Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fireside Chat with Stuart Immonen

Winter is almost here, and that is the perfect time for you to grab a warm drink, get your comfortable slippers, and get your comfy place next to the fire, because it's time for yet another Fireside Chat. This time around, we have one of the hardest working artist in the business, the inimitable and indomitable Stuart Immonen.

Currently the artist for New Avengers, he's also worked in the past in titles like Ultimate Spider-Man, Superman: Secret Identity, and many many more in the past two decades in the industry. We are going to talk trade, art, writing, and most importantly of all, we are going to talk NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

I bet that got your attention, right? Hit the jump to see the interview.

MATT DUARTE: Thanks for agreeing to sit down and chat with us, Stuart. First order of business is how are you doing today, and what are you working on at this very moment?

STUART IMMONEN: Thanks for having me. I'm fine; busy. That's the normal state of things, though. As to what I'm working on...

Marvel solicitations for February 2011 have come out, and some people have noticed that I'm not drawing the latest issue of New Avengers. Unfortunately, I can't divulge my replacement gig yet, but this may change before the interview is posted. Anyway, it's big.

I've also recently been asked to pitch for a comics-related publishing job... I can't talk about that either.

MD: Playing it mysterious, I see. In any case, you are known as a very timely and reliable artist, so what I wanted to know is: when was the last time you absolutely blew a deadline? And does it happen more often than people think?

SI: I've never blown a deadline, not by more than a day or two, anyway. In fact, through no fault of my own, I've been asked to turn in issues in as little as half the normal allotted time, and I've come through on those jobs, too. I'm not particularly good company during those times, but thankfully, it doesn't happen often.

I've helped other artists on jobs they couldn't finish in addition to my own assignments, and I'm often doing some other thing on the side. Even jobs I've thoroughly hated I've finished on time. I don't understand the people who can only manage three or four issues (or in some cases, a handful of pages) in a year in the name of quality. Is it really that much better? Don't they need to eat?

I'm far from being the most talented artist around; I try to make up for it by being consistent and reliable. I haven't had to actively search for work in twenty years, so I guess the strategy has paid off so far.

MD: I'm sure editors also appreciate the humbleness along with hard work. Speaking of working hard, and I don’t know if most readers realized this, but there was a week last year where you had three comics come out in the same day: an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man (part of the Requiem mini), your first issue of New Avengers, and the issue of Fantastic Four that you filled in for Bryan Hitch. What us mere mortals want to know is: what’s your average output like in a month?

SI: Well, that was primarily a fluke of shipping, but it reminds me that I recently tweeted that in 301 days since the beginning of the calendar year, I could only account for 215 pages of pencils; that's a page a day, less weekends.

(Double page spread from Fantastic Four #569)

The funny thing is, I'd forgotten about that issue of FF! That issue was 38 pages; I've also penciled 18 pages of Russian Olive to Red King, Kathryn's and my followup OGN to Moving Pictures. That's, uh, 271 pages in 301 days, 0.90 pages per day, or 27-28 pages per month. Yeah, that sounds more like it.

MD: Well, I hope it was me that helped you get your math right. Something I heard you say the other day on Twitter is that you and Wade Von Grawbadger don’t digitally ink the pages, it’s all done the old school way (mail the pages for him to ink manually). How does this influence your creative process and your deadlines?

SI: I'm not sure-- it's the way we've worked together for the past fifteen years or so, since we were at DC. So it's not like I have some alternative with which to compare. Apart from the occasional package held in customs, the thing that has weighed on us the most is shipping using the two-day service as opposed to overnight. For example, if I ship to Wade on a Thursday, he's waiting until Monday to receive the work, which is potentially a problem.

That being said, it's entirely his call; he prefers to ink on paper, and receive his portion of the original pages and I can't convince him otherwise. When I have the opportunity to ink myself, I often ink in Photoshop onscreen. I'm not as skilled as Wade, so I enjoy the chance to erase frequently and chase the elusive perfect stroke, and when minor patches or corrections are required, I'll inevitably do those digitally. I'm not married to any one way of working; I rise and sink with the tide.

MD: That's not the only unusual aspect of your work, though. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve read you actually do most of your work standing up, using a special desk designed for that. Would you recommend that for beginners and aspiring artists, or is this some secret ancient technique that must be mastered over years?

SI: Ha! No, it just works for me. However, it seems to be a common complaint among freelancers that their backs, wrists, shoulders and necks hurt... a lot. I ache as much as the next guy my age, but severe repetitive-motion ailments and back strain are things of the past for me.

For ages I honestly thought I was the only one who wanted to try this, and spent a lot of time trying to find a suitable solution for an upright workstation. Architects used to work standing (also preachers and window washers), but I think that's a thing of the distant past -- even they don't draw on paper anymore. But my desk was made by a company that custom-builds standup desks to suit an individual's height, handedness and working requirements. Mine has a tilting portion for work on paper, and a smaller flat portion for a computer and tablet.

MD: That's quite interesting, I'm not sure how many other professionals do their work standing up. 

Let's talk a bit about your career so far. Most current readers know you for your work in Marvel in the last decade, but during the 90’s you did quite a lot of work for DC, particularly for Superman/Action Comics and Legion of Super-Heroes. How do you view your own work from that time period?

SI: On one hand, I cringe at anything more than a few months old; or in some cases, weeks. It's painful to look at published work and see the flaws. When I go back decades, it's generally worse. I can't believe I was given work in '93; I was not ready.

On the other, I happen to have printed my latest script on the back of photocopied pages from Inferno, which was published by DC around '95, and it doesn't look much different than what I'm doing now... I don't know; I've drawn thousands of pages; it's not worth dissecting stuff that's so distant, historically speaking. I won't learn anything from it.

Then again, if I sweated over it more, it might be worth looking at.

MD: At the time, you were even scripting on top of drawing the comics. Did you at any time consider branching out solely as a writer, or just working in projects that would let you do both write and illustrate?

SI: No, not at all. It was good fun, especially on Superman, with the staggered weekly schedule, and other talented people with whom to exchange ideas, but I never thought about not drawing. If I'm being honest, the situation at the time progressed to spending more time writing than drawing, and that didn't suit me at all. I wasn't improving either endeavor. Anyway, I prefer working with Kathryn.

MD: You and your wife Kathryn have worked together in a group of projects, including webcomics, graphic novels, and a short stint in the Marvel Comics Presents anthology from a few years back. How different is it working with her, who you share a studio with, instead of any other writer?

SI: Well, Kathryn and I started out self-publishing in 1988, and have been making comics together ever since. It's pretty much a perfect collaboration since we not only share physical space, but creative sensibilities. We share the same experiences, watch the same movies and so on, so it's easy to communicate.

MD: If we were to look at the list of writers you have collaborated with, we would find some of the biggest names of the industry such as Warren Ellis, Brian Michael Bendis, Kurt Busiek, and Brian K. Vaughan among others. What’s one writer that you would really like to work with, but haven’t had the chance to yet?

SI: I'd have to say I don't really think about potential work situations this way. If a project is interesting, I'm on board. I'm not actively seeking out new horizons; actually, it's much more satisfying to tread on familiar ground.

(Double page spread from NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E. More of these can be found here)

MD: Now that you mention familiar ground, if you ask me, NextWave Agents of H.A.T.E. was one of the best books to come out in the past decade. You and Warren created something that, while not commercially successful, is almost universally praised by anyone that read it. It would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t ask this: any possibility of a sequel, or just a desire to get back to those characters?

SI: While I think everyone who worked on the book would return to it, I don't think there's a market for it. The readership numbers spoke for themselves. Despite all the effort that went into extra promotions that we did (the Theme song, the Crayon Butchery variant, the Director's Cut first issue, a lot of which involved work done without compensation), there simply weren't enough people buying the book to sustain it. So, the desire is there-- but it feels like it's one-sided.

(Note from the editor: if you haven't read NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E., do yourself a favor and buy the Ultimate Collection, which has all 12 issues of the series. You can thank me later.)

MD: That comic was full of crazy ideas, and every obscure Marvel character that you could get your hands on. Was there something that you wanted to include but you couldn’t for one reason or the other? Or something that never made it to the final cut of the book?

SI: It wasn't that kind of collaboration; everything was in the script. My job was to simply try to hang on for the ride. I didn't contribute story or character ideas, so it's not possible for me to say if there's something Warren may have wanted to do.

MD: And what a ride it was! You are currently the artist on New Avengers, and have been for a while now. The book has a huge sprawling cast: which one is your favorite to draw and why?

SI: I like drawing the Thing pretty well; it's an interesting challenge to try and convey his mass and strength.

(Just a part of the cast of New Avengers)

MD: He's the idol of millions for a reason, though I'm sure not every artist appreciates having to draw all those lines. 

At this point, you've worked with Brian Bendis, first in Ultimate Spider-Man, and now in New Avengers, for over three, almost four years. Have you developed a psychic rapport by now? What is it like collaborating with someone for so long?

SI: Brian writes his script and I draw it. There isn't a lot of back-and-forth. I don't think either of us have time to confer about it, although I recognize that this isn't everyone's notion of an ideal working relationship, and may not even be how Brian works with other people. He does his job very well, and I try to support his vision. I don't hear any complaints, anyway.

MD: Nothing wrong with two professionals being good at what they do. When I look, for example, at the artwork of some new talents in the industry like Rafa Sandoval (Ultimate Mystery) or Scott Wegener (Atomic Robo), I see a style that is very similar and influenced by yours. Do you view yourself as an influential artist?

SI: No, not at all. If that's true, it's very flattering.

MD: I think so, but I'll make sure ask them if you are one of their influences when we have them over for an interview.

What’s one artist or writer that you are a fan of, but that is not quite as popular as you would like, or that you would wish they would get more attention for the work they are doing?

SI: That's difficult to say... I assume that if I hear about someone, then everybody else has heard about their work.

MD: I can image you don't have a lot of time to read with your kind of schedule. Do you have artwork (whether it’s yours or not) decorating the walls of your studio or house?

SI: No. I own a very few pieces by Stan Drake, Dan DeCarlo and Mike Mignola, but they aren't on display. I don't keep any of my own work.

MD: The final part of our interview is our Literary Rorschach Test. We’ll give you a few words, and we want you to play word association with them, writing whatever you think of first.

Ink - wet
Hockey - fast
Photo Referencing - crutch
Logan - old
Sketches - Spain
London - crumbling
Pilgrim - progress
Noir - cinema
Children - germs
Editors - support
Crisis - infinite

MD: Well, I'm sure there's a few of those that will get people talking. That's it for our interview! 

Thanks to Stuart Immonen who is a gentleman and a scholar (fun fact: Stuart was fast even in answering these questions, and we didn't even give him a deadline). His art can be currently found in the pages of New Avengers, and you should be on the lookout for his new secret project for Marvel (or you could try asking him on Twitter). Thanks to all of our readers for joining us, and I hope you enjoyed another fine edition of Fireside Chat!

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Ken said...

very good interview, Immonen is one of the best. Very honest and candid, like a guy who knows he doesn't have to lie or blow smoke up people's butts to keep a job, his artwork and professionalism do all the talking for him.

Superman: Secret Identity is still one of the best things he's ever done.

Matt Duarte said...

@Ken: Glad you liked the interview!

Mike-El said...

Immonen has been my hero ever since Secret Identity. It was really magnificent work. Great interview!

Ivan said...

"Photo Referencing - crutch"

Hah! Eat your heart out, Greg Land.

Jonathan_R said...

wait, this is pretty big news that he will NOT be the artist on New Avengers any longer, right?
I had assumed this was just a one-off fill-in for the month...but Mr Immonen seems to be indicating he is off the book as of February...??

Matt Duarte said...

@jonathan: Yes, that is what he is saying. Like you, I thought it was just going to be a fill in issue, but looks like they are moving him to something else. I'm guessing some kind of big event?

krakkaboom said...

Immonen is the best artist to work on an Avengers title in years. I'm guessing Deodato is just filling in on New Avengers until the new artist takes over. At least, I hope that's the case. Deodato on two Avengers books would be terrible. I enjoyed his run on Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers, but his work is too dark for New and Secret, in my opinion. Coipel isn't doing anything. Get him on New Avengers to keep the standard as high as possible.

Hopefully Immonen is working on an Avengers event and will return to New Avengers once the event concludes.

Anonymous said...

I have loved Stuart's work since back when he was on Superman. His Ultimate X-men was a highlight. I just wish he did more (or any!) DC work these days! ;)

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