“Wolverine: Origin” was one of the most highly anticipated, if controversial, comic events of all time, and much of its success stemmed from its unique art style stemming from the combination of Adam Kubert’s pencils with the dynamic colors of Richard Isanove. Isanove continued his Marvel Comicscareer with a “Dark Tower” miniseries as well as a story in an issue of “X-Men Unlimited.”
Now, Isanove returns to the best there is at what he does in an upcoming arc of “Savage Wolverine,” his first Marvel turn as both writer and artist. Set in the 1930s at the end of the era of Prohibition, Isanove’s story brings in a new cast of characters to take through the Great Depression alongside Logan, in a dark and depressing tale designed to show new aspects of the character.
Isanove spoke with CBR News about returning to the world of Wolverine after his influential work on “Origin,” his love of John Steinbeck, his interest in the Great Depression and old movies, taking Logan through the era of Prohibition and more.
CBR News: Richard, tell us a bit about your upcoming “Savage Wolverine” arc. Where does your story pick up with Wolverine and who are the other key players?
Richard Isanove: The basic principle of “Savage Wolverine” is that each story arc is self-contained. I didn’t want to deal with any continuity issues, so I created a full cast of new characters, good and bad, who are all dealt with by the end of the story. It’s set in 1933, at the end of the Prohibition era and 4 years into the Great Depression.
What kind of freedom did the setting of a pre-X-Men, pre-Avengers Marvel Universe afford you? How do you take advantage of being able to help build and evolve Wolverine’s character in the past?
Almost total freedom. Especially since we’re talking pre-amnesia. The core character values are the same but it’s a period of his life that’s never been explored, so I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. I thought of it in the same line as the early “Wolverine” stories, by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, when he wore an eye patch. An adventure, pure and simple.
He’s kind of like the Man with noÂ Name from the spaghetti Westerns. He comes into the story for his own profit, but ends up helping the disenfranchised along the way.
This is the first major comic you’ve done full interior art for and it’s your first major writing credit, but you’ve worked in the industry as an artist and colorist for some time. What made this story compelling enough to where you wanted to handle both sides of the equation?
It’s been a slow progression. For a long time, coloring was fulfilling my creative needs because I was always pushed to try and figure out new techniques. I always liked drawing, but only took the mandatory painting and color classes in college. So when I started coloring, it was actually a learning experience.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best pencillers in the industry and study their work up close. I came to a point where I felt that if I could produce even half of what those guys put on a page, I’d be in a good place. So I started pushing to get some penciling assignments.
Then Jae Lee took a break for a story arc of “Dark Tower,” and I stepped in for seven issues. Jae’s shoes were impossible shoes to fill, but I had the best time and I learned a lot, mostly working with Robin Furth. She would write in short story form, the layouts and visual storytelling were completely up to me. I would give ideas about what I thought would look cool and she’d incorporate them in the script. It was a very enjoyable and stimulating way to work. She’s the one that suggested I’d write my own stuff.
Even as a colorist, my focus has always been on telling the story in the best way possible. Drawing and writing simply evolved from there.
Tell us a bit about your writing background. You’ve got your work on the “Dark Tower” miniseries, but have you done any other writing beyond comics?
I did my undergrad in Arts and Literature, and then got a Masters in Film and Animation. I wrote a fair amount of screenplays at the time. I also recently wrote some songs for the French artist Petit Vodo — does that count? I have a few things I’m developing for creator-owned projects down the line, but this Wolverine story came up as leap of faith from Marvel.
There originally was another writer assigned to the project. He dropped out due to a scheduling conflict, and they asked me if I’d be interested in trying to write it myself. Luckily, they were happy with the result. It happened very quickly, I still have to pinch myself. I know it sounds like I’m sucking up, but they’ve really been incredibly awesome on this one.
One of the other major pieces of Marvel history you’ve worked on was Wolverine: “Wolverine: Origin,” where you provided the colors over Andy Kubert’s pencils. What about this character made you want to come back to tell a full story of your own?
“Origin” was my big break — that’s when my name made it to the cover. It was a gamble at the time to do a book of that magnitude without an inker. It sounds silly now, but it was not an obvious sell. Adam Kubert and I worked really hard to find a way to make it work. And, as a fanboy myself, it was amazing to work on that particular story. We felt like we were making History. It was really fun.
Now, Wolvie’s my go-to guy. I love drawing him for convention sketches; I drew a short story with him for “X-Men Unlimited” a while back. When “Dark Tower” was coming to an end, I thought a Wolverine miniseries would be the perfect way for me to get back into the mainstream. And here I am, the luckiest bastard.
What kind of research have you done for your story? It takes place in the 1930s bootlegging market — why is that a period and setting that holds a particular interest to you?
The idea behind “Savage Wolverine” is to explore the different aspects of the character. I thought it’d be interesting to write a very dark and depressing story to reflect his inherent sadness. You gotta admit that he’s had it pretty rough. I read a lot of Steinbeck growing up, and when it comes to gut wrenching desperation, he’s your man. So, it was more the Great Depression than the Prohibition that attracted me, but the fact that they overlapped was definitely a bonus.
When I was a little kid, my mom — who is British — would let me stay up past midnight and watch old movies as a way to learn English. Some of the gems from the pre-code era showed things that were not to be seen again until the ’70s. I remember watching “I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” with Paul Muni and being so frustrated that none of my friends had seen it. It was amazing, and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. You had classics like “Scarface,” “Public Enemy,” even “Tarzan and His Mate” with its incredible underwater scene. Those were desperate times, and people just went for it — that is, until the censors put their noses into it.
I guess these elements all came into play when it came time to find a subject matter for this story. Then, I started researching the period in detail to make sure that everything was accurate with the timeline and the geography. Doing research is essential to the process; it always leads you into new territories and anchors your story.
I also love buying props to use as references. When necessary, I’d rather take photos than use 3D models. But it has to be accurate. I had to keep explaining to the guy at the car miniature models store that I needed cars predating 1933, that, no, 1934 was not OK.
How did you approach designing 1930s Wolverine? How does a younger Logan look different than the present-day hero?
There are so many variations on the character that it’s really hard to compare. I guess his hair’s a little greasier, but he still can’t control those cowlicks.
Coming from “The Dark Tower,” I’ve come to enjoy not dealing with uniforms. Then again, Logan’s obviously going to end up in the old wife-beater. That’s kind of a uniform, right?
It took a little while to find a graphic technique that I was happy with and that I could keep on schedule. I developed some tricks during my run on “Dark Tower” that I like, but I wanted to do something new. We’re still in the same ballpark, but I mixed in some of the techniques I used on Joe Quesada’s “Daredevil: Father.” In retrospect, I guess it’s nothing really new, just a new mix.
Also I was a little tired of sitting at my computer; I wanted to draw on paper. The result is a mixture of pencils and ink washes with a final pass in Photoshop.
What do you think sets your Wolverine story apart from the many other Wolverine books in the market today?
It’s a hard question to answer. That’s usually the point where you praise your collaborators. Although, I have to say that Jeanine Schaefer has been a very clever and insightful editor.
My hope is that it’ll be a book that you can give to your friends who don’t read comics, a self-contained tale that doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of the Marvel Universe; interesting enough and pretty enough that you can leave it on your coffee table or in the bathroom. As Stephen King said about the latest “Dark Tower” novel, “It’s not going to change anybody’s life, but God, I had fun.” Hopefully, you will, too.