Interview: MARVEL artist Steve McNiven!
Even the most casual comic book reader has a “must read” list – those select few titles that are so significant, so compelling, so “holy crap I need this in my collection” that they simply can’t be ignored.
Some of mine over the last few years include Civil War, the crossover event that became the highest-selling series of 2006 (and one of the most popular trade paperbacks of the decade.) Old Man Logan, a shockingly fresh and unique Wolverine tale set in a dystopian future. And most recently Guardians of the Galaxy, the rebooted Marvel Now! title that will serve as a primer for next year’s summer blockbuster.
And the common thread in all these comics? Steven McNiven.
Not only Marvel’s go-to artist when they want to bolster a critical mainstream title, McNiven has also branched out into some other projects that generated interest (including illustrating and co-creating Nemesis with Mark Millar, the wildly controversial “what if Batman went bad” title in 2011) as well as some stunning variant covers for books like Battlestar Galactica, Kick-Ass and Superior.
I was lucky enough to meet Steve at the Toronto Fan Expo this August, and we had a chance to discuss his work while I geeked out like the dorky fangirl I am.
Blake Northcott: Hi Steve! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
Steve McNiven: Hey Blake, always a pleasure!
BN: In comic stores and online forums, one of the most-discussed topics is “the best writer-artist team.” Three combinations that are mentioned, almost without exception, are Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev, Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely, and Steve McNiven/Mark Millar.
How important is the writer/artist relationship to the final product, and why do you think you and Mark make such a great team?
SM: All of the comics I have ever worked on have been a collaborative effort, from the writer to the editor, the inker, colorist and letterer and having a good relationship with each member of the team is crucial in making good comics.
As far as the relationship I have with Mark, well, the number one thing is that I think he’s a fantastic writer. If I had no confidence in his abilities as a writer I wouldn’t work with him. When I go to conventions I am asked a lot about my favorite characters and, while I do have them, I explain that I do not chase them but the writers that make them great. That’s how it has always been with me – chasing down writers I think are the best the industry has to offer and trying my best to tell their stories as well as I can. And I scored big time when Mark thought it would be fun to work together!
BN: When you get a script, how much direction do you typically get in terms of designs, backgrounds, panels/camera shots, etc.? Or at this point in your career, are the writers more like, “Steve is a pro, he can just do what he wants”?
SM: To me the script is best when it’s almost like a movie script , with as much direction, dialogue and such as the writer wants to put in. Tell me the shots, the background info, how the characters feel, what they are saying, all that stuff will go towards a better understanding for me as to the kind of the story the writer is going for.
I could work with the roughest of outlines for a story, the Marvel style as they used to call it, but what I put down on the page might only roughly reflect what the writer was trying to do. More information equals more communication and in a collaborative effort where we are all miles apart, I think it is essential to good comics.
BN: I just finished reading your three-issue run on Guardians of the Galaxy, and I loved the updated costumes! How much leeway were you given with the designs?
SM: Working with super-editor Steve Wacker is always a great time for me as he is hugely supportive of the work his teams do, so I had a great time hashing out the costume designs with him.
Unfortunately the idea Marvel had was for me to work with the movie studio, doing design work for the Guardians movie — which is gonna be fantastic! — that I could then reflect in the design work for the comic. That would have been amazing but the scheduling did not work out and the movie guys were not ready for me to start design work until about three or four days after I had wrapped up my run on the book!
I laugh now but it would have been cool as it was such a great idea, especially since the movies and the comics were essentially being done by the same company.
The characters will have different costumes, but look essentially the same in that one is a talking raccoon, another is a tree god etc. – and I do believe that the tone that Brian (Michael Bendis) set for the comic will have an echo in the movie for sure, but Brian would be the guy to ask about that.
BN: I can’t wait for Nemesis 2. Can you give us an update on that project?
SM: Nemesis 2 is on hold until I can get ahead of the Marvel work I have piling up. I don’t know if you have heard this before about me – and I’m sure you have – but I’m not the fastest artist out there, not by a long shot. So Mark and I are still planning on it but it will be at least a year away. Good news on the movie front though, Joe and Matt Carnahan have finished the screenplay just yesterday so things are about to pick up there.
BN: And finally, what else do you have coming up? Anything you can reveal, or is it all super-duper top secret?
SM: I’m currently working hard on a run in Uncanny Avengers with the super talented Rick Remender, and it’s full of death and mayhem! So much fun… it starts in November.
BN: Awesome – you had me at “mayhem.” I can’t wait to read it. Thank you so much, Steve – I hope we get a chance to chat again soon.
SM: Anytime, Blake!
You can catch up with Steve McNiven on his Tumblr blog “Rough Work,” where he regularly posts finished and in-progress artwork. Steve’s next book Uncanny Avengers #14 – written by Rick Remender – is slated to hit shelves on November 27.
And keep up with all things Marvel at Marvel.com
Blake Northcott is an author, Twitter-er, and occasional Slayer of Vampires (only the ones that sparkle).You can follow her on Twitter, or pick up her best-selling Sci-Fi/Superhero books Vs. Reality and Relapse over at Amazon.com.
Blake previously interviewed YouTube sensation ComicBookGirl19 in She Makes Geek Chic and proved cosplay is on the rise with The 5 Hottest Trends of 2012’s Summer Fan Conventions.