A Stab At The Big Time: Sean Chen talks 'Elektra'

With today's release of Marvel Comics' "Elektra #23," writer Robert Rodi and artist Sean Chen hope to take the famous female assassin in a whole new direction from predecessor Greg Rucka's writing. All readers need to know is that Elektra is one deadly female assassin and that while she's Dardevil's ex-girlfriend, it doesn't make her one of the "good guys." But while she's been an enticing character for a multitude of creators since Frank Miller introduced her, killed her and revived her in the 80's, artist Sean Chen isn't the first person that many would associate with the former ninja- and he explains that his work on a book on the other end of the spectrum helped bring him over to "Elektra."

"It was a matter of very fortunate timing really," explains Chen. "'Elektra' was moving from the Marvel Knights line into the regular Marvel universe under the new editorship of Axel Alonzo. Axel was my editor at the time on 'Wolverine,' a book that was starting to wear on me due to its movement toward a hard boiled crime feel. These stories were a great read but were just kinda OK to draw. Axel presented 'Elektra' as a book that I might find more visually stimulating art-wise."

More than the creative stimulus, Chen says that he's always had a love for the character and says, "I have always loved her enigmatic nature and martial arts prowess. In my mind she was the original best and the baddest that makes all the similar characters out there look like wannabes. My personal fave was 'Elektra Assassin' by Miller and Sienkewicz."

Chen's no stranger to big name characters, having worked on "Iron Man" and "Wolverine," and the popularity of Elektra, buoyed by the recent "Daredevil" film, isn't daunting to him. "From an artists standpoint, each one of the titles demands a different skill set," admits Chen, who relishes the thought of growing as an artist. "With 'Iron Man' it was the slick high tech look. Wolverine was darker and grittier and more organic. 'Elektra' is all about successfully portraying a female character. As an Industrial Design major, I could draw most anything man made. That was the strength that landed me 'Iron Man.' The most difficult aspect of drawing comics for me has always been drawing the people. There was definitely a tendency toward stiffness in my figures and faces since my drawing method relied on finding the underlying structure in everything. Elektra represents the opposite end of the spectrum. The ultimate test, so to speak."

The artist makes no secret of the fact that he's going to have a lot of fun on the series, but Chen also feels a great responsibility to readers who've seen so many creative changes on "Elektra" and comics in general. "For obvious reasons, this book has become more important to Marvel lately. My main goal is to not let down readers that will be coming to know the character for the first time. I know the other members of the creative team on this book are holding up their end, and I really don't want to let them down either."

Fans are often divided on how they'd like to see Elektra portrayed visually, but Chen's approach is to keep things realistic and make the fantastic seem, well, fantastic. "I have been influenced by Travis Charest for a good long time. As of late, though my work has taken on a less pristine line for a more gritty less illustrative feel especially for 'Wolverine.' Realism and detail has always been part of my style. I feel that it gives fantastical stories more impact since it draws the reader into a more credible world. My other influences include Frank Quitely and Lienel Yu among many others.

"I personally hate the generic highly stylized cheesecake stuff. Most of that type of drawing gets its influence from other comics rather than real life. There will be plenty of sex appeal in 'Elektra,' but it will handled with a bit more class. Elektra as a character is aware of her sexuality and occasionally uses it as a weapon or at least to mess with people. Here the titillating shots are warranted since they are a defining part of her character."

The hardest part of working on "Elektra" is, according to Chen, trying to integrate the multiple facets of the character into the series' aesthetics. "Elektra is a living contradiction. There is a challenge to represent her either simultaneously or alternately having opposing characteristics. For example, she is sexy, which draws you in, but also frightening, which scares you away. She is a serious assassin, but playful as if she has an arrested development or missed out on childhood. She hides in the shadows but comes dressed in bright red streamers. Its sometimes hard to determine which side of her to show at what time, and to make it all believable as one person."

As mentioned previously, Chen's had a lot of experience on different big name characters and that's brought him into contact with well-known writers such as Kurt Busiek and Frank Tieri, but the artist says that new "Elektra" writer Robert Rodi offers a new creative experience. "Rob's strength in writing Elektra is his complete understanding of her unusual psyche. Rob and Axel gave much thought to what makes her tick, and what they came up with will make for very engaging stories. Rob is also well traveled which informs and enriches the globetrotting aspect of the stories."

And while Chen admits he's a creative guy, you won't see him penning any "Elektra" tales in the near future. "I definitely won't be writing any of 'Elektra.' I don't plan to have input on the storylines. My feeling is that I know where my expertise lies, and Rob is doing an excellent job on the writing side. If I do ever flex my writing muscles, it would be on a creator owned type thing."

Even without his writing talents on "Elektra," Sean Chen says this series will be one to watch and offers a small list of reasons why it's unlike anything Marvel publishes. "There's a lot of action, much of it brutal," says Chen. "It's sexually charged. It's got stories that transcend merely chronicling the exploits of an assassin. The plot unfolds in such an intriguing way that each issue will make you want to re read the previous one with 'new eyes.'

"It's a great take on a great character. The whole creative team has inspired me to bring out my best game."

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