Shaping The Universe: Interview With Brad Walker
At the dawning of a third mini-series endangering the intergalactic structure of the Marvel Cosmos, Guardians of the Galaxy -- a book chronicling the saga of a ragtag band of proactive cosmic heroes committed to saving that universe -- found itself without its regular artist.
Paul Pelletier, who introduced and visually defined the modern-day Guardians of the Galaxy, moved onto the main War of Kings event book. But his absence was not long felt as Brad Walker, an artist known for his work at DC, stepped in and started, slowly but surely, to make readers forget.
Although sometimes absent an issue or two in its monthly run, Walker has become almost as identified with GotG as has its vaunted writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Month after month, Walker puts out some of the finest work in comics today within the Guardians' pages.
Recently, Walker spoke with Cosmic Book News about his work on Guardians of the Galaxy, his feelings about the contribution of inkers and colorists, his favorite (and least favorite) team members, those occasional non-Walker "fill-ins," and … Spider-Man?
Cosmic Book News: It is noticeable that you like large close-ups and do well with drawing people and also like crazy (in a good sense) panel shapes. Were you at all influenced by Gene Colan or his runs on "Dr. Strange" with inker/colorist Tom Palmer?
Brad Walker: Uh... I wouldn't say I was overly influenced by Gene the Dean, other than that I love most Silver Age art, in general. And I don't have any of that "Doctor Strange" run, even though I'm a huge Dr. Strange fan, and Tom Palmer is, hands down, one of my favorite inkers of all time.
But I think that, as far as artists from that era go, I was influenced more from Kirby, Buscema, Romita, Neal Adams, and even some Ditko.
But I do love drawing faces, and bending the panels when the action starts, you got me there.
A lot of that comes from, when I started on the book, I didn't want the shift from Paul Pelletier to be too jarring, so I really poured over how he was translating Dan and Andy's scripts, and tried to incorporate little things like page structure and pacing.
I would never want to ape the way somebody draws, but I think there are little things like that you can do to help transition from one artist to the next that don't leave people feeling like you ripped somebody off. And I actually think my art benefitted from doing that, greatly, because Paul's such a strong storyteller.
Which Guardian do you have the most fun working with? Are there any that you think of as "your character" (e.g., Kirby with Ben Grimm, Cockrum with Nightcrawler, Romita Sr. with Spidey, Ditko with Strange)?
Brad Walker: You know, there are several that I really feel connected to.
And most that I didn't feel that way about, or that were a pain in the ass to draw, died in issue #19.
Primarily, though, I feel really attached to Star-Lord. I think his personality is so well realized that he's a joy to "act" with, and I put myself into him, quite a bit.
I've had friends say that my depiction of him looks like me (but then, people said that about my Jimmy Olsen, my Adam Warlock, and my Superman, at times, too).
Aside from him, I also feel really personal about Rocket, of course; Moondragon; Adam Warlock, though I still miss his big cape and collar; and Drax.
The giant size of the cast is a pain at times, but it's also a big component of what makes this book so fun, for me!
Your Magus was probably the best rendition of the character. Can you describe how you came up with the design?
Brad Walker: Haha! Yeah, Magus is another one I have fun with.
I wanted him to look like a really whacked out version of Adam, and at first when he came out, when Magique from the Imperial Guard was draining Adam, he had to look really frail, and gaunt, but we've gotten away from that, since.
But as far as the other visual differences from Adam, I felt like I couldn't give him an out and out afro without just making people laugh, but I do make his hair get progressively wild and frizzy (much to my inkers' dismay, I'm sure).
And the beady eyes are a throwback to Ron Lim in the Infinity War era, which is where I first read the Magus.
Looking back, I think that was just how Ron Lim drew everybody's pupils, but I kind of associated it with the Magus, so I made it a physical feature of his. And I think it serves to make him look crazier.
Is DnA giving you any artistic license for some of the monsters that may issue forth from The Fault? Do they give you free reign to use your imagination to construct the look of scenes and characters? Are DnA detailed in their descriptions of scenes and characters?
Brad Walker: They describe what they have in mind, but there's still some leeway there. Sometimes when I'm out and about, I'll see a shape, or an inanimate object that I think would make a cool feature for a monster, or something, and I'll sketch it down in a notebook or something.
Then, when Dan and Andy call for a monster in a script, I'll go back and look and see if I had something I wanted to throw in.
And there are also times where D or A (haha) will call me up or email me, and talk about what they thought something might look like. I feel like the process becomes increasingly collaborative between the three of us (and editorial) as we go on, and it's making it more and more fun.
Drawing for cosmic comics, you often have to come up with designs for objects and things no one has ever seen before, save for in the mind's eye of the writer.
How do you work out how something or someone new is going to look? Do you collaborate with the writers and editors on the design?
Brad Walker: Well, like with the monsters, I'll pay attention all the time to things I see that I can incorporate into something else. You know, like if I see a weird looking parking meter, I'll think, "I could make a funny looking alien head out of that", and I'll sketch it out, or just write the idea down. Then, when I need an idea, I'll just go back to it. So, I have more room to play with background stuff like that.
With characters coming into the series and things like that, it's a bit more of a submission through a committee kind of thing. For example, with Moondragon coming back, we've given her two new costumes, so far.
At first, when she came back, we needed an interim costume that was like her classic, so I did a bunch of sketches and everybody said, "I like this aspect of this one, that aspect of that one", and we kinda pieced together something that everybody felt good about.
When she was put into a Guardians uniform, I did a couple sketches, and Bill (Rosemann) and I both agreed that we liked the same one. Then, Andy (Lanning) emailed and said, "Actually, I was thinking something sexier, more like this", and what we ended up with is almost exactly what he described to me. I love it, and everybody on the boards seems to love it, too. Plus, it's much easier to draw than the ones I first came up with! So, I'm thrilled with how that went, and Andy gets the credit for her look!
Any knowledge of who is in that cocoon? Or what decapitated the Knowhere Celestial? (Had to ask!)
Obviously, you can't go into details, but can you give us a teaser of what is to come for the Guardians?
Brad Walker: I know exactly what's in the cocoon, and I have for a long time, and I couldn't be more excited about it. I actually had a conversation with Bill this morning about it that made me that much more excited!
As far as what happened to Knowhere's body, I have no idea, but I'd love to draw whatever team is off living in it! I don't even know if Dan and Andy are working on what happened to that! I'll have to mention it...
How much of a difference does an inker or colorist make on the quality of the art? So many times fans seem to either blame or compliment the penciler with little thought to the rest of the creative team. Does a good inker or colorist make that much of a difference?
Brad Walker: Yeah. They make a huge difference.
And people seem to understand a colorist's input much more than an inker, for whatever reason. Sadly, a really great inker seems more overlooked than a bad one. People can tell when something's sloppy, or rushed, but they rarely notice the inker's contribution when something is really beautifully rendered.
They're the unsung heroes!
Fan reaction to your work on GotG has been very positive. Besides comics, what other type of illustrations have you done? Where can we find more of your work?
Brad Walker: Professionally, I've just been working on comics. It takes up that much time. I may have some other stuff to do in the semi-near future, but it would hopefully be side-project type stuff that I wouldn't have to stop doing comics, to do.
And it's not really anything I can get into till there's something to get into.
Guardians of the Galaxy presently has two very different artists. Some argue that back in the day guys like John Buscema and others hammered out two, three titles a month. It seems to be common with Marvel to have an artist do a few issues and then a fill in.
Any particular reason why that is?
Brad Walker: Well, I've read online people saying they would love for me to be on the book "full time," and although the sentiment is flattering, the thing is, I'm very much working on the book full time, as is.
I usually work six or seven days a week, and I work all day. Luckily, I'm at home, so I'm comfortable, and I don't feel as cut off from the world as if I was toiling away in an office building somewhere, but it's still really constant.
The difference between today's artists and the Buscemas and the Kirbys that were doing four books a month is that, if you looked at the pencils they were doing on those four books, they are going to look vastly different than pencils on a book, today.
For one thing, they were doing roughs, at best, and then an inker would serve as a finisher, doing a lot of the drawing, himself. That accounts for why Kirby would look so different when inked by Joe Sinnott than he would inked by Vince Colletta or Mike Royer.
I'm not putting those guys down, because they were geniuses, but the audience today demands a different level of "quality," detail, and realism (not necessarily realistic art, but an amount of realism, even within a stylized environment).
The art from the Sixties, gorgeous as it is to those of us who love it, wouldn't fly with a modern audience.
Most of us drawing comics these days are referencing things like crazy, and doing a ton of work that's not on the page. So, where, in the Silver Age, guys were blowing through an issue in a week, and then drawing a different book the next week, it takes me at least four weeks (more comfortably five).
I did a couple issues of Action Comics in three weeks each once, and I'll never do it again. It wrecked me and really took a toll on my life.
The problem with me doing more issues of Guardians is that I came along at issue # 8, where any lead time was already eaten away, and we were on a really strict four-week schedule.
So, after working seven days a week to meet that deadline for those first three issues, I was exhausted. We've tried several times to get caught up to where I can do a longer stretch but one thing or another (usually my fault, but a lot of other factors play in), but we haven't really gotten to where we want with the schedule, yet.
I don't want to hack through issues and have them looking bad, just to do six in a row.
Frankly, I don't think I could. My stuff kinda looks how it looks, and it takes the time it takes.
But it is on everybody's mind, and we're always working on getting the pages turned around faster, and looking better. This is not a book that's being produced out of habit.
I know that everybody involved has a lot of love and attachment to the material and really wants it to be amazing and exciting and entertaining. I really just couldn't ask for a better book to work on, or a better working situation to be in. It'll be really sad one day when I end up having to draw a book that isn't this much fun. I just can't say enough how much I love it.
Great talking with you, Brad! Thanks for your time!
Be sure to check out Guardians of the Galaxy #22 featuring art by Brad Walker when it hits stores January 27th!