One of the most anticipated debuts from Marvel Comics’ Marvel NOW! publishing initiative was Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s “Young Avengers.” A new take on the series created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, Gillen and McKelvie bring their “Phonograph”-flavored spin to the book, exploring what it’s like to be an 18-year-old with powers in the vast expanse of the Marvel Universe.
Not only have Gillen and McKelvie taken the teen concept in a new direction with “Young Avengers” alumni Kate Bishop (Hawkeye), Hulkling and Wiccan alongside newcomers Miss America Chavez, Noh-Varr and previous “Journey Into Mystery” star Kid Loki, the duo has brought an indie design sensibility to mainstream comics reminiscent of their Image Comics series “Phonogram.”
With “Young Avengers” #1 finally in the hands of eager fans, Gillen and McKelvie joined CBR’s COMMENTARY TRACK to discuss the concepts behind the issue, the process of designing its two-page action sequences, Gillen’s friendly rivalry with “Hawkeye” writer Matt Fraction and tease the tricks up their sleeves as the series moves through its 15-issue first season. Plus, get an exclusive look at Gillen’s script for the first few pages of the debut issue.
CBR News: Guys, let’s start off at the beginning with Kate on page one. Kieron, you’ve talked a bit about Kate and her role in the book on your blog, but it seems like there was a very conscious decision here to make her the lens through which readers view the series as a whole. Jamie, you’ve done a great job making this seem like a regular scene in a slice-of-life teenage comic. How much discussion between the two of you went into developing this first impression?
Kieron Gillen: Kate absolutely is a quite normal human on the team. She’s our viewpoint character. She is waking up in a strange new world and dealing with it. She’s not worrying about whether her mind is going to melt her legs or whether her shape-changing means she doesn’t have a real her — she’s a very, very immediately grounded presence, which I think most people will be able to empathize with, unless you’re incapable of empathizing with women. In which case, pfft! [Laughs]
That was it — have it very normal and then immediately escalate to show where she is. If they ever made a movie version of the “Young Avengers,” it wouldn’t surprise me if Kate was used as the viewpoint character to introduce the rest of the world to [the viewers].
Jamie, it’s easy to see Kate as just a regular girl here. How did you approach her introduction from a design standpoint?
Jamie McKelvie: Well, that was our idea from the beginning. One of the things we’re doing with the book as a whole — the conversational stuff, the stuff that happens, whatever isn’t punching — we wanted that to be, I guess realistic, but in our “Phonogram”-style of comics. That fed into that. It’s supposed to be a fairly regular, everyday scene, but then it turns out when you turn the page that it’s not as everyday as you expect.
SCRIPT FOR PAGES 1-2
I start using PG-esque page tabulature later in the issue. I’m not doing it here, as I think we can be a little looser… but the point still sort of remains. We ground the opening almost as if it were a slice of life comic, and then explode it on page 4 into the freeform craziness.
That said, if you want a grid here, I’d say…
Lauren – this is a code Jamie and I use for talking panel layouts. Numbers equal panel numbers. So this is an eight panel grid, first two tiers being two individual panels then four panels. I use “X” and “O” when the layout wouldn’t lead to confusion.
We open tight on Kate Bishop, Hawkeye. She looks a little bed-hairy in a delightfully dishevelled after the party way. She lies on a pillow, facing us, covers up around her neck. She’s just woke up. She has the expression of someone who’s just trying to put together why on earth she’s here.
The Caption’s are Kate’s. They’re also a little punchier than I normally do over in JIM, which speaks to their intention. And part of me is thinking maybe we use proper capitalization for thought captions. It just seems to sit on the page better. To be discussed, etc.
CAPTION: I’m in a bed. It’s not mine.
CAPTION: This is new.
We’re behind her as she sits up, looking around the room…
The room appears to be a slightly messy hipster-ish apartment. There’s two doors to the room – one which leads to an en suite shower, and is slightly ajar. Light comes out of it, and maybe a little steam. The other one is shut. Both pretty much look like normal doors.
Dominating the room are a large set of curtains, like in a Hotel. It may be a shitty little room, but the implication is that it’s got one hell of a view. There’s a bright light creeping through where the curtain joins. The implication being, it’s morning.
Other details? Some clothes lying around the room- some hers, some his. It was a fancy party they were at, so think suit and evening dress, in a smart young style. Mixed in amongst them are some normal clothes, just left in a lazy “not done the washing” way by the owner. T-shirts, Jeans, Whatever.
Kate is wearing one of his over-large T-shirts. She was sleeping in it.
We could have prints of the wall – classic movie, from across the last 100 years. Plus bands/musicians too. You know the sort of person who specifically obsesses over a single country’s output? As in, a bunch of French stuff from a wide period? Whoever owns this place is like that, but for the whole of Earth.
Most relevantly, there’s a vinyl record player in pride of place in the room. There’s stacks of Vinyl either side. A bit like an altar, even.
Lots here, but doesn’t need to be in the panel. Just really for filling stuff in as we progress.
CAPTION: I can hear the shower.
CAPTION: He’s in the shower.
And Kate steps out of the bed, carefully. Bare legs beneath the T-shirt. Perhaps something agreeably goofy like her still having one sock on?
She’s looking around gingerly, stepping as if she’s afraid the floor is going to collapse. This is all new for her. She’s both excited and nervous.
CAPTION: For a second some part of me thinks, “I should be ashamed”.
And on her. Tight. A tiny, knowing smile.
CAPTION: I think that part of me is really stupid.
And she moves carefully towards the window.
CAPTION: Do I just get the hell out of here?
CAPTION: Do we go for breakfast?
CAPTION: Where does he keep the Coffee?
CAPTION: What did he say his name was?
And she starts to pull open the curtains. Light spills over her face…
CAPTION: Where am I?
PAGE 2â€¨â€¨Okay, let’s just lob grids into this bit. But, not dictatorial, Jamie.
And we’re behind Kate, with the curtains pulled wide open.
It’s not a window. It’s a view port in the side of a space-ship. We’re in Orbit. The earth is beneath us. The stars are above us. The Sun is visible, burning brighter than any of us will ever seem from the muddy surface.
Biggest panel on the page.
CAPTION: Oh wow.
Sort of reverse. We have Kate standing there, looking out in wonder. She doesn’t feel confused or scared. She’s got a smile on her face. Wow. Like, wow. She’s just accepting this.
It’s at this point we realise that Kate isn’t exactly just a normal girl either.
Anyway – with Kate looking out, in the background, Noh-Varr steps out of the shower, drying off his hair. I’d love to have him naked, but I don’t think we’ll find a way to work on the page. So boxer shorts.
Noh-Varr then. He’s our alien hipster boy. The sort of lithe build and charm that makes every female X-men reader friend of mine demand I bring Gambit back on the team.
KATE: The ride here did seem kinda long.
NOH-VARR: Did I wake you up, Kate of Bishop?
Kate turns, surprised. Her face is wincing slightly, as if she’s not sure it’s right. Noh-varr stops drying his hair, smiling as he moves past her. He clearly doesn’t care.
KATE: No, you didn’t…
And Kate turns, realising who he actually is. He makes his way over to the Vinyl, flicking through it…
KATE: Oh yeah! You kicked our ass once!
KATE: And… You were an Avenger? Marvel Boy? The Protector?
NOH-VARR: Both. Neither really worked out.
This is a scene that isn’t unlike what one might have seen in “Phonogram” — Noh-Varr dancing to close harmony girl groups. Why is The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” the perfect song for the character’s introduction?
McKelvie: Oh, it’s the best song of all time.
Gillen: It is. I’ll tell you what, I kind of reverse-analyzed this. It’s basically taking what was originally Marvel Boy with Grant Morrison’s take and what Brian [Bendis] did with him in the Avengers and trying to work out a way to potentially synthesize them, because they’re two very different takes. For me, he’s still rebellious and young, but at some point he must have fallen in love with Earth. I developed this sort of alien hipster, which is quite funny — Marvel Boy is a hipster in all the best possible ways. He genuinely cares about this stuff and the love is pure and effusive. He’s not what people use “hipster” as an insult for. It’s the genuine interest in art.
[With “Be My Baby,”] it was, “What would be a good record to be dancing in your underwear?” It’s one of the greatest pop records of all time. It’s everything about what the book feels like. This must be subconscious in some ways, because I’ve spoken repeatedly in the past about “Be My Baby” being the perfect intro to the pop record, and it’s [Hits the table to the beat of long-short-short and makes a quick cymbal crash noise]. That’s been taken and used repeatedly all over the place and then it builds — it’s an incredible start to a pop record. Maybe subconsciously, there’s this idea that this is our pop record. This is the intro to our attempt to do a pop single in a Marvel comic book. Maybe that’s why we used “Be My Baby” — subconsciously, that’s what I’m trying to measure up to. I might just be insane about that though.
Kieron, one of the things you mentioned on your blog was how people were actually able to identify the song on this page as “Be My Baby” before the credits page due to the notes in the air. Jamie, you did a great job of making these notes seem organic to the scene — something you’ve had a lot of experience with in “Phonogram.” Was depicting that familiar music sensibility a decent way to get your start in this Marvel comic?
McKelvie: I think so. It’s a good way to really introduce Noh-Varr as well and our take on him, specifically. It’s something I’ve been doing for a while with [“Phonogram”], so it felt kind of natural to do that thing with him. Was it in the script, the notes? I think it was.
Gillen: Yeah, I think it was. We quite regularly hand-letter notes when we do it in “Phonogram,” so we have it anytime anyone sings in “Phonogram.” It was possibly in the script?
McKelvie: Yeah, I think so. Like you said, listen to the drums and you know exactly which song it is.
SCRIPT FOR PAGE 3
Yeah, I can’t grid this one, even if I wanted to. It’s kind of a page-in-two halves design. So the top half is divided into 5 panels and the bottom half is divided into two (the second being much smaller). Or the top 2/3rds are five panels and the bottom 1/3rd is two (with, once again, the second of the two being a small insert).
Er… basically I’m saying “The first three pages probably should be fairly regimented.
We’re in front of Noh-Varr, with him drawing a record from its sleeve. I think it’s an original 7″ single of BE MY BABY by the RONETTES.
Behind him, Kate has made her way back to the bed. She’s sitting down at its edge.
NOH-VARR: My people ordered me to stay away from Earth. The Avengers felt similarly.
NOH-VARR: Which was fair. I didn’t exactly do myself proud.
And we’re back a bit. Kate is asking questions, and Noh-Varr is standing, with his back to her, arms raised excitedly. Perhaps a string of notes rise up from the now playing record…
KATE: So why are you still here?
NOH-VARR: Oh, listen to the drums!
NOH-VARR: Listen to them!
And Kate tilts her head. She’s not sure what to make of it. Noh-Varr has started to dance, without self-consciousness and easy passion. He’s dancing because he loves it. He’s dancing as if he’s alone.
KATE: This is… sixties, yeah?
NOH-VARR: IT IS!
And on Noh-Varr as he dances, with his eyes shut, a smile on his lips.
NOH-VARR: Kate: I come from a dimension where there is transcendental peace and universal enlightenment.
NOH-VARR: But there are no close harmony girl groups.
And he glances towards us with a beaming smile.
NOH-VARR: How could anyone leave a world that makes things as wonderful as this?
And we’re behind Kate again. She’s now lying on the bed, on her side, watching Noh-Varr continue his private, happy dance. The sun beams in from the left. It’s beautiful and tranquil and…
CAPTION: I lie in the strange bed and watch this beautiful alien boy dance to the music my parents’ parents loved, and think…
CAPTION: This is everything I always hoped for.
And Kate responds, turning towards the window with obvious surprise.
I was considering dropping this panel, and having the caption on the previous image. See how it works.
CAPTION: At which point the Skrulls attack.
Gillen: If you’re talking about girl pop and you say, “Listen to the drums,” you’re kind of heading into [Phil] Spector, and “Be My Baby” is the most obvious song in that category. It’s kind of like explaining to somebody about fractals and they didn’t understand what fractals were — or a Mandelbrot Set. “What’s a Mandelbrot Set?” “Think of a fractal.” If you think of a ’60s girl pop record, it’s probably going to be “Be My Baby” — a one in three chance, I reckon. You could get a Supremes one instead. No shame in that because the Supremes were fucking awesome.
The first two-page sequence has a lot of information — 21 panels across two pages.
Gillen: If you include the lettering, 25!
McKelvie: [Laughs] I counted those panels, too.
You’ve discussed in the past that you both wanted to approach this book a little differently than the average superhero title. Again, how much time and effort went into designing just this one sequence?
McKelvie: A lot, is the short answer. Kieron is doing this thing now where for the action sequences, he’s doing the scripts old style — not breaking down the panels or anything like that, just saying, “This is what happens on the page.” In this case, it was a few suggestions of what would be happening in the fight sequence. I think he wanted it to be kind of grid like — or lots and lots of panels, anyway. I figured out what would be going on in the fight scene based on the script, marked off what would be the most important points, so they would be the larger panels, and then basically cut out pieces of paper of various different sizes, wrote what each represents in terms of a panel and spent about two hours moving them around on the table to arrange a grid as best I could to figure out exactly how I was going to approach this double page spread. Quite a lot of planning went into it before I even picked up a pen.
SCRIPT FOR PAGE 4-5
This page should be constructed as a single unit. Panels can cross page. We go into a WE3-esque micro-moment vision. I’m going to describe the main beats to show on the page, but add more, add small moments. Also go Saul Bass on our ass in terms of how they’re arranged…
- We turn to the window, and flying towards it on rockets-packets and laser guns are Skrulls. They’re important in our second arc. They’re wearing space-armour, but it should be kind of (er) cool. We’re going to do a Kree/Skrull war, but ours is more like Sharks Vs Jets gang war than anything else. Anyway – there’s a close-by boarding party, and hanging back are the HEAVY WEAPON SKRULL guys, giving supporting fire…
- Noh-Varr turns, pointing towards the non-shower door… which is sliding open. Kate is already running towards it…
- Noh-Varr pulls open a drawer. In it is his two ornate guns.
- Kate, down the corridor. It’s high tech outside of his room. Ahead of her is a control seat… but the controls are alien. She has a “WTF?” sort of expression, as if she hasn’t a clue how to fly this thing.
- Noh-Varr aims his gun at the window, with the Skrulls just about to get here… and fires.
- The Window explodes, and the detritus of the room fires out, in an excitingly decompressionary. way The Skrulls are bombarded with everything hip clothes to classic Vinyl…
- Kate on the control seat, looking at them… but they’re morphing into something that we recognise as a semi-familiar earth set up of controls. She’s about to grab them. They’re basically turning into something she can use. Behind her we can see a semi-transparent force-field materialize, preventing her being vented into space…
- Noh-varr stands, in the coldness of space, in his underwear, firing his dual guns at the pursuing Skrulls. The sky fills with laser light. He’s pissed off. He had to destroy his record collection. The engines are engaged…
- Kate, with the controls, trying to get a hang of it…
- An enormous death beam fires from one of the Skrulls with heavy weapons…
- Which the ship curls around, in an arc, from Kate’s clearly skilled piloting…
- And on Kate, with a small proud smile, hammers the thrusters forward…
- And the space-ship, pursued by the Skrulls flies away from us, engine-thrusters trailing after it, the ship curling around a laser death beam
Interspersed between the images, in the white (or maybe black?) space between the panels, is the following text…
I HAVE NO POWERS AND NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TRAINING.I’M DOING THIS ANYWAY.BEING A SUPERHERO IS AMAZING.EVERYONE SHOULD TRY IT.
…alternatively, could be a punchline on the last two captions.
Are these wordless two-page sequences something readers can expect to see a lot of during the series?
McKelvie: The idea with it is every time we do an action sequence, we do it in a way we haven’t done it before in the book. Each one should hopefully be different. They may not be wordless, they may not be multi-panel, but certainly, each one is going to be different.
Gillen: I use the shorthand of “action scene.” I don’t really just mean action scenes, I mean visual showcase because not all visual showcases in superhero comics involve dudes punching dudes. Any time when the metaphor as in superheroes starts coming into play really strongly, we work on a new way to show it to try to make it feel fresh. We see every week so many super hero comics come out and we treat these displays of power and confidence and otherworldliness as the norm. We want to try to freshen it. The idea is when you discover something for the first time and how amazing that can be. We want to try to do that. It’s a challenge. We wanted to make it so that people don’t know quite what we’re going to do when they open the book.
That’s the idea of action sequence as a music video, because — especially ones done on a medium budget — are a concept thing. Here’s an idea and we’re going to use this to illustrate this song. Occasionally it can be narrative as well, but there’s a visual element they use that immediately connects to that video. Each one of these action sequences is a picture music video. It should be the hard cut, the small panels, the momentism, the big title spread, the one later where we layer the three rows above each other. They’re the ones we don’t want to give away. We had to show one to preview the book, but we don’t want to give away any more.
Issue #2, you’ll start to see ones that aren’t necessarily action sequences as well. There’s an escape sequence at the end of issue #2, which is quite out there.
Jamie, you did a great job here of drawing a recognizable, but slightly knock-off Spider-Man. What was the challenge for you in trying to accomplish that knock-off quality?
McKelvie: [Laughs] Not everybody got it, which was quite funny. Obviously, a lot of people did, which was great. The idea was to make it — Teddy hasn’t necessarily seen Spider-Man up close and he hasn’t studied him. The little details might be a little off when he’s pretending to be him, like the shape of the eyeglasses are slightly off, the webbing’s slightly off. He’s got toes on his boots rather than boots because from a distance, you think, “Well, if he’s climbing the walls, he might have his toes free.” Little things like that. It was funny to consciously draw him wrong when the instinct is to draw him as correctly as possible. It was kind of funny. I’m not sure Kieron noticed the eyes being slightly the wrong shape when he looked at the pencils.
GIllen: I think I said “slightly wrong” in the script, didn’t I?
McKelvie: Oh, yeah, you did. Not to really signpost it, but just if anybody’s observant enough, they’ll be able to tell that something’s not quite right.
Kieron, you’ve spoken at length about Billy and Teddy’s introduction here, but a lot of what’s impressive is how you were able to compress all the information about their past in just four pages. This is also the place where you revived the eight-panel page from “Phonogram,” making the issue feel much larger than it actually is. How much room did you feel like you had to explore previous continuity and how do you think the 8-panel page will affect pacing for those who might not be used to it?
Gillen: Some people have said the issue felt short, which is strange considering the amount of pure panel transitions. We’ve got quite a lot of extra transitions. That might just be because, as you said, it involves reading it in a slightly different style. This isn’t the traditional way a Marvel comic is put together.
What I did with an emotional scene like that is I wrote the scene long-hand, starting the main emotional beats and writing that conversation. You look at that and realize it’s 800 pages, because my first take was really about the emotions. I didn’t really worry about the exposition that much. It was considerably more sparse than what ends up happening. I wrote that and I looked at the issue shape and realized I basically had four pages to do it. I did juggle some more pages around, what you can use, what you can compress — but I basically said it’s going to be four pages, which led to the eight panels of it.
It was eight panels, especially when I needed to have the half-page panel for the introduction of Wiccan in the room. There’s something Matt [Fraction] said to me when we were doing “Everything Burns” [in “Journey Into Mystery”]: You’re talking about what people are used to — people don’t buy in the modern American mainstream that something emotionally important can happen in a small panel. Particularly in “Everything Burns” when Loki does this fake heel-turn and says, “You know exactly what I’m saying.” If that was just one panel in five or six, people would just go, “Well, that’s just not true.” But if I’ve given the space, it must be a big deal. This is very much the influence of Miller in noughties comics, I think. Space equals Importance. That was always true, but it became increasingly more so, so I knew I needed to introduce Wiccan in a larger panel. When you’ve done that — look at all the stuff that’s going to happen! Eight panel grid, I think!
It’s a “Phonogram” effect and I got that specifically from “Stray Bullets.” The eight-panel grid is from “Stray Bullets,” which is a phenomenal work. Eight panel made [the sequence] fit and I knew Jamie could handle it. I put a load of exposition in there anyway, but the whole issue was a conversation between me and Lauren [Sankovitch] trying to work out what we needed to say. As in, she would say, “You haven’t introduced the hero names of the characters.” Partly, I thought in a very real way that doesn’t matter. I’m part of that, but at the same time, this is a superhero comic and people need to know that.
There’s stuff you start tweaking, like what the relationship with the parents are. The core emotion was already there because that’s what it was about. These are your quasi-adoptive parents you’re living with, your real mom’s the Scarlet Witch — stuff I needed to set up because the Scarlet Witch is in the next issue. All that kind of stuff is already in there. The other stuff is just the extra information about the world, which is very much what Marvel editors like to keep an eye on in terms of naming characters within a page or two after they’ve been introduced.
If you want to compare with quite a lot of independent books when a creator isn’t doing it with an editor, that’s the sort of thing they miss. It’s not necessarily a problem, you know what I mean? You don’t need to do that. As long as you follow who the people are, you don’t necessarily need to know it. It’s very much that kind of Marvel watchword in terms of accessibility.
Jamie, you had to draw quite a bit in the issue with all the eight-panel pages and various spreads. For you, what was the biggest hurdle in getting the art for this book in on time?
Gillen: The pneumonia, wasn’t it?
McKelvie: Yeah the pneumonia didn’t help. I was very ill. I lost about a month, but I’m fine now, so that’s good.
One of the biggest challenges was, I think it’s very important that I get an individual grip on each character in terms of how their personality is reflected in the way they look, in the way they move and their style — all of these things. I’d already worked with Loki and Miss America, so I knew what I was doing with them, and obviously, I’ve got quite similar artistic sensibilities to David [Aja] on “Hawkeye,” so Kate wasn’t particularly difficult. I sort of know where I was going with her. Billy and Teddy were the toughest thing, I guess, in the first issue. I think I’ve got the hang of them now and know what to do with them, but certainly to start, [it was difficult.]
Gillen: I think it was hard for both of us, because that’s such an important scene for the characters. That’s where we’ve got to dive in with them.
McKelvie: Yeah, we really had to get that right because that’s the emotional hook of the issue. That was more difficult than any of the other bits. I really like the challenge of the multi-panel action sequences. Again, going back to David on “Hawkeye,” he does a similar sort of thing. Why do four panels when 25 will do? [Laughs] It’s the same sort of thing, I love that sort of thing. Not too much, though, Kieron.
Gillen: The stuff for Jamie which is hard to do is not necessarily slow to do, if that makes any sense. When Jamie does eight panels, he’s quite quick at the conversation stuff, and I am at some level aware that if I ask for too much, we’re not going to get the comic coming out. There are slow scenes and quick scenes and some scenes where there are shitloads of work, and some scenes where there are a bit more give. It all averages out. Of course, Jamie’s also working with Mike Norton.
McKelvie: Yeah, which is great, because we worked together on “X-Men: Season One” for the first time. It’s been really great. I pencil everything and I ink the figures and Mike finishes the backgrounds, which speeds things up quite a lot. It lets me focus on the foreground stuff as well.
Gillen: We’re writing in the style I did “Phonogram” for Ian, which is the hybrid Marvel-method full script. The slow-paced scenes are done in normal autobiographical panel description, and the action sequences are all in Marvel method. I give Jamie more control as we go into the more fluid stuff. There’s that methodology trying to allow both of us to have maximum expression and also to get a different sense between these two strains.
McKelvie: That’s definitely part of it. We wanted the action sequences to feel completely different than the other bits.
As you’ve mentioned, Wiccan’s a big part of this book and nowhere is that more apparent than this page. How did you guys determine what to show in each of these floating panels and is it meant to represent different worlds or different moments from the Young Avengers’ past?
McKelvie: It’s a bit of both. We wanted to pick out specific key moments in the Young Avengers’ history. Also, yeah, a bunch of alternative possibilities and futures and alternate dimensions. All sorts of stuff really. It was good fun. Kieron laid out a bunch of stuff that he wanted in there and then I soft of made up the rest of them. More so in the double-page spread. Maybe three or four of them were me on this particular panel and the rest of them were Kieron.
Gillen: Yeah, we showed a burnt-out city —
McKelvie: The futuristic city.
Gillen: This is introducing the concept of alternative dimensions, which eventually becomes important. It’s one of the things.
McKelvie: There’s a “Defenders” reference behind his head. It’s the Death Celestial. You can’t really tell, but it’s the Death Celestial behind his head.
Gillen: And you’ve got Captain America’s shield floating in an asteroid belt.
McKelvie: Well, yeah, you wanted an asteroid belt, and I thought that if I didn’t put something in that wasn’t —
Gillen: Oh yeah, there’s nothing more tragic than Captain America’s shield floating by itself in space. Nothing more tragic. It needs to be properly cracked as well.
This image is also an image we used in “Phonogram” with Lloyd in his bedroom in issue 2.6. So, it’s drawing internal lines between our mythology. On occasion, you’ll get some sequences — the opening sequence could arguably be the morning after of Penny and Kid With Knife — Lloyd’s arc in “Phonogram” was he was trying to change the world from his bedroom, and this is kind of what Wiccan is doing. Not to say they’re the same things, but we’re interested that people can draw lines between all our work. There are thematic resonances between them.
Here’s Loki, once again in a restaurant. How often will Loki eating food come up in this series?
McKelvie: A lot.
Gillen: Yeah. I’m doing the math, and yeah. It happens in issue #2. There’s drink in issue #3, but no food. Issue #4 may not have food, Issue #5 might not have any food. Issue #6, they’re not in it. Issue #7 does involve food.
One of the lines I used to describe “Young Avengers” is that they go and save the world and crash into a breakfast bar at 5 AM. It’s like superheroing is clubbing, or superheroing is a night out. It feeds that section of their existence. Yeah, there’s a lot of just crashing into a bar. We come back to the diner in the second issue — [Laughs] because Loki hasn’t paid for his debts! We’re not subtle sometimes, are we?
So yes, there’s food and there’s a nod — this is kind of a Kid Loki thing to do. Anyone who’s followed “Journey Into Mystery” will be like, “He’s still drinking a milkshake! How dare you drink a milkshake after everything you’ve done!”
I also wanted to get a feeling of how Loki does magic. We’ve just seen Wiccan do this ridiculously powerful gesture here, and then we’ve got Loki who is very much more low key — no pun intended. He’s doing these rituals, he’s specifically — I don’t want to say limited, but this is him making do. It’s cute, as well. He’s made a magic ritual out of breakfast, that’s immediately got personality to it. That’s one of the things I wanted to say, and a talking sausage! It’s the element of I’m trying to do something quite stupid and say something quite serious.
I also think Matt Wilson’s coloring effect for the teleport is great.
McKelvie: Yeah, it’s neat.
Gillen: Matt worked on “Phonogram” as well and he’s an incredible colorist. I’m looking at the pages and sighing. I hate people with talent.
Again, another introduction — for those who hadn’t read the Point One issue, this may be the first impression of Miss America they’d get. Moving forward, what can readers expect from Miss America — both in writing and design? Is that costume going to be her go-to outfit?
McKelvie: My idea for her is that it’s themed clothes rather than costumes. She doesn’t really get a chance to change in the first two issues, but yes, it’s going to be different outfits. That’s how I see it.
Gillen: The first five issues are very much like a constant chase sequence. They go from trouble to trouble. Stuff escalates madly, so no one gets the chance to change. Wiccan doesn’t put on his superhero costume. Is Wiccan stuck in that in-betweeners shirt?
McKelvie: Yeah, he’s wearing that from issue #2 to a bit later on.
Gillen: Jamie’s a guy who likes his fashion, mixing up and playing with the clothing.
McKelvie: Like I said, I really try to make the characters look be a reflection of who they are. For Miss America especially, she’d have a lot of clothes in the style that is recognizably her, but not necessarily a costume in the ways the others have. They’re big, superhero fanboys. They totally buy into the idea of having a costume.
Gillen: That’s one of the great joys for me with Miss America. She doesn’t give a damn about being an Avenger. And now, of course, we’ve called the book “Young Avengers.” If a character doesn’t want something, you have to give it to them! [Laughs] That’s kind of useful compared to — as we’ve seen — the Doctor Strange and Dazzler posters on Wiccan’s wall and the Captain America and Fantastic Four posters on Hulkling’s. These are superhero fanboys. Hulkling is such a superhero fanboy, he’s called himself Hulkling! Miss America isn’t that at all. You put people like that together and they learn in the dramatic context. It’s interesting for me.
This is a fantastic page, and a lot of credit has to be given to colorist Matthew Wilson for really color-coding these three tiers. It’s one of the few places in mainstream comics where readers really notice what the colorist is doing for the book. Moving forward, how are you hoping to bring out more aspects of a book that readers might not otherwise notice like letters and the inking process?
McKelvie: We’re going to try to, I think, a bit. One of the things, because we’ve worked with Matt before and we know we can rely on him like that to do that kind of thing. He’s so good at coloring for mood, for scene, for emotion to pick things out in the way that he does. It’s just another tool in our toolbox we know we can use. Hopefully, yeah.
Gillen: [Letterer] Clayton [Cowles] basically survived “Journey Into Mystery.” As I made the regular joke, he must have seen all the words I was putting onto the page and I just imagined him screaming, “Fuck off and write a bloody novel if that’s what you really want to do!” He dealt with every piece of bullshit I did and I really threw some stuff at him on “JIM.” There was a sense of, yeah, that’s half Clayton, Clayton’s a glutton for punishment. That opening spread where we integrate the text as panels, Hanna is a designer. We got her to specifically help with that.
McKelvie: We really want to do something interesting with it all.
Gillen: The whole concept behind “Young Avengers” was to do it like we owned it. This is the first chance I’ve ever had to write a Marvel book from scratch. Everything else had to have crossovers and there’s always been other editorial stuff — which isn’t a problem, but it is a limitation. This is my first chance to do anything completely and utterly like that. Since it’s been three years or whatever into my time at Marvel, this is the first chance I’ve had to really go for it. And I’m going to really go for it.
Jaimie, you nailed the look of complete and utter happiness on Teddy’s face as he hugs his mother. It occurs to me that a lot of the big or emotional moments in this issue are largely silent — Teddy’s hug with his mother, his kiss with Billy, the big Skrull slash page at the beginning — how important are these silent panels that we get throughout this issue?
McKelvie: Very. The description for this panel was, I think, everybody else standing around and watching them be happy to have his mom back.
Gillen: Yeah, as they go in for a hug — Teddy’s mom and Teddy — Teddy’s in deep tears here, Billy and family stand by watching, choked up as well. Honestly, it’s totally heartwarming for a panel. No dialogue.
McKelvie: And I made the choice to strip everything away apart from just the two of them hugging. Not even a background, just pull everything out. Did we try a color background?
GIllen: We talked about the background.
McKelvie: We decided that pure white would be best and just have everything focused on the two of them and their body language, his face, like he’s burying his face in her shoulder —
Gillen: Like the world isn’t there anymore for a second.
This is such a weirdly dense issue. These are all moments that could be completely justified as a splash page, but we honestly don’t have room. This is like a “Phonogram” thing — there’s none of them in this issue, but there are quite a few of them in the next — the two-panel page, when you’ve got two quarters of a main image and a quarter beat afterwards, which is a more narrative take on a splash page and I tend to do a lot.
Kieron, you mentioned on your blog that you and editor Lauren Sankovitch wondered if this beat was “big enough” to end on. Can you share some of the other beats you considered?
Gillen: I never considered ending on another one. That was just a critique about the story. This is the only beat it could end on, but if you wanted to compare and contrast — this is always one Rick Remender talks about, the first episode of the TV show “The Shield,” with a cop killing another cop. Suddenly, you get the entire series. That’s a great first issue. The original “Young Avengers” had a hell of a great sting in terms of Iron Lad is Kang. That relies on a knowledge of the Marvel Universe, but still, it’s “I’m coming back in time to stop myself from doing what I’m doing.” That’s what I mean by “big.”
When I was doing “Uncanny X-Men’s” relaunch, I ended this first issue with this weird world fair of Sinister clones. It’s a weirdly kaleidoscopic kind of view. I was aware that all the other relaunches — especially the DC ones — were “Dude gets killed,” “Dude gets his face torn off,” that sort of thing. They’re all very big, things are dark. I’d just done this weirdo steampunk parody and I was like, “I might not be in tune with how to make comics!” That’s more what I mean, they’re much bigger, like what people do as an end beat.
[The ending of “Young Avengers” #1] is more in tune with those endings than the weirdo fairground ending. She’s doing something to the parents and people are presuming they’ve been killed, but I wouldn’t really say that because you don’t really know who she is. I’ve described this story as an Ultron story in that it’s basically the creation — a superhero, through their work, creates their nemesis. That’s what’s kind of going on.
Wrapping up, looking at the response to the issue and as the series moves forward, how do you feel from a writing and artistic standpoint this issue went? What do you feel it accomplished well and is there anything you’re thinking of doing differently as the series movies forward?
McKelvie: I think we did as well as we possibly could, certainly. The reviews have been generally…
Gillen: …Phenomenal. [Laughs] It’s a first issue, so it’s quite compressed. I was worried the second issue might feel a bit boring compared to the first, because the first is desperately trying to be new. But the second one feels much more confident in itself than me. Issue #1 is like, we’ve got to get all this stuff going and issue #2 takes it and goes a little bit. When we do all our set pieces that come from the story, this is following on the narrative naturally. Stuff gets a little more space to breathe, so the claustrophobia you got in the scenes that are the equivalent of the Billy/Teddy fight are slightly less. So they don’t feel quite like that one did. I was generally surprised at how well the second issue read.
McKelvie: [In issue #4], what I’ve done with the double-page spreads is bleeding into the rest of the issue. You’ll see what I mean. It’s a bit mental.
GIllen: Yeah, the start of issue #4, pages two and three are pretty much us going, “Come at us, bro” to Fraction and Aja. Literally, that’s in the script [notes], “Come at me bro” specifically calling out Fraction and Aja.
McKelvie: Your and Matt’s careers are basically Reed Richards and Doctor Doom.
Gillen: That’s right, that’s totally what we used to say. When “Casanova” came out, I was only doing “Phonogram” and really small work-for-hire stuff and Matt was the golden boy of Marvel. The new golden boy. In some weird universe, solely inside my and Matt’s head, we were the only two that mattered. It was all basically about this grudge match — he’s Reed Richards and I’m Doctor Doom, because I’m the bitter European. Cursed Fraction! It’s not competition in a bad way, it’s competition in a good way. I love seeing everyone else’s issue and it makes me want to raise my game because nobody wants to be the weak kitten.
McKelvie: I think that’s true because a lot of the people working in comics right now came up at about the same time as us. Maybe a bit before, but there is that sense of friendly rivalry of trying to top what each other’s doing.
Gillen: When I go to the shelves now and notice people I’ve known for the best part of a decade doing so well, it’s nice to see people getting out and doing stuff. Whether it’s in Marvel or an indy field or elsewhere or other mediums. Every issue of “Hawkeye” makes me think, what next, what next? “Young Avengers” is our side of that conversation, and it’s a completely different book to “Hawkeye.”
The way we conceived it is that the first 15 issues are like a TV series. It’s episodic into arcs, and there’s all sorts of stuff along the way, but the first 15 issues are a statement. We lead to a season finale and then issue #16 will be something else. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s ridiculously over thought, it’s very exciting, it’s very beautifully colored.
“Young Avengers” #1 by Gillen and McKelvie is on sale now.