When the thirteen Artifacts of the Top Cow Universe are assembled together, bad stuff is bound to happen. Championing the cause of catastrophe is Ron Marz, the writer and architect of Top Cow’s critically acclaimed “Artifacts” event series, and he’s not alone in his efforts: illustrator Michael Broussard has committed his talents to the first four issues of the series, and when his work is finished, another gifted artist will take his place in the form of Whilce Portacio.
Portacio’s involvement as the second artist on “Artifacts” was announced last week, and CBR News reached out to the Image Comics co-founder for his thoughts on joining the “Artifacts” team, what fans can expect from his arc, his views on the art of storytelling and why he thinks that now is a great time to join the Top Cow herd.
CBR News: Whilce, how did you get involved with “Artifacts” in the first place?
Whilce Portacio: Actually, it’s a very long, drawn out thing. I can almost trace it back to a convention/vacation we had in Calgary where I met [Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik and managing editor Phil Smith], and ever since then, we’ve been talking and talking and trying to figure out schedules and everything to get me to do some Top Cow stuff.
I’ve done small things for Top Cow every now and then, and what I really love about them is that they seem to really, really care. I mean, look. Filip Sablik is really up there, right? And [Top Cow president Matt Hawkins], he’s up, up there, and Phil himself. They all worry with me and for me: “Here are the colors. What do you think? Here are the inks. What do you think? Do we need to do anything here? Here’s the plot. I want to make sure that you and [‘Artifacts’ writer Ron Marz] are talking.” They seem to really, really care and really, really give time and devotion to how the book is going to come out.
That’s actually my best memories of the Image days – I remember back in the day when we were putting “Wetworks” out that we worried about the paper. We would make sure we would have proofs a week before the book went to print so that we could make general adjustments at the printer itself. Every time the paper changed, which seemed to be like every six months, we’d try out the paper. Nowadays, everything seems to be so automatic. Just let it go out there and see what happens. But Top Cow still to this day really cares. So, when “Artifacts” first came up, I had just signed up to do a couple of [“Uncanny X-Men” issues] and had to put it off, but we got this opening and that tied in with the fact that these guys really care, I said, well, we’ve got to make this happen.
Plus, for a while, I’ve kind of wanted to go back to my roots of doing slam, bam action, the really hardcore stuff. The way that Ron pitched this to me was that this set of issues, this arc, we’re basically labeling it as the clash between the tech side of the Top Cow Universe against the supernatural side. I love doing tech because I love the futuristic stuff, and as my career shows, I love the dark side of things. So this was the perfect arc for me. When Filip got Ron and I together at San Diego Comic-Con to hammer it out, it’s like I didn’t even really need anything hammered out. I already respected Ron and I knew he could do what he needs to do. When Ron asked me, “Well, how do you want me to tailor it for you?” I said, “Do what you do. Just make it great. The basic premise and the synopsis is exactly up my alley – just pour it on, and I’ll step up and play.”
Top Cow, especially with this arc that you’ve got coming up as you described it, really has both the supernatural and technological angles in spades. You have Witchblade in one corner and Cyberforce in another, for example. Is that part of the appeal for you as a creator, hopping into something where you can kind of scratch multiple creative itches?
Yeah, yeah, and another thing is, one of my rants is that I’m really thrilled that all of the other genres and all of the other companies and all of the other entertainment stuff are merging with comics, especially with movies and stuff. I’m really thrilled with that, but one trend I’m not too thrilled about is how a lot of people seem to be tailoring down, so to speak, their stories so that it’ll be easier to raise a budget for a movie. For me, comics have always been Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It’s always been over the top. We don’t have a budget, per se, to have to think about. If I want an earthquake, there’s an earthquake. If I want to decimate ten city blocks, ten city blocks go down. I’ve always enjoyed and loved and had the best time doing huge, over the top type stories, and especially with the mix that they have at Top Cow where they have both sides of the spectrum, they can do whatever they want. They don’t seem to care if it looks like what we’re doing movie-wise would be a $300 million budget. That’s what they have done from the very beginning, and I think it’s from the old Image days.
While “Artifacts” is certainly a huge, sprawling event where the thrust is getting these thirteen Artifacts together to possibly destroy the world, at the center of it is a story about a little girl whose gone missing and her parents attempts to find her. Did that emotional hook appeal to you as well?
Yeah – the core of a real good film, as opposed to my rant about making the budgets come down, a really good hardcore movie has an over-the-top, epic and huge story, but it has an emotional hook to get a regular person in. That’s the secret to huge, epic stories. You can get as crazy and complex as you want to, as long as the basic core story is a son trying to get to know his dad or a lost love. As long as there’s something that everyone can relate to, it doesn’t matter what the context is and it doesn’t matter what the location is, you know?
That was the power of “Star Wars.” Imagine that: the first time a filmmaker was going to ask a huge audience to think about all of these futuristic concepts, but there were so many little core stories in there of a son looking for his long lost dad, the little farm boy wanting to be bigger and better, the little boy who has a crush on a beautiful princess. Every major character in there had a core story of their own, and that’s the secret to a really good story. When you look at the top, big comic books and graphic novels in our history, that’s the core of it all.
“Artifacts” includes just about every character that the Top Cow Universe has to offer, and it’s a very big universe. Are there any particular characters that you’re excited to tackle?
From a guy’s perspective, the biggest draw is the girls – any one of them, really. [Laughs] Other than that, it’s pretty even for me. One of the things I think Marc has constantly instigated throughout Top Cow’s history is his innate design sense. Regardless of whether you love or like Marc’s stuff, you get bowled away just by the design. You can see that throughout the whole universe, so it makes for a universe where I can’t name right now a character that looks boring. This is an artist that came from a generation where, whenever you came on a new book, like Marvel back in the day, as an artist you were given leeway to fiddle around with the costumes; it was just automatic, you didn’t have to ask permission. Here, I can’t see where I want to play, you know? I just see cool [designs]. The best compliment I can give is that I look at a lot of throwaway characters and I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that one?”
This is going to be fun in that I’m going to look at these designs, and I’ll be looking at the artist who best carried these designs – and I don’t care what anybody else will tell you,
On a related note, obviously this book is being broken up into different art teams: Michael Broussard is on the first four issues, you have the next four, and the remaining artists are unannounced right now. Is there anything that you’re doing to kind of honor the look that Michael has established at the beginning of “Artifacts,” or have you pretty much been told to just go ahead and do what you think looks best?
When they approached me, what I wanted to do at that moment was what I was talking about a little bit earlier: I wanted to go back to my roots and go crazy, and that means also with the dark side [of my art]. Lately in my career, I’ve kind of gone a little bit back to the light, and I want to go back to the old “Wetworks” darkness and half silhouettes, stuff like that. This has been a great vehicle for that, because I can play with the designs and use the tech side as the de facto “light side.” Then I can use Jackie and all of that stuff as the dark side. Artistically, for myself, I’m going to play with how the light side and dark side clash. I’ve been telling Ron, whenever light side characters come in and interact with dark side characters, I want there to seem to be a space for each of them. I want to try and give light to the light guys and dark to the dark guys so that when they do interact and fight, it’s messy. It’s a clash.
There was an interview with Bill Sienkiewicz a long time ago, I forget what it was for, where he was talking about trying to visually set up the “da-na-na-na-na…” of “Jaws,” and I’m going to [similarly] use light and dark so that whenever you start seeing them messing up and merging, that you know something might happen. That’s the artistic side.
Broussard, as you know, he can definitely take Marc’s design sense and lay it down on the paper. He seems to really understand Marc’s design sense, so you don’t really see Broussard on Marc, even though he’s lighter than Marc because Marc is more with me with the darks and stuff, but that design sense shines out there. I’m not too worried about me coming in there and it seeming totally different. I’m hoping that the reader will see that what I’m really doing is bringing the dark side in.
Closing out, we’re still very early on in the series, so I know you can’t say much, but what can you tease about the direction of the story and the types of things you’ll be drawing in these issues?
Let’s see how I can say this – other than the clash that we’re alluding to, there’s someone on the tech side that is very badass. I forget which “Terminator” it was – this is another clue – the one with the female Terminator.
The third one!
Right, the third one. We’re going to go badass in that sense, then multiply it in the cloning sense, so we’re going to build up this huge clash with someone that’s then going to turn into really major. I think that’s a direct response to trying to go as over-the-top as we can with it. We don’t have to worry about the content; Ron’s there and the thirteen Artifacts and all of that, so we have all of the detail on the heavy stuff. But in a lot of movies, they try to teach you to build up in the second part a pseudo-ending, then we can build up to the real power ending. That’s what I’m responsible for here with Ron, to build up this “da-na-na-na” [“Jaws” feeling]. It’s the big clone war, and then in the third arc, that’s the decision. There’s a lot of major damage, and also in that second stage, you want something very bad to happen, and that always means fatally. Something major will happen. So, I’m very happy.
At first when they approached me about doing the second arc, I was like, “Oh, it’s the second arc, which is usually a build to the finale, and I want to do the finale.” But when they told me that it was – and again, this is Top Cow, and like we were saying before, they really cater to you with the story and the creative side of everything – it’s not only going to be a buildup and the clash of the light and the dark, the tech and the supernatural, but we’re going to have something fatal happen. It’s not that lull before the storm.
This is going to be fun, and I hope it overall can accomplish what the company wants. Obviously, they want it to be really successful and to blow into new markets and a new audience. I may be biased, but I think I’m grounded in reality enough to truly believe this, but these guys deserve it. Just from all of the things I’ve been talking about in this interview, these guys really care. That’s a rare commodity these days. Especially in this day and age, everybody just loves superheroes, you know? I can walk up to almost anybody and say that I draw comic books, and they’ll want to talk to me. It’s an in thing right now, so it really behooves the comic companies to really come out with stuff that shows that they really care, not just about comics, but about the process, the ideals of what making a comic book is all about. We’re not just churning stuff out. Everybody is watching right now, so regardless of whether or not at the moment it becomes a top box office success or not, because that’s only dependent on what people at that moment are thinking about, but if you put out really hardcore and really good product right now, ten or twenty years from now, five years from now even, people are going to look back to this time when the whole world was going crazy about comics and they’ll remember the good stuff that came out.
If you go through the history of any genre or field, they don’t remember the popular things. I can go back into film and you can get fans from the ’20s and ’30s and they’ll say that there was this really popular and hot star back then, but I don’t know anything about her, because she didn’t do anything major or substantial. But you can take a small star back then and she did a major movie that turned into a classic, and we’ll all remember now because of that movie, that one story where everybody – the producer, the director, the screenwriter – everybody cared. So right now, it’s a great time to be working with Top Cow.
Whilce Portacio joins Top Cow’s “Artifacts” starting with issue #5, tentatively scheduled to ship in December of 2010.
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