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ISLAND HOPPING: Doe talks “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte”

by  in Comic News Comment
ISLAND HOPPING: Doe talks “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte”
“Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte” one-shot on sale in December

This December, Marvel Comics’ premier team of explorers, the Fantastic Four, will find adventure and excitement in an unfamiliar locale. No, not some newly discovered alien dimensiom, but the island of Puerto Rico in “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte,” a new one-shot by writer Tom Beland (“True Story Swear to God”) and artist Juan Doe that sees Marvel’s first family going after the mythical El Chupacabras. CBR News spoke with the man in charge of depicting the FF’s island vacation, artist Juan Doe, about the intriguing one-shot that will be published in both English and Spanish.

When Doe learned Marvel was in search of a penciller for “Isla de la Muerte” at last years New York Comic Con, he knew he had to be the one to bring the one-shot to life. “The FF traveling to Puerto Rico to fight El Chupacabras was just too much,” Juan Doe told CBR News. “I couldn’t believe that such a project would be allowed, in fact it sounded like something that I would’ve come up with as an off-shoot to my humor, which has been known to be bizarre. In that instance I knew that I was the one who was going to execute this book. I had zero doubts about that. Most of the decisions I make in the realm of art are usually preceded by powerful signs, this one was off the charts.”

Doe began his efforts to land the “Isla de la Muerte” assignment by contacting editors Stephen Wacker and Alejandro Arbona. “I indicated that I wanted to be considered as the artist for the project, and by that I meant that I wanted to handle the full art duties,” Doe explained. “Over the next couple of months I did a series of FF sketches followed by some color comps that made progressive impressions as time went on. It finally reached a crescendo where all the parties involved felt that this was something I could do and they officially offered me the assignment. It was quite exciting since up to that point my experiences in comics were strictly in the realm of cover work. Although I had no body of sequential work, I knew very well what I was capable of and welcomed the opportunity.

Page from Spanish version of “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte”

“When I got [Tom Beland’s] script it pretty much took off from there,” Doe continued. “The initial impetus for me was that it was a good old fashioned, monster-movie type of adventure story starring the iconic Fantastic Four and taking place in the land where my father was born. It really resonated for me on many levels and has since afforded me one of the most tremendous experience I’ve had making art.”

After reading the script, Doe’s next step was developing what the FF’s adventures in Puerto Rico would look like. ” I had never executed a sequential project so the question of style was completely up in the air,” Doe said. “Eventually, as I kept sketching and sketching a ‘look’ started to formalize. I was very conscious of certain things I wanted to do. I wanted a classic feel to the characters; I knew that color was the key to the project. I also understood that this book wasn’t going to be drawn in the traditional sense or in traditional stages — pencils, inks, colors; it would be a free for all of composing.

“And so it went, after going through over 1,000 pages of sketching, the pages started to emerge. The process in my laboratory was quite dramatic. In the early stages, I showed some of the work to a great confidant of mine who suggested that it looked like Disney on steroids. Since I have always been an animation connoisseur I took that as an extreme compliment and I believe it formulated a loose definition in terms of what I was trying to execute. I make no bones about the influence of animation in my work. It has always been a powerful presence for me so I approached the book as if I was animating these characters to jump off the pages.”

While illustrating “Isla de la Muerte,” Doe discovered many new artistic opportunities that lent themselves to his idiosyncratic techniques. “Since the story has about six different settings over 38 pages, it afforded a great opportunity to delve into a variety of backgrounds and different ways of executing them, usually emphasizing the scenes in pure color,” Doe explained. “From the ultra hi-tech architecture and structure of the Baxter Building to the underground caves and tropical rain forests of Puerto Rico, there was ample opportunity to distinguish each setting on to its own.

Page from Spanish version of “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte”

“Another interesting technique I enjoyed employing was digitally inking Sue, Johnny and Reed, while Ben was completely inked by hand,” Doe continued. “It was in fact a metaphorical cipher for myself, to emphasize what Ben feels he is, which is ugly and organic while the perception is that the rest of the FF is ultra-perfect… although a nondescript approach, it helped me realize certain characteristics each character has which overall helped establish everyone’s particular look.”

To help correctly establish the look of Marvel’s first family, Doe examined the work of those who came before him. “I must preface this by saying that there would obviously be no Fantastic Four without Jack Kirby,” Doe stated. “As research for my role I read almost every single Stan Lee & Jack Kirby ‘Fantastic Four’ issue ever made. Then I made my way through the whole John Byrne and Walt Simonson era, finally ending with the Mike Wieringo run on ‘FF.’ Sadly, Mike passed on as I was in the middle of the book and it really galvanized for me what it was I was doing. The level of respect and appreciation I have for Mr. Wieringo made me very emotional in realizing what I was doing. I had to pay respect to those who came before me and laid down the tracks of these great characters.”

Naturally, the heroes of “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte” have a clearly established look that allows for only so much experimentation, but Juan Doe was able to design and play with a number of other characters in the book, like the monstrous Chupacabras. “I wanted to create a chupacabra that would resonate with the almost absurd [typical] depictions of the creatures, but give it some backbone,” Doe explained. “We’re working with the idea that these creatures aren’t aliens or monsters but simply an undiscovered species that earthlings have yet to properly understand. I liked the idea that these creatures could have been around for eons and that they very well could be the genesis for such myths like trolls or demons. That grounded the characters for me and I was able to design a chupacabra that could look scary but visually interesting at the same time.”

Page from Spanish version of “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte”

It was the old-fashioned-style fun and adventure elements in Tom Beland’s script for “Isla de la Muerte” that Doe found most intersecting and exciting. “Tom obviously has a fondness for the charm that comics used to illicit and that is something that appeals deeply with me,” remarked Doe. “It was the element that drove my art. I wanted the look to be reflective of the script, colorful, fun but with a hint of edge, I’m reminded of ‘The Goonies’ or Indiana Jones [films]. In either case, Tom writes the characters with a lot of sympathy, they don’t sound like obtuse superheroes, they sound just like you and me and deal with the same issues we all deal with on a daily basis. That’s what appealed to me most, the humanity the characters displayed and the way they interacted with each other — undoubtedly like a family.”

Being his first fully completed comic book, “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte” has of course proven the most fun and fulfilling projects Doe has worked on. “I’ve put every ounce of myself in the book,” the artist said. “I tried to honorably follow the masters before me and feel that I’ve done everything possible to bring this story to life. To be able to illustrate many of the landmarks that I went to with my family in Puerto Rico was thrilling. To realize some of my favorite comic book characters growing up was exhilarating, to realize that they’re both in the same story is incredible.”

For more on “Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte” and to read some pages in English, check out our interview with writer Tom Beland, and for more of Juan Doe’s artwork, our friends at MySpace Comic Books have even more preview pages in both English and Spanish, with introductions by Tom Beland and editor Alejandro Arbona.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Marvel Comics forum.

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