Stuart Immonen on being a top Marvel artist while nurturing his own pursuits

Stuart Immonen is a comic artist's comic artist.

Although he might argue with me there, his name has cropped up numerous times in years of conversations with comic creators as a highwater mark for artists working on superheroes, with his yeoman-like work ethic and ability to get to the top of the charts without compromising himself or his work. Immonen's art blazes a trail between realism and exaggeration, and the cartoonist really hit his stride in the public eye with the 2006 series Nextwave. Immonen had been on some top-sellers before, including the Red/Blue Superman, the alt-realty Superman: Secret Identity and earlier stints on both Avengers and Fantastic Four, but it was his work on Nextwave and the genre-bending style that allowed him to show a more diverse skillset. Marvel and its star writer Brian Michael Bendis took notice, bringing him on-board for Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers and, well, New Avengers again with the series' recent relaunch.

But one of the things that gets me is Immonen's devotion to his own creations with wife and fellow comicker Kathryn. They got their start in the world of cartooning with their own self-published series, and jumped back into it a few years back with several webcomics and printed books. Last year, Top Shelf released their webcomic strip Moving Pictures, and the duo has plans for a new creator-owned original graphic novel for next year.

Chris Arrant: What are you working on today, Stuart?

Stuart Immonen: I’m penciling New Avengers, of course. And, um, some other Marvel or Marvel-related stuff.

In off-hours, I'm penciling the followup OGN to Moving Pictures called Russian Olive to Red King, script by Kathryn, naturally. I'll be inking and coloring that as well, but I'll undertake each task separately, once the previous stage is complete. It's not necessarily the most intuitive way to work, but I think the results will benefit.

Arrant: At the beginning you mentioned you and Kathryn are working on a new book called Russian Olive to Red King. Can you talk about that at all?

Immonen: Kathryn would obviously be the one to talk about the plot and themes, though I can tell you it's another tortured love story, this time told from two parallel points-of-view. There are petroglyphs and plane crashes and bad dogs and angry people, perhaps like you might expect.

I've been asked if we're going to serialize it online, and there are a couple of reasons why we aren't, but primarily, I found that there were continuity problems with Moving Pictures that needed correcting before we released the print edition, and I'd rather ink and color Russian Olive to Red King in one go (as opposed to over three years) to curb those potential issues. As a result, it won't be "done" done for at least, oh, a year and a half from now.

Arrant: I believe your first art book Centfolia is out of print, and you’re working on a second. Can you talk about that, and what’s slated to be included in that?

Immonen: Well, it's slowly coming together. Reaction to Centifolia I was very positive -- we hardly pulped any! -- and there aren't copies to be had anywhere, as far as I know. We evaded conventional distribution systems to get it into a select number of stores in addition to making it available on our own site and in person at conventions, but it was a lot of work to do so. For Centifolia II, it would be nice to handle that aspect of things a little differently, but I haven't made any decisions.

As far as content goes, Vol. II will have the same mix of comics (maybe more!), finished illustrations, drawing tool experiments and flotsam and jetsam as Vol. I, printed on the same forgiving stock, compiling (most of) the Flickr portrait series (no longer online) and parts of the limited-edition Ladies Auxiliary supplement book. Monumental! Probably a project for the 2011 con season.

Arrant: I’ve always been fascinated by your design work of characters, but also vehicles, like your time on Shockrockets and things in Nextwave and others. Is that something you enjoy doing? If you could do more of it, would you?

Immonen: Well, thanks -- I'm trying to think ... maybe Nextwave was the last time I did extensive vehicle design. That's a shame. But one of the great benefits of penciling a monthly comic is to be afforded the opportunity to design all the time: environments, vehicles, costumes, characters, anything visual. And there isn't an arduous approval process, either, so it's all very close to the initial inspiration. As part of the storytelling process, it's a fun aspect; I'm not sure if I have the constitution to do it full-time.

Having said that, I'd love to do more and, in fact, I've been given the opportunity to tackle some character and vehicle designs lately, but -- as much as I hate it when other people say it -- it's for something that hasn't yet been announced, and I can't talk about it. Sorry.

Arrant: A lot of artists follow your work -- but whose work do you follow?

Immonen: That's flattering if it's true. I don't have a lot of time to get to the comic shop these days. I'm all over anything by Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung or Leinil Yu, but they don't do monthly books. Luckily Sean Phillips and Duncan Fegredo do.

Arrant: In recent years you’ve really become key figure at Marvel, which each new project seemingly bigger than the last. I know you changed editors at one point, going from working under the auspices of the Ultimate office to [Tom] Brevoort’s superheroes with New Avengers. What’s that been like for you?

Immonen: Leaving Ultimate Spider-Man was bittersweet, mostly because I felt I was just beginning to put a personal stamp on the book, although I did work on it for two years. Even so, it was a good time and a good way to exit, and David [Lafuente] is stellar; I couldn't be happier for him, or for the title.

But Tom Brevoort and I go way, WAY back. Tom edited my first go-round on Avengers (with Kurt Busiek), some of my early stints on Fantastic Four and other projects, so working with him is familiar territory. To be offered the chance to help relaunch one of the great franchises at the company was also a no-brainer, so I'm very happy. Brian likes to write "big" for this series, too, which keeps me on my toes.

Arrant: I know you’re extremely busy doing the monthly books at Marvel and fitting in time for your own creator-owned work, but do you have any weak spots where if Marvel offered you something you’d try to find room for it?

Immonen: Ah, this is a variation on, "who's your favorite character to draw?", isn't it? The stock answer to that is that I'm lucky; I've been able to draw all my childhood favorites already (Spider-Man, Hellcat, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk). As an adult, I think the Inhumans might be a challenge I'd undertake in a heartbeat; Daredevil, too, especially with all that New York architecture. If a Bond-esque Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D fell into my lap, I'd be all over that, too.

Arrant: Before I let you get back to those pages, Stuart, where do you see yourself in five years?

Immonen: Maybe finding time to take a vacation, but probably ... hopefully ... still making comics every day.

shazam family infected
The Shazam Family's Most Dangerous Member Has Been 'Infected'

More in Comics