War Coverage: Rosemann & Artists talk "Annihilation Conquest" covers

This summer the sci-fi action epic "Annihilation: Conquest" will unfold in the cosmos of the Marvel Universe. As CBR readers know, "Conquest" is a large event story made up of multiple mini-series and one prologue. In order to convey to comic buyers all the excitement that waits for them in the various "Conquest" titles, Editor Bill Rosemann wanted to capture their attentions with different, visually striking and dynamic covers. To accomplish this, Rosemann gathered together a team of cover artists, many of which had not worked in comics before. CBR News spoke with Rosemann and cover artists Nic Klein, Matt Wilson and Adi Granov about the covers for the mega story.

When planning for "Conquest" was underway, Rosemann decided to approach the covers for the follow up to the original "Annihilation" event in a different way. "I'd like to first salute Gabriele Dell'Otto, the cover artist of the first 'Conquest' event - his incredible art made a lot of people (myself included) check out that story," Rosemann told CBR News. "But rather than have one artist create all 19 covers of 'Conquest' - which is a huge commitment - I thought it would be interesting to bring in a different artist with a specific look for each mini. And to kick it over the top, I thought - given the sci-fi playground we were having fun in - bringing in gaming artists (both from RPGs and collectible card games) would be a fun experiment. I've always admired the way sci-fi and fantasy artists push the limits of those genres - they know how to deliver a dark and visceral jolt - and figured it would be fun to both bring them to the comic book audience while also introducing our readers to this group of artists.

"This story - while being set space - also has many fantasy elements. And for whatever reason - maybe it's their influences, maybe it's their international experience - gaming artists don't make fantasy look retro," Rosemann continued. "They make it look modern, sexy and cool. So, when it came time to go after artists, I remembered an RPG book I had bought at a comic con years ago. I kept telling people I wanted artists who could create art that looked like that, and then I thought to myself, 'Hey, stupid, why don't you just hire the guys who actually worked on it?' The RPG book was 'Warmachine', and that led me to Matt Wilson, one of the founders of the company that published it, Privateer Press. Luckily, he also happens to be a lifelong comics fan - so, BOOM!, a comic book cover artist is born. Once I locked down Matt, I knew I was on to something interesting."

Rosemann found Matt Wilson here in America, but some of his other recruits would come from far away lands. "'Annihilation Conquest' is a dark and dangerous tale," Rosemann said. "So I was looking for artists who could communicate that feel. And each mini mixes in other genres, such as war, fantasy and horror - so I also wanted artists who excelled in each category. So it was really just a matter of some good ol' fashion detective work. I reached out to some friends on the staff of 'Inquest' (Wizard's gaming mag) and asked them who they thought could deliver the vibe we were shooting for. Fast forward through many phone calls, emails and negotiations, and we had our team of cover artists. Many of them happened to live around the globe, and Marvel was willing to reach out where ever we had to - luckily, no matter where they lived, they were all united by their amazing talent and the desire to create some kick-ass images."

Aleksi Briclot kicks off the parade of images with his cover for June's "Annihilation: Conquest Prologue" and his cover's will also grace the "Annihilation: Conquest" mini-series which begins in November. "I was pouring through a copy of Diamond's Previews, looking for someone from the Gaming section, but then I saw a comic book cover by Aleksi in Dark Horse's section that caught my eye," Rosemann explained. "I wrote down Aleksi's name on a big wish list - and he also happened to be on a list of possible artists that Chris Allo, our talent coordinator, suggested. After checking out his website, we were blown away by the quality and depth of his work. From full-color book illustrations to video game designs, Aleksi brings a unique vision to our team - detail, passion, atmosphere, grit, drama - his art instantly shows you that even though the scene may be happening in space or some faraway kingdom, it's happening to real people. You see the rust, sweat and dirt. It's the same feel you get from watching 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Battlestar Galactica'. Yeah, its fantasy and sci-fi, but it's just as 'real' as any other drama."

Phyla-Vell undertakes a dramatic and fantastic quest in the pages of "Annihilation: Conquest - Quasar" and Rosemann wanted Matt Wilson to capture these elements and many other with his covers for the series. "As I mentioned above, Matt was the artist who inspired this crazy experiment, so a tip of the Nova helmet to him," Rosemann stated. "Matt worked on the miniature RPG 'Warmachine', which features these kick-ass steam-powered mechs that perfectly represent the merging of fantasy and sci-fi that I wanted in this story. Matt's art makes you want to know more about the characters in his images - yes, they're wearing wild armor and they're standing next to these huge battle-scarred mechs in these crazy environments, but you look into their eyes and you connect with them - you see that they have a history that you want to be a part of. His characters look like they've been through hell - they're sweaty and dirty and beat-up - but they refuse to quit fighting. That's the emotion the heroes of Conquest represent - especially Quasar - and Matt knows how to deliver that."

Wilson is very excited to get a chance to depict Quasar. "I'll admit that I'm a huge comic book fan and have always hoped to get a chance to do some work with Marvel, so Bill pretty much had me at 'Hi Matt'. The only deliberation I had was in how much work I could take on at the time," Wilson explained. "The eager fan in me wanted anything he could throw at me, but the more practical and prudent side ruled out and I agreed to doing one mini-series of covers that I could dedicate a good deal of time to. I couldn't be more excited to be working on this.

"I love comics. My first company was an independent comic publisher. I have to confess that it didn't do well, but I learned a lot at the time!" Wilson continued. "While I moved into doing more fantasy and sci-fi illustration for the game and book industries after that, I never lost my passion for comics. So, it was a pretty easy sell to get me on board when this came up, despite keeping a normally busy schedule. I was also really intrigued by the character concept. Bill described 'Quasar' as a 'Joan of Arc' archetype, which I immediately identified with as the themes inherent in that historical character have been influential in my own past creative work. I felt it was a character I could get into and enjoy painting over a series of illustrations. As well, and I know I'm going to sound like a kiss-ass, but Bill really impressed me immediately as a great person to work with. I've been an illustrator and an art director for almost thirteen years now, and have art directed about 300 artists and have worked with dozens of art directors. Part of the reason I started my own company and work for myself is that I haven't seen eye to eye with a lot of art directors/editors in the past since I've spent a lot of time on both sides of the contract, so to speak. It can turn what should be a really enjoyable job into something tedious and grueling. Bill Rosemann has proven my instincts right, though. He's a fantastic editor to work with - very on the spot with direction and very motivational. He makes the job exciting and I'd work with him any time."

Drawing the covers for "Quasar" has been a fun and refreshing departure from Wilson's regular work in game design. "From a technical perspective, there isn't much difference. However, the subject matter I'm dealing with is normally really complex in design. Characters are wearing elaborate suits of armor with lots of minute details and they can be time consuming to reproduce," Wilson stated. "Something that has been very liberating with Quasar has been the simplicity of her costume, which is something inherent to the super hero genre. Quasar's design is very classic and wonderfully elegant, highlighting the iconic logo on her chest and cape and focusing your attention on her face - the person. Consequently, the rendering of the character has gone quite quickly for me since I don't have to paint steam pipes and dozens of rivets and battle damage all over the place. It's been a great change of pace."

For his covers to Quasar, Wilson really wanted to emphasize the cosmic "Joan of Arc" elements of the character. "The poses are very iconic and attempt to capture her in an emotional moment that speaks of her character - mysterious, powerful, penitent, etc. Bill has let me take the compositions in some really symbolic directions, as well, especially the third cover that I'm working on now," Wilson said. "I've been able to place her in a setting and pose that really harkens to that penitent, Maiden of Orleans theme. Artistically, the theme I'm working with is light. Quasar's costume is really unique with this blazing star on her chest, so I chose to really focus on that in each piece, making sure it's a focal point and as a result, have been playing with some really extreme illumination, which in a way is a new kind of thing for me. If the pieces turn out the way I'm hoping, they will come across as very emotive and dramatic and hopefully help to establish something about the character of Quasar."

To help establish the dark look and feel of the cosmic universe's newest character, Rosemann recruited artist Clint Langley to supply the covers for the "Annihilation: Conquest - Wraith" mini-series. "When I asked the guys at 'Inquest' if they knew any artists who could deliver a Goth vibe, they immediately mentioned Clint Langley," Rosemann stated. "Clint did a series of wonderfully dark paintings for 'Magic: The Gathering' that proved he'd be the perfect artist to introduce Wraith to the world. Clint's work is both disturbing yet beautiful, delicate but bad-ass - which pretty much sums up Wraith! This is a hero for people who dig characters like Lestat and the Crow - he's a long, lean wrecking machine - and Clint excels at wrapping readers in this shadowy spell."

For the covers of "Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord" Rosemann wanted an artist that could capture the guns blazing all out war feel of the series. He chose Nic Klein. "Chris Allo, who I must praise as an amazing finder of new and unique talent, suggested Nic when I first discussed my 'Conquest' cover artist quest with him," Rosemann explained. "Chris showed me Nic's portfolio, which was so interesting because he had several different styles. And a few of the images had this crazy sci-fi war thing going on, which is what 'Star-Lord' is all about. I mean, you've got this rag-tag team that includes a giant talking tree, an acrobatic insect-man, and a wise-cracking raccoon - and I wanted them all to keep their quirky charm but also look bad-ass. Of all the cover art that we've shown so far, Nic's have created the most buzz - and now he's creating 'New Warriors' covers for Axel Alonzo - so he's well on his way to making his mark in the comic book world in the next few years."

"Star-Lord" marked Klein's first foray into the Marvel Universe. When contacted by Chris Allo about coming on board the "Annihilation: Conquest" event as a cover artist, he naturally said yes. "And I'm glad I did - it's been a great ride,' Klein said. "I wanted to get my hands dirty for Marvel, so I was stoked on that already. Then I heard who is doing the book; Keith Gifffen on writing, Timothy Green (who I find has a very European feel to his work) on the interior art and not to forget the kick-ass Star-Lord design by my good friend Marko Djurdjevic. Also, the whole Annihilation story arc sounded really great (the art I've seen so far will only leave you wanting more!) All that combined, did it for me."

Klein's "Star-Lord" covers are similar in a number of ways to the art he's provided for many other mediums. "I've done Video game work, mainly concept art, and the odd box art as well, and all sorts of different illustration. Other than that I've done some comic work for the German market, mainly short stories for anthologies," Klein stated. "Obviously, with any hired job there is a bit of a difference to my personal pieces, having more people bringing their ideas into an illustration always goes somewhere else compared to just me brooding over a piece. Its just different work processes."

For his "Star-Lord" covers Klein looked to emphasize the science fiction and military action elements of the mini-series. "The main theme Bill had in mind for the covers was a 'Metal Gear Solid' kind of beat up sci-fi feel. He didn't have to twist my arm at all for that, though. I love painting beat up, rusty stuff. The covers we eventually ended up with differ a little from that theme, though, but I feel they work very well nonetheless. With the second cover for example (the Rocket Raccoon one), its not very brooding and 'Blade-Runnerish,' more of a 'stark retro brightness,' but I don't think there is a contradiction there, it pops out the characters a lot more and adds to the vibe."

It was the fluid vibe of Adi Granov's other Marvel Comics work which lead Rosemann to choose him to be the regular cover artist for the ongoing "Nova" series, which lead to the artist providing the cover's of Nova#4-7, the issues that tie into "Annihilation: Conquest." "As you'll see in all his Iron Man movie work, Adi delivers power and grace. He's such a perfect Iron Man artist because he understands how this man in a suit of armor can also be athletic. Adi shows you how as technology increases, it often becomes more sleek. So once Nova was upgraded with a uniform that included armored components - to contain the power of the entire Nova Force - Adi leaped to the #1 spot on my cover artist wish list," Rosemann explained. "I mean, just look at his cover for 'Nova' #1 - even if you had no idea who this character is, you instantly realize that he can blast your head off. Adi has a wonderful design sense and a unique style that grabs your attention - when you pick up an issue of 'Nova' and look at Adi's cover, you feel the quality and energy that the entire creative team is shooting for - you know you're in for a wild ride."

For Granov, creating the covers for "Nova" especially the "Conquest" issues has been a lot of fun. "I like drawing Nova and that was the main appeal for me," Granov explained. "To be honest, I became aware of the bigger scope of 'Conquest' only after I was already working on it."

Granov's goal with his 'Nova' covers is to give readers a hint of all the action that's in store when they go along for a ride with the Human Rocket. "I try to convey the power and excitement of Richard Rider as an intergalactic hero," Granov said. "I really enjoy the excitement of having all the power and all the visual possibilities of depicting that. I want to get that excitement across as much as possible in the covers. I mean he's a guy in a cool outfit with a great helmet who can shoot crazy looking energy bolts. Even his eyes glow! So I want that power and energy to jump from the covers and convey that excitement."

Rosemann hopes the covers for the "Annihilation: Conquest" catch the eyes of fans and sparks their interest in the books because it means a lot of hard work by a lot of people, many whom worked behind the scenes, paid off. "I have to thank some key teammates at Marvel - like Tom Brevoort and Dan Buckley and David Bogart and Joe Quesada - for letting me try this. I mean, this was a big event I was trusted with and the first thing I did was ask to bring in some artists who not only had never done comic book covers for Marvel before, but had never done comic book covers period. Also, Marko Djurdjevic deserves a huge round of applause for creating the mind-blowing character designs of Star-Lord, Quasar and Wraith - he inspired everyone and set the tone of the entire event by delivering a dark fantasy vibe that was beyond traditional thinking. And I also have to thank all the cover artists, who have brought such passion and hard work to each and every piece of art. And, to the readers, if you're intrigued by these front covers, just wait until you see what's waiting for you inside!"

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