Talking Marvel’s ‘Fantomex MAX’ Series With Creative Team Andrew Hope and Shawn Crystal [INTERVIEW]

In October, the super-thief supporting character from Marvel’s mutant titles finally grabs his moment in the spotlight, when “Fantomex MAX” #1 hits comic shop shelves.  And we got the chance to talk to author Andrew Hope and artist Shawn Crystal about what’s in store for Fantomex in his first solo series, and the influences and inspirations for this new mature-readers title.

MTV Geek: Andrew, this is your first large-scale comics gig, yes?  Can you tell us about how you ended up working on this project?

Andrew Hope: Well, it was a case of who you know, actually.  The concept originally existed when I came onboard.  A good friend of mine from my hometown of Glasgow, Scotland brought the concept to Marvel at the beginning of 2012 via his agent, in the form of a four page plot.  For whatever reason, both parties couldn’t iron out their creative differences.  Fortunately, his agent is also my agent, and when Marvel made it clear that they were still interested in publishing a Fantomex solo book, he suggested to them I take a crack at it.  I read the plot and I guess I could tell immediately why it didn’t work.  I set about retooling the plot, extensively.  It was a full top to bottom rewrite – the archplot, subplots, character work, motivations.  It was like Tilda Swinton going under an LA cosmetic surgeon’s knife and coming out looking like Kate Upton.  About the only thing that remains of it now are the main characters – heroes and villains.  It’s a much more cinematic story now, and I feel that’s what comics have to reach for, in terms of cross media potential.  I’d have failed if I hadn’t delivered a story that could have been adapted for other media.  As to this being my first large scale comics gig, it’s actually my first large scale credited comics gig.

Geek: And Shawn, you’ve been known mostly for working on Deadpool up ’til now.  What brought you to this character and this title?

Shawn Crystal: Luck! I’ve been cutting my teeth on Deadpool for a few years now, which has been very good for me. I felt that I was ready to play in another sandbox, hoping my art wasn’t becoming “typecast.” Luckily, Marvel felt the same way, Axel called me one day and asked me to read over an outline for Fantomex MAX, he thought it may be a good project for me to tackle. I loved it and the idea of working on it. I did some designs, and the book was mine.

?Geek: As this is a MAX series, what should readers expect?  Sex and violence, I’ll assume…

Crystal: Yes. I’ve been working hard to bring my “A” game with cheesecake and Blood ’N Guts. It’s a tough life.

Hope: I’d say that your “sex and violence” comment is sort of representative of the expectations surrounding the MAX line, but that same expectation doesn’t apply to the Vertigo line.  I think Marvel has worked very hard to produce a line that isn’t just tits and blood, they’ve produced some really great material that’s fun to read, but also thought-provoking, using mature themes to tell great stories.  So excuse me if I’m all offended on Marvel’s behalf, but you wouldn’t describe Tarantino’s movies as “blood and swearing” movies, y’know?  But to answer your specific question, there is sex and violence in the story, yes, but I’ve tried very hard to show the consequence of both, not to be cavalier about either one.  But what should the readers expect for their hard-earned money?  A really good story, enhanced by really really good art.  And a version of Fantomex that’s never been seen before – one that they will be demanding to see more of.

Geek: What’s the scale of the story?  Where does it take place?  Can you give us some idea of, if not the plot, at least the premise for the series???Crystal: Fantomex has to save the world. He has to go to many different exotic locations to do so, while fighting all sorts of baddies (Robots, Beasties, and a deadly trio of super powered meanies.) Maybe the writer, Andrew, can expound on my poor description. My job is to draw and design this book. :)

Hope:
Shawn’s got it nailed.  But since expounding is what I do best: Fantomex is coerced into using his incredible skills as the world’s greatest thief to steal the means to power a device of massive destructive potential – and then prevent that device from being used!  The villains of the piece have discovered, and exploited, his one flaw in order to get him to do their bidding, but ultimately, they don’t know jack about him.

Geek: Will we be seeing other familiar Marvel characters in this series?  Will there be versions of Fantomex’s regular co-stars, or is this a different beast entirely?

Crystal: No. There’s no room for anyone else in this awesome adventure. Seriously, this book stands alone in a great way. It’s extremely cinematic with  a lot of world building going on. Anyone could dive into this book having never read a comic before, and enjoy it.

Hope: In many ways, you could say this is Ultimate Fantomex, in the same way that Man of Steel was really “Ultimate Superman”.  I was told by Axel to stay true to the core of the character, and to me, as a character-driven writer, that’s bread and butter.  You can choose to stick with the window dressing or you can dig deep into the souls of these people to find out what drives them onward to do what they do.  So yeah, my Fantomex is different in many ways.  There is also my version of EVA whom I found I really loved from the get-go, that adds a greater level of granularity to the relationships that I’m writing about.  As the plot progressed I started thinking more and more about EVA, and a major subplot really blossomed because of it.  It was a beautifully organic process that immediately felt right.

Geek: Andrew- in the main Marvel U, Fantomex is a weird hybrid of character types: one part sci-fi super soldier, one part suave master thief.  What elements of the character are you planning to focus on in this series?

Hope: Very good question.  In terms of those elements, the master thief aspect is obviously the core plot point that the entire story hinges on, but the sci-fi super soldier thing is in there too, hinted at vaguely in ways that don’t completely match what you’ve seen in Grant’s version.  I deliberately kept that aspect out of the story … though it is addressed, if Axel will let me do what I want to do in issue four.  He’s already cut a line I thought was brilliant.  Seriously, it was brilliant.???Geek: What have your been your influences in your portrayal of this character?

Hope: That’s a harder question to answer.  For me, it wasn’t so much about looking to other sources to determine my approach.  Grant Morrison’s stuff was brilliant, but I haven’t read a lot of Fantomex as written by other writers over the years, and once I determined my roadmap, I decided to not ready any.  I’d say there is a definite Bondian-slant to the archplot, but the biggest influence was my own take on the psychology of the superhuman mind, a strong pet theme of mine.  (one that I’ll be exploring in further detail in a trilogy of novels, the first one to be published in mid 2014.)  I am fascinated by this part of superheroes, the notion that powers change lives and minds, but so, too, do costumes.  I was especially drawn to the idea that Fantomex is a man who has, by choice or otherwise, become a picaresque thief, an anti-hero, but that has led him to live a secluded life, watching the world from the outside.  There’s a rich vein of material to be found in looking at the psychology of super characters, one that I find is largely missing from comics.   So for me, the question was how to take all this deep, plodding, heavy, boring s*** that I just mentioned, and incorporate that into a kinetic, exciting story where both aspects enhance each other.  I’m extremely happy with the results, and I know the readers will love it.??Geek: Shawn, what have been your visual influences for this series?  Who do you look to for inspiration?

Crystal: Be patient with me, this may take a little time to read.  There’s a lot going on in this story and in my current development as a cartoonist.

Comic Book Artists- If my influences were a meal there’d be an appetizer of Wally Wood served with a Will Eisner main course that’s coupled with a glass of Moebius, and a little slice of Andrew Robinson for desert. I’ve also spent a lot of time looking at some European cartoonists: Frezzato, Barbara Canepa, and Pierre Alary.

Movies- This script had me diving deep into Danger: Diabolik, Mad Men, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and Prometheus. I also pulled in a touch of X-Men First Class.

Podcasts- Aside from my own podcast “Inkpulp Audio” (which has influenced me a ton through the interviews I conduct), I have found Mark Maron’s “WTF”, Greg Fitzsimmons “Fitzdog Radio”, Bill Burrs “Monday Morning Podcast”, “Minivan Men”, and Brian Callen’s ” The Brian Callen Show” all to be extremely influential and helpful to me as an artist while working on this book.

Students- Yes, I have another job and I have students. I am the Dept. Chair of the Sequential Art dept. for SCAD Atlanta. The students and faculty there are a CONSTANT inspiration. It’s a great school and program filled with a bunch of hungry young cartoonists.

Editors- I am very lucky to be working with Jordan and Axel on this book. They really help make me a better cartoonist.

Andrew- Very early in this project we clicked. We seem to have a hive mind on this book, and he’s constantly challenging and inspiring me.

My biggest influence is my family. My wife (Stephanie) and my two kids (Zac and Zoe) continually charge me with their excitement for what I’ve been doing. In the morning they charge my artistic battery, and at night they help me turn it off. Maybe it’s cliche to say, but it’s honest and true.

Tap. Tap. Tap. You can wake up now and read on….

Hope: I just want to add here, that I wasn’t very familiar with Shawn’s work before we were thrown together, but of course i went back to look at some of his work.  The evolution of this guy’s work just on this series is nothing short of astounding.  It’s been thrilling for me to open up an email and see page after page of beautiful work.  I mean seriously, from thumbnails, to pencils to inks, long time “Shawn Crystal – Deadpool artist” fans are going to look at this book and think, “What the f***?!  That’s Shawn Crystal?!”, and new readers who are not familiar with the name will really love this work.  He’s taken his work to a whole nutha level on this book.

Geek: What has the collaborative process been like for this title?  Was it delivered full-script, broken down panel-by-panel?  Was it written and drawn ’Marvel-style’?  Or was it some combination?

Crystal: It’s a full script, and Andrews a taskmaster. :) Honestly, it’s been a team project from the start. I love it that way. It feels like we’re all taking turns chipping away at this giant slap of marble that is our story, passing the chisel to each other as we go.

Hope: Like my old drinking buddy Mark Millar, I only write full script, screenplay style, so yeah, page by page, panel by panel, with dialogue.  Actually, me and Mark’s styles are very similar – concise panel description that allows the artist a lot of latitude in camera angle and page composition.  As a writer, I need to feel that sense of control over the story without sucking up the creative energy needed for the art.  It’s been a great balance so far.  I actually asked Shawn if he would want me to go Marvel style on one issue, but he was cool.  He’s responded beautifully to everything I’ve asked him to draw, and just to mention the synergy of the book, Shawn’s designs have in turn influence MY writing on the finer plot points and environments – he’s adventurous, and that’s pushed me to push him.  It’s just been a dream collaborative effort.  We’re all feeling the love on this book, we have terrific chemistry, and for a creative team, that is huge – the readers will really feel that when they experience the book for themselves.

Geek: Are there any particular moments in this series that stand out for you?

Crystal: I can’t pick one! Every scene is like a mini story within the big one, with a new location, creature, character, environment, vehicle, etc…. There is so much world building and design work needed in this book, it’s been a constant creative challenge. I don’t think I’ll have many experiences like this, it’s been incredible… And I’m not even done drawing it! I gotta get back to work.

Hope: Yeah, he does need to get back to work!  I think I’ve already gushed about the artwork, so I won’t repeat myself, but I will repeat what Shawn just said.  There is a lot of world building packed into these four issues.  It’s practically bursting at the seams with small details that hint at bigger things, other stories that need to be told.  As a writer, I don’t want to short change the audience.  Detail, detail, detail.  Don’t just have an action, have a reaction, hint at the reason why this particular action is the only action that could have been taken.  Don’t have a “bad guy”, have a guy who believes in what he’s doing – even if he knows what he’s doing is evil.  You know, all that stuff.  The last thing I want is for someone to finish the series and go, “yeah, that was pretty good.”  I want them to go, “Holy f***ing s***, that was amazing!  I  can’t wait for the sequel.”  This book delivers, and people are going to love it.  Grant might hate it, but whatever.

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