In the 1968 move "If," the character of Mick Travis played by Malcom McDowell says, "One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place." This November, in the pages of "Bullet Points," a five issue mini-series from Marvel Comics written by J. Michael Straczynski, Marvel Comics fans will see how true that statement is when a bullet takes the life of two prominent Marvel characters. CBR News spoke with "Bullet Points" artist Tommy Lee Edwards about the project and bringing to life a very different Marvel Universe.
It was Editor Mark Paniccia who offered the "Bullet Points" job to Edwards. "It was written already, and they had been looking for an appropriate artist," Edwards told CBR News. "I was illustrating the 'Daredevil: What If' (written by Rick Veitch) for Paniccia, when I decided to go on contract with Marvel and start 'Bullet Points.' The timing worked out well."
It was the chance to work with big name characters on a big project that drew Edwards to "Bullet Points" and Marvel. "With most of my illustration work being 'outside' of comics, I only have time to illustrate about five comics a year," Edwards explained. "One of my reasons for signing with Marvel was a desire to work with some classic characters on books that would be considered 'high-profile.' There is a lot of comics work out there that I have done for DC and other companies that nobody has seen, due to a lack of support from the publisher or low character-popularity. That can be tough when you put so much blood, sweat, and tears into something in order to be proud of it.
"I got the feeling from the guys at Marvel that we would work hard and make sure we tried to get great comics out there, while I got to draw some classic characters on books that would be promoted and collected into trade-paperbacks," Edwards continued. "I've been really impressed with the way Marvel has embraced the book market by realizing the importance of the trade-paperback collections. What finally got me onto
'Bullet Points' specifically was when Mark Paniccia was able to send me the scripts. He gave me the run-down on the writer and the story and then I was sold. On top of that, the story has a ton of stuff I enjoy drawing - like the original Iron Man, Spider-Man, rocketships, World War II, and a ton of 'period' stuff."
Edwards said he had to adjust his style slightly in order to properly depict the period he's working in on "Bullet Points." "I typically tweak my approach to fit the look and feel most fitting to the subject-matter at hand," Edwards explained. "Therefore, I may approach a 'Star Wars' book cover differently from a video game concept or a children's book differently from a storyboard job. All of my comics are drawn in ink, lettered on the board, scanned, and colored with Photoshop. I may put myself into a different mind-set while illustrating certain comics, though.
"For example - 'The Question' mini-series I did for DC had very 'line-driven' artwork." Edwards continued. "I saw the book as very modern, but grounded visually in the 1960s. Beyond the influence of Steve Ditko's source material, I turned to many illustrators of the era who worked in line. Guys like Al Parker, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, and Noel Sickles.
"'Bullet Points,' on the other hand, is approached with a different mind-set. Because of the story and genre, I'm seeing this series as more of an 'old-school' classic comic book, influenced by the source material of guys like Don Heck and Jack Kirby. Partly due to the WWII scenes, I've turned to Milt Canniff and Frank Robbins for inspiration. 'The Question' was rendered in 'open-line' with pens and nibs and markers. Bullet Points is drawn in 'mass,' primarily with a brush. Although the coloring methods are virtually the same on each book - yes, they do have separate vibes."
One of the vibes Edwards hopes to convey with his art on "Bullet Points" is a sense of realism. "The story jumps from Pearl Harbor, to a 1940s laboratory, to Guadalcanal, to nuclear tests in New Mexico, rocket launch sites, New York city, etc, etc. I've tackled the 1940s thru to the '60s in the first three issues," Edwards said. "Now I'll be getting into a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff of the 1970s. It's important to avoid 'fakery' while handling this stuff. You obtain that through use of reference materials and lots of research. If done successfully, it will really help sell characters like Hulk and Iron Man as real. So, I guess I partially want to convey a tone of authenticity. Beyond that, I want the reader to be in an adventurous mood while nodding back to the comics that inspired this whole series."
The classic Marvel comics that inspired "Bullet Points" were noteworthy because of their blending of epic and personal moments and the series is aiming for that same feel. "The personal stuff is my favorite," Edwards stated. "I enjoy putting 'acting' into the characters, and attempting to take their personalities further though posture, costume design, etc. That aspect of the book comes more naturally to me than the epic super-hero aspects. I really struggle with that stuff - especially the Hulk. It feels nice to have that challenge, though, and pushes me to grow as an artist."
"Bullet Points" is about the huge impact two prematurely ended lives have on the Marvel Universe and it's heroes, but readers of the series will still be able to recognize the classic Marvel characters. "There is actually not as much 're-design' as one would think in this book," Edwards explained. "Since the story is about classic characters having different destinies, I've tried not to deviate from the costumes and character traits we comics-fans all grew up with. Peter Parker is a very different kind of teenager now, having grown up without Uncle Ben. I draw him with much more of a James Dean air about him, rather than the dutiful book-worm. Iron Man gets tweaked a bit over 20 years or so to suit his new role in this Marvel Universe. Spider-Man gets slightly re-designed. Beyond subtle visual changes like that, I've tried to pay homage to stuff like the Hulk, the S.H.I.E.L.D. hellacarrier, costumes, and technology."
J Michael Straczynski's scripts for "Bullet Points" were written in a way that allowed Edwards to do the story and it's variety of elements justice. "In order for me to lay-out a comic and effectively tell the story, I need a full script," Edwards said. "I need to have all of the dialogue if I am going to fully execute the acting. John Workman (my letterer) and I always joke about working from a plot, with the writer going in later to add dialogue. It's like having a stage play with the actors moving around without direction and mouthing silent words. Then some guy has to come in and stick something in those empty spaces."
Accurately rendering all of the elements of "Bullet Points" has often been a difficult and time intensive task for Edwards. "Each issue gets more and more complex," he said. "Sometimes the most difficult thing can be the hours of work, and my brain becoming mush. Sometimes I think about how #5 is going to kick my ass."
"Bullet Points" may be a challenging bit of work for Edwards, but it's also been a very rewarding assignment. "I like sharing this book with my kids," Edwards stated. "My 8-year-old son Henry is really into the whole Iron Man & Hulk storyline. He's been my 'excitement gauge.' I grew up on Marvel stuff. And although I've been drawing comics professionally for nearly 15 years, it's really cool to get paid to draw 'Bullet Points.' I get to tackle Spider-Man, the FF, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Thor, Galactus, S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man, Dr.Strange and tons of other characters with this book."
Edwards hopes that fans of his art and fans of the comic stories that birthed many of Marvel's classic characters give "Bullet Points" a chance. "I hope fans of good-old-fashioned comics pick up Bullet Points," he said. "It's a lot of fun. I think it's some of my best comics illustration work, and I look forward to seeing it in print."
For more on "Bullet Points," read what J. Michael Straczynski has to say about the series.Discuss this story here on CBR's Marvel Comics Forum.