Tobin & Young on Spidey's "Marvel Adventures"

When you're a teenager, things like the attention of a girl you like can seem huge and potentially Earth shattering. When you're one of Marvel Comics' premier superheroes, Earth shattering for you generally means somebody is literally trying to shatter the Earth. But what happens when you're both a teenager and a superhero?

Starting in July's "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" #53, writer Paul Tobin and artist Matteo Lolli with cover artist Skottie Young will be answering that question and more, when they take the title and their teen protagonist in a new direction.

Longtime fans of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" don't have to worry, the new direction of the series doesn't mean the popular all-ages title will become significantly darker or that the book will now feature epic 12-part story arcs. "It will remain all-ages, but I've always been a big proponent of 'all-ages' meaning just that -- all ages. There's no reason that a story can't be appealing to a 14-year-old and a 40-year-old," Paul Tobin told CBR News. "I'll be sticking to done-in-one stories, but at the same time there will be deeper subplots, ones dealing with Peter's life more than some nefarious underworld villain staging a plan to steal some great treasure, or become king of the world, or get the number one video on YouTube."

The new direction of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" was prompted by the desire of the editorial and creative staff to take a fresh look at the Webslinger. "One good way to take those fresh looks is to strip a character down to his essential elements," Tobin explained. "Spider-Man is a transformation character -- when shy and awkward Peter Parker puts on that costume, he's a different man. His confidence level soars. And Pete's a transformation character because this title is Spider-Man in his early days-days when he's still dealing with the ramifications of his early arrogance leading to Uncle Ben's death. He's just now learning what it means to be in a position of power, and the responsibility that comes with that power. And, hey, that 'confidence when he's in costume' that I was talking about? Well--it's having a trickledown effect.

"Peter himself is becoming more confident--the awkward boy is becoming a man, and there's all these people reacting to that confidence," Tobin continued. "Particularly ladies. Two love interests will be introduced in my first issue. One brand new character, and then one very classic young lady."

Tobin knows that by focusing on both the personal and superpowered life of an adolescent Peter Parker, he's inviting comparisons between his "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" stories and writer Brian Michael Bendis' "Ultimate Spider-Man" series. "I think Brian and I have a fair amount of similarities regarding how we see Spider-Man. And of course we both love the heck out of ol' webhead," Tobin confessed. "That said, the different titles come with a different set of possible tools, so while our respective approaches to the character might be similar, our respective books will be wildly different. And just the fact that we have different casts means that stories will naturally develop in different directions. Perhaps the main similarity that we'll have is that I think 'Ultimate Spider-Man' is the title where Brian has his purest storytelling, and I'll be scripting Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man from a similar viewpoint."

Tobin kicks off his "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" run by introducing several complicated plot elements into Spidey's life. "Emma Frost. Spider-Man's secret revealed. A girl who can talk to birds. A girl in a hairband. A 7-armed Oscar Wilde in a grizzly suit," the writer hinted. "One of these thing won't be in my first issue of 'Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.' (Hint: no grizzly suits)."

The teenage Emma Frost will play an adversarial role in both "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" #53 and subsequent issues. "She'll be a part of the sub-plot that I'll be selectively developing over several issues," Tobin confirmed. "Emma is young in this story, and though she's the main 'obstacle / adversary' in the story, she's not really a pure villain here. She's a young woman exploring who she is, where she belongs in the world, and how she wants to fit into society. Also, if you happen to end up in close proximity to Peter Parker, and you happen to have the ability to read minds, you can pick up some interesting information, such as how Peter feels about Emma's friend (he thinks she's cute!) and what Peter does with his free time, which is a lot."

In addition to the telepathic Emma Frost, Peter Parker must also contend with another obstacle in "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" #53, one that has proved to be the undoing of a number of boys his age. "This issue has the introduction of two new love interests at the same time, and anybody that thinks this doesn't qualify for 'obstacles and adversaries' hasn't been paying attention to life," Tobin remarked.

The writer describes the tone of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" #53 as "investigative." "The fun and excitement will still be there, but having fun and excitement doesn't negate the possibility of dire and serious. I'm always leery of writers who think that books must have one tone, and one tone only. I lived through the '90s, when every dang hero was 'grim.' Getting up in the morning? GRIM. Brushing my teeth? GRIM. Saving the world? GRIM. Going out on a date? GRIM. Watching an episode of Sesame Street? GRIIIIIIIM. It was boring. Remove the complexity from a character, and you do not have a character."

When Tobin was offered the reins of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man," he was given a choice of interior artists to work with. His current collaborator, Matteo Lolli, was at the top of that list. "Matteo is a genius. The man sweats when he puts it down on the page. And by that I mean he really puts his all into the art -- I don't mean that he really drips perspiration onto the bristol paper, because that would make it moist and really hard to ink," the writer joked. "Matteo was #1 on my list because of what he does with characters and backgrounds. He will (and is) building the personality of Midtown High School itself. Unbelievably beautiful work is one thing--but unbelievable work that still tells the story, that's to be treasured, and that's what Matteo brings to the table and to the scripts. That's why I chose him -- not just because I'm hoping to get an invite to his house in Bologna."

Tobin feels just as strongly about the work being done on the covers of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" by Skottie Young. "Skottie is bringing energy to the series," the writer said. "He's the perfect choice for the revamp of this title because his art is stripped down to essential elements and energy, and that's what I'm trying to do with the stories, and with Peter Parker himself."

Skottie Young is equally excited by the work Tobin and Lolli are doing with the title. "I have seen some of the sketches and character sheets and my editor Nate Cosby broke down the idea of where they're going and I really enjoy it," Young told CBR. "They're focusing on a younger vibe and I really like it. I think 'Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man' has always been a great book and this change in direction will only make it better."

Another reason Young enjoys producing covers for "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" is that it's an assignment that's both fun and non-work-intensive. "I think everyone has fun drawing Spider-Man and wants to do that at some point in their careers and I have had the chance to do a few Spider-Man related projects," Young stated. "This is kind of the best of both worlds, though. I get to work on 'The Wizard of Oz,' which has been one of my favorite projects, but at the same time by just doing the covers for this job I get to have a blast drawing Spider-Man without having to carry the heavy load. Once a month I get to draw a cool image and lots of Spider-Man stuff without having to do all the hard work that the great artists that draw the insides of the book have to do."

For his covers, Young wants to make sure he captures the youthful nature of the protagonist of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man." "Something I've tried to implement in any of the books I've done at Marvel, whether it's 'Legend of the Spider-Clan' or 'New X-Men' is that I want to keep in mind the characters are teenagers and I want to give them that look and feel," the artist explained. "I'll scale back some of the muscle and give them a teenager's body, because I think once you have that, the intense nature of the adventures the characters get into are that much more fantastic. You get a sense that this isn't about some Olympic weight lifter this is a 16 year old who gets into these hairy situations. I think in one single image I'm trying to capture the action, fun, and energy of Spider-Man but also making sure that you can tell from that one image that this is a teenager, who we all can relate to."

In designing his covers for "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man," Skottie Young always keeps two things in mind: composition and color. "You want the right weight. You don't want to overload the viewer with too much information. A cover is supposed to sit on a shelf and grab your attention," he said. "You'll notice on my first cover that I'm scaling back and really focusing on Spider-Man and the action he's in. I don't want to overload it with too many background elements. And I think the right color palette goes a long way. Sometimes that means using a white background with a really strong palette on top of that to pop the colors out at you. You can really evoke a mood and, again, grab people's attention. There's a lot of comic books on the shelves and a lot of information in a comic book store. My job as a cover artist is to grab your attention and often that means the tried and true idea of less is more."

Some comics fans prefer covers that are explicitly relatd to the story within, while others enjoy the so-called "pin-up" covers. Readers of "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" can expect both from Skottie Young. "I enjoy story centric covers because they give you a base to start from and they allow me to do something that probably hasn't been done before; as opposed to when I do an iconic shot cover and have to compete with all of the other iconic shots that have been done of Spidey," Young explained. "That makes it tough to do something original in that way because there are a million great artists who have done iconic shots of Spider-Man, but if you say, 'Give me a shot of Spider-Man holding up six cars while looking at character A.' Then I've got something other artists didn't have. I've got a different idea and whether it comes from an editor, writer, or my own interpretation of the script that helps spark originality and inspiration.

"Still the iconic shot is fun every now and then as well. So, depending on the story, every third or fourth cover you throw in a nice little iconic shot."

Young usually begins work on his covers by creating a thumbnail sketch, which he sends off to his editors. "My thumbnails are often pretty detailed. I'll go in and color them. They may be very loose doodles but they'll show you my composition and my color palette," Young explained. "The editor gets a pretty good idea of where I'm going to go with the final cover. And so far with my first few Spider-Man covers, the final images have almost exactly matched my initial three-inch thumbnails.

"Once I get approval, then it's about two days of work. I pencil and ink the cover on one day and I'll spend the next day coloring it. I might split that up amongst a couple of days because I'm doing other work as well. I've still got to pencil and ink my 'Oz' pages during the day!"

While he's illustrating only covers for the foreseeable future, Young is eager to draw some interior art for "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" as well. "I couldn't get in there on a regular basis but I'd love to get in there and both write and draw a little two-issue story some time in the future," the artist revealed. "Spider-Man is a fun character. I think he lives in a fun world and has a great list of villains. Any artist would be crazy if they didn't say that they wanted to draw Spider-Man at least at some point in their career."

Skottie Young and Paul Tobin are having a blast working on "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man," and they for that they credit their editor Nate Cosby, who recruited both of them specifically for the project. "Nate is one of those rare guys who possesses true vision for his titles, but doesn't stomp down on the writer's vision," Tobin said. "So far we've only had one fight in our years of working together. Amazing. I have more arguments with imaginary friends than I have with Nate."

"Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" #53 goes on sale in July from Marvel Comics.

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