Starting out as a kid who drew a character called “Cyberfrog” for a small publisher, Ethan Van Sciver has gone on to pencil a successful run on “Impulse” and a one-shot on “The Flash: Iron Heights” for DC Comics. He also landed the job to handle fill-in art on Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” title and is setting his sights on a new “Morlocks” mini-series with celebrated writer Geoff Johns early next year.
Van Sciver recently took time out of his penciling duties to have a talk with CBR about his whirlwind rise from indie favorite “Cyberfrog” to working on one of the best-selling comics in the industry.
Keith Giles: Tell me about this new “Morlocks” book you’ve got planned.
Ethan Van Sciver: The “Morlocks” thing is something that Geoff Johns and I wanted to do after The Flash book we did. It’s very much uncharted territory. Most of what fans know about the Morlocks is what happened 10 years ago in the Mutant Massacre. That is what most people’s knowledge is based on. We want to present an alternate view of them. The thing about the Morlocks is that not every mutant is lucky enough to meet Chuck and live in the mansion. In fact, more often than not, if you’re a mutant, you’re really more likely to be homeless, jobless, treated poorly and probably end up living in the sewers.
We’re focusing on a group of Morlocks in the sewers of Chicago. The only familiar faces will be the pink and purple ones who rip the face off shopping malls to get to our heroes. These are the run down Sentinels here. This is last year’s model because we don’t want to waste our top of the line program to wipe out the Morlocks. We’re not wasting our good resources on them. It’s been written, I’ve got the script, but I’ve been buried under X-Men scripts so that one’s going to have to wait a while.
|The cover to New X-Men #123 by Van Sciver.|
KG: How did you get this “New X-Men” gig?
EVS: I didn’t mean to land this gig. I like to plan my projects at least one ahead so Geoff and I were discussing what to do next and we were going to go with “Flash” and do another prestige format, huge gigantic thing. But, at that time, I was reading what Quesada was doing at Marvel. Everyone was revved up about Marvel and the possibilities of doing something new and exciting. So, I called up Mark Powers over at Marvel. I showed him my stuff and I told him, “I’m happy at DC, but I wanted to see what I could get if I were to come over to Marvel.” So, he came back and offered me the “New X-men” book and I turned it down.
KG: Really? Why?
EVS: I turned it down twice! I was afraid of doing something so high profile because I’m the kind of guy who likes to take projects that no one expects too much from, like “Impulse” for DC, and knock them out of the park. When he came back with the X-Men book I was like, ‘Whoa!” I was thinking something like “Nightcrawler” you know? So, Mark and I spoke again about a week later and I said no again. Then Quesada shot me an email and said that this was a serious offer and that he thought I should do it. I was still hesitant because I’m still sort of a rookie. Only a handful of fans even know my name from “Cyberfrog.” Plus, you know, there’s a pretty short list of artists who should be doing the X-Men and I’m not on that short list of top artists who should be doing one of the top selling books in the industry. But, eventually I said yes and I’ve been loving it.
KG: What do you think of the first X-Men work you’ve done?
EVS: It’s not my best work, honestly, I think my second issue is better. I think like seven hours after it was out I was able to get online and see people’s reactions to it and most of it was pretty positive though. The thing about me I always try to up the ante a little bit. I feel like it’s going get better from here.
KG: What’s it like to work with someone like Grant Morrison?
EVS: It’s been awesome. You get his script and it’s great, but after he’s added his dialog and re-touched it, (in the final stages) it’s very, very cool. I actually wish I was working with Grant a little closer since he’s in Scotland. I’d love to be able to go over this stuff with him on a regular basis.
KG: What’s next for you after these fill-in issues of New X-Men?
EVS: I’ve got (issues) 117 to 120 of X-men and after that I’ll take on “The Morlocks.”
KG: Any other fill-in art in the future?
EVS: I don’t think I’ll be doing “Uncanny X-Men” work, that book looks pretty solid right now, but Grant’s book, yes. I just heard two weeks ago that I might have another X-Men script after issue 120, so “The Morlocks” will happen next year or so.
KG: Are there really major differences between working at DC and Marvel?
EVS: DC and Marvel both have completely different atmospheres. It was little adjustment for me here and there. I love DC and it was such a good experience working for them. One of the biggest differences right now is that Marvel is more into taking risks with their characters. DC is very stoic about their characters. And they should be. When your job is to tell stories about a character like Superman, I mean, he represents America at it’s finest, at least to me he does, and you have the responsibility to keep things at a certain level. They’re a lot more careful about taking risks. Although they let us take great risks with “The Flash: Iron Heights” book. We got away with more stuff than I ever thought we would. That was a gory book.
But, Marvel is like, “Hey, let’s re-interpret Spiderman’s origin,” “Let’s re-invent Captain America for a new generation” and they’re a lot more friendly to creators, open to their ideas and input.”
Another big difference is that Marvel gives you books after it ships and DC ships from the printer.
KG: So, with DC you’d get your books before they hit the stands and with Marvel you get them after they hit the stands?
EVS: Yep. I haven’t seen my copies of X-Men yet.
KG: Any characters or creators you’d like to work with in the future?
EVS: I’ve always wanted to work on “Power Pack.”
EVS: Everyone laughs when I say that. I guess it’s because my little brother didn’t read much in the way of comics but he loved that book. We’d just sit there and read comics together and he had an intense liking for this book. Maybe that’s the memory that I have talking. It was a very solid book with the artist in his prime. I’m not much into high profile characters. As I said, I’d like to do books that people aren’t expecting much from. At DC I love Plastic Man. I think people have a bad attitude about him. None of us are sure why he’s on that team (JLA). I’d like to bring that book back to a state that Jack Cole created. He was sort of a protégé of Will Eisner. He had an interesting life and eventually ended his own life after realizing his life-long dream, to be a comic book artist. Anyone who wants to read an interesting and innovative writer needs to check out Jack Cole’s Plastic Man stuff.
KG: Any plans to return to “Cyberfrog?”
EVS: “Cyberfrog” was a cult favorite. I wish I could go back and do more. I had a lot more people coming up to me with “Cyberfrog” stuff at The Cons. More than were coming up to me with “Impulse” or “Flash.” I see that and I realize that the fanbase is small, but those eight thousand people out there seem to like that book. I was 19, 20, 21 years old when I did “Cyberfrog” and I didn’t have any of the knowledge that I do now. To try to sort through that mess now would be difficult. Plus, Harris Comics still owns the rights to the character. It would be difficult to get that back from them and probably not very rewarding. Plus, there are so many other things, creator owned things that I want to do.
KG: Do you miss the freedom of the Indie comic scene?
EVS: There are a lot of Indie publishers and I love it that people go out and take a loan and start a comic company. You meet one of these guys and go out get them to publish it. (With “Cyberfrog”) I just shopped around at the local comic shops looking for the Indie Comics with the best production values and I called them up, sent out my stuff and talked them into publishing my book.
KG: Any words of advice for those Indie guys slaving away out there?
EVS: My only advice is to not spend any of your own money, ever! If it wasn’t Hall of Heroes for me it would’ve been another company. I hate to hear when someone is paying money to publish their work when there are people out there who will take that financial risk for you.
If you move into professional comics you’ll look back at the early stuff and say it’s the most fun you ever had. In the old days at Harris, Trent Kanuiga and I would do signings at the Elkhart, Indiana Fair. We’d be signing between the horses stables and the elephant ears, it was such fun.
KG: Now that comics is your full-time job, do you still love it as much as you did in the early days?
EVS: I absolutely love doing it. I wish I didn’t have to do it as oppressively as I do now. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I was turning in 20 or 30 pages every month because you would know it’s not your best work. There’s always something to prove and I’ve always got to stake my claim on my little corner of the comic book business. The only time I do regret working professionally is when I have pressure and they’re calling me to get pages in. I mean, you can be a guy like Frank Quitely, who is an unbelievable artist, under the pressure and strain of putting out a monthly 22 page comic, which is huge. I mean, the average comic book fans don’t understand, and it’s good that they don’t understand. I know it reads in 20 minutes, but it’s hard labor. Having to think about every gesture and background and it takes a long time to do a comic book that you read and then read again. But to put a guy like him (Quitely) under pressure and say “faster, faster, faster” is hard on a guy. I hate having to put out this many pages of product under pressure because that’s not good. It’s not that I’m a flake, it’s just hard, it just takes THAT LONG.
As long as I have an editor who will call me up and say “I caught this or that but it looks great and thank you” then I’m happy and I don’t want to be anywhere else.
When you’re doing “New X-men” and it’s doing 10 times what “Impulse” is doing, you get this broad even slice of readership. It seems like everyone reads that book, and you get people who love you and who hate you. You get a lot more feedback and you take a lot more from it. Believe me, I listen to feedback, even when it hurts my feelings. When they say, “you drew this wrong” or whatever I go back and look at it and next time I try even harder.
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