Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fireside Chat with Steven Sanders

Ryan Lindsay here, one of the new guys that joined recently, and I'm tapped with introducing our newest feature, the Fireside Chat, interviews with your favourite creators where we settle in with a nice warm mug and discuss comics in a relaxed, less formal atmosphere than the regular news sites focusing on the next big events and exclusives.  They offer up a more personal approach to interviews and hopefully will be as entertaining to read as this interview was to conduct.

Our first guest for our Fireside Chat is Steven Sanders, the artist from Marvel's S.W.O.R.D., who chats with us about his feelings on S.W.O.R.D., it's impending cancellation, the reception he gets from fans on the internet, the simplicity of collaborating with Matt Fraction, and why we should all be begging Marvel to allow him to draw a Forge series.  Full interview after the jump!

Steven Sanders is the amazing artist who brought Agent Brand and friends closer to our hearts with the new Marvel title S.W.O.R.D. The title showed us the running of the Sentient World Observation and Response Department as Agent Brand and her new boyfriend, Beast, went up against new S.W.O.R.D. co-director, and perennial Marvel foil, Henry Peter Gyrich.

Ryan K Lindsay: Steven Sanders, welcome, now that S.W.O.R.D. is completed, and you are no doubt close to, if not completely, finished with your work on it, how do you feel about the run as a five issue whole? Are you happy with what you got to get out to the fans?

Steven Sanders: Thanks for having me, Ryan, and congrats on your new writing gig.

I'm pretty satisfied with it (S.W.O.R.D.). The run should show a definite improvement curve as I'm working out various kinks, and it was/is (still working on issue 5 at the moment) a blast to work on. The work is by no means perfect, but if I ever feel that it is I'll probably go find something else to do, since the challenge is half the fun.

RKL: Are you angry that S.W.O.R.D. was cancelled, or disappointed? What emotions ran through your head when you received the news?

Sanders: It was a bit frustrating, mostly because of my ignorance or lack of understanding of the process by which a book lives or dies in this industry. We were warned ahead of time of the possibility of cancellation, however, so I was steeled for it. Also, at the end of the day, I'm paid by Marvel to provide them with a desired service, and I work (or don't work) at their pleasure, and am fine with that. I will miss the book and its characters, though.

RKL: Are small titles like these merely seen as stepping stones for creators these days to see if they get the call up to the big time? Fraction had The Order, Jeff Parker had Agents of Atlas, Paul Cornell had Captain Britain and MI:13, now you and Gillen cut your teeth on S.W.O.R.D.

Sanders: That seems to be the pattern, but time will tell if that works like that with me. About all I can do is try and provide a good product to my client (and by extension the fanbase) and make deadlines and hope for the best.

RKL: Do you feel that having a female lead in the comic was possibly one of the factors to S.W.O.R.D. being cancelled?

Sanders: Ooof. People have said that Brand's lack of stereotypical comic book T&A sex appeal is a reason for her lack of popularity. It's a possibility, but I could only speculate, and I don't really have enough information to make an informed one.

RKL: You and Kieron Gillen had obviously planned to have more than five issues, and with that planning must have come notes and sketches, will the clamouring public ever have a chance to see these documents? Will we hear from Unit again?

Sanders: I think a lot of that depends on how well the remaining issues and trades sell. Mini's might be possible in the future. I don't design much out past a few issues, so any notes past the first arc are all in Kieron's hands.

RKL: Who was your favourite S.W.O.R.D. character and why?

Sanders: Probably a toss up between Brand and Beast. I like strong female leads, as they tend to be somewhat rare, and Beast is something of the archetypal nerd, which, as I am one, has an appeal.

RKL: It's no surprise that your rendition of Beast divided some fans, can you explain how you came to the decision to draw him in the manner you took?

Sanders: I had always loved Quitely's Beast, and had been reading Bone when I was drawing Beast initially, and really love the profile that Jeff Smith gave the Dragon. So I merged the two. I thought it was a neat look, and so did Nick Lowe, but apparently a lot of fans don't cotton to it. I had very little exposure to the online comics community prior to this job, so I wasn't quite prepared for the vitriol. (Some "reviews" spent half the time thinking of names to call the design. Super classy and professional, people.)

Although, to their credit, I've read a lot of people say that once they got used to it, they considered it a very apt fit for the book, so that's comforting. Not that I expect everyone to love the design and think "OMG this is the best evar", but rather there's always an adjustment period where I have to remember that a lot of people act like rude children on the internet. What would be "I didn't really care for the Beast design" when said in person becomes "HORSE BEAST SUUUUUUCKS!!! LEARN TO DRAW, DICKFACE! " Take away lesson: The internet is an awesome place that brings out the best in everyone.

RKL: You do have an internet profile on Twitter where you update relatively regularly, where do you see the internet as part of a comic creator's life? Overall, is it more positive or negative?

Sanders: Hm. I think it's a pretty handy networking tool, and the switch to digital media for art is a godsend. No more late night FedExing. As far as Twitter goes, it just lets me say a lot of stupid things easily without having to commit to a blog spot.

The only real negative that I can see, and this is certainly a matter of personal perspective, is the development of creator as cult personality, where creators can sublimate the adoration that they have gained via their work into the title of little king of an internet fiefdom.

I'm just not a big fan of anyone who develops drone followers, regardless of medium. But, if everyone involved is made happy by it, I really can't complain about it too much, as it doesn't really affect me. It is probably a somewhat organic process as well, and may not be completely in the hands of the creator. For all I know, they may have gone into it with the best of intentions and their fans just have issues.

Also, I don't mean to imply that any creator with a forum is engaging in this. To get clinical, it's a spectrum disorder. :)

RKL: Is there one thing you had planned in the future of S.W.O.R.D. (a scene, an alien, or perhaps just a panel) that you are disappointed you now won't get the chance to draw?

Sanders: Yes, but I can't talk about it on the off chance it might show up in a mini.

RKL: With Kitty Pryde apparently returning within the pages of Uncanny X-Men, does this mean some of S.W.O.R.D. will get a chance to play a role in that story as well? Lockheed would likely be a given, but we saw Agent Brand working hard on cracking the case as well...

Sanders: I honestly haven't the foggiest idea about this.

RKL: With S.W.O.R.D. cancelled and many people having a $2.99 sized hole in their budget, where would you say we should fill it to get a similar sort of treat that you and Kieron Gillen gave us?

Sanders: Erp. I'm probably a poor person to ask, my comic reading is extremely limited lately, but Remender and Moore's Punisher run might be good. Seems like a fun romp. Tony's putting out some of the best sequentials of his career in that book.

RKL: What was the relationship with Kieron Gillen like? Did you two need to converse much about your shared vision for S.W.O.R.D. and were his scripts hyper-detailed or were you to thank for the gorgeous looking Metroliths?

Sanders: We talk a lot about the book. I designed the Metroliths around Kieron's description of them as "Sentient termite mounds". Kieron provides excellent grist for my mental wheels. He usually provides just enough info for me to give me what I need without constraining me too much.

I do IM him more than I probably should with stupid questions, but I am trying to limit that.

RKL: Can you give us any teasers on where your divine pencils will be gracing us next? Will you switch to another Marvel project? Maybe a one-shot?

Sanders: I haven't the foggiest, I'm afraid. Everyone I talk to seems to think I'll be getting more work soon, but I don't know what that is going to be. I am hoping to get a bit of time off after SWORD is finished, a: to rest, as I am a bit fried, and b: I'd like to mess around with some style experiments (pencil/wash work) that I'd like to see if I can get anyone interested in.

RKL: Seeing as you want to experiment with different styles, have you ever thought about working on a progressive webcomic as some contemporaries (Cameron Stewart, Karl Kerschl) are?

Sanders: Harold Sipe and I have have considered launching Ares Rising as a webcomic. It's a great culture that has developed, and there's some really great work out there (along with a lot of well intended dross). It kind of reminds me of the independent market of the 80's.

RKL: Going back in time, how did you break into comics?

Sanders: I went to school (Kansas City Art Institute) with the same guys that formed MK12, the production house that Matt Fraction co-founded, and one of them told Matt "Hey, you should meet Steve Sanders, he draws comics, and you write them", and it went from there. Matt and his wife Kelly Sue coached me through this whole "networking" thing that is apparently part of getting work, and so I met a lot of great people in the field and eventually landed here, talking to you. I also drew and drew and drew and drew and drew and drew.

RKL: What was the first comic you can remember being really captured by?

Sanders: Shirow Masamune's APPLESEED. Or an Epic Moebius collection. I forget which. An early teenage Steven saw the scene in APPLESEED #1 (God, I miss Eclipse comics) where a character popped out of a powered armor suit and my mind wet its pants in glee.

RKL: What was your first interaction with Marvel like?

Sanders: Really great. Nick Lowe called me to talk about S.W.O.R.D., and he's one of the nicest people I've talked to. Really, everyone I've interacted with at Marvel has been great. I guess as far as voice communication, that only includes Daniel Ketchum. Regardless, great people. Which probably sounds like a complete suck up job, but it is God's truth. I'm a bad liar.

RKL: Describe for us what an average working day for you would entail? How many hours and where do they take place?

Sanders: 8-12 hrs pretty much every day. Do the rough, make the blue line, print it on the paper, pencil it. I'll take breaks and watch anime or something every few hours. Most of it is in my office at home, or I'll have friends visit that I'll work with at the dining room table.

RKL: Do you listen to music while you work, and what songs would comprise the soundtrack to S.W.O.R.D.'s conception and creation?

Sanders: I do, but I mostly only listen to music during the first half of the process. And that can be anything. I go through so much music that all I could give as a soundtrack would be "anything but modern country". Once I'm in the process of putting on the finished pencils, I'm usually listening to audio books or podcasts. A lot of Heinlein at the moment. Man that guy had an odd notion of what constituted sci-fi as he aged.

RKL: What comics are you reading lately?

Sanders: Flex Mentallo, A bunch of old weird comics from the black and white explosion from the 80's, Nikopol Trilogy. That's about it. After drawing all day I'm more prone to read nonfiction before bed than crack a comic. It's the working at the candy factory problem. :)

RKL: Whose art style do you think has inspired you the most?

Sanders: Shirow Masamune and Moebius would probably tie for first. Everything else is just seeing things I like in other artists styles and stealing it.

RKL: What movie would you most like to create a comic adaptation for?

Sanders: Huh. I haven't the foggiest idea.

RKL: From here, with your dance card relatively opened up, where would you like to go in the coming years? Are there any specific creators you'll be asking (praying) to work with?

Sanders: I like gigs with fights and explosions that pay me money. Tech heavy is preferred, but I'm not very picky.

RKL: If you could work with one dream character who would it be?

Sanders: Probably Forge. Anyone who can make any kind of machine out of anything at hand is pretty awesome in my book.

RKL: The next section is our Literary Rorschach Test, we give you a word or concept and you have to tell us what it makes you feel. You may give us a one word response or a paragraph. Here we go:

Wild West - Ugh
Twitter - 140
2010 - My god
Trade Waiting - If it's a new book, you just killed the title
Inkers - Need an Eisner category
Inspirado -Wut?
Noir - Kitsune
Digital Comics -Will save comics by making them cheap and disposable again
Tesla - Pigeons
Outer Space - We need to get out there, now

RKL: I also have to ask, you have some tattoos on each hand, what do they say?

Sanders: They say 'Hold Fast'. It's an old maritime tattoo, supposedly used to help the sailors hold onto the rigging. It always resonated with me as a reminder to never give up.

RKL: Steven Sanders, thank you so much for taking the time to sit by our Weekly Crisis fireside and chat with us this evening. It has been an esteemed pleasure.

Sanders: Thank you!

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brandon said...

Ryan homers in his first at-bat. Nice work dude

Flip The Page said...

Awesome stuff Ryan! Kept the interview interesting and personal without it derailing, something a lot of interviewers fail at.

Surprised to see that Sanders is into animé stuff as much as this article hints at, I must say.

Can't wait to see what the bloke does next

Brandon Whaley said...

Excellent interview. Also, Sanders draws the best Beast I've seen in a while, in my opinion.

Ivan said...

Haha, nice goatee.

I didn't know his work before this, I like the little I see. Great interview.

smkedtky said...

I would love to see a FORGE book in any comic format. He's always been my favorite X-Man.

TexiKen said...

Hella good interview, better than the hella lame Newsarama or CBR interviews.

And I enjoy Sanders art, he's like a Leonard Kirk or Don Kramer who deserves more attention.

Ethereal said...

I want more of these.

James said...

Fantastic interesting drawing questions!!!! (Drawing as in drawing out interesting answers)

Nicely played!!!

Ryan one of your questions should have been to ask him to draw one of your ideas?

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Glad everyone enjoyed what Mr Sanders had to say. Hopefully I asked the right questions.

We'll be working to bring you more of these in the near future; we aim to please.

I'm also glad to have hit a homerun, but I guess that just puts me back on the bench. When's my next turn up at the plate?

brandon said...

@Ryan - I'm not sure when you are up to bat again but this homer will be good to watch on replay a couple of times until the next time up.

Matt Ampersand said...

I have to admit that I do not know what many creators look like, but if you had asked me what I thought the guy that drew the "funny looking Beast" looked like? I certainly wouldn't have said "weird goatee and sailor tattoos". Mr. Sanders looks like he should be in a punk rock band, not drawing funny books.

That being said, I really hope he lands another gig soon, I really grew to like his art over the (short) course of S.W.O.R.D.

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