In January 2008, a dozen mystery men from the Golden Age of the Marvel Universe will be mysteriously thrust forward in time to face one of the most frightening threats of all, the modern world, in the twelve issue mini-series, “The Twelve.” CBR News spoke with the man tasked with depicting the exploits of these time castaways artist, Christ Weston.
Aubrey Sitterson and Tom Brevoort, Weston’s editors on “Fantastic Four: First Family,” were the ones who offered him “The Twelve.” “They wanted an artist with a more illustrative, less cartoony style to suit the realistic, downbeat look and feel ‘The Twelve’ was going to have,” Weston told CBR News. “I think I fit the bill.”
It was the stand alone nature of “The Twelve” that appealed to Weston. “I prefer something that is self-contained and doesn’t require a knowledge of sixty year’s worth of continuity to understand,” Weston explained. “That way you get a better chance of the casual buyer picking it up.”
Weston wasn’t familiar with the sixty year old characters that compose the cast of “The Twelve” when he accepted the assignment. “But I’ve had great fun discovering all about them,” he said. You think Grant Morrison’s stuff is surreal? It doesn’t hold a candle to some of the Golden Age books I’ve read as research for this project: Robots in skirts, bare-chested heroes on horseback, crimefighters wearing masks made out of fire, secret agents from underground kingdoms, people fighting Nazis in their underwear… it was mental! I can only assume half these comics were written in opium dens. I hasten to add we’ll be treating these characters with dignity… but the relative ludicrousness of these characters as perceived by modern eyes is one of the many themes of the story.”
The large cast of “The Twelve” afforded Weston the opportunity to do plenty of design work. “All of the characters needed to be dusted off and given a post-millennial polish,” Weston stated. “I’ve tried to stay as faithful to their original appearances as possible, but a certain amount of re-definition was needed as their costumes tended to vary from issue to issue in the old days.
“The area I’ve put the most effort into is giving each character his own distinguishing look,” Weston continued. “In the Golden Age, the heroes looks were pretty much cookie-cutter jobs; there was a standard, square-jawed model that each artist adhered to religiously. Hair-color seemed to be the only facial diversity that was allowed. In many ways that principal still applies to modern comics, thinking about it. I’ve thrown that mould away and made them look as contrasting to each-other as possible. Some have big noses, some have round heads, some have square heads, some have big jaws, others have weak chins… and one of them is suffering from a bad case of Male Pattern Baldness! A comic-strip hero with a receding hairline? How rare is that?!
“It helped to base them on actors from the Nineteen-Forties,” Weston said. “I didn’t use any direct photographic reference; it was more a case of keeping an idea like ‘The Witness is a James Cagney-type’ in mind while I drew him. I basically imagined the flashback sequences of ‘The Twelve’ as a black and white movie from the same era as the original comics.”
The design work is Weston’s favorite aspect of every job he does. “That’s why I like taking on projects that involve all-new or re-imagined concepts and characters,” he explained. “There’s a part of me that feels the job is over and shuts down the moment I’ve completed the design work. You then have to find the discipline to get going and consistently redraw the same idea over and over again… which I find really tedious. You have to disable your imagination in order to best serve the story. God knows how artists like Mark Bagley can draw one hundred plus issues of the same character. I take my hats off to them; I’d die of boredom in their shoes.”
Of the twelve lead characters in the series, one character proved particularly enjoyable for Weston to design and bring to life. “The Blue Blade is the stand-out character. He’s like Errol Flynn on crack!” Weston remarked. “Camp, spoilt, vain and preposterous… you’ve never met a hero like him. He’s the sort of a ‘Filmation’-style character who’d throw his head back and give a hearty “Hah! Hah! Hah!” laugh before each sentence! Please, Hollywood, make a film of ‘The Twelve’, ‘cos I’m desperate to see The Blue Blade brought to living, breathing, celluloid life!”
Some research was required in order for Weston to accurately bring the action and the characters in “The Twelve” to life. “Being a time-spanning tale set in different eras and a foreign country (the USA… hey, it’s foreign to me! I’m a limey!) ‘The Twelve’ obviously requires a bit more research than previous, science-fiction- orientated jobs I’ve drawn like ‘Ministry of Space’, ‘The Filth’ and ‘Fantastic Four: First Family’–but I have become more adept at finding any necessary reference, so it didn’t take any longer. I love doing research. It satisfies the primitive hunting gene that’s buried deep inside my feeble, neglected body.”
Weston used a back to basics approach to depict the action in “The Twelve.” “I’ve avoided too much digital jiggery-pokery on this project, and concentrated on a more old-school, illustrative approach to the storytelling,” Weston said. “I just try to faithfully translate JMS’ descriptions into easy-to-comprehend pictures–that is the best way to serve this tale. To be honest, the superb characterizations and the dialogue he’s given the players are the main reasons to buy this book–in many ways my job is like being a special effects artist on a movie: if my contribution detracts from the story, I haven’t done my job properly.”
Collaborating with JMS proved to be an enjoyable experience for Weston. “It was a bit awkward at first, because I think he was slightly daunted to be working with a comics superstar of my magnitude,” Weston joked. “But eventually, I convinced him that, hey, I’m just a down-to-earth guy… even despite my immense success. And now, after six issues, I even allow him to address me by my first name!”
One of the reasons Weston enjoyed his collaboration with JMS was that the author gives the ideas in his scripts plenty of space. “He doesn’t cram too many incidents into one page,” Weston explained. “That makes the complex characterizations and the plot easy to follow–it subtly draws the reader into the world without them realizing it.”
When he began his work on “The Twelve” Weston wasn’t aware that there were so many other projects in the works that also revived Golden Age characters and concepts. “That’s pretty annoying. But still, they haven’t got a Blue Blade in their pantheon! Not to mention a hero with homophobic issues, Golden Age Marvel zombies, underground cities, lesbian goths and a robot in a skirt! What more do you want?”
Working with JMS to bring the colorful and eclectic cast of “The Twelve” to life was the most enjoyable aspect of this assignment for Weston. “I’ve really come to care for them,” Weston said. “Some are nice guys, like Captain Wonder and the Phantom Reporter… some are shits, like Dynamic Man. Some are just plain deluded like The Blue Blade and Rockman! They are all compelling. It’s been a privilege to spend time with them… and I think the readers will feel the same.
“The Twelve is a character piece–the sort of tale where, once you’re hooked, the raising of an eyebrow will be as gripping as a giant robot, bristling with gattling guns, being punched out by a muscle-bound hero. And we’ve got both! Each character is a powder keg waiting to blow… and it ain’t gonna be pretty when they do. The Golden Age just got ugly!”