. Here it’s been shoved back a few times, firstly due to the project’s growth in size and length (It was originally a one-shot that became 12.1 and expanded constantly), and then it was decided to hold it so we could publish it weekly. That was set for March 2012 and also why I wanted “America’s Got Powers” to ship the same time. Then it was held when they came up with “AvX” and all the associated stuff there. Then Marvel NOW! So a whole year later, it’s finally seeing the light! I finished my end of it in 2011, though Neary has been inking it this year.
Real world considerations aside, what was it about the story of “Age of Ultron” that convinced you to make it your Marvel swan song? Though it is a big epic in the style fans have come to associate you with, I get the feeling this has some very different building blocks from something like “The Ultimates.”
Yes, “Ultron” was very different from “Ultimates” in may respects both in the nature of my collaboration with Bendis as opposed to Mark [Millar] and in the whole feel of the project. Two ends of a long rope really.
It wasn’t intended to be my “swan song” either, really. My then current contract expired at the end of 2011 and whilst drawing “Ultron,” I’d also been writing a six-part “Ultimate Captain America” series I’d started drawing. It was fully written, and I was drawing the first issue in the gaps between Ultron scripts coming in. “Ultron” sort of kept expanding, and I was never wholly sure of what the full scope was as I was never involved in any planning or plotting for it. We knew I had time for about five issues before my deal expired, and I was happy to extend a short while to complete the series if it ran to six or maybe seven issues, as seemed possible. It was politely indicated to me that it wouldn’t be necessary and thank you for the work, and so, as planned, off I went to the heady world of creator owned and “AGP.”
In fact, I only found out it had become a ten-issue series when I saw the recent announcements.
Despite Marvel coming to me and asking for the Cap series, rather than my pitching it to them, it was constantly being sidelined and eventually dropped to my disappointment. Since “Ultimates” ended, I’d been less and less involved in a collaborative process at Marvel. They now had their various brains-trusts, architects or whatever the gang was calling themselves, and that was what led their creative process. It seemed a very closed shop and not what it was like when I signed up to do “Ultimates” at all. I felt like they wanted an illustrator not a creator, and that was very frustrating to me. I’d submitted several proposals for various series, getting nowhere; Cap was dropped, and I didn’t even feel involved in the story I was working on. It really felt like I wasn’t contributing the way I wanted to be.
Obviously the work I did there over more than ten years is a true high point in my career and, in looking at the Marvel movies, clearly influential, but I guess there’s a time when you feel like you don’t know anybody at the party anymore or nobody’s laughing at your jokes and it’s time to call a cab. Possibly, had I known the Ultron series was longer than the five issues I’d originally thought and if I hadn’t had the Cap book pulled from under me, I may never have considered moving on, but stuff changes I guess.
I don’t want any of this to sound anything other than light, frothy and pleasant though. There’s no regret or bitterness, far from it. There’s always things one could have done differently or better but I had an amazing time and got play with a lot of company toys, and it made my career in the best way possible. Now in going forward I feel like I have some incredible opportunities I might otherwise not have had.
In general, what was the collaboration like between you and Brian Bendis? Both of you have quite distinctive storytelling styles. What did he deliver up in scripts that matched your strengths, and were there any ways in which his writing changed things up in your approach?
It wasn’t really a collaboration between myself and Bendis; not in the way it had been with Warren on “Authority” and especially Mark on “Ultimates.” I didn’t really have any involvement in creating the story or developing the concept for it. As I said, I’d actually no idea how long the series was and it’s possible nobody else did either as despite asking, I couldn’t get any information about any of it. Essentially, I was “just” the illustrator for the series. On books like “Authority,” “AGP” and especially “Ultimates,” it went far, far beyond that and all are genuine co-creations and collaborations; here I was drawing the pictures as best I could without any real information about what was happening overall. In some cases that wasn’t a problem, but in looking at it overall, I feel I could have done better had I more information rather than some of the groping in the dark I felt I was doing. Worked out okay though, I think.
Stylistically, if we’re comparing Mark’s writing on “Ultimates” with Bendy’s on “Ultron,” both have very different leanings on the two very different projects. Mark likes, where possible, to show rather than tell whereas on “Ultron,” Bendy was choosing a more dialogue-structured narrative, at least on the issues I drew. That can be a little trickier for an artist. If you have twelve speaking characters in the same location for 30 or 40 pages, then obviously no writer is going to consider the physical location of each one in how he or she writes the dialogue. So just figuring out where to put each one so they can speak in the right order is tricky enough for a four or five-page scene, but something of this length, “a one-act play” as Little Tommy Brevoort called it, 30-40 pages over several issues was very hard.
I did expand upon the visuals here and there to give it a scope beyond that where I could. I think it holds together pretty well and I suppose, if I changed approach it’s only the same natural change that happens with any different writer or story.
Character-wise, Ultron remains one of the Marvel U’s more imposing foes thanks in large part to a killer design by John Buscema. You’re updating his look a bit here. What was your guiding principal for how the villain would look in the story?
You’d have to ask Bendy about that as I really was somewhat short on overall information, but in looking at Ultron, although a new look was asked for I wanted to keep it as close to the original as possible. It’s a classic so why change it? Besides, I knew I was going to have to draw many, many Ultron’s in the pages so keeping it as simple as possible was the key.
On the hero side of things, Brian has been playing things close to the vest, but we know characters like Hawkeye and Moon Knight of all people will be playing a central role in your issues. Anyone stand out to you as being an unexpected joy to draw? In what way?
I was encouraged to have costumes torn, changed, beaten, broken, etc from the get-go, and then I wasn’t sure if it was an alternate reality, timeline or whole other dimension. When Hawkeye showed up, I just went with a slight variation on my Ultimate look as the weird purple one just felt like it wouldn’t fit with the tone. Then, Marvel internally decided to go with that as his new look officially, probably due to the movie, I’d guess, so that was fun. So to answer your question more fully, I never really felt like I got to draw the full superhero-fest The Avengers could be as it was post-event, broken down looks. There was a short scene with Spidey in the second issue I LOVED but then, my one regret at Marvel is that I didn’t get to do a good run on Spidey. It was discussed a few times, with Joey Q turning down a Spidey book from me and Joss Whedon. I know, right?
That scene was one Brian asked me to replicate from something he’d used before and that he’d (then) most recently done in “Moon Knight.” It was, I think, supposed to be the same location at a different time. So I just took what was already there and expanded it a little from a list BB had given me and tried to include all the names he’s listed. Mistake? Easter Egg? Larger purpose? Don’t know at all. I do know I never drew ROM again and likely never will….
I did love that, more than anything else shown, that one little shot of ROM drove fandom into a collective hysteria!
Of course since finishing “Age of Ultron,” you’ve been at work on “America’s Got Powers” whose fourth issue is due…pretty soon, yeah? Where are you at production-wise with the series?
I’m drawing the monster final issue right now and should have it wrapped before breaking at Christmas. Yeah, there have been quite a few frustrating delays. I could pull my hair out but in many cases there was nothing we could do.
Initially of course, six issues was scheduled for April and I began drawing in mid January. Then for various reasons, Jonathan and I felt like it wasn’t moving in quite the direction we wanted it to so we halted and did a ground floor re-write. Much happier, we moved on but we scraped much of what we’d done and the dozen or so pages I’d drawn. So we probably should have rescheduled then, but we strode on confident we could manage it. Six issues is 120 pages plus covers, so it was certainly doable, but if I tell you that over the six issues we have delivered over 180 pages then the maths should show that we have included FIFTY PERCENT more material. Obviously that wasn’t the plan at all and apart from shitty economics for us and a shit load more free story for you, it takes fifty percent more time to produce! D’OH.
So add some inking troubles and delays and poor [colorist] Paul Mounts having stuff to deal with at home that pushed issue four back another six weeks overall, and here we are. I’m nearly done though, and I hope that now #4 is finally, finally shipping this week (drew that in early summer), and #5 is inked and almost ready to print, we can gain a little momentum. Call it a sprint finish.
It’s been a harsh lesson, though, and one I’m not keen to repeat. JR and I are doing something else together, but neither of us want to do it like this again so we agree that we’ll write it all first and then, when I have a few issues drawn and one at least fully colored, we’ll get the trumpets out and start the fanfares.
It’s also true of my next project which I’m already well into writing and I’ll start drawing in January. I’d originally intended an April release again but after what happened with “AGP” I want to avoid potential delays on the inking and coloring, sick relatives, holidays, anything that could throw a spanner in the works. Fortunately with “Ultron” coming out now in spring, I feel like I can put my next book back until summer for release as the Marvel book now fills the gap between that launch and the end of “AGP.”
It’s a harsher market right now and your best friend really is reliability. Rightly so. Even though we’ve been giving away an extra 50% more story free and at only $2.99 making “AGP” one of the best value for money books going, the market and the vocal folk out there both tell us the same thing: make it normal sized and don’t have delays. Fair enough and I absolutely agree.
By the time I ship that new series of mine next year, It should be at least fully pencilled and we can hit with real momentum and have plenty to show off about how awesome it is.
In terms of story, one of the big threads of the book has been that classic idea of “power and responsibility.” The government wants to take powers from those born with them and put them into soldiers. Some of the kids with powers want to be left alone to live in normal society. And in the middle of it all is Tommy who we now know has the ability to give powers to others. What makes him worthy of this power, and how do the choices he make moving forward impact what you and Jonathan have to say about the responsibility these “heroes” have to others?
I think Tommy is an interesting character and a little different than the average superhero in that he doesn’t actually gain powers and fly around beating folk up like you’d expect. His power is to gift it to others. He does individually what the Chrystal did when it arrived and though the Chrystal had a seemingly indiscriminate effect, in being able to give power deliberately Tommy has the choice to be responsible or not. To give power or not. He has to make choices and we are all the sum of our choices. The world revolves around the choices we all make as individuals, and in Tommy’s case those choices can effect a lot of people. Possible the whole planet.
Having that power also now makes Tommy the most powerful figure on Earth. The whole world would want him and want what he can do. A whole super-powered arms race could grow up around him. But though there were many others gifted with other specific powers, Tommy’s own twin brother included, it was never their choice and many choices they would have made in life were taken from them. Certainly some would want a “normal” life or to be left alone or just to have freedom enough to make choices for themselves.
There is always the need for power to be controlled and those people in positions of power have been controlling these kids for years and using that power where they could. Tommy comes along and allows them to be far less passive, indeed to have that power for themselves and then you have the other side of that power and responsibility equation and the potential for absolute power to corrupt.
Where Tommy goes in these last few issues and where his power takes him is, I think, only the start of his journey.
In more plot-specific developments, we’ve seen The Power Generation seemingly revolt against their ass of a leader Quarterback while Tommy has been taken away by a group of powered runaways. What do each of these “teams” represent in the story moving forward, and how have you been trying to develop these characters to make them stand out as individual characters?
They each represent different choices within the system that exists for these powered kids and to that extent show paths that Tommy may or may not follow, given any choices he might make. To some extent he almost tries each one or gets a taste of it and, as our voice in this story, serves to show us all what each direction may give. He’s had an interesting viewpoint as the only one of the Chrystal kids who hadn’t displayed any power at all for most of his life but lived somewhat in the shadow of a brother who was one of the most powerful. His brother chose the Arena as his path and that led to his “death.” Tommy’s girlfriend Debbie has a staunchly anti-games view point and with each of the other characters or groups, all are trying to tell Tommy how he should think and what his choices should be.
What we haven’t seen yet really, is Tommy make his own mind up and that’s the pivotal point in the story. Tommy making his own choices will change all of those people’s lives in a huge way.
There are times when I think we should, scheduling aside, have made AGP a regular book. I think the material here is so rich for mining stories in detail about this world and the large number of people in it, we could have had another “Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones,” Potter or X-Men-scaled thing. Not in sales terms but in the rich depth of detail one gets in fully and continuously exploring a world. As it is, we have thrown huge ideas at the pages and skimmed the surface which has been hugely fun to do, but from our point of view as creators we see so much more there as well. Honestly, just the ideas in these six books alone could have fed years of stories if we’d slowed down and spent longer drawing out the characters as you would in a TV show. That’s not to say I think we made the wrong choices here, I don’t; I guess I’m just saying I can see the massive potential in what we’ve started and it doesn’t dim for me as we reach the end of this first series. Far from from it.
We’ve got three issues of “America’s Got Powers” to go, but with so much more to this world and story that can be explored, what can you say about your long term plans for this world and your art in general? Is there a chance you’ll do more “AGP” after this first series? Or more creator-owned books next?
We do have big thoughts about more “AGP” for sure. There’s a bigger story than what you see here, though it can certainly work well as it is if we never get to it. We would like to do more with it, yes but our next thing together is something new first and you’ll probably see that in 2014. That might change if something happens with the movie so you never know.
My plan is really to be all creator-owned for the foreseeable future though. I was offered the “Man of Steel” book with Scott Snyder, and though I love Scott and he and I both want to work together, I just couldn’t pull myself out of the freedom afforded by doing and owning one’s own stuff.
Next is a six-issue series I’m writing and drawing. It’s a very cool concept and I’ll be announcing that in March for a late summer release next year. There’s another new series I’m drawing next year and this is another collaboration. This should be fun indeed, and if all that isn’t enough, there’s going to be announcements soon about something else. I truly wish I could tell you about that one but NDA’s hang from my neck. It’s so far beyond cool I can’t believe my luck but there isn’t a single day any of this feels like work right now. “AGP,” creating, writing and drawing my own stuff and working on upcoming creator-owned books with the biggest and best writers in the biz. Pus this other thing.
Honestly, it’s never been THIS good and it just keeps getting better.