Marvel’s David Marquez talks X-Men, Spider-Man, 3D graphic novel

March 06, 2013 | 2:31 p.m.

Comic artist David Marquez is a rising star at Marvel Comics. (Photo courtesy David Marquez)

A page from "All-New X-Men" No. 8, by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez. (Marvel Comics)

Young artists looking to break into comics might want to take a page from David Marquez. Based in Austin, Texas, the illustrator is one of the industry’s fastest-rising stars, working alongside veteran writer Brian Michael Bendis on such titles as “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “All-New X-Men” and working in his second graphic novel, “The Joyners in 3D,” after arriving on the comics scene only three years ago.

Soon after college, Marquez got his start as an animator for Richard Linklater’s 2006 rotoscoped film “A Scanner Darkly.” His first graphic novel “Syndrome,” co-written by Daniel Quantz and R.J. Ryan, was released by indie publisher Archaia Entertainment in 2010, soon followed by “Days Missing Vol. 2: Kestus” in 2011. His work earned him a nomination for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer award, given out each year at the prestigious Eisner Awards, and drew the attention of Marvel Comics.

Marquez made his big break into superhero comics with Jonathan Hickman’s “Secret Warriors,” soon followed by “Fantastic Four: Season One.” His work on “Ultimate Spider-Man” was widely praised, and he returns to the title this May for a highly publicized story line in which young web-slinger Miles Morales is rumored to be giving up his super identity. In the meantime, Marquez’s “All-New X-Men” run wraps up with issue No. 8. The comic, which features the first meeting of the original X-Men and the Avengers, hits stores today.

Hero Complex caught up with Marquez to talk about “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “All-New X-Men” and “The Joyners in 3D,” which reunites Marquez and his “Syndrome” collaborator R.J. Ryan.

HC: Can you tell us a little about how you got your start in the industry? Did you study art in school?

DM: I graduated about 10 years ago. I actually went to [the University of Texas at Austin] on an academic scholarship. I had planned originally to go into teaching. I was going to go to grad school to get a Ph.D. in either political science or history, because I majored in history and government. And while applying for grad school — I got into a few — I realized that it wasn’t really what I had expected it to be in terms of the life of being a grad student. So I delved back and was looking to be a history teacher and tried out on a whim for an animation position, because I’d always drawn. And I got the animation position on “A Scanner Darkly,” which was made here in town, and that kind of converted me to an art career.

HC: Had you received any formal training?

DM: I took some art classes in high school and some summer classes when I was in elementary and middle school, but with the exception of those, no. I’ve always been drawing. If you go back and look at all my college notebooks. They start off all nice and cleanly organized, but then they become just sketchbooks after the first or second week.

HC: How did you begin working with R. J. Ryan, your collaborator on “The Joyners in 3D”?

Marquez first collaborated with R.J. Ryan on "Syndrome." (Archaia)

Marquez first collaborated with R.J. Ryan on “Syndrome.” (Archaia)

DM: We became friends during “Syndrome,” during the production of that book. I had been trying to break into comics since right after college when I was working on “A Scanner Darkly”. That was 2005-ish. I had been going to conventions and not really making much headway, and I was practicing at home during my time off from work. And towards the end of 2008, beginning of 2009, I had been posting my art online on these various discussion forums where a lot of these burgeoning talents congregate, and R.J. — who goes by Josh with friends — came across own of my drawings, brought it to the guys at Archaia and Fantasy Prone and sold them to me basically as the artist, having never spoken to me or anything, but just based on this one Batman sketch that I had done that he thought spoke well to whatever potential talent I had. … The guys who were going to be paying for the book, they approached me, and then he and I started working together on “Syndrome” with another writer, Daniel Quantz. The three of us became friends.

HC: So how did “The Joyners in 3D” come about?

DM: This has been a long-developing passion project. … Josh and I as we became really close friends started talking about doing more work together. And we bantered around a half dozen potential projects, and we settled on “Joyners.” Even when we knew that this was the story we wanted to tell, it developed and change quite a bit from that original seed of an idea about a scientist and his family, essentially. It started becoming much more of a deep, dark family drama, and moving to the idea of drawing in a very different style than in my traditional, mainstream work. … [It's] the story of a family of the future falling apart. It’s very much riffing on the concept of “The Jetsons,” even in terms of the names of the characters. The patriarch of the family is George Joyner. And then he has his wife and his kids, and he is basically the chief technology officer of a large, Apple-computer style company in 2060s Monterey, Calif. We’re playing pretty strongly with a lot of visual motifs as well as the Jetsons-style ’60s idealized future. We have flying cars and cities and buildings in the sky and all that kind of stuff. But we’re also somewhat satirizing the idea of utopia, in a sense that yeah, you have a future where everything is bright and clean and shiny, we found the solution to pollution and poverty and hunger and all these things, but ultimately, humans are still flawed. So in addition to just kind of playing with the idea of a family in the future, there’s also an Icarus style hubris story, where ultimately George and his whole family’s flaws come back, and they have to pay for what they’ve done.

HC: Why 3D?

DM:  The 3D came pretty early one, but the impact of doing it in 3D changed the nature of the project pretty dramatically. … I think Josh was the one who first brought it up. It was kind of during the first wave, the first year or two of 3D coming back and becoming a bit of a fad in film. “Avatar” had come out, and all of that. Josh had been having conversations with a producer friend who’d worked on the 3D “Jackass” movie, of all things. There’s definitely a difference between 3D done well and 3D done poorly in film, and I think it’s pretty obvious to see when you’re comparing the two, and it got him thinking about the lack of ambitious 3D in comics. I’m not going to say there’s none, but in general, 3D has been a gimmick 99-point-whatever-percent of the time with comics, at least recently, with little thought into how to use it in an innovative fashion, or how to integrate more into the overall storytelling and narrative, and not just be an excuse to have a dude punching through the page at you.

HC: So you do all of your own 3D rendering?

A page from "The Joyners in 3D," by R. J. Ryan and David Marquez. (Archaia)

A page from “The Joyners in 3D,” by R. J. Ryan and David Marquez. (Archaia)

DM: I do, and that was a decision that was made fairly early on, but at first we weren’t sure how we were going to tackle the technical aspect of doing the 3D. There are number of people who will do the conversions … but in doing the research on 3D, and being a bit of a control freak, I decided I wanted to tackle that myself, if nothing else than for just the technical challenge of learning how to do it. And also being a bit of a control freak, I liked the idea of — if the purpose of doing the book in 3D is really to marry the narrative with the 3D, just having the 3D help tell the narrative, help sell the narrative, the more control I had over how the 3D looked, the happier I think I would be in the overall execution and the overall telling of the story.

HC: Did it make your work as an artist a more involved process?

DM: For my mainstream work, I work primarily digitally. Not exclusively, but primarily. And the fact that I have this digital work flow allows me a lot more freedom in working on any given page. It also allows me then to cater the art as I’m producing it to the 3D conversion process which happens at the end. As a very simple example, when I’m drawing, I typically work in layers. So I always have the foreground, the middle ground and the background separated out from each other. On a normal page, that means if I need to change someone’s clothes, or I drew the hand wrong, or something, I can edit that one aspect of the page without messing up the background or anything else in that panel. So working in 3D, it’s very simple then to take those layers and then start using those to sell the 3D effect and to move into that step of the process since they’re already separated out.

HC: Meanwhile, with Marvel, the response to your work on the Ultimate comics has been so positive.

DM: It’s been really, really rewarding. While I’ve been working in comics for three or four years, I’ve really only been in front of a decently sized audience for about a year now. And at that point, no one knew who I was, and there was a lot of skepticism about me coming on following a very successful and well-received artist in Sara Pichelli. And it’s been very rewarding that people’s skepticism has been overcome, and they seem to be pretty receptive now to my art.

HC: When you came on after Sara, you were basically an unknown name, and there was a lot of skeptical chatter on comics blogs. Did you feel a lot of pressure taking on such a big title?

DM: Absolutely. I’m still fresh enough that I will Google to see what people have been saying about the work. And considering some of the vitriol people get, I’ve been very fortunate that people in general seem to like it. But it’s a ton of pressure, absolutely. My first project was working with Brian Bendis, who is one of the biggest names in comics, so I knew that he and the rest of the folks in the Ultimates office were taking a chance on me as a fairly untried, youngish artist. There’s pressure to perform, not only because I didn’t want to get bad feedback from them, but also to make sure that I was paying back the investment that they had made in me by offering me such a high-profile project ["Ultimate Spider-Man"]. Originally, I was only going to be on for three issues, but after the first issue, they chose to keep me on considerably longer. I think I was on for nine issues, on my first run of issues. I’m going back and drawing more of it now.  And then I’m coming back on for another arc starting with issue 23.

HC: There’s a lot of excitement for that May issue. What can we expect from Miles?

DM: I can say what Brian has said publicly, which is that this takes place after the Venom storyline. Sara Pichelli’s been drawing those four issues., up to issue 22. Something really big happens, leading to the big tease that we’re doing, which is that Miles doesn’t want to be Spider-Man anymore. So I did the cover for 23, which is an homage to John Romita‘s famous scene of Spider-Man dropping the costume in the trash can. What Brian has said, and I can say it as well, is there’s a time jump. Issue 22 happens, really big impact on Miles’ life, and then a considerable amount of time will pass before 23 starts. So we’re picking up after x amount of time, seeing all these changes that have taken place with him and with his life, his whole world completely shaken by what happened, and him still trying to pick up the pieces.

"Ultimate Spider-Man" artist David Marquez pays homage to John Romita's iconic splash page in Stan Lee's 1967 "Amazing Spider-Man" No. 50. (Marvel Comics)

“Ultimate Spider-Man” artist David Marquez pays homage to John Romita’s iconic splash page in Stan Lee’s 1967 “Amazing Spider-Man” No. 50. (Marvel Comics)

HC: Peter Parker is such an iconic character that fans can recognize the same Spidey movements and poses from artist to artist. Did you try to break away from those poses for Miles?

DM: It was a challenge, certainly. One of the earliest conversations I had with Brian Bendis as I was coming onto the project was he definitely had in mind Miles moving very differently. And that’s something you saw in Sara’s work, and I definitely tried to push pretty strongly in my own. And it comes down to exactly what you’re saying: Peter Parker is Peter Parker, and we all kind of know what Spider-Man looks like. But Miles is a completely different character. He’s younger, I think he’s 13 when he first starts out being Spider-Man, whereas Peter was like 15. And so his body is sized differently, and he doesn’t have the training Peter has, either, or just the experience. We always wanted him to seem a little bit out of control. He’s patterning himself after watching all these videos of Peter, and trying to learn how to be Spider-Man based on that research. But he’s figuring it out in these early adventures. And hopefully he always looked a little bit like you weren’t quite sure if he’d land properly or not.

HC: With that time jump, are you going to have to age him up for the next one?

DM: He will be older. I can’t say how much older, but enough time will have passed that people will notice, definitely.

HC: You’re getting to do the same kind of thing in “All-New X-Men” — drawing both adult versions and younger versions of these characters.

DM: Yeah, I mean I never would have expected myself as I kind of started developing as an artist as somebody who would enjoy drawing teenagers so much. It’s kind of become one of the things that I do. People seem to be responding pretty well to the “X-Men” work that the teenagers look like teenagers, which is something that I put a lot of effort, wanting to make sure that when you look at the younger Angel and the older Angel standing side by side, it isn’t just the design of the wings that differentiates them. The younger ones have a little more baby fat in their face, or just softer features or just look younger. Individual characteristics lead to that. And drawing Miles as well — I’ve started drawing issue 23 now — it’s so much fun drawing him and the cast, because teenagers are so emotive, and they wear everything on their sleeve, even when they think they’re trying to hide what’s going on, whereas adults can be moody and withdrawn. If a kid is moody and withdrawn, they’re acting out. It’s a whole lot of fun.

A page from "All-New X-Men" No. 8, by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez. (Marvel Comics)

A page from “All-New X-Men” No. 8, by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez. (Marvel Comics)

HC: Was there anything you learned doing “Ultimate Spider-Man” that you took with you to “All-New X-Men”?

DM: Absolutely. I think I grew a whole lot as an artist moving from “Fantastic Four” Season 1, which was my project before “Ultimate Spider-Man,” to the end to my first run of issues. I’m not sure that I can articulate in details what those changes wore, but I think I had a much stronger grasp of  composition and layout in general. … In general when doing art or any kind of craft, you learn the rules so you can perform it well. At a certain point, though, you start having fun by breaking the rules in certain ways, and seeing what the results are, having the foundation laid down. And I think by the time I started on “All New X-Men,” I was willing to experiment in new ways with my art, whether that’s the way I compose a page, the angles that I choose when drawing a panel, even just little stylistic flairs in terms of the way I draw the characters. And working with a completely new cast with the X-Men as opposed to the Spider-Man cast, it gave me an opportunity to explore drawing in different ways and rendering in different ways and composing in different ways.

HC: Do you see your three issues on “All New X-Men” expanding into more, the same way it did with “Ultimate Spider-Man”?

DM: I mean down the line, perhaps, and I’d definitely love to work on that book some more, but for the time being, I’m back on “Spider-Man” for another substantial run. I’m not sure what the total number will be, but for the short term, the majority of this year, I’ll be drawing “Spider-Man.”

– Noelene Clark
Twitter.com/@NoeleneClark

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