With his work on “Last Stand of New Krypton,” Pete Woods is knee deep in Kryptonite these days. And that’s not going to change anytime soon as DC Comics announced earlier this month that the fan favorite artist would be taking over as the regular artist on “Action Comics,” beginning with Marc Guggenheim’s first issue in June, #890.
Woods started his professional career as an intern at Wildstorm working with Jim Lee, who was recently named Co-Publisher of DC Comics. But Woods’ earliest days as an aspiring artist were spent looking over (and over) a copy of Famous First Edition reprint of “Action Comics” #1 that his mother purchased for him as a youth.
Now that he’s actually drawing the title that kick-started his passion for the medium, Woods couldn’t be happier and that notion is apparent not only on the printed page when he’s drawing Superman, but in his enthusiastic answers he gave during a recent CBR interview.
In an in-depth conversation, Woods shares not only his artistic techniques, but what his work day is really like, what part of Superman’s costume he doesn’t worry about and what actor serves as his muse in creating the love of Clark Kent’s life, Lois Lane.
CBR News: Over the past few years you’ve worked on a number of Superman projects, but being named as the new regular artist of “Action Comics” – the granddaddy of them all – must still be quite a thrill.
Pete Woods: The very first comic I read was the oversized Famous First Edition reprint of “Action Comics” #1 that my mom had bought me. I loved that book until it fell apart. To be able to contribute to the history of the comic that began my love for the medium makes me about the luckiest guy on the planet.
Do you have any memories of reading that comic?
I remember several things. First was Superman running across phone lines carrying some thug trying to get information out of him. I remember the art being so simple and yet conveying everything – the energy, the movement, the peril, and the feel of a city at night.
Secondly, there was a panel that explained Clark Kent’s strength. When I was a kid it just struck me as purely logical. It made me believe.
Lastly, let’s face it, when Joe Shuster was on, he could draw some sexy females.
What is it that you love most about Superman?
There’s so much to love about the whole Superman family. They are bright, cheerful, and optimistic. There is a lot of dark out there in the comic book world, and it certainly has its place. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to know that out there the Superman family is fighting the good fight with a smile on their faces. At their core, the Superman characters are good people. Powers or no powers, they would sacrifice their own lives for the smallest of us. That’s something to feel good about.
What is it that you’re focusing on bringing to “Action” that is unique to the character? Do you do anything differently from other artists with his Superman’s costume or Clark’s facial expressions?
What I try to remember when approaching Superman is that no matter where he is, he is always a bit of an outsider. Whether on Kandor or in Metropolis, he doesn’t quite fit. To us and to the people around him, he stands apart as someone great, but to him, I think he’d be okay with just being your friend.
Are there any specific challenges in drawing the Man of the Steel as opposed to working on Deadpool or Robin?
When working on a character as iconic as Superman there is always the pressure to do him justice. There are as many versions of Superman as there are people in the world. Everyone has their own idea of what he character should look like and how he would carry himself. The trick is to try and distill all those perceptions into something that most people can agree is Superman while staying in continuity.
A lot of artists have trouble with the “S” shield. Coming in, I chose not to worry about it too much. I’m not saying I do well at it, but I’m just trying not to sweat it when it’s a little off.
What about when he’s Clark Kent? What attributes of his secret identity do you feel are most important when drawing the character out of the cape and tights?
When we – Geoff [Johns], Kurt [Busiek], and I – did “Up, Up, and Away,” we were dealing with a Clark Kent who was gaining confidence and coming into his own as a person. There was no Superman at that time, nothing to pull him away from his life. Clark was becoming a happy man and a successful professional. But when Superman regained his powers, that part of Clark was lost once again. I haven’t dealt with that part of the character yet – the classic awkward, nervous Clark.
Like you said, you’ve been drawing him for a while now, but do you go back and look at any past interpretations of Superman before drawing him?
I try not to look at other artists work when I am drawing. I have a tendency to pick up the stylistic quirks of artists I’m exposed to. I’ll look at something someone does and want to try it out myself. If I do it too long, I lose track of where I wanted to go with things.
What do you consider the most iconic look of Superman as he’s been portrayed in comics? Rather, who do you feel draws the quintessential Man of Tomorrow?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. There are so many artists who have done fantastic interpretations of Superman. Curt Swan, of course, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Jon Bogdonove had a take on Supes that I really enjoyed. I think my favorite current interpretation of Superman is Alex Ross’. He manages to capture that classic Superman feel for me. I think his Superman is a little old for the in-continuity books, but overall one of the best.
What about in other media? Are you a fan of the Christopher Reeve movies, or are you more of a “Super Friends” guy?
George Reeves’ Superman is what I grew up on – the old re-runs on classic television. He’s as close physically to the “real” Superman as I see him on screen, but that’s my childhood prejudice speaking. Christopher Reeve captured the essence of Superman perfectly. As far as the character goes, he just nailed it. The thing is, I don’t think it’s possible to capture both the physical and the spirit of the character in one actor. Here’s hoping, though.
I’m not sure how much you’ve worked with him yet, but have you had a chance to speak with Marc Guggenheim?
I have spoken with him both over the phone and via email. This will be the first time Marc and I have worked together.
How is he as a collaborator?
Marc is a solid writer with a cinematic sensibility. He also knows when to cut loose and let the artist pick up on the action. I predict there will be fun to be had.
I’m not sure if you can tease us, but is there a specific panel or a page coming up in “Last Stand of New Krypton” that has you excited? What about a plotline or a villain coming up in “Action Comics”?
There is so much exciting going on in “Last Stand,” I really can’t pick just one. There’s a very dramatic “THOOOOOOOOMM,” an extremely surprising “SNAP” and one of our heroes ends up as a pin cushion.
As far as “Action” goes, all I am allowed to say are these three words: “Luthor, Luthor, Luthor.” I’ve read the broad strokes of where we’re going, and it’s epic.
Are there any other characters in the Superman universe that you especially like drawing, like Lois or Jimmy?
Perry White is a lot of fun for me. I have no idea why, but something about drawing that blustery guy with a cigar just makes me smile. I also have some plans for Lois. If I were casting the movie, I have a very strong idea of who should play her, so I’m going to run with that.
Any hints on who that might be?
Ah, what the hell, I’ll tell you. I think Zooey Deschanel is perfect for the role. She’s smart, sassy and she’s got a tiny bit of Margot Kidder in there. She just screams Lois. It was my wife Rebecca who first suggested her to me.
Before we let you go, can you tell us what techniques you use when illustrating a comic book and what tools of the trade you employ?
Well, I can go over my basic workday really quickly. I do my layouts the evening before I do a page, so at about 9 p.m. I open up my script and refresh my memory on what’s going on. I spend about half an hour on thumbnails, which I do in Photoshop with a pen and tablet. Then I take whatever reference shots I need or I do some digital figure work. I build a lot of my backgrounds in Sketchup, so I’ll model those quickly and assemble everything back in Photoshop and print it out for the next day. I try to be done with this process at 11, but it’s often 12 or 1 before I head to bed.
The next day, I sit down at my table at about 9 a.m. and go over my layouts. If anything needs changing, I do it then. Then, on a lightbox, I loosely draw in the figures in pencil. Once it’s transferred to the board, I start inking. I do the majority of my drawing in the inking phase. My pencil is just a plain old #2 and I use a variety of fine line markers and brush pens. The pens I use the most are Staedtler Pigment Liners in .005 and .3 tips.
I try to be done by 2 p.m., but that usually doesn’t work out and I’m often behind the desk until 5 or 6.
In order to help his drawing process, Woods has developed 3D models of New Krypton and Metropolis, which he shares with the world online.
Pete Woods’ Animated 3D Model of New Krypton
Pete Woods’ Animated 3D Model of Metropolis