Steve McNiven: Q&A
Posted: Thursday, March 18, 2004
Posted By: Tim O'Shea
Steve McNiven is an artist that impressed me from the time of my first exposure to his work in CrossGen’s Meridian. In fact, of his work I once raved: “Looking at the … art of this comic book, I’m reminded of an old Split Enz lyric: ‘I had to explore the light and dark to see the sharp and flat.’ … McNiven’s work is why this book [Meridian] sings…” As his work on that series progressed, he improved with each issue. So, when it was announced he’d be teaming with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on the Marvel Knights incarnation of the Fantastic Four, entitled 4, I was quite enthused. My enthusiasm was partially because of my love of the four characters merged with my interest to see how McNiven would approach the book. And what I’ve read of the series since its debut last month, he’s not let me down yet. I recently caught up with him to discuss his latest ongoing monthly work.
Tim O’Shea: Right out of the gates, the recent interview with you by my friend at PULSE, Jen Contino, prompted some offbeat answers. One follow-up I have to ask, how the heck does Charles Bukowski, the beat poet who died in 1994, influence your approach to 4?
Steve McNiven: Make your own rules. Or is it make your own drinks? I'm not sure, but I'll never work at a post office.
That's what I love about comics. There are no rules. It's not like driving a car where if you don't follow the rules of the road people will be put in harms way. It's art and you can do what you want. I'm lucky that what I want to do with comics seems to be cool with the guys and gals at Marvel.
That's why it is so funny when people come up to me and say how they don't like these artists because they use too much photo reference, or not enough, or they have no grasp of human anatomy or they draw ugly women or any number of qualifiers that people put on 'good' art, as they see it. They are fooling themselves. There is no right or wrong way. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but opinions are not rules.
TO: Each artist seems to convey a trademark look to the FF powers, so far in the first issue I like such little touches as the scene where Johnny leaves scorch marks on the golf course where he's standing; with Ben it's the manner in which when he's picking up the construction debris, you show his fingers making dents in the concrete. But I'm curious, with Sue's invisible power, the impact is implied, you avoid drawing the traditional force field bubbles or when she stops the mugger the wall she constructs to block him is not shown, but rather the impact of it the mugger hitting the unseen wall is shown. Who came up with making Sue's invisible power truly invisible?
SMcN: Certainly not me. I think someone else came up with that, but who or where or why I'm not sure. Maybe it was the same guy that got rid of thought balloons in comics.
TO: It also came up in the PULSE piece that you're a sculptor. I daresay you may be the first FF artist that knows how to draw Alicia Masters at work sculpting. Or wait, I should ask, is Alicia a sculptor in the 4 incarnation?
SMcN: Well Roberto hasn't explored Alicia in depth yet in the scripts that I have worked on, so I'd have to refer this one to him but in my opinion there is no question that she should be a sculptor ( sculptress?), it just fits with her love of that big hunk of rock. Of course, if I don't mention all that stuff with Johnny and the Skrulls and whatnot, the continuity jawas will come out of the dunes on mass. Whatever. For the record I think that Alicia and Ben were meant to be. I know that there is a Bennifer joke in here somewhere but I can't find it.
TO: An artist in many ways is only as strong as his inker and colorist. From your perspective how do Mark Morales and Morry Hollowell make you look good?
SMcN: I don't think that Mark and Mo! do an astounding job ( and they most certainly do!), just to make me look good. The whole' penciller as team leader' thing is crap as far as I see it. They, along with Roberto, are artists with their own set of goals and this book is a collaborative effort and I'm lucky to be working with like minded people. But none of us has any business telling anyone else how to do their job. If you don't like what they are doing, do it yourself or shut up, that's how I try to work . That's not to say that we don't ask for feedback or give suggestions when we feel like it, but you have to respect each others efforts. I would only have a problem if someone was hacking it out in which case I'd let them know and I'd also talk to Warren Simons, my editor, and let him know what I think. He is ultimately responsible for the cohesion of the group in that manner. I have never had a moment where I thought Roberto, Mark or Mo! has done anything less that what they are capable of , I can't imagine I ever will, and I would hope that none of those guys ever have to make a call like that to Warren about me. Not that it will do them any good 'cause I have these photos.......
TO: It seems that you and writer Aguirre-Sacasa are meshing nicely on the portrayal of Sue, making her a definitely strong female lead--potentially the strongest (not physically, but rather in terms of character portrayal) since the days of Byrne. Is this a goal of interest to you and Aguirre-Sacasa?
SMcN: Well, when you put the word 'female' with 'strong lead' you tend to get sidetracked from talking about character portrayal and end up in discussions about gender equality which I don't think is where you are going with this question. However, I think that how Roberto has developed the character of Sue is wonderful, it works for me, and that it would have been a mistake for him to write her as she was portrayed in the 60's. But I can't say that it was a specific goal for me artistic wise at the beginning. Now it is a goal to accurately portray Sue as a 'strong female lead', except that I am unsure of the visual difference between portraying a strong female lead and a strong male lead. Except that one is female and one is male, which I don't think has anything to do with leadership.
TO: So much of the downtime appeal to Johnny and Ben is the physical comedy between the two of them. Are you looking forward to doing such scenes, given that unless I'm mistaken your past assignments didn't give you must chance to stretch your comedic visual muscles?
SMcN: Comedy is such a tricky thing to pull off but Roberto has an amazing ability to set these things up, it seems so effortless to him while I struggle with capturing the subtlety of the stuff. It is something that doesn't come easy to me but you need those skills if you are to become a well rounded storyteller. Working with the two characters is a lot of fun though, they can get into that whole Abbott and Costello thing, which I love.
TO: What do you hope readers take away from 4?
SMcN: I'm all about storytelling so I hope that readers enjoy the story.
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