FanExpo Canada 2011: Building The FF with Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, and Marko Djurdjevic

With the Fantastic Four’s big anniversary rapidly approaching, it’s a great time to chat with the architects in charge of Marvel’s First Family. So the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop sponsored a talk at FanExpo Canada with Jonathan Hickman, writer of the book; Steve Epting, the current artist; and Marko Djurdjevic, who redesigned the Fantastic Four costumes into their new incarnation, the Future Foundation.

…Unfortunately, though, Hickman was super late, which is probably because he was fighting a time war or something, where my ‘The Red Wing’ fans at????

Anyway! Djurdjevic and Epting were more than up to the task, even though Djurdjevic’s laptop wasn’t working, and couldn’t show off his artistic process for designing the costumes. I blame Dr. Doom who’s with me???

Okay, seriously moving on, to kick things off Epting talked a bit about coming on board Fantastic Four. “I was about halfway through The Marvels Project, and Tom Brevoort called me, said he had something for me,” said Epting “I feel I’d like to do all the characters at some point.” He continued that he took over, and has been enjoying Fantastic Four ever since.

Moving over to the redesign, Djurdjevic said, “It was actually Tom’s idea to go back to white, because of the whole astronaut approach. White is also a very clean color, a very unique color for a superhero. It was actually very easy to design a set of costumes to go around that.”

“The only thing that added to the whole thing is that I pretty much changed the whole thing to hexagons. The whole logo idea was to show pretty much who’s who in the whole group of superheroes,” continued Djurdjevic.

On the speed of the redesign, Djurdjevic said, “It was really quick. I have some examples where it dragged out forever and a day,” When Epting asked whether it was Hickman who came up with the design, but Djurdjevic it was all him.

Epting said that in terms of writers, he’s worked with people who are too vague, and those who are too specific, and Hickman falls somewhere in between. Yes, I realize this is the most ironic sentence ever. We’re going to zoom past that, because…

Marko Djurdjevic, Steve Epting, and Jonathan Hickman

…Then Hickman came in! From his time war! Okay, gonna drop that now, but it turns out he came directly from the airport, once again proving he’s a good guy. Getting caught up to speed, Hickman commented on whether the Future Foundation costume redesign was something he originally pitched. Turned out, it wasn’t.

“It was never really part of the intial plan to do that,” said Hickman. “I turned in a three year document to Tom that would have culminated with #600. When Steve came on the book, sales jumped up, with Johnny dying. Marketing saw a chance to promote the book, and rebrand the book… So we did that, and we made some more money, and got more people to check out the book.”

Turning to Epting, Hickman briefly talked about collaborating with the artist. “I always give you two armies fighting, that’s kind of the dick move… It’s going to get so much worse, too,” Hickman said with a laugh.

The cover to FF #1 by Marko Djurdjevic

Hickman then asked a question of his own, specifically what Djurdjevic is working on now that he’s not continuing with Marvel. Turns out, the artist is working on video games, and art direction; rather than comics – which he’s very happy about. Djurdjevic is also trying to get Matt Fraction to write a game, he said.

Epting then asked whether he regretted not doing more interiors for Marvel, to which Djurdjevic said, “They never put me on a book with a writer that I wanted. They always gave me Straczynski, and that guy writes like toilet paper.”

By the way, a brief note on the tone of the room here: Djurdjevic was antagonistic to his former employers, certain members of the audience, even the staff at the Con… But it was kind of okay, as it seemed like he didn’t care in an amused sort of way. Don’t know if I’m capturing it, but just know: for the most part, the people in the room were okay with what he was saying… Because it gets worse than the “toilet paper” comment. Oh yes.

Continuing on, asked how Straczynski writes scripts, Djurdjevic said, “It’s full of him.” Djurdjevic then told a story about getting fed up on a Thor arc, which was so ridiculous he, “just gave up.”

Hickman got the conversation back to FF, talking about characters they haven’t gotten to use. “We wanted to use She-Hulk more, but we couldn’t squeeze her in… But otherwise… We’re selling copies now, that’s when they don’t say no,” said Hickman.

Getting back to the script, Hickman said, “I think I’ve gotten more sparse, haven’t I? Panel one, two huge armies, fighting, take a lot of time on this. Panel two, Johnny. Forlorn.” Hickman then talked about how he’ll give ridiculous panel layouts to Epting, and then Epting will just ignore him.

FF interior art by Steve Epting

On how long it takes to draw, Epting said about a page a day, while Djurdjevic said, “If it’s supposed to be printable? Two and a half hours.” Hickman laughed, saying, “That’s the best answer I’ve ever heard to that question.”

Turning around his laptop, Djurdjevic showed off some designs for Spider-Man’s FF costume, which Hickman clarified that Djurdjevic got notes from Joe Quesada on. The art only changed slightly.

Following up on Djurdjevic statement that he never got to work with people he wanted, the artist said he would have liked to work with Ed Brubaker, and Matt Fraction (who he mostly knew from conventions). “But Straczynski was a dick from the start. Hey, they can’t fire me anymore,” quipped Djurdjevic to laughter from the audience.

On the death of Johnny Storm, Hickman said, “It was my idea that we should experience it all through Ben. And the kids. You can’t go wrong with that.”

An audience member then said, “Is that why you have so many kids in the cast?” To which Hickman quipped, “Yeah, it’s all about which kid is going to die first. It’s the opposite of an old folks home.”

Talking about who his “window” character is, Hickman said that it’s both Valeria and Franklin Richards.

Asked about their favorite character to draw, Djurdjevic sighed, saying, “I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked this question,” while Epting repeated his story that he was looking forward to drawing The Thing, but when he came on board, Hickman turned him human for six issues.

Hickman mentioned that She-Hulk shows up in FF #10, and then is in the title for the next few issues.

And then Djurdjevic’s laptop started working, so he talked about some art! “Coming from a design background, I was all, design it once, 3-d artists does the rest.” He showed off the design for Penance, which he was happy with, until he found out he’d be drawing the covers for Thunderbolts. Said Djurdjevic, “I ended up having to fucking paint that motherfucker so many times, and hated myself. So most of the newer stuff that I’ve painted over the last few years is much, much simpler. I tried to come up with a more graphical, iconic solutions to the problem.”

Lady Bullseye by Marko Djurdjevic

Moving on to Lady Bullseye, Djurdjevic said, “This was one of the most painful designs I did for Marvel, because it had no end. In went into revision mode for the face paint forever and ever.” He showed off a page of twelve different designs for the face of the character alone. Djurdjevic and Epting then talked about how in video game design, you bill by the hour; while with comics, you get paid by the page… So Marvel could ask for endless revisions, which was a source of discomfort for Djurdjevic.

Expanding on this, Djurdjevic lamented being pigeonholed into, “Guy who does gatefold covers,” rather than being able to express himself as an artist. He continued that Thunderbolts and Blade, both early works, were the best jobs he did at Marvel, because he was the freest to do what he wanted.

Hickman backed up Djurdjevic on this, saying that Marvel told him that they would give him as much work as he could handle, but it was up to him to manage his own career. That their job was to find what worked with him, and then keep making it work… But the creator on their own needs to keep sane however they can. He also lamented that it’s probably much worse with artists.

Following up, Hickman was asked if the burnout factor was why he took The Red Wing to Image, instead of Icon, Marvel’s creator owned line. “I was offered Icon…” said Hickman. “Marko is clearly in the middle of a divorce. And I’m still having sex. I’m at Image because they’re the reason I’m in comics. They made me a great deal… It was just the right thing to do. Image remains one of the best deals you can get in comic. I’m as happy as I could be.”

And with that, we were done! A bit of a tense panel, given the technical problems, and Djurdjevic’s issues with Marvel, but Hickman and company kept it light in the end. So hooray for comics! We’ll see you with more from FanExpo Canada.

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