Conversing on Comics with Leinil Yu

When you make your formal American comics debut drawing a Top 5 book, you've really set the bar high for the rest of your career. But Filipino artist Leinil Yu doesn't think about it too much.

Yu's introduction to the U.S. comics market was in 1997 with Wolverine #113, but he wasn' t a complete newcomer: He had worked for a time as an assistant at Whilce Portacio's studio, and even gained some recognition by winning a Wizard magazine contest. Yu went on from Wolverine to draw everything from Uncanny X-Men to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even had a hand in reinventing Superman's origins in Superman: Birthright before returning to Marvel and becoming one of the publisher's top-tier artists with New Avengers and Secret Invasion. After that, he moved into creator-owned comics with Mark Millar, first on Superior and then on Supercrooks. Yu continues to excel with Marvel's superheroes, joining Mark Waid to relaunch the Hulk in the Marvel NOW! title Indestructible Hulk -- a return of sorts for Yu, who drew the Hulk in the well-received (albeit much-delayed) Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk.

I've always been an admirer of Yu's work, from his brief stint on Chris Claremont's X-Men return to his lesser-known creator-owned book at DC, Silent Dragon (with Andy Diggle) and High Roads (with Scott Lobdell). When he returned to Marvel, I noticed him experimenting with his style in both composition and rendering. Upon doing research for this interview, I learned about Yu's varied attempts to explore different mediums -- branching out from his pencils and pens and to painting, digital modelling, and even digital speed-painting. I conducted this interview with Leinil Yu earlier this month, on the eve of Indestructible Hulk's announcement.

Chris Arrant: Leinil, what are you working on today?

Leinil Yu: I just literally finished my 10-page AvX: Versus #5 story and now in full swing on Indestructible Hulk with Mark Waid.

And the final parts of your creator-owned series Supercrooks is coming out now, but you completed it some time ago. I was just flipping through Supercrooks #2 and I’m struck by how you varied your style on this from Superior and your other recent work – less cross-hatching, but also a different approach to the positioning of people and angles. Why’d you reorient yourself and decide to take this new route?

Mark Millar and I wanted a new direction for this series, more grounded in reality and less mainstream superhero fare. No overtly comical poses as I have would’ve done in my regular comics. The style is very deceptive. It looks simple and yet I’ve never spent so much time on each page. I thought I was gonna have an easier time with less hatching but instead am taking longer filling all the nooks and crannies with detail.

But it paid off, I think. All the reviews have been positive, as with Avenging Spider-man #5, a book I used the same style with.

Supercrooks is quite different from your last book with Mark Millar, the lofty Boy Scout of a hero Superior. Why’d you latch on to this darker concept?

In all honesty, I’m in this for the Millar ride. The idea was conceived by him and director Nacho Vigalondo, but it really appealed to me and so I jumped in and did hundreds of designs. Issue 4 just came out and I couldn’t be prouder.

And I’m happy to see you teaming back up with Gerry Alanguilan. He was your long-time inker but took some time off from 2006-2010 during the first part of your return to Marvel, only coming back for the last half of Ultimate Avengers. I know you worked with a number of inkers during that four years, but what brought you two back together?

The simple reason is that he is one of the best inkers out there and I’m lucky to be working with him. He inks my work the way I want it to be inked, even better than the way I could ink it. The recent pages he did over me on AvX: Versus are a sight to behold.

Between projects you also found time to do a great one-off issue of Avenging Spider-Man #5, with writer Zeb Wells, chronicling Captain America’s days as a comic artist himself. What was that like for you, depicting that – and getting to draw as Steve Rogers in that great opening page?

Believe it or not, that page took a long while to do, almost as long as a normal, well-drawn page. I have to imagine how it is to draw like I haven’t been drawing all my life. That is the best way to put it. It was fun but it also took a lot of planning and thought.

I’ve always wanted to ask about your time at DC. From 2002-2006 you did two great creator-owned books with High Roads and Silent Dragon, and then did Superman: Birthright and that great little Batman/Danger Girl one-shot. I was surprised DC didn’t enlist you on their top books, especially something more substantial on Batman. Was that intentional on your part, or were those jobs just not being offered to you?

I was just not offered any other book other than Birthright and Batman/Danger Girl. I would’ve loved to do more Batman or JLA. We did talk about Wonder Woman briefly but I brushed it off, as drawing women wasn’t really my strongest suit back then. I was more inclined to draw gritty muscled guys. I wasn’t just ready for women characters, I think.

Then Marvel came knocking.

You got your start in comics working under Whilce Portacio when he had a studio in the Philippines during the early Image days. Now that you’re in his position, the veteran of the field, have you looked into helping out other artists?

I do my share but not as an agent. Whenever I see good art, I mail their work straight to C.B. Cebulski and my editors. I give online advice from time to time, especially if I see something special. I’m ready to do the same, just not the agent/business aspect. I always encourage artists to go straight to Marvel or DC.

Flipping through your DeviantArt, I found a great digital painting you did of Boba Fett from 2010. As far as I know, you do all you pieces with pencil and paper, but have you put thought into doing more digital work?

Yes! One of my frustrations is to be a good digital speed-painter and I’ve dabbled on it multiple times. I still want to get better at it.

Would I pursue it for comics work? Maybe not. Two reasons: Fans seem to still prefer lineart in general, and the original art market is too good to pass up. Otherwise, I’d have gone purely digital ages ago.

However, I still believe that technology hasn’t developed well enough to mimic traditional art control and feel perfectly. It is really more fun and fulfilling to draw on paper, most of the time.

The immediate and satisfying results you can achieve with digital is undeniable though.

Another thing I see you experimenting with is using markers on some of your cover work, like your recent Uncanny X-Force covers. Can you tell me about your thinking on this, and what’s it like compared to your traditional line-work drawings?

I love markers and I intend to do more marker work on covers. The main difference is that I would withhold crosshatching and do most of my rendering in grayscale. Lineart would be mostly the outlines and facial details.

Pure lineart/inkwork still appeals a lot to me tho so I would be doing that from time to time. You have to change it up to keep things interesting.

I’ve seen a number of artists begin to write their own stories at DC and Marvel, like J.H. Williams III, David Finch and Steve McNiven. Have you ever put serious thought into writing stories yourself?

Yes! Though I’m only interested in writing my own stories, not established characters. I really do hope I can do it in the future, perhaps under Image Comics. I guess I’m not yet confident enough to give up drawing for mainstream.

Last question, Leinil - what do you do when you’re not drawing comics?

I love video games, movies, driving my car and just hanging out with friends.

For next week's Conversing on Comics, I catch up with the elusive artist Damion Scott, who broke through in a big way with his graffiti-inspired work on Batgirl and his issue of Solo, only to drop off the scene in 2009 for a career in Japan. This month he returned in Web of Spider-Man #129.1, and I'm first in line to catch up with this uncompromising artist.

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