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On the last series Mike Norton and Sean McKeever worked on together, The Waiting Place, they received massive critical acclaim and it was well-received throughout the industry. Marvel’s looking for a repeat. With their latest project, Norton and McKeever have created Gravity (June 8), about a teen from the rural Midwest who moves to New York for a job, college and to become a superhero. Norton talked with CF about what went into creating the visual aspect of Gravity.
What have you learned as art director at Devil’s Due Publishing to help you become a better comic artist and better storyteller?
Wow … lots of things, I guess. When you’re looking at page after page of artwork coming in from various freelancers for the various books, I guess you can’t help but “study” and hope to absorb some of what you see. I got to do layouts for books and covers often and really think that it helped sturdy up my storytelling. So, I guess I’d answer “yes” to your question to a certain extent.
You’ve done a lot of covers at Devil’s Due. What makes a good cover? What should it do from a sales/artistic perspective?
Well, I’m always surprised at the various opinions at what makes a good cover. I’m actually kinda surprised at a lot of covers in recent years because they don’t seem to do much other than show the main character of the book just standing there. Now, I’m not saying that a cover like this CAN’T work, but to do it EVERY month seems to be a little uncreative to me. However, it’s done industry-wide right now, so obviously it works somehow … I mean, every Vogue or Cosmo cover will tell you that a straight-on shot of a beautiful woman sells copies.
So basically, a good cover should make you want to buy the comic. For me, that means to tease the audience into thinking, “Wow, THAT happens in the book????” prodding them to grab it as soon as they see it. That’s usually the first thing I think about before I start. From there I try to think of something as iconic as I can that will encapsulate what that issue is about. The concept/layout stage is usually the hardest part of drawing anything, I find.
You’ve been around the block. What does it take to interest you in a project?
That’s weird to think about. I really think of myself as just starting out. What gets me interested? It’s pretty easy, I think. Usually just a tight story will get me. I’ve read so many stories that I see in my head and think, “Man, this would make an AWESOME movie!” and I just get into it and want to put my stamp on it. It happens a lot, which is why I’ve had to learn to not go, “Hey, I’ll draw that!!”
Tell us about Gravity. It’s a brand new title from the ground up. What’s your process for creating new characters and costumes?
Gravity is a book that I’m EXTREMELY excited about for many reasons. First, I get to work with my buddy, Sean McKeever on a character that we both helped create. Also, he’s a new character that hearkens back to the early days while still being fresh, I think. When creating the characters, I usually work close with Sean to try to think of who and what the character is. A lot of the time when I’m designing a character, a lot of my thought goes into “How would this guy make his costume?” Seriously. One of the things I never got about Spider-Man was how he managed to make his own costume. That’s some serious sewing!
What type of research and reference was involved when you were crafting the look of Gravity?
Well, I don’t want to say too much as not to give away the story, but like I said, I looked a lot at stuff that people could use in the real world to create a cool-looking superhero uniform. I really like the way that motorcycle-racing gear and scuba equipment looks, and it’s very practical for risking your life … very protected.
What kind of role did Marvel take as far as oversight for the look of new costumes and characters?
MacKenzie Cadenhead (the editor) put in her opinions as far as what Gravity and his cast of characters looked like. She thought of a lot of stuff that I didn’t.
Obviously you had to create the “look” of Gravity, but how did you go about setting a visual tone and pacing for the story?
My method for the “visual tone” was pretty much what I usually do … I’ve always been a “servant to the story” kind of artist… So my first goal is always to make the story easy to understand. After that, I try to make it look as fun and engaging as possible. I tried to make it look as fun and fresh as possible while keeping ties to the classic comics that influenced me so much growing up.
How do you go about analyzing your own work? How do you step away and see your work objectively?
HA. That’s a good question. I’m not the best fan of my own work. I can step back and tell you why I may or may not like my pages, but I can’t say that I’m objective about it.
Your work has great storytelling elements in it. What’s your process when you start a book?
After reading a script, I really sit there and try to absorb it. I sit there and picture it in my mind as a movie. Then (usually the next day) I break down each page into what is hopefully a balanced composition that flows well and is clear to the reader. And speaking of that, I bother everybody I know with my layouts and quiz them with the old “Hey, what do you see happening on this page?” If they can tell, then I’m happy.
I’ve read that you draw a lot faster now than you used to. What can young artists do to speed things up?
Draw every day. Nothing helped me get faster than having to produce finished work by a deadline. It was really surprising how much easier it became. It’s like exercise.
What would you say are the tenets of good visual storytelling?
A variety “camera shots,” a good compositional balance on every page. And really try to go out of your way to visually “explain” things to the reader.
You work a lot on the business side. What do amateurs need to know about it, specifically, before getting into the game?
It’s tough, tough work. It’s easy to think that drawing for a living is nothing but laughs (because it is actually very fun and rewarding), but it’s also a JOB. Prepare yourself for lots of work.
I would also say all amateurs need to know that in order to impress people, you probably should go out of your way to meet your deadlines and do the most you can do to produce the best possible work you can.
—Interview by Tim Leong