WWC: Bryan Hitch-ing a Ride with the "Fantastic Four"

Bryan Hitch is one of the few artists in comics who doesn't need an introduction. In 1999 Hitch's name became a prominent one in the industry with the debut of "The Authority" #1. Known for his richly detailed and widescreen style of art, Hitch went on to pencil series like "JLA" and "The Ultimates," which he's probably best known for. "The Ultimates" was an admittedly challenging series for Hitch, seeing 24 issues of the series published over five years, but no one can argue with the results.

Hitch's next Marvel Comics project sees him reunited with his long time friend Mark Millar on a twelve issue run of "Fantastic Four" to begin in 2008, as announced today at Wizard World Chicago. CBR News spoke with Hitch in depth about his approach to the series, how he's changed his working style for this project and how it'll keep "Fantastic Four" shipping on time.

First off, Bryan, how're things going today? I hear you working in the background, so what am I interrupting?

Today I'm getting the last of the cover sketches done for the first nine issues of our "Fantastic Four" run. I'm trying to get all of those covers drawn up this week, but it's all a big scramble because I'm off on Holiday on Saturday and want to make sure those covers are ready so that Marvel's promotional department can go have fun with them for the next few months.

Sounds like you're really ahead of yourself on this project.

Well, we're actually four issues in now and when I get back from holiday I'll be starting on issue #5. So, yeah, I've done four issues in the time it would have taken me to do one issue of "The Ultimates," so I think we're cracking quite well.

Sounds like it. What do you attribute this increase in your output to?

Well, I'm not drawing "Ultimates" is the easiest answer. "The Ultimates" is the only project that's ever been that way for me. "The Authority" - the project I made my name on - was an average of three weeks an issue and that was considered to be balls-to-the-wall, state-of-the-art, that kind of thing - at the time I did it, anyway. On the other hand, "The Ultimates" was just an odd sort of fish. After the first few issues of Volume 1, it just ground to a halt and never picked up no matter what I tried. I don't know how long an answer you want, but I went through various neurosis on that project, whether it be stage fright, lack of confidence or constantly trying to live up to the expected hype and the well intentioned yet mythological idea that good work takes time, something Mark and Joe Quesada often said publicly, that the work is in the pages. That neurosis is also in the pages. The pages may not have taken a lot of time to draw, but they did take an awful lot of effort to actually get to drawing them.

There were other factors, too, because "The Ultimates" was a very claustrophobic, very intense, very saturated sort of technique and "Fantastic Four" was something I intend to have a lot more space in. And I'm drawing it much larger, too, ironically. I'm drawing it 40% larger, so the pages are much larger which allows me to feel more space on the page. Everyone who's seen the pages thus far seems to think the results are very strong.

I think another answer, too, is that "The Ultimates" became – not necessarily intentionally – something of a magnum opus for Mark and I in super hero comics. "Fantastic Four" isn't that and it won't be that and you just can't follow something that either is or seems to be an opus with another opus. That just doesn't happen. The follow-up project could be called "the rebound girlfriend" I guess. [laughs] But it doesn't necessarily mean it's not a fulfilling relationship! [laughs]

I think hard core "Fantastic Four" fans would be disappointed if it wasn't fulfilling!

Absolutely. We set out to have an awful lot of fun with "Fantastic Four" and I don't want to get ground down in all of the attention and neurosis that "The Ultimates" brought to my life. I'm trying to keep it light and fun and not getting knocked down. Every time I do get knocked down I slap myself across the face, carry on and say to myself, "The pages don't suck, keep moving!"

Yes, Bryan, you must soldier on!

Yeah I do and it's getting quicker, quicker by the week. I'm on deadline, but I'm trying to get ahead of that. It wasn't an overnight process to go from the speed I had on "The Ultimates" to how I'm working now, but I'm growing in confidence with the material, I've found my feet very quickly on it and it's just a heck of a fun ride this book. It's a pleasure to work on it. I can't wait to get in every morning and start drawing on it.

Let's discuss this oversized format you're drawing in here. Where did this idea come from?

It came from me toying with the last six issues or so of "Ultimates," especially when I was working on something like the eight-page spread which I did in three sections of art board, very big art board. I feel very comfortable drawing very big images and I like drawing standing up and feel very comfortable with the large paper. Over the last year I've done a number of advertising illustrations, posters and even private commissions that I was working very large on and surprisingly I found it went a lot quicker. I wondered if it was because I wasn't so close to the paper, picking at every tiny minute detail and drawing in effectively controlled miniature. I always felt like I was trying to burst out the panels on something like "Ultimates" which lends it a certain feeling, that claustrophobic, strained, saturated detail. That works for a book like "Ultimates." The feeling I was trying to work out for "Fantastic Four" seemed to lend itself to this oversized format, so I decided to try it thinking if it didn't work I'd go back to the way I had been doing things. Now the idea of drawing at that normal art board size, I just can't imagine doing it.

Really, there were a lot of factors that led to me working in the oversized format, but really it's just an experiment that seems to be working. It's not necessarily why I'm working quicker, it just adds to the mix.

Sounds like it's saving your personal sanity a bit, too, not having to worry about that miniature detail.

Right. The detail is still there. Mark, who's given to hyperbole at the best of times, his feeling is that the drawing on this is superior to that on "Ultimates." I don't know that I would agree with him because it's very hard to be objective and these are very different animals, but Paul Mounts - who worked on my early issues of "Ultimates" and he's remaining on "Fantastic Four" as its his regular assignment and he asked if he could stay and color my run too, which of course I had no objections to - really thinks there's a great sense of space without lacking any of the detail people expect from my work. I think it's hitting the marks we intended to hit, which is a good sign. The editorial crew at Marvel and the people I'm working with think I'm hitting it and I know all these people well enough to know if they were BS'ing me. So, yeah, I'm not insane anymore.

Good to hear. Now, how did this project come together for you two?

Almost by accident. Mark and I had originally intended to move on to "X-Men" following the end of "The Ultimates" and "Civil War." Mark found "Civil War" to be a much harder process than he thought it might be and the ideas we had for "X-Men" were pretty big, but I didn't really want to go onto another huge project. What I actually wanted to do was go off, disappear for a while and keep earning my living, but doing it in relative obscurity, but Marvel has this "thing" where they really want us to do as many books as possible! They actually do want to trade on the success we had! [laughs]

Now, there's a limit to what I suppose Mark and I can do because the numbers have to work. Mark and I aren't exactly on the cheapest end of the spectrum, so the numbers on this book need to be at a certain sales level to justify what we get paid and neither of us wanted to take a pay cut. But neither of us also felt like doing another huge, heavy lifting, long-haul project and I think we both reluctantly came to the same conclusion separately that we didn't really just yet want to go on to "X-Men." Mark thought we should wait six months. I talked to Jeph Loeb about doing Captain Marvel in the intervening time and we had a few strong conversations about how that might work, but Captain Marvel got worked into "Civil War" and in the end I didn't go for that project because Mark and I had both heard separately that JMS was leaving "Fantastic Four."

Now, I knew I wanted to work on "Fantastic Four." but I didn't know if Mark would want to work on it. I loved Mark's "Ultimate Fantastic Four" run and not wanting to repeat himself I was sure he wouldn't want to write "Fantastic Four," but his feeling was he had done the other version, but the one he wanted to do was the real version, the one that's connected only by a few hundred numbers to Stan and Jack's run. By coincidence, we both got onto the subject of doing "Fantastic Four" after JMS left. Now, that took longer than we originally expected because "Ultimates" took longer and "Civil War" took longer, so we worked up a plan to see if we could do it and Marvel said yes and Tom Brevoort said yes. And off we went.

Every artist has their favorite things they like to draw, it seems. Those things maybe they're most comfortable drawing. "Fantastic Four" offers a lot of different opportunities that say a title like "X-Men" wouldn't necessarily offer. "Fantastic Four" allows for large space faring stories, larger tech, grand, adventure type stuff. When you and Mark sat down together, was there anything you told him you wanted to tackle?

Honestly, we didn't ever have a conversation like that because Mark knows I'm pretty much up for drawing everything and Mark is one of those writers I trust implicitly because no matter how good he is at writing dialogue and conversation and character pieces, he completely understands this is a visual medium and works very hard to make sure there are a set number of visual beats in every story and has big visual set pieces as well. He's not afraid to allow you the space to draw the heck out of something. He knows me well enough to know I'd make a big scene out of people on a sofa in a lounge! [laughs] To use a filmic term, I like to shoot stuff in an interesting way and if it's just people sitting in a room, there's no reason why that should be boring. If they're just sitting in a café, that shouldn't be boring either. You can find great ways of presenting that material. I find that stuff challenging no matter what because it's all in service to a good story, which is always interesting.

Stan Lee gave Mark some advice and said that on a book like "Fantastic Four" that no idea is too stupid. You can do anything from, as you said, space faring stuff to monster stories. Anything. At its heart, "Fantastic Four" is a soap opera, but it's a fantastic soap opera, hence the title. You have all that great family dynamic and they do all the stuff that we as a family do, but they do it in an extraordinary way. In a way that they take for granted and anyone looking in would think it's insane, but to them it's their ordinary life. It might appear that Reed might be simply decorating a Christmas tree, but upon closer inspection it turns out that the Christmas balls are actually miniature, real planets and there's a real sun on the top. Only in the Fantastic Four household would you actually have an interplanetary war break out across a Christmas tree! [laughs] That's the background detail, that's not story, just detail, and that's the type of stuff which makes it so interesting to get involved in. Literally, the sky is the limit on a book like this. It's not just confined to one type of story like a detective or crime-fighting story.

Mark quite cleverly pointed out to me that he had noticed you can see the obvious origins of the Fantastic Four in books like "Challengers of the Unknown," which is an action/adventure book, and obviously there are character parallels between characters in Fantastic Four and other books, but when Kirby started working on "Fantastic Four" he was coming straight out of working on horror and monster comics and so that material informed the origins of Fantastic Four, too. There's no mistake that monsters and mole men and great big beasts can be found in some of the early issues of "Fantastic Four" and the Thing himself is a grotesque monster. In the way that Ridley Scott did a haunted house movie with an alien on a space ship, but it was essentially a horror movie, you can do something like that with "Fantastic Four." That led to me thinking about how I light things because upon first viewing it might just appear to be an ordinary action shot, but if you light in a way more fitting of say a monster or horror movie, you get a completely different effect, but it doesn't feel like a horror or monster movie. It's just a little extra detail.

I guess what I'm trying to say is there really are no limits on a book like "Fantastic Four." You have four very different characters and each of them can spawn any number of different possible stories or dramatic possibilities and then of course the many different characters you can bring in as well. Alicia Masters was originally a very interesting character because she provided a human perspective on this extraordinary family life they had, but she's been around it for so long that she doesn't have that perspective anymore. So, we've introduced a new character into the supporting cast who does provide that narrative and point of view. That already puts you on a slightly different footing from recent issues. You can get so used to comics as being the norm, but you can forget there's an ordinary world outside of it and sometimes you need that outside perspective to make some sort of dramatic confrontation.

You and Mark have obviously talked about this story a lot and this clearly is a very strong collaboration. Of course this isn't the first time you two have collaborated on a project together as you've worked numerous times before. With all that work behind you and more on the way, what kind of short hand have the two of you developed over the years? Are you guys at the point where you can finish each other's sentences?

You know, we're both very different people. We're pretty much the same age and we grew up in very similar parts of the world. I'm from the far north of England, just on the Scottish border, and he lived literally an hour from my house, although neither of us knew that. We both grew up on DC Comics and Marvel Comics and had the same cultural influences and the same desire in life, which was to do comics, although Mark wanted to be an artist and I wanted to be a writer. Of course, I gave up the writing side and he gave up the art side. It provides a good cross-pollination because I feel I have a fairly strong story sense and Mark has a very strong artistic sense. Mark can draw when he puts his mind to it and I can write when I put my mind to it, so we do collaborate in that sense and we have a very strong understanding of what it is we want to achieve.

Mark said he knew from the moment he first saw my "Authority" work that I had exactly the kind of point of view he was coming up with for his comic writing and I knew from his work on "The Authority" that he was the kind of guy I could work with regularly and that we were on the exact same page creatively, no matter how different we are personally. I mean, our politics are different, our modern interests are different. We disagree on almost everything, really, in the best possible way and we are the best of friends and creatively we are exactly where we need to be. We don't always agree and end up challenging each other. Mark will be the first to offer constructive criticism if he thinks my story telling isn't working and likewise I've done the same with Mark on "Ultimates" and "Fantastic Four," offering up alternative points of view. So, we do interfere in each others work quite a lot, but it makes for a very good collaboration. I'd be very sorry if we don't work together again after this book. I know Mark's got a limited amount of availability before his contract is up and we don't know exactly how long that will be before we get back together again, but I can't imagine we won't work together again. Truthfully we both have plans well beyond "Fantastic Four," whether it be X-Men or creator owned books to work on. I don't think I can shake him off.

OK, I'm going to wrap things up here for you with a bit of a silly question. Now, in numerous interviews I've read with Mark over the years he often refers to you as Hitchy.

Yes, he does.

As he's got a nickname for you, I'm wondering if you might have any nicknames for him?

I refer to him as the Drunken Scot a great deal. [laughs] Or maybe the Ginger Hibernian. He refuses to accept his hair color is ginger and it's become this public debate. He says he's blond, but it's ginger and he needs to get over it. Usually I call him Mighty Mark publicly, because you know it makes him feel good and, you know, he is a short man.

I think that's a great place to stop. Thanks, Bryan.


Updated 11:45 AM

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