Talking Animals and Robots with Niko Henrichon

Niko Henrichon, who wowed the literary world in 2006 with his masterful illustrations for Brian K. Vaughan's award-winning "Pride of Baghdad" graphic novel, is the guest artist for "Fables" #70, on sale this week from Vertigo. From his home in Albi, France, the Eisner-nominated and Harvey-wining artist told CBR News he's a big fan of the folktale-bending "Fables," and an even bigger fan of its creator, Bill Willingham, and also discussed with us his future projects, including a five-issue Machine Man story to be serialized in "Marvel Comics Presents."

"I loved ['Fables'] from the start," said Henrichon. "And Bill Willingham is an awesome storyteller. So much has been said about the qualities of his work that I find it hard to say anything about it."

Henrichon continued, "What I enjoy the most when I work on the art for a particular story is to be surprised. So basically, I'm ready to work on every possible subject. If I like how the story goes, I'm in.

Fables #70 takes place at The Farm, where non-human and assorted animal fables are required to live so as to avoid discovery by humanity. In the story, the Farm Fables debate amongst themselves to leave The Farm. It is true that 'Pride of Baghdad' has kind of put me on the map with the label 'talking animal artist,' Henrichon remarked. But 'Pride' was the first project I ever did in which animals were the stars of the show."

In fact, Henrichon's next major project, a run on "Marvel Comics Presents," couldn't be further than talking animals. Henrichon joins "24Seven" and "NYC Mech" creator Ivan Brandon for a five-issue Machine Man arc, beginning with "Marvel Comics Presents" #8, on sale April 30.  Machine Man was an android designed for use by the United States Army who later assumes the human name Aaron Stack and becomes a fugitive. He was created by Jack Kirby for his 1977 book "2001: A Space Odyssey." The character went on to star in his own title in 1978 and was featured in a three-issue arc of "The Incredible Hulk" in 1979. He was literally resurrected in 1984-85 in a four-issue miniseries written by "Spider-Girl's" Tom DeFalco. Stack also appeared in "Nextwave:  Agents of HATE" and "Avengers: The Initiative."     

Henrichon admitted he knew little about the character before taking on the Machine Man project. "I can't say that I was a fan, I was barely familiar with it," said Henrichon. "I had seen it before but didn't really read anything about it. But when Ivan asked me about Machine Man, I said 'Sure!' And although I'm just starting to discover the amazing work of Jack Kirby, I already understood why he's placed so high in the mind of the artists and fans of comics."

Be it Willingham, Brandon, Vaughan or Chaykin & Tischman ("Barnum!"), Henrichon said every writer he's worked with has hooked him first by the story they want to tell. And he loves nothing more than to bring those amazing scripts to life on the printed page. "All writers with whom I've worked so far have had really distinctive styles and that's what I'm looking for," said Henrichon. "When I choose to do the art on a story, I want to be surprised and intrigued by the script at least as much as the reader would be by the comic book.

"Styles are not really easy to define and in the case of Brian K. Vaughan, for example, almost everything he does is radically different form his other projects. That's one reason why Brian keeps astonishing his fans. We never know what will come out from him.

"Ivan has a passion for robots, he keeps writing about them.  Of course, if he had to do something for Marvel, that couldn't be anything else than Machine Man. But that doesn't mean he only knows to write about robots. His 'Cross Bronx' book with Mike Oeming is a good example of his non-robot work."

Asked what he gives back to the writer in return for though provoking scripts, Henrichon responded, "To make it simple I would say that I try to bring a special, recognizable atmosphere to all the projects on which I work. Colors are a great blessing for that. That's why I always try to do them myself. I try to make everything from pencil to ink and color to work in harmony, for a same common goal. I think that's one of the reasons why people seemed to enjoy the art on 'Pride of Baghdad.' You know, it's really hard to convince the readers with a drawing on a sheet of paper that they are in Baghdad and that the city has been bombed."

Henrichon said the fanfare and critical acclaim he received from 'Pride of Bagdad' was more than he ever could have imagined. "It surpassed what I was expecting. I knew it was one of the best works I did and I knew the story was awesome but still, it was surprising," said Henrichon, who added he would definitely sign up to work with Vaughan again. "Yeah, I hope. The man is really busy these days but I think we both enjoyed the experience and if schedule allows it, it could happen again."

Beyond providing eight-pages of "Machine Man" over the next five months, Henrichon also has a graphic novel titled "Hostile" that will be published in France later this year. "I also have some other things going, including a mysterious comic book project 100 percent Niko Henrichon," he teased.

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