In the current "Deadliest of the Species" arc in Marvel Comics' "Black Panther" series, creators Reginald Hudlin and Ken Lashley are ushering in a new era as they introduce readers to a female version of the title character. That story continues this August as Hudlin welcomes aboard co-writer Jonathan Maberry with "Black Panther" #7, which also marks the debut of new series penciller Will Conrad. CBR News spoke with Conrad about how he plans on depicting the new Black Panther, her world, and the series' supporting cast.
Conrad, who comes from Brazil, recently completed three years of work on various Dark Horse projects, was looking to do some work at Marvel when editor Axel Alonso offered him the chance to work on "Black Panther." "The Black Panther was one of the characters I loved to read as a teenager, but after I started working in comics, I kind of lost track of the character. He's always interested me though. I like the visuals and the fact that he's African," Conrad told CBR News. "I know they made the Panther more serious and political oriented in recent years and I like the chance to work with characters that are more than just action. I believe there's going to be a lot of politics and drama in these stories and I think that's going to be great to work with."
For "Black Panther," Conrad gets to draw the character he grew up with, T'Challa, but the African king is in very different circumstances now. He's been severely injured, which is the reason why there's a new female Black Panther. "T'Challa was somebody who was powerful and independent and always walking forward, but now he's unable to do that," Conrad explained. "He's trying to stand up again and get back to what he was. So he's a character in a very tough position because it's hard to see everything happening around you when you can't stand up from your wheelchair and solve everything like you used to. So these are very dramatic moments for him and I try to capture that tension in what he's doing and his expressions, because he's in a very difficult position. Everybody is feeling sorry for him and he's not used to it."
It won't just be the stars of "Black Panther" that Conrad is paying special attention to. The artist wants to make sure every character feels authentic and singular. "I try to bring a little sense of humanity to everything I do, especially characters. And the characters in this book are all very unique," Conrad said. "I'm also trying to put personality into the body language of each character. Even if they're only going to appear once in the story, each character will be unique. And I want to make each character very real. I want to convey a sense that they can exist."
"Black Panther" has also afforded Will Conrad the opportunity to do some design work. "In issue #7 there's a battle scene with some technological soldiers and I had the chance to do the designs for them," the artist stated. "There are some other characters who are going to appear as well and I'm working on designs for them right now. Also because it hasn't been really explored, I got a chance to work on the world of the Panther's home country, Wakanda. I saw very generic designs for the buildings and technology. So I have a chance to create a visual identity to all the backgrounds and everything that is going on inside Wakanda. It's a little bit like what I did on 'the 'Kull' miniseries for Dark Horse. Although everybody spoke of Kull's kingdom, Valusia, I never saw very detailed and explored designs for that world. So I had a chance to dive in and put a lot of visual identity into that story and that's what I'm doing here."
In creating Wakanda's visual identity, Conrad is making sure he captures both the high-tech feel and cultural roots of the fictional African nation. "One of the things I'm always trying to keep in mind is that this is Africa. Although it's like a paradise and a highly technological country, it's still Africa," Conrad said. "So I'm trying to incorporate African style designs into the clothes, buildings, cultures, and everything else."
Will Conrad has found bringing to life Jonathan Maberry and Reginald Hudlin's script for "Black Panther" #7 to be a highly enjoyable experience. "It's great because they have a very visual style of writing and that includes the battle scenes," the artist explained. "They always detail everything and even though they give me a lot of information they still leave me enough room so that I can put myself into the story. I also like the fact that they pack a lot of emotion into their stories. So it's been great."
For "Black Panther," Conrad is creating all the interior artwork except for colors. "I try to do very detailed artwork, even in creating the world around the characters," he said. "So it takes me a little while, about six weeks to to deliver an entire issue. It will be like three to four pages a week."
The first step in Conrad's creative process is discussing a script with its writer. "Sometimes there may be something in the script visually that I don't think works or I may have some doubts on what the writer wants from the scene. So I get in touch with them and try to clarify everything. Then while I'm reading the script and getting the feel of the story, I like to do little breakdowns just to get a first impression. Next I jump into layouts so I know how I'm going to make everything work and make sure all the continuity and storytelling is consistent from panel to panel. Then I send the layouts to my editor and the writer for approval. As soon as they approve I go straight into finishing the pencils and the page."
"Black Panther" is a series starring a costumed hero, but the unique nature of the Panther as ruler and spiritual protector of an entire country means the book can go anywhere and tackle almost any genre. It's that quality that makes the series especially compelling for Conrad. "It's challenging and I always like to be challenged. I think the only way we can improve is to try and get challenges, where you have to improve and go farther," Conrad said. "So I think working on this series is great because I have the chance to do a lot of stuff; some of it I'm very used to and some of it is new to me. That's going to allow me to keep improving and challenging myself."