Ironically, Bryan Hitch was running late.
The superstar artist hustled into his own spotlight at the New York City Comic Con on Friday, slightly late and deeply apologetic. Hosted by Marvel Editor John Barber, who worked with Hitch extensively on "The Ultimates," the spotlight was an overview of Hitch's career from his point of view, and a chance for fans to ask Hitch questions.
Hitch's first professional job as an artist was for Marvel UK's "Action Force" - the European version of the GI Joe franchise. Hitch got the gig when he was just sixteen years old.
"Why they hired me, I have no idea," said Hitch, "I assume they were drunk."
Hitch had grown up spending all his time copying comics and drawing, but he realized as soon as he was dropped head first into the role of professional artists that he had a lot to learn. Nearly everything, by his account, since he was a dreadful artist at that time in his career.
It could have gone much differently, since before he got his first job as an artist he was on a very different career path.
"Well, originally, I was in seminary, studying to be a priest," said Hitch.
Hitch had always known that he was going to draw comics, but it took sometime before he realized he needed to leave the seminary. He told the crowd about telling the headmaster he was leaving the seminary.
"Apart from wanting to do comics, I also have a fundamental lack of belief in God," the young Hitch told him.
"My dear boy," replied the headmaster, "what does believing in God have to do with a career in the church?"
Hitch managed to make a career of comics, but he was continually frustrated by the way it went. Alan Davis, whose work Hitch's early art resembled, advised him that his art would be better served working for American publishers.
Hitch floated from gig to gig, taking over the art duties on "She Hulk" after John Byrne left, some work in the X-Men universe, and general journey artist work. Just before he got his big break, working with Warren Ellis on "Stormwatch" and then "The Authority," he was ready to give up on a career in comics entirely to try to pursue film and commercial work.
In fact, he took the job on the last few issues of "Stormwatch" specifically to bankroll the time he would need to make the transition into a new career. But then he met Warren Ellis.Pencils from Brian Hitch's Fantastic Four
"It was like a lighting bolt."
Working with Ellis, a writer who really knew how to work with an artist, provided the frisson to take Hitch's work to the next level. They were totally in synch, something that happens rarely but tends to produce the best kind of results.
Hitch's work on the "Stormwatch" got him immediately noticed by the industry, and various people were keen on working with him including writer Scott Lobdell, best known for his X-Men work. Which may have been responsible for "The Authority."
"When I mentioned it to Warren on the phone he said 'I can't do it, I can't let you work with Scott Lobdell,'" Hitch said.
"The Authority" went on to be hugely popular, and Hitch's trademark realistic and hyper detailed style, along with the 'widescreen' approach, came to be incredibly influential for the style of comics in the new century.
"Justice League of America," his follow up to "The Authority," should have been a perfect fit, with the god-like characters and the skill of writer Mark Waid behind it.
"On paper, Mark Waid and I worked really well, but we never got that lightning bolt you get when you're really in synch," said Hitch.
The run was hampered by fill in artists and wasn't considered a success by Hitch. After that, he was, as he put it, aggressively wooed by Crossgen, but a call from Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada changed everything.
"Joe called and basically said 'the lunatics are running the asylum, come and play with us'," said Hitch.
This phone call lead to him being paired with Mark Millar, whose career had also blossomed as a result of a run on "The Authority." They were teamed up for a book in Marvel's then new Ultimate universe, doing a new version of the Avengers.
Initially, Hitch was absolutely convinced that they needed to call the book "Ultimate Avengers," which Quesada was against, pointing out that 'they ain't avenging anything'.
"I spent a long time writing a very complicated email," Hitch said, "by the end of which I'd talked myself out of the name"
"Ultimates" was a high point in Hitch's career, but it also proved to be the most testing assignment he's had to date. The delays on the book have become legendary, a confluence of various factors at work. Hitch had children and several moves during the course of the title's first series. but most of the delays came down to his approach to the book. He often drew more, much more, that Millar had scripted.
"Mark would write a twenty two page comic and I would take it to thirty eight pages," said Hitch.
While this would make for a better book, it wasn't especially conductive to getting a book out on time. Added to that was a level of stage fright; they hadn't expected a whole lot out of the book and when it proved to be a huge smash it put a great deal of pressure on Hitch.
Eventually, "Ultimates" would become, as Hitch put it "a hard slog", and he was filled with dread about doing the work, leading to him blanking out on pages, having no idea what to draw. The stress of it was obvious from everything Hitch said during the panel, and was it pretty clear that doing "The Ultimates" took a lot out of him. It's only been recently that he was able to look at the book with any kind of positive view.
In fact, Hitch was so burned out by the first run of "The Ultimates" that it took a great deal of persuading by Mark Millar to get him to do another thirteen issue run on the book. Despite that, he and Millar have one more big Ultimates story they'd like to tell, although if they ever do it, it won't be anytime soon.
Hitch and Millar have moved onto a run on Marvel's "Fantastic Four", which has been a much better, much more fun experience for Hitch. He's changed up his drawing methods, drawing on a page roughly twice the size of the marvel standard, which has allowed him to speed up his process.
After talking with Hitch about his career, John Barber opened the floor up for questions. The first question was whether Hitch would ever like to work with Garth Ennis. It turns out that Hitch was offered "Kev," an Authority project which Ennis eventually did with Glenn Fabry, but it was a very Garth project and Hitch didn't believe there was much he could bring to the table.
Another fan asked whether Hitch would ever work with DC again. Hitch replied that he would love to work with DC, and he would really like to do his take on Superman or Green Lantern, although he thought Ivan Reiss, the current artist, was phenomenal. Hitch would also love another crack at JLA to do it the way he wanted to do it the first time. However, he's very happy at Marvel and has years left on his contract, so it may be a while, if ever, before he gets the chance to work on any of those.
Asked what his dream projects were, Hitch's response was simple.
Hitch and Millar have an X-Men project they'd love to do, and he would love to do Spider-Man with Joss Whedon as the writer, though Whedon has all the comic writing he can handle right now. He really like to do Thor, but current artist Oliver Coipel has really done such a remarkable job that there'd be no point.
"I couldn't do it better than Oliver. I could do it differently, but not better," said Hitch.
Hitch was also asked to expand on his new style of working big, and what changes that entailed.
"It's interesting. When you work big, you need thicker thicks and thinner thins, otherwise they all look the same when reduced," said Hitch. He would recommend it to anyone else, but it's allowed him to ink with a brush, as well as using the flat edge of pencil, which has allowed him to work faster.
Hitch was also asked to compare his two most famous and frequent collaborators, Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. They both have similar ways of telling stories, yet their actual writing styles are nothing alike. Ellis, in particular, is good at asking for something big and complicated but balancing it out with something simple, allowing the artists to keep pace.
Millar, on the other hand, 'Asks for everything, every time.'
Another fan asked how Hitch learned to draw comics. Hitch said that storytelling was innate, something the he had from his earliest days, but the actual drawing was the result of lots of hard work.
"From age seven or eight all did was lay on the floor and copy comics by Jim Aparo and Jerry Ordway.," Hitch said.
After that, he fielded a few more questions and wrapped up the spotlight, spending a bit of time afterwards to talk to fans.
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