Bryan Hitch was the penciler of "The Ultimates," but to many fans he's simply the ultimate penciler. Hitch's detail-driven, hyper-realistic art and his unique collaborative relationship with writer Mark Millar, have made him one of the most revered artists in the superhero biz - yet Hitch is as at home at a simple table in Artists Alley here at Comic-Con International in San Diego as any indie artist.
That's where Comic Book Resources tracked him down for a chat, in which he revealed the name of his and Millar's upcoming creator-owned collaboration, teased storylines for the final issues of their "Fantastic Four" run for Marvel, explained what aspect of his job he thinks he's the worst at and more.
Bryan, when you're not surrounded by the chaos of San Diego, what's keeping you busy at the moment?
I'm on the last few issues of my "Fantastic Four" run. Mark [Millar] and I are doing 14 issues together with a 56-page Christmas special - that's 56 story pages, not 36 and ads! It's actually 56 story pages. So December will have our regular December issue plus our Christmas special.
When you have a chunk of pages like that staring you in the face, do you think "Oh God, how am I going to get through this?"
No - I got through it! It's done! It was one of the best jobs I've ever done, actually. I flew through that. There were a couple days when I did five pages of pencils in a day for two days running. It's an odd little story, it's stuff I've never had to draw before, and it was an absolute blast. I've now got three issues left to pencil - I'm just waiting for the scripts on those. I'm also doing a "Fantastic Four Giant-Size Annual" with a writer-director friend of mine called Joe Ahern, who's a big guy in British television. He always wanted to write "Fantastic Four," so we got him in touch with Marvel, and they let him write it for us, which is great.
What's coming up in "FF" that you're most looking forward to seeing the fan reaction to?
Oh, that's interesting. Well, obviously there's the death of the Invisible Woman. That's fairly self-explanatory! I look forward to seeing what people think about that one, and the reactions to the following issues and how that plays out for the remaining run. Then there's the final story arc, which is the Masters of Doom. These are the people who made Doctor Doom who he is. You think he's bad? Wait till you see what these guys do. We introduce them as they're destroying a planet just by waving their arms around a bit. They live for two things - to kill things and destroy things. They love doing it and that's all they want to do. They've finally made it to our Earth to catch up with Victor.
One of the things I like about your work with Mark is that even though it's coming out in a serial fashion, it's structured with a concrete beginning and end in mind, like a graphic novel. Is that something that you guys consciously think of with these limited runs?
I think so, because we know we'd get bored otherwise, and you don't want to see that. You deserve the best that we can do. So we limit it to a period where we think we can deliver top-quality stuff, our best work, in a particular time frame. It doesn't mean we couldn't run further on - I mean, we did toy with the idea of this becoming a 26-issue run, but just recently we decided no, let's leave it, let's go on and do something else instead. You know when you've had enough. And it gives me a chance to think "Well, the project's not infinite, I can go for one year and then I've got something else to look forward to."
Can you tell us what's coming up after "FF"?
I can't, actually! Mark and I are doing a creator-owned project we're going to be working on called "Olympus" which will be out next year, we hope. We've got a big Marvel project planned which will be working on together, and I've got something else, a really huge-deal book to get done for Marvel after "Fantastic Four" and before Mark and I reform the band and do this other project. Both of these things are huge, huge projects, but we can't tell you anything about them!
Since you have to travel from the UK to a West Coast con to like this, jetlag must be an occupational hazard, huh?
Fortunately, they got me in on Tuesday. And jetlag hits worse [traveling] the other way [from San Diego to the UK]. This way, you can sleep on the plane, and when you get here it's daylight rather than nighttime. If you just push through to the nighttime, which usually involves copious amounts of alcohol, food, and hospitality - and possibly the occasional titty bar - somehow when you go to sleep, you sleep a full night, and when you wake up in the morning you're on normal time. Going back the other way causes the trouble. You're getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning thinking it's 9:30.
You seem to be knee-deep in commission work here. Do you enjoy sketching?
I think I enjoy it now. I never used to, actually. I used to hate the sketching. But I'm a lot more comfortable with drawing now than I ever was, so I'm happy to sit here and do sketches. It's a little more difficult to concentrate [in Artists Alley], so I'll probably end up doing a lot of the sketches in my room later, when I can put my iPod on and just sit and do it. Here you're constantly interrupted by people wanting things signed - which is great, because it's what you're here to do. I don't mind, that's what I'm here to do anyway: sit and sketch and meet and talk and sign.
Do you get a lot out of meeting the fans?
Yeah. It's really nice. You sit there in a room in your house or your office and you do this stuff in complete isolation. Even though your relatives like what you're doing, or the people you're working with like what you're doing, it's not really them you're doing it for. You're really doing it for two people: You're doing it for yourself, and you're doing it for the person buying it. Usually by the time I've finished drawing, I'm sick of the sight of what I'm doing. I've lost any sort of objectivity - you get the results and you're looking at the page and going "oh, I shouldn't have done it that way." But then somebody coming and looking at it for the first time and buying it and reading it - their reaction is probably the more important one. You get that here, you get that real one on one thing, which is cool.
How different is the process between sketching and doing comics work on a professional basis?
It's different in as much as the drawing I do on a professional basis is all enslaved to a story. Its purpose is simply to move the story from one point to the next. Here it's an isolated drawing of a favorite character. In many ways this is easier, because when someone says "Can you do me a Captain America?" you can just draw a Captain America. I draw him lots anyway, but it's more difficult for a story purpose because you have to specifically do that figure or that face to express what the story requires, so that needs a little more thought. Here it's actually very quick, very straightforward, so now I find it a little bit easier, actually.
I was going to say that it's perhaps more similar to cover work, but then again, covers need to tell a story too.
Absolutely. It's really down to that. Everything you do professionally is all enslaved to a story at some point. Even a cover has to be something that either asks you to buy the comic or gives you information about the comic you're about to buy.
Do you enjoy the challenge of storytelling?
Yeah, the interior stuff, absolutely. I don't really think of myself as a good cover artist, honestly, though I'm getting more comfortable doing illustration. It's because I don't think of myself as an illustrator, I think of myself as a storyteller, and I've learned to draw better in order to tell a story better. I'm getting happier just doing singular illustrations than I used to because I think I'm a little happier with my drawing than I was.
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