X-POSITION: Week 18 - Larry Stroman Returns to Marvel

What if a new artist arrived on the comic book scene and fans went crazy for his work?

What if, after drawing several titles for a few years, that artist disappeared from the industry?

What if that artist returned to draw a "What if?" for Marvel Comics, featuring several of the characters that helped make him famous?

While there are no Watchers present, this is exactly the situation we will witness when erstwhile artist Larry Stroman returns to draw "What if? X-Men: The Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire," shipping this December. Written by Christopher Yost ("New X-Men"), this book will attempt to answer the question, what if Vulcan absorbed the energies of the M'Kraan Crystal and became Phoenix?

Legendary for his work on "X-Factor," "Alien Legion," and "Tribe," Larry Stroman was kind enough to join us for this week's X-POSITION and answer all of those questions you want to know – and from the emails we received, you want to know plenty. As many of you have already waited over a decade for his return, let's get right to the questions!

To begin with, I'll allow Eshonborn to ask the two queries that everyone wants to know the answers to: "Where has Larry been for the past ten years or so? Is (this 'What if?' issue) marking a regular return to comics?"

First off, I always mentioned this in previous interviews and it never saw print for one reason or another, so I want to take the time to say so here: I wouldn't be in this industry if it wasn't for Howard Chaykin. I was in my mid 20s and went to a con where Howard Chaykin and Walt Simonson were having a panel. Afterwards, they invited everyone to get their autograph at a booth signing. The line was so long and my portfolio was so heavy that I simply skipped the line, went right to Howard and showed him my stuff.

Howard laughed and later told me it was very brazen of me to do so and thought my work earned it. I asked him if he had any work. He said he'd make a few calls. Two weeks later, he hooked me up with ["Alien Legion" creator] Carl Potts and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since my last work in comics, I've basically been living life in a non-art-related profession. I didn't stop drawing, though, keeping about some 20 sketchbooks filled from cover to cover. A couple of months ago, I received a call from Carl Potts, who had visited the Marvel offices recently, and he mentioned that Justin Gabrie, Marvel's Managing Editor, was looking for me. I gave Carl permission to give Justin my number, who gave me a call and eventually found the right project for me to work on. To make it better, he is editing the project himself.

As to the second question, does this mean I'm back in comics? Yes.

Following up on this query, what is the story about?

I'll let Justin tell you about the story...

Justin Garbie: First off, let me say I am happy that Larry Stroman is back. Loved his stuff since the days of "Alien Legion" for Epic all through his run on "X-Factor." I always felt he was deserving of more recognition. I'm glad to see that there are many Stroman fans out there that feel the same. I hope his second run in the industry will embrace him as one of the best talents comics has to offer. Having seen the first bunch of pages from Larry in ten years, I was as giddy as an old-school X-Fan to witness this story illustrated in Stroman's signature style and flair.

Written by Christopher Yost, the story stems from the 12-part X-Men event "The Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire," originally told by Ed Brubaker with Billy Tan and Clayton Henry. Like the classic "What Ifs," there is a moment in time when someone or something zigs instead of zags (in this case a stray laser blast) at the climax of the story that places Vulcan in the path to tap and absorb the Phoenix force. After that, everything changes. Anyway, this is Larry's interview, not mine, so let me give it back to the man of the hour.

Thanks Justin! So, Larry, what is it about this project that excites you most?

Drawing comics again.

A simple and honest answer. Next up, we have Segundo, who seems to be a big fan of yours. From the e-mail he sent in, he could have probably conducted this interview. As a result of his zeal and enthusiasm, well, I'm going to let him ramble on a bit here:

"First off, I couldn't be more excited that Larry Stroman is returning to comics. 'X-Factor' #84 (along with 'Spiderman' #18) was one of the first two comic books I ever owned. I was immediately drawn in by his funky rendition of some weird bald-headed guy who I later learned was a character known as Strong Guy.

"When Peter David returned to 'X-Factor' a couple of years ago, I immediately wanted to know what his partner-in-crime was up to. I searched the internet and posted on several message boards, but was able to find nothing. Issue #0 of his self-published comic, 'Tribe,' was the last work I had seen from him. So my questions for Mr. Stroman are:

1) In my opinion, no artist (including Jim Lee) has been able to capture the raw energy and power of Havok's plasma blast more effectively than you. I couldn't be more happy to discover that you will be drawing him again. What X-characters (heroes and villains) have been your favorite to draw? Which ones would you like a crack at rendering?

The main X-Factor characters: Havoc, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Madrox, and Quicksilver. For a team book, it's very important that the characters vary in shapes and sizes. This specific group had that. In terms of villains, my favorite to draw was Sinister.

Ones I want a shot at drawing? A lot of the Marvel Heroes actually. Characters like Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, Captain America and Daredevil.

2) Some of my favorite Stroman scenes have been the ones where a crowd is gathered in the background – there are always an assortment of zany characters to study. How do you come up with these people? Is there any real world inspiration for them, or do you simply invent them?

A combination of real life, as well as different photos, cartoons, other artists' renditions – taking that and pushing the shapes behind it, but mainly real life. I like taking it to the street and drawing people walking around. Most of my sketchbooks are filled with just that. There always has to be a source where art draws inspiration from. Even drawings I've done considered fantastical were taken from real life.

When I was on "Alien Legion," I flipped through nature magazines like "Wild Life," "Insect Life," "Marine Life" and biology books and used those as my source. I take notes from all the research and begin a standard layout. I then put the stuff away. I come back to it a day later and start working without looking at anything. In other words, I just draw.

3) Were you given any instructions from Marvel when designing X-Factor's costumes? The matching colors and leather construction of your costumes basically served as the prototype for the look the X-men adopted in the movies and during Morrison/Quitely's run (and thereafter).

Not at all. I did one sketch of each character and was given the go-ahead from there. I was never asked to do more sketches or to redraw any of them. In terms of the costumes serving as prototypes to the things you mention, I never saw it that way but thank you for thinking so.

4) Rahne's costume had the greatest longevity (it was used even after she left the team and joined Excalibur), followed by Havok's. Did you foresee such iconic status as a result of your designs? Which did you feel you did the best job in creating?

No. I didn't think about it in those terms. It was more about creating a design that I liked – that I thought would be interesting to look at – on the spot at that particular time. The best of those in my opinion was Lorna's (Polaris).

5) Why did you not create a costume for Quicksilver?

Because it was one of those costumes that was perfect as is. To this day, I think Quicksilver's costume works like the way I think Green Lantern's, Batman's, and Superman's "just works."

6) Not many artists these days use very small panels in their work. Back in 'X-Factor,' you used them with some frequency. Was that an artistic decision, or was it something Peter David included in his script? I personally like them, as they add more information to the page than we are used to seeing.

It was an artistic decision. Using small panels did two things for me: 1) it made for a more interesting panel layout. 2) The most obvious one, it made more room for other panels to breathe.

Can we expect to see more small panels in the work you are currently doing?


7) Why did you leave 'X-Factor'? If I remember correctly, you only illustrated a total of nine issues.

The assignment ended. The folks at Image found out and offered me the opportunity to do my own creation at Image which was "Tribe."

8) What happened to 'Tribe?' As far as I am aware, only four issues were made. Do you have plans to ever return to your creation?

I told the story I wanted to tell at that time. Now that I'm drawing comics again, there may be some stories to tell.

9) Your art took on a different, more organic look in the pages of 'Tribe' – did you do your own inking? Was there even ink involved?

Each book I was on was different, so my approach in drawing it was always different, from "Alien Legion" to "X-Factor" to "Tribe." I always looked to change it up and I'm glad you noticed that with the latter. For "Tribe," I did ink my own stuff.

Following up on Segundo's first question, NMarino wanted to know a bit more about the depiction of powers belonging to a certain fair-haired mutant. "Larry, how did you come up with your version of Havok's energy signature? I've always thought it resembled his power almost bubbling out of him, like air bubbling up in water. Was there resistance at the time to your visual redefinition of Havok's mutant ability?"

No resistance. I was simply doing the job asked of me, which was to fill a blank page in interesting ways. In this case, Havoc's energy signature helped me do that.

Clint has a question here that's probably a long-shot, but let's find out anyway. "Will we eventually be seeing the Nasty Boys now that you're back with Marvel?"

I hope so, but it's not up to me.

Let's wrap things up with Michael Todd, who wanted it known that your comeback made him "so excited…that I've wet myself." Hey, who can blame him? Once he changed his pants, he asked, "Larry, your page design has always been one of my favorite things about your comics. When laying out a page, how do you balance the flow of the story with the stylish aesthetics you've become known for?"

It's funny, but I don't know how. When an artist draws something that looks natural (storytelling, page layout, panel layout, the drawings themselves), I tend to like it. When I draw something that looks natural, I tend to think it looks "off" for some reason. Then I start playing with it, shifting things around until it looks interesting to me – changing it in a manner so each page has a certain amount of panels, and each panel in each page contains a certain amount of lines, a certain amount of elements, a certain amount of shadows, a certain amount of shapes. Especially shapes.

Justin saw my latest pages and gave me the critique that there were some tangents between panels (as is his job to do so). I had to tell him that those things were done on purpose – where shapes connect to other shapes for the integrity of the whole page, not just the individual panel. Then he saw it the way I saw it and he "got it." And before I close, I want to thank you all who have supported me and my projects over the years for "getting it," too.

Excellent! And now, we just have to wait three more months until this issue hits stands. Maybe Santa will leave me a copy….

Another X-POSITION is over, but come back in seven days – the next one is going to be a doozy. Writer Mike Carey will be joining us, so be sure to read his "X-Men" #203 (which arrived in shops this week). I also encourage all of you to take a gander at our interview with the X-writers and editors about the upcoming "Messiah CompleX."

Why am I assigning you all of this homework? Because beginning next week, X-POSITION will be moving full steam ahead in exploring the mysteries behind "Endangered Species" and "Messiah CompleX." Be sure to get me your thoughts, queries, and theories about these events ASAP (and include "X-Position" in the subject line). Things are going to get a bit crazy in the mutant universe soon…


Now discuss this story in CBR's X-Men forum.

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