Fans of good girl art and super heroes are no doubt familiar with acclaimed Ignatz, Emmy and Charles M. Schultz Award winning artist and writer Frank Cho. The WonderCon 2013 Special Guest got the spotlight treatment at a panel on Saturday. Fans who attended were treated to a detailed look at his artistic process and a few spoilers for his Marvel Comics series “Savage Wolverine,” including the introduction of a New Galactus and the fact that “Savage Wolverine” #5 sees Logan face off against the Incredible Hulk.
The panel began with an apology by Cho that he would not be able to draw for the assembled audience, as the proper AV equipment had not been provided. Cho then asked everyone to move up closer and he offered to share some of the pages he was currently working on for his final issue (#5) of “Savage Wolverine.” While he showed the pages, he opened the floor to questions from the audience, immediately creating a much more intimate feel than the panels in the larger ballrooms. Cho used the word “loose” and suggested that audience members with questions “raise their hands or just shout it out.” Though the audience at first seemed a little timid, Cho’s charm and sarcasm helped coax questions from the crowd.
The pages Cho shared, while in various states of completion, were stunning. Cho explained that he tends to draw on 14 by 21 inch boards with a loose pencil style that he later inks. The first of many possible spoilers shared of the day came in the form of a panel from the end of “Savage Wolverine” issue number 4 showing Logan staring down the Green Goliath himself, the Incredible Hulk.
Cho went on to describe the ensuing fight between Logan, the giant apes (previously revealed via his blog), and the Hulk before he showed a panel featuring an epic, fully inked image of Wolverine stabbing poor Dr. Banner in the top and side of his head. After the reveal Cho quipped, “I’m not sure I’m technically supposed to show this.”
After Cho shared the pages, the audience began to warm up. The first few questions dealt with what Cho would like to be working on aside from his current projects. When asked what he’d draw given total freedom, Cho responded that he’d like to paint. “Oil Paintings. I’d like to oil paint a bunch of stuff — portraits, landscapes,” he said. “Like those 19th century paintings. Waterhouse, Alma, Fatima, Bogaro — all those guys.” Cho added that he’s actually working on several oil paintings, including a six-foot piece featuring King Kong.
The character Cho would most like to work on is Conan the Barbarian. Cho bemoaned Marvel loosing the Conan license stating, “Whoever was in charge of Marvel at the time was an idiot.” Cho teased that Dark Horse would like him to do Conan but he’s still under exclusive contract at Marvel and that unfortunately Dark Horse doesn’t pay as well. He continued that his exclusive contract is why he hasn’t worked on other properties including his own acclaimed series “Liberty Meadows.” Cho did say, however, that in September he would be launching a Kickstarter program for a new “Liberty Meadows” project. Cho planned to announce the project in the fall, but then added, “I guess I just announced it,” to much applause and audience laughter.
At this point, the WonderCon panel staff produced the necessary equipment and Cho prepared to draw as he originally intended. The project Cho was working on was a commission of the character he re-energized: Shanna the She-Devil. When asked about the cost of such a commission, Cho wryly smiled and said, “You don’t want to know. A shoebox full of twenties.”
As Cho prepped his workspace, he produced the tools he regularly uses including a mechanical pencil, and three gauges of Micron Ink pens (.08, .03 and .01). Cho joked that he “doesn’t use any tracers” before explaining that his pencils are often so loose that his work is simply, “really hard for the inkers to know what to ink.” While he started working with a brush for inking, he quickly abandoned the tool as a “pain in the ass.” Cho did state that he still uses brush and ink to cover large areas in black. As Cho worked on Shanna, he spoke openly about upcoming projects.
“Guns and Dinos” is a project Cho is writing and drawing. Based on a concept he came up with in school, the plan is for a three issue limited series. Cho has finished issue one. Also in queue is the previously announced fantasy project with Bill Willingham, a novel about the daughter of a god. Cho has plans to create a hybrid novel and comic book featuring a Doctor Who type character with author Tom Sniegoski, as well as continuing his to work on turning “Zombie King” into a movie. Cho is currently on his third draft of the story, and seemed optimistic about the film’s potential to be made. Finally, Cho has plans to create a “How to Draw Women” book, once again utilizing the fan driven Kickstarter format. While Cho worked on Shanna’s pectorals, he joked, “The secret to drawing women is the boobs.” Moving down a little lower and continuing he added, “and the butt.” As the audience chuckled, Cho deadpanned, “Anyone else that tells you different, they’re full of shit.”
After “Savage Wolverine,” Cho is working on an unnamed project with Brian Michael Bendis. When asked later about the project, Cho tried to remain mum worried about the audience member’s “Jedi mind trick.” When pressed about whether or not the title contained an “X,” Cho coyly responded with “perhaps.”
Returning to talk about his process, Cho stated that unlike some artists, he doesn’t begin with warm-up sketches as his sketches often have the most energy and he doesn’t want to lose that in his finished work. When working from a script, Cho admitted that he preferred freedom to create his own layout or “camera angle,” as opposed to being held to “crazy Alan Moore thumbnails.”
The artist revealed he utilizes a different process for drawing from a script versus writing and drawing his own work. “When I draw, people can talk, music, background noise, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “When I write, everything has to be silent.” His process could involve drawing things out on scraps or index cards and then assembling them “like a term paper.” Cho added that he actually prefers drawing and writing himself saying, “Its more fun. I’ve got some crazy stuff in my head.”
Cho tends to utilize that “crazy stuff” in his imagination more than photo reference, which he only uses about half the time, and then only when he can’t get something right. Cho joked that his photo references consist of lots of “pictures of naked ladies,” and that if he relies on the references too much he “tends to lose track of time.”
Cho mentioned his training as a nurse and how his study of anatomy is key to his art. He said his parents wanted him to be a doctor and still give him grief about being an artist. “They’re Korean,” he joked. Cho said he chose nursing school in part to appease his parents, but that it was also a short program. “I’d be surrounded by women,” he said, “and I look good in white!”
The artist emphasized the fact that while he never had any formal art training, knowledge of anatomy is indispensable. While commenting that animal anatomy is in many ways similar to human anatomy, Cho moved on to Zabu in the background behind Shanna and asked if the drawing looked like a lion. When the audience responded that it in fact looked like a Sabertooth Cat, Cho rebounded, “Zabu is a Sabertooth. So I got it right then!”
When asked about the possibility of his ever working for the other “big two” publisher DC Comics, Cho admitted that he had at one time planned to work at DC. Apparently after his first Marvel exclusive contract was up, DC approached Cho. Cho in turn, made plans for a team-up book that would feature Wonder Woman, Power Girl and Supergirl. “They lowballed me, like I was a kid in high school, not someone who had drawn the best selling book at Marvel,” he said matter-of-factly. Cho teased that he still had the story in his mind and would be happy to tell it for the right price. Though he stated that he hates team books, calling them “a real pain in the ass.”
A fan asked for more specifics about his process and Cho switched to a “Savage Wolverine” page to illustrate his inking style. He urged the audience to “tell my editors I’m working!” As Cho inked a panel of the Hulk getting punched by a giant ape, he said that he spends about two days working on a single page, stating, “I go until I stop.” Cho said that he frequently takes power naps on the hard floor, and that most of his friends and his girlfriend don’t get it.
Cho sarcastically said that he “hates everyone,” then admitted he enjoyed several artists as they are generally the nicest people in the comic book business. But Cho prefers the work of painters or classically trained artists, mentioning Frazetta, Williams, Buscema and Newton by name. When asked about working with colorists and whether or not he preferred his work in black and white, Cho sang the praises of “Savage Wolverine” colorist Jason Keith. Cho finds pen and ink “unforgiving,” though he admitted that his preference was really dependent upon the work itself and the story. He joked that many writers, himself included, can be “assholes,” he did express a desire to work with Joss Whedon, Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman, saying he felt he could create a “really cool horror” book with the latter.
During the panel, Cho expressed his longtime fascination with pulp heroes and his desire to work more with them. “When I was younger, it was all about super heroes, but as I got older I tended to go away from the superheroes to more classic stuff,” Cho said. In addition to Conan, Cho would love to tackle Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes, as he was always drawn to pulp characters’ “gray sense of justice.” A dream project for Cho would be “Princess of Mars.” When an audience member pointed out that Disney (Marvel’s parent company) owns the property, Cho clarified that he’d prefer his project free of editorial constraints. “[Deja Thoris] would be naked. The way the original novel has it,” Cho laughed, “In the original novel, everyone is naked!”
The artist’s love of adventure stories is clearly on display in his current “Savage Wolverine” arc. Cho said the genesis of the story was as an Indiana Jones adventure in his head. Cho envisioned Indy heading into the jungle and meeting up with Elder God Cthulhu. According to Cho, for the purposes of the Marvel Universe, the Elder God has been replaced with a New Herald who foretells the coming of a second Galactus. As Cho went back to the Shanna sketch again, he sighed, “Marvel’s gonna be pissed at me on Monday.” When pressed for more specifics on this new Galactus, Cho answered honestly that readers would “have to see it.”
Cho has an upcoming appearance at Big Wow Comicfest in May, where he’ll be hosting a live drawing panel featuring Cosplay Model Ivy Doomkitty. Participants will draw along with Cho, who will help them “fix” their drawings at the end. Mention of the voluptuous model prompted a question about the kind of work Cho has done for personal collections. While Cho rarely sells original pages, he stated that he’ll draw anything and that some of his clients could be perverts. “You want me draw them doing what?” Cho chuckled, “but I’m a whore — or a businessman.”
Cho closed the panel by showing the finished Shanna Piece and then gave us another look at the Hulk getting stabbed in the noggin by an angry Canadian. “Savage Wolverine” #5 is slated for a May release, and if his WonderCon spotlight panel is any indication, it should be a fitting finale to Frank Cho’s arc.