Locked and Loaded with Marvel's All-New Young Guns

In 2004, Marvel Comics announced its first Young Guns initiative, spotlighting some of the rising star artists working at Marvel. In April, Marvel launched a brand new initiative with six artists. When Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso made the announcement he said each new Young Gun possesses a very distinct and dynamic style, and a quick glance at their work shows this to be very true.

Alonso Reloads Marvel's "Young Guns" with New Round of Artists

The six artists are Mahmud Asrar, Nick Bradshaw, David Marquez, Sara Pichelli, Valerio Schiti and Ryan Stegman. Marvel Comics readers are no doubt familiar with some -- if not all -- of the artists considering they're already collectively working in every corner of every Marvel Universe, from "Ultimate Spider-Man" to "Guardians of the Galaxy" to "Inhuman" to the X-Men family of titles.

CBR News spoke with all six young guns in a roundtable discussion covering theirsix their current projects, thinking digitally, how they work and what they'd like to do next.

CBR News: Nick, you've drawn a range of genres on a range of titles -- from "Danger Girl" to "Army of Darkness" to "X-Men" -- but "Guardians of the Galaxy" is more science fantasy than super hero. How do you feel Guardians fits in with your style and your other work?

Nick Bradshaw: I like being imaginative on the fly in designing aliens and ships and crazy worlds. This book is all about that. And cosmic crackle everywhere! More than anything I just like the idea of playing in the cosmic Marvel pool. There's a lot of fun characters floating around out there. Hoping we see more of 'em on future issues.

You're working with Bendis, you're following Sara Pichelli, and there's a blockbuster movie version of "Guardians of the Galaxy." Are these things on your mind as you work?

Bradshaw: Nope, not at all. Aside from the characters incorporating the movie costume designs I feel that the book will be doing its own thing that the movies hopefully will take their cues from down the road.

Ryan, you're jumping onto "Inhuman," which is a huge series. How much are you thinking, it needs to look a little like Joe Mad, how much are you trying to echo a previous artist's take on the characters you like and how much is you trying to show off your own style and approach?

Stegman: I'm not thinking it needs to look like Joe Mad at all! Joe is a legend, and one of the reasons I draw comics. To try and draw anything like him would be a fool's errand.

Over the handful of years I've been doing this professionally I've come to realize that all you can be is yourself. And that that is a good thing. I want to see an artist's unique approach to whatever he/she is working on. That's what gets me excited about comics.

Having said that, Joe is an influence on my work and is deeply ingrained in my psyche, so I don't think our styles are so far apart that the transition will be jarring. It worked very similarly in "Superior Spider-Man." I don't draw like Humberto [Ramos] at all, but we have some similar sensibilities and so I felt that we worked well as a team.

How does that compare to something like Wolverine, which is a character everyone knows, because the Inhumans aren't as well known and now you're also creating new characters?

Stegman: It's great. When you're doing something like Wolverine you have to really fight yourself to figure out what you think about the character. The natural tendency is to think, "Oh man, remember when Marc Silvestri drew him and he did this, and Jim Lee drew him and did that, and Joe Mad drew him and did such and such" -- and that's the wrong approach as far as I'm concerned. The proper approach is to think, "What is this character to me? What are his/her motivations? What makes them who they are?"

So when you're creating new characters the only thing on your mind is "Who is this and what are they to me?" And you have none of the other stuff clouding your thought process. It's really engaging creatively.

You can kind of see an example of this in action as my take on Medusa sort of changes. Since I didn't create her, I kind of felt like at first I was copying the way Joe drew her. But as I've gone through I've sort of transitioned to a more personal take on her. Which you'll see more of in issue #5.

Valerio, people likely know you best from "Journey into Mystery" and I remember how much you seemed to love redesigning these old monsters. What has it been like putting your own take on the Avengers?

Valerio Schiti: One of the things I love the most is to draw characters in a little more personal way. It's not because I want to put something of mine in their appearance but because I like to use their appearance to show their personality and potential. The New Avengers are very iconic and there're not many things that an artist can change but I really enjoyed working on details. A different haircut, a new type of boots, a younger face can really make the difference and are surprisingly useful for storytelling. If Black Panther looks a little younger his responsibilities will appear bigger, if Namor is more cool and handsome we will clearly understand why he's also so self confident, and so on. I think that the "restyling" phase of such great characters is one of the most amazing parts of this job.

There have been a lot of great artists on the Avengers, but juggling a large cast in books can certainly be a struggle. How has it been finding your style and approach on it? Is there a model you have or some run you look to as a guide star?

Schiti: I have a lot of guiding stars, hundreds actually! I really love the work of many great artists for many different reasons. I envy Olivier Coipel's ability to make characters original and impressive, Stuart Immonen's style and power, the way Alan Davis draws anatomy, Bryan Hitch's storytelling -- As I told you, there're too many influences. The hardest part is trying not to be overwhelmed by all these amazing references and simply let them flow through you, as much as possible. I read and assimilate a lot of comic books, but I always try to keep my pages fresh, drawing my layouts without looking at other artist's books. At the end of this process I don't know if my style, my storytelling and my pages are really personal and original, but I swear to you that I tried very hard!

Mahmud, obviously the X-family of books are huge, and have always been a huge showcase for artists and a showcase for artists to really make it their own. Is there an artist or a run that was influential for you?

Mahmud Asrar: One of the most influential things on my work is the run Claremont and Byrne had on "Uncanny X-Men." I've adored John Byrne's work ever since and it has played a role in me wanting to do this for a living. I guess that's as big as it gets considering influence. In that sense, I've always had a soft spot for drawing X-Men and now it's my turn. So it's a huge pleasure.

A team book with a big cast is often harder for artists because it's more lines but also it's hard to give the book your style and approach because of all the characters and I'm curious what drawing "All-New X-Men" has been like for you so far?

Asrar: I didn't expect it to be but it's a very big challenge indeed. The cast being so large makes it hard to focus on certain things and it makes it harder to tell the story in a more interesting way. I am one to welcome new things and challenges. After all, how are we to move forward if we don't explore the challenges we face.

David, you're drawing a book that is very unique just because it's been defined by very few artists and one writer and I'm curious what it's like to come in as a relative newcomer to be a part of that?

Marquez: Working on "Ultimate Spider-Man" has been incredibly challenging, specifically for the reasons you mention. I've been both intimidated and inspired by the incredible artists who've come before me on the book, but I've also looked at as a challenge to really do the best job I can on every issue. All in all it's been an incredible opportunity that I'm incredibly grateful for.

How are you trying to make the series look different from the previous volumes either in your style, how you approach it and to make the book and the new status quo your own?

Marquez: I'm always trying to challenge myself, and the new "Miles Morales" title has given me an opportunity to really try to stretch my wings artistically. I'm trying to bring some new elements into the drawings -- a greater attention to detail, some interesting textural treatments, as well as an overall edgier vibe to my rendering. I'm also trying a lot of new things with the page design and layouts. It's always a risk to stretch out of one's comfort zone, but I don't think there's any artist out there who wants to grow complacent with their craft. Not everything will necessarily land perfectly, but that's just part of the process and I'm having a ton of fun getting to experiment with my art on this series.

Sara, you've worked on a lot of different projects, whether Spider-man, Guardians of the Galaxy and others, I'm curious what genre you like and what you think your style is best suited for?

Sara Pichelli: I've always thought the sci-fi genre was something I never wanted to work on, but when I was asked to work on "Guardians of the Galaxy" I found myself having so much fun! After this experience, I would say that it's possible to find something interesting and challenging in every genre. The important part is working on great stories.

But if I have to pick, I would love to work on a fantasy book -- not "Lord of the Rings" kind -- with a Guillermo Del Toro flavor. I love creating new worlds, like visionary ones in the movie "Pan's Labyrinth" or "Hellboy," "Sandman," etc.

What do you like about working with Brian Bendis and why do you think the two of you work well together? Pichelli: I love working with Brian, since the very first script. I get immediately what's the intention behind the words. When I read his scripts, I imagine right away how the sequences have to look like, I already can feel the rhythm of the storytelling and timing of action.

Do you work digitally? And do you think about the digital reading experience for people, which is something that artists never had to think about until very recently?

Bradshaw: I worked digitally in gaming for 5 years and I can see the benefit for comics work as being more efficient. Myself, one of the reasons I came back to comics was to inflame my love affair with paper, pencils, inks and such. As for the new interface of digital? I have a more animated style, even on "Guardians" I am incorporating a cleaner more solid look to the lines. [Justin] Ponsor just knows how to rock the colors, I am comfortable that my work has a brighter aesthetic on the screen as much as it does on the paper. I tend to find artists that have a more cinematic approach to their storytelling find their books on my iPad -- Even though I still buy a lot of trades and floppies.

Stegman: I pencil digitally and ink traditionally. I like to be able to adjust things a lot as I build up the page from scratch so that I can really get the compositions just how I want them. I haven't quite gotten the hang of inking digitally yet and I'm not sure I want to. I really enjoy doing that part traditionally. It's very relaxing and interesting to me.

I do think about the digital reading experience because I mostly read my comics digitally now. But there aren't many things that I don't think translate well, especially since we have high-definition iPads now. The only thing that bugs me is double page spreads. But hey, they look so cool in print that I'm not sure I'm willing to give them up just yet.

Schiti: My pages are 100% digital at the moment, no paper is involved in the creative process, except for some little doodles that I do before starting with the proper page. I really love this technique and I'm amazed by the possibilities and the millions of new and original styles that the digital tools can offer.

I'm also a great fan of digital comics, I really think that they can help to make the comic industry stronger. They're easier to collect and to buy from every part of the world at the same time and, among other things, they're also a good resource to keep pace with the new releases, for example for a professional like me that lives in a foreign country. Howard Chaykin said that comics should have rhythm, just like music, and pages and panels are the core of that rhythm. Cool thing about some kind of digital comics, like web comics or Marvel's Infinite Comics is that there're no pages so there's a brand new rhythm and a new kind of storytelling to explore for comic artists. Some people could be afraid of that but I think that this is still an underrated way of creating comics and that in time it can only enlarge the market and create new amazing comics.

Asrar: I currently do my layouts digitally. It saves me a lot of time in arranging compositions. Although I do everything else by hand I think the layout stage is probably the most important stage of creating a comic page. I do occasionally use other digital tools to assist my work at times but almost the entirety of my work is on paper.

As for thinking about the reading experience -- I feel that a comic and comic book storytelling is actually defined by how panels are arranged on pages. So, I'm not an advocate of comics being read as single panels at a time on a screen which in turn means I don't actually worry too much about it when I'm producing pages.

I do appreciate it being offered as a reading option though. One thing that should be considered is horizontal layouts which seems to work very nicely for digital comics. On that regard, I think we might see more digital comics or print comics considering this format. Marquez: I do work digitally for most of my interior work, though I still do covers and splash pages traditionally. It's nice to get a little messy with the art every now and then! But, given that I'm pencilling and inking a monthly title, the speed of my digital workflow really has become a necessity. And I really like the versatility that the digital toolset provides -- I'm always discovering new techniques to apply to my art, and that sense of creative adventure and exploration is really important to me. Regarding the digital reading experience, I think it's a great thing. Obviously I grew up reading comics on paper, and I'll never really lose my love for that, but the convenience and quality of digital comics is incredible. There was a time when, if your local comic store sold out of a comic, you'd be SOL until the trade came out. But now, if you can't find the physical comic, you can always hop online and buy the digital version. This has even happened to me in a few cases, and I can't imagine ever going back to the old way of doing things.

Pichelli: I'm a curious person. The first time I saw someone using digital in art was during my experience as character designer for animation. It was faster, comfortable and fun that's why I started working digitally. Back then (2008-2009) few comic book artists were working digitally as I did, but now I think it's become pretty common. So digital reading will work the same to me. If people will feel more comfortable with this new kind of support, it naturally will spread.

What are you working on now -- to the extent you can say anything?

Bradshaw: I am working on "Guardians" still. As for what's on my desk at the moment -- it's a big action sequence and let's say the lady involved is absolutely marvelous!

Stegman: Well, today I am penciling a page with a brand new character that is so new that Charles [Soule] and I haven't even named her yet. [Laughs] When I first got this gig I took a week and thought about some new characters and she was the first idea I sent to Charles and he dug it. The first script I got from him had her in the background in shadows. I was blown away that he was that receptive to the idea and incorporated it so quickly. So hopefully she sticks around for a long time. 

Schiti: I'm working on the last book of my run of "New Avengers," with Jonathan Hickman and I have the great honor to show readers one of the most waited moments of this series: the battle between New Avengers and the Great Society. There're two teams, two Earths and just one of them can survive, in some sense that's the core of this series. Obviously I can't and I don't want to spoil anything because I hate spoilers, but believe me when I say that you can't absolutely imagine what's coming! Just one hint: I'm really having a great fun drawing Stephen Strange!

Asrar: Just finished a cover for the book I've just moved on to. Also just started on the pages on said book so it's pretty exciting. I'm happy to say I'm still in the X-stable and this is one of the biggest things I've ever done.

Marquez: As readers have seen in issue #4, the original Spider-Man is back! (Or is he?) The smackdown between Miles, Peter (or is it?) and Osborn continues, and the secrets behind both the mysterious spider-twin super-thieves and Katie Bishop are slowly unveiling. Lots and lots of exciting stuff on the horizon!!

Pichelli: I can't tell anything, so I won't do an X-ception for you!

Let's say next year, Axel Alonso comes to you and asks what do you want to do next -- what's your answer?

Bradshaw: Ha! I'd say "Thrill Me."

Stegman: In a perfect world I would get to write and draw something myself. Or maybe co-write something. Or at least pitch to co-write something. I want that experience. I've always loved writing and it's something I want to do in the future.

Barring that, I need to do some Thor at some point. And more Spider-Man. And create a billion more characters!

Schiti: I'd say Spider-Man. Always Spider-Man, absolutely Spider-Man and forever Spider-Man. It was my dream when I was a kid so I can't choose a different character. Actually, after that, my career would be a bit empty, without a real purpose, so probably I should have answered: "All-New Howard the Duck!"

Asrar: That's funny because right now I'd probably actually pick the book I've just started doing. One other book I'd like to do sometime down the line would be a Thor book steeped in Norse and Viking mythology.

Pichelli: Axel: "Sara, since Stuart Immonen is too busy, because he's probably one of the best artists in the world, would you do 'Nextwave 2?'"

Me: "Let me think abou -- YES! YES!"

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on all of Marvel Young Guns.

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