Machine Men: Ivan Brandon and Niko Henrichon on Marvel Comics Presents

A comics interview article by: David Wallace
The solicitation description of Marvel Comics Presents #8 reads “Aaron Stack has been drinking again…drinking to keep the ghosts of his past at bay. It wouldn’t be a problem if he was just a man, but he’s Machine Man, and his past has a way of coming alive!

Dave Wallace recently spoke with writer Ivan Brandon and artist Niko Henrichon about their collaboration on this upcoming story… as well as their bonding in the French Canadian prison system.

Dave Wallace (DW): Ivan, most comics readers probably know you best from NYC Mech. Is it much of a leap from the concept of that book to writing a Machine Man story? Both seem to deal with the idea of humanity as viewed through a robotic lens.

Ivan Brandon (IB) For me, honestly, they're night and day... Aaron Stack is a construct, and he started out desperately trying (and failing) to fit in to the strange society he was built in to.

If it's "humanity" that the characters in NYC Mech are viewing, well… it's their own humanity, so to speak. It may be weird to us, but it's all they know. They lack the contrast that defines Machine Man's ongoing heartache.

DW: I've heard you describe the 24Seven anthology that you've worked on at Image as a great chance for creators to cut loose with their own ideas a little more, telling stories which are unfettered by continuity. Are these qualities also what attracted you to work on Marvel Comics Presents?

IB: Oh, absolutely. And in this case, working on a character like Machine Man, he's a little off the beaten path, so to speak. He's not "mine," but he's also not as tied into the larger picture. We've been pretty free to work on a story that's fairly autonomous from Marvel's big events.

On the other hand, though he's had limited time in the spotlight since his creation, Machine Man has a wonderfully absurd history, and I think people who are familiar with it will be surprised to see which parts of his continuity we chose to sneak into this story.

DW: With that lack of restrictions in mind, did you get to choose what version of Machine Man you'd be using in the MCP story? Is your take on Machine Man going to draw on what Warren Ellis did with the character in nextwave, is it closer to the original Kirby concept, or is it a different thing entirely?

IB: A little of everything, really... a little of all the above. It's hard to really explain without spoiling the whole thing, but the story starts in the present, post-nextwave, with his Kirby origins playing a huge part, to his own dismay. Also, since Aaron's drinking actually started in the Ditko run that followed Kirby's, there are bits of that, too.

DW: Did you consciously write in a different way when writing your MCP story? Your story is being told in short instalments over the course of several issues, so I'm curious as to whether you found yourself having to modify your writing style to fit the anthology format? I guess your experience on 24Seven will have come into play here.

IB: I tend, to my own frustration, to constantly throw obstacles at myself that make it very hard for me to really have a set style, or a comfort zone, one way or the other... so yeah, writing this was VERY different from anything I've ever done, but it was also more my own masochism than the process that made it hard. It's got a kind of atypical structure both visually and chronologically, and a lot of strange characters mixed in…

It took me longer to write the first installment of Machine Man than it's taken me in the past to write a 48 page graphic novel. I wanted to make sure it wasn't a throw-away story. I think a lot of self-contained works get treated as side-gigs, and I really thought it was a unique opportunity to surprise people, maybe.

DW: How did you and (Pride of Baghdad artist) Niko Henrichon get together?

IB: We met in a minimum-security prison in Quebec. I taught him English, and he taught me how to feel.

Niko Henrichon (NH): Yeah and don't forget we both learned to use nunchakus with our feet and that it played a significant role during our great escape. But that's another story.

DW: I heard Quebec prisons are particularly medieval. Ivan, can you relate how you pitched this story to Marvel? Did your pitch come with Niko attached or did Marvel attach you to Niko?

IB: It actually wasn't a pitch, per se. Our editor, John Barber, asked me to write a five part story for MCP, and while I was thinking about who best to write, he came up with a suggestion that I fell in love with: Machine Man. Niko had done a story for me in 24seven 2, and we've wanted to collaborate since, so I talked to him to see if he was interested and then Marvel threatened his life or something to get him to fit it in.

DW: Niko, I was a huge fan of your artwork in Pride of Baghdad with Brian K Vaughan. One of my favourite elements was the way you captured the natural beauty of the various animals and landscapes involved. A Machine Man story seems like quite an unusual and surprising follow-up. What drew you to the character?

NH: That's all Ivan's fault. He knows my weakness: I've always enjoyed his work. So if he says "Machine Man?", I say "Yes, sir!" My answer would have been exactly the same if he'd have suggested "Cudgel handling Ninja Pigmys"...

DW: Maybe it's for the best that he suggested Machine Man, then. I don't know if Marvel would have gone for that!

Brandon Peterson's cover illustration that we've seen in the solicitations for the first issue of your story (Marvel Comics Presents #8) looks more like the original Kirby version of Machine Man than the version more recently seen around the Marvel Universe. Does that reflect the approach that you'll be taking with the character?

NH: Hmmmm, yes and no. But I can't really say why without ruining the surprise of Ivan's story.

IB: Brandon Peterson's cover is actually the nextwave version, with the Kirby version in the background...

DW: Ah, I see. I guess we'll wait and see how that plays into your take on the character. Approaching things from the other direction, Niko, how much have you contributed in terms of story ideas? Was there anything that you particularly wanted to draw that you asked Ivan to include?

NH: Sometimes, Ivan kindly asked me what I'd like to draw for Machine Man. This thoughtful gesture touched me deeply. So I made some suggestions based on what little I know of the Marvel Universe. Maybe some of my suggestions will make it into the comic book.

IB: I'm always trying to figure out how to bring out the best in the artists I work with. The brighter Niko shines, the better it'll make me look, right? One character in particular in the 2nd issue, for example, is there just for him.

DW: Niko, after this Machine Man story, is it likely that we'll see more interior art from you in future? I've seen your work on a couple of Fantastic Four covers, and I'm intrigued by the "Fantastico" images on your website. Is it likely that we'll see that develop into a complete story?

NH: Sure, at the moment I'm working on issue #70 of Fables for Vertigo, which as a reader is one of my favourite series. I'm also finishing drawing and colouring a graphic novel for the Franco-Belgian publisher Dupuis, which could also be translated into English someday.

As far as my personal project, Fantastico, is concerned: I've spent some time lately trying to get something readable out of it, and my story is turning into something that I'm really starting to enjoy. If time allows, I'd like to work on getting something published in the next few years.

DW: Excellent news. Thanks for your time, guys.

Coming soon to ComicsBulletin’s “True Believer Tuesday”: an exclusive preview of Ivan Brandon and Niko Henrichon’s Marvel Comics Presents story! Stay tuned!

Community Discussion