Exclusive Interview: Ultimate Spider-Man’s David Marquez on Diversity, Cataclysm and Comics Maturing.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” This iconic quote sounds prophetic. It was the hard lesson Peter Parker learned from Uncle Ben and that Miles Morales learned when the Ultimate Universe’s Peter died. As readers mourned the loss of their hero, another was born. When Miles Morales first gained his arachnid powers, he was freaked out and did not want to be a hero. It was the guilt from knowing he could have helped Peter that inspired him to take the responsibility to become Spidey. This was one of my favorite stories in recent comics and Miles has quickly become my favorite Marvel character.
Since it was launched, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man has been one of the best written and drawn comics to hit the marketplace. Brian Michael Bendis’s writing is outstanding. He takes you through an emotional roller-coaster filled with relatable side characters and stories. The series launched artist Sara Pichelli into superstar status. Quickly, the title has gained one of the strongest and most devout fan followings, but it also had a large group of fans who had issues with the alternative Peter dying and being replaced by a half African-American/half Latino Spidey.
When Sarah Pichelli left the title, there was a colossal gap to fill. Someone had to take the responsibility to create the top notch art for one of the most loved and most disliked characters in all of comics. With great power comes great responsibility…
David Marquez had the power and took the responsibility. One of the nicest dudes in comics, Marquez fully understands how important the Miles character is to fans. At first he split art duties every other arc with Pichelli, but he quickly became the lead artist on the title. Marquez has taken the ball, and did a super-fast mutant marathon run with it. Every detail, every action scene, every teen angsty moment, every emotional twist on a character’s face has been thought out and labored over. Since he joined Ultimate Spidey, he has received praise from fans and critics alike.
Prior to taking over the mantle, his previous work for Archaia Press (Syndrome and Days Missing:Kestus) led to Marquez’s nomination for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award that is given out at the Eisner Awards. He broke through the walls of Marvel with Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four: Season One, and he has also teamed up with his buddy Brian Michael Bendis for issues 6-8 of All-New X-Men. Marquez recently released his first creator-owned original graphic novel The Joyners in 3D from Archaia Press. While the Ultimate Spidey series just ended with issue 28, Marquez is busy working on Miles’s adventures in Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man.
I had the opportunity to chat with Marquez at this year’s NY Comic Con where we discussed diversity in comics, Jewish conspiracies, classic tales with an Ultimate twist, the character he most wants to see Ultimatized, Ganke being Splinter, and comics maturing past T&A!
UTF: Miles Morales is a character that many people strongly connect to. Is it difficult to work on a character that people are so emotionally invested in?
I would say it’s more exciting than difficult. Certainly it’s challenging to make sure that every issue is something that inspires and that readers can relate to. In general, I would say definitely much more exciting working on a new character. Miles is the first new Marvel character and certainly the first Marvel character that’s had a really strong emotional resonance probably since Runaways, and before that I can’t think of … I loved Darkhawk as a kid. But I’m not going to say Darkhawk was a really innovative character by any stretch of the imagination.
It’s awesome to be part of … the Spider-Man mythos has a long history but also a really new part of the Marvel universe, also one that brings in a lot of new readers. Even at this show, I’ve met so many young kids coming in, I’m talking 22 and younger, who just started reading comics, often times because of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Often that’s the only comic they’re reading. That’s really exciting!
It’s lacking. Flat out, looking at the history of who made comics, you would understand why this is such a lack of diversity in comics, it’s all white guys. But I do think there is a very concerted effort on the part of creators, on the part of publishers, to try to address that. Now you’ll only do it step-by-step because comic readers are inherently conservative. They don’t like change. “The illusion of change” is a famous line from Stan Lee. That’s what we’re doing. We’re creating the illusion of change, but because these are Marvel and DC, these are huge licenses, huge intellectual properties, and you mess with it too much, you’re going to end up sacrificing the brand, and so there’s that also in addition to the fact that often the readers want what they read as a kid. Whether they fit it or not, that’s what they want, or they want something that reminds them of what they read as a kid.
When you are introducing new characters, or trying to address issues of diversity, whether it’s with female characters, whether it’s with LGBT characters, whether it’s with bi-racial characters like Miles, or international characters, or characters who might be Muslim or Buddhist or something else, you have to make sure that you’re doing it in a way that first off, isn’t just tokenism. It isn’t just, “Oh, he’s just … this is the black guy on the team,” but actually has A, a story reason for it and B, has a compelling story behind it, something that readers can grab on to. That’s what’s so great about Miles is it’s a character that people really do glom on to, they identify with, and they sympathize with him, and they root for him and that’s really awesome.
UTF: Awesome. Awesome. Recently I’ve actually heard that Brian Michael Bendis was accused of having a Jew agenda quite often. There’s a real lot of trolls on the Internet claiming he was preaching Judaism …
UTF: … through the Jewish character, Kitty Pryde. I see your print is Kitty Pryde. Are you and Bendis teaming together to convert people to Judaism?
Yes we are the elders of Zion. (Laughs) Yeah, no. That’s asinine. No. Look, every creator brings their own history with them. Brian is Jewish. He has a strong Jewish background. Of course it’s going to come through in the work. Quite frankly, anyone who is offended by the fact that there’s a lot of the Jewish stuff in the comics… Who cares?
A couple do come to mind, but I’m afraid if I say anything, then I’ll be spoiling things. I’m not going to answer that question because I’ve already talked with Brian about that and I got my wish so just keep reading over the next few months and people may see some things that ring a bit familiar.
UTF: Awesome. Awesome. I look forward to that. You use digital art for your comics. What’s the benefits of that?
The biggest benefit is speed. I’ve gained a reputation of being a fast artist and absolutely I chalk it up to being digital. I’m very, very detailed and when I’m doing it traditionally, very, very labor intensive process for drawing, very, very precise lines, very tight lines. I’m not one of these guys who … I envy … this is their style, very, very brushy, very loose, very expressive … I wish I drew like that because then I could do everything on paper and I’d probably be fast as well.
Because I have such a technical, detailed style, I’ve found that working digitally, I can work two to three times faster that way. I’ve only been working three years, and in those three I’ve been able to move on to some very, very high level books and work with very high profile creators. Definitely I don’t think would have happened had I not been working digitally because not only was I able to make the art as high a quality as I wanted, but also I could produce it on a monthly basis, something that very few people can do.
UTF: You recently brought Cloak and Dagger to the Ultimate U and it was awesome. What characters would you love to redesign for the Ultimate U?
The funny thing is, again, I’ve already gotten my wish. I was a huge, huge Cloak and Dagger fan as a kid. It’s sad that with the exception of the ’80s series, there hasn’t been a really iconic Cloak and Dagger series or one that readers have really grabbed on to the same way that maybe creators have. A lot of creators turn to Marvel and are like, “I want to do Cloak and Dagger!” and then they do a four-issue mini and that’s it. While often times they’re good, they’re not … they never really took off, so getting to redesign Cloak and Dagger for Ultimate Universe, I was like, jumping in my seat, like, “I love Cloak and Dagger!”
I guess along the same lines, as a kid I loved Darkhawk, again, not a good character. I still have all the original issues, I don’t know why, they’re eating up space for some weird nostalgic reasons. If we could find a fun way of having Darhawk in the Ultimate Universe where he isn’t quite as dumb as he is in the Marvel Universe, no offense to anyone who loves Darkhawk in the Marvel Universe, I think that would be fun. That would be fun.
UTF: Absolutely. What can you tell us about Cataclysm without me getting you in trouble, of course.
Yeah, yeah yeah. Everyone dies, no …
Cataclysm … right now I’m drawing the second of the three Spider-Man Cataclysm tie-in issues…. A lot of crap blows up man, it is massive! It’s Brian telling one of his big, epic, wide screen, apocalyptic stories. It will change everything. Now what the results of that may be, I can’t say, as you well know. Cataclysm is coming really, really soon. Readers are going to find out as Marvel starts soliciting new books, what’s going to be happening, but the best thing you can do is read the books, pick up the books, even though the regular Spider-Man series ends with Issue 28, which comes out this month or next month, and there’ll be three tie-in issues.
Brian is writing the main series and he’s also writing Spider-Man. He knows how to tell a story where you don’t have to read the main series of Cataclysm in order to read the Spider-Man issue. It’s still a Spider-Man story. The important things that happen to him while all the other crazy stuff going on.
That’s the cool thing about this is that a lot of times people complain during events that you have to buy everything in order to know what’s going on and interfering with the regular story and stuff. This is something where Cataclysm is a really compelling, really amazing, really big blockbuster story and you also have a really compelling Spider-Man story attached to that. You get the best of both worlds.
UTF: Ganke is one of my favorite supporting characters in comics. What goes into drawing the emotion and expressions of the greatest sidekick of all time?
Ganke is the comic relief. He’s also … in a lot of ways, he’s Miles’ anchor. When I’m drawing Ganke, those are the two things that I try to invest in it. On the one hand, he’s a chubby Asian kid, and he’s his best friend. His best friend is Spider-Man, this ripped guy in a skin-tight suit. When you put those two next to each other, it’s going to be funny. Also, Ganke has a much, I think better idea, a much more confident idea of what Spider-Man is supposed to be. He trains Miles. He’s the mentor. He’s also the Splinter to Miles’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. When I’m drawing Ganke, I try to keep those two things in mind. Yes, he’s a kid, yes he’s goofy, but also without him, Miles would fall apart.
UTF: Yep. Awesome. I read another interview that you stated you covered up Dagger’s belly-button because you wanted to treat your characters with a little more respect than they were given in the 80’s and 90’s. How do you think we have grown as a community and what do we still need to improve on?
I think in general, we moved past, not entirely, but we’re moving past the idea of comics as a T & A vehicle. Over the 2000’s, you’ve seen the ascendancy of the writer and of the story as being … what a lot of readers follow. Not a lot of readers now will follow an artist from book to book to book, but they will follow a writer from book to book to book. I think that’s one symptom of a broader thing where people want substance.
Don’t get me wrong, I like pretty things. I like gorgeous women. I like the female form, but that said, I like pretty people in general. Of course, when I’m drawing these characters, I want them to look sexy, I want them to look exciting, but you don’t have to be titillating or pornographic about it.
I think the current Dagger costume, the one that I designed, I like it a lot. I’m proud of it. I designed it. It’s sexy but it’s not pornographic. I’m trying to bring the table of … providing substance and respect to the characters and respect to the readers because I know that a lot of kids are reading these books and a lot of women are reading these books. If you’re just trying to target toward 13 year-olds or … mouth breathers, then it’s fine to show a whole lot of skin. You don’t need to. You can make characters sexy without showing.
UTF: Thank you so much for your time.
UTF: I’m so excited you work in this field.
I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
For more information on Marquez’s creator owned project The Joyners in 3D click here. Be sure to visit his website here. Also, be sure to check out Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man which is set to be released in November.