Marcos Martin Covers Marvel's 70th Birthday

In celebration of its 70th anniversary, Marvel Comics commissioned sensational Spanish artist Marcos Martin ("Dr Strange: The Oath") to contribute variant covers for a series of one-shot specials that have been rolling out since mid-April. His latest creation is this week's cover of "Captain America" #50.

In 1939, no doubt in response to the unwavering popularity of Superman, Martin Goodman founded Timely Publications - the predecessor to first Atlas and then Marvel Comics. His initial offering was, in fact, called "Marvel Comics" and the first issue was released October 1939. The book featured the first appearance of the Carl Burgos-created Human Torch, who was then an android superhero, and Paul Gustavson's costumed detective The Angel. "Marvel Comics" also contained the first generally available appearance of Bill Everett's mutant anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner.

According to researcher Keif A. Fromm, after selling out 80,000 copies, an additional 800,000 second edition reprints were sold. "Marvel Comics" was retitled "Marvel Mystery Comics" for the second issue, which was released in December 1939.

Both Namor and the Human Torch are present on Martin's tribute cover for "Marvel Mystery Comics Special" #1, released last month. For inspiration, Martin looked back to the time of World War II and the visionary work of artists like American graphic designer Lester Beall and Ukranian-French painter Adolphe Mouron Cassandre.

CBR News checked in with the artist to discuss his passion for the project, his life-long love of Marvel Comics, and his next big anniversary offering -- working with the legendary Stan Lee on "Amazing Spider-Man" #600.

CBR: Are you a long time fan of Marvel's heroes?

MARCOS MARTIN: Yes, I've been reading Marvel comics ever since I was four or five. I'm talking about the late 1970s but the publishing schedule in Spain was a bit chaotic, so I was fortunate enough to grow up reading the original Lee, Kirby and Ditko comics from the 1960s.

Who is your favorite character?

I'd like to be cool and say some obscure character like Captain Ultra or Aquarian but I'm afraid I'd really have to go for a much more prosaic choice like Spider-man or the Fantastic Four, maybe. Actually, I spent such a large part of my young life reading Marvel comics I feel comfortable with almost all of the classic characters, even the secondary or lesser known.

But yeah, definitely not Captain Ultra.

Your work is immediately distinctive. Can you articulate what sets you apart?

A constant struggle. No, actually I'm afraid I can't. I think nowadays most types of artwork are usually defined according to the rendering, the most superficial aspect of drawing, something I don't necessarily agree with. If I were to define my style according to that in a simple and clear way I'd probably use a term like "superheroic naturalism," which encompasses almost everyone in the mainstream superhero industry, so it's probably not really helpful. And that doesn't even take into account other key elements to a comic artist's work like structure, composition, design, storytelling, etc.

So yes, a struggle.

The 70th anniversary covers have the feel of the old World War II propaganda posters. Was that something you were going for? What else did you use as inspiration?

Absolutely, although I didn't want the covers to be imitations or "homage's" to those old posters. Rather, my initial idea was to adapt the graphic design of the 1940s, outside comic books, to our comic book parameters and use it as the springboard to achieving a combination of modernity with a classic feel. The basic premise is to try to recover the principles of design back in the 1940s - composition, typography and color - and use them to create a message with a strong visual impact.

Also, my proposal was originally thought as a conceptual template for other artists to work from. By using flat, solid colors and very strong typographies for all of them and a monochromatic treatment for the drawings we were establishing a distinct look under the same visual concept no matter how different the colors, compositions, typographies and artistic drawing styles were from each other.

Unfortunately, by the time I got these over to [editor] Steve [Wacker] it was too late since a different cover design had already been approved and covers had already been commissioned. However, the guys at Marvel liked this enough to turn the idea into variant covers and I ended up doing them all with the invaluable help of the legendary letterer/designer Todd Klein. His work and input is vital to successfully getting these to work since I'm no graphic designer and have no experience in working with typographies. He really deserves half of the credit on all these.

Lester Beall, Alexey Brodovitch, Adolphe Mouron Cassandre or Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko are some of the obvious choices for inspiration. And I've also found some of the contemporary social posters from Andrew Louis Design to be very helpful.

Do you a favorite amongst the covers in the series?

So far, in terms of composition, design and impact value I'd probably have to say the "Human Torch" cover. But I'm also attracted to the less conventional approach of the "Sub-Mariner" one.

And the "USA Comics" sketch worked really well, I think. But ironically, it's the only one that can' be used because the characters have nothing to do with what I had imagined back when I first drew it.

Was there much input from the writers and artists who are creating the specials like James Robinson, Roy Thomas and Scott Wegener?

Not at all, I'm afraid. I submitted the layouts for most of these back in November and they were really just done as examples to show what could be done with the concept. So they're just strong, iconic shots that are really supposed to work from a composition and design aspect rather than story-based.

Can you share some details about your next "Amazing Spider-Man" story?

Nothing much other than it will probably be a three-part story arc featuring Mysterio and written by the amazing Dan Slott. And I'm currently working on a short Stan Lee story for "Amazing Spider-Man" #600. Something I must admit feels a bit unreal sometimes.

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