Avengers Point One: Kitson Kicks It Old School
Artist Barry Kitson realizes a childhood dream with his latest work on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!
Ask any artist and they will name a specific era of comics that captured their imaginations and set them down the path to become a professional illustrator. For Barry Kitson, it was the classic era of Marvel Comics, including a major change in the Avengers line-up.
Back in 1965’s AVENGERS #16, original members Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, and Wasp all needed some time off, leaving Captain America to figure out a new team. He chose former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as well as apparent villain Hawkeye to back him.
AVENGERS POINT ONE, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Kitson, takes place in that era with the so-called “Kooky Quartet” taking on Kang as the current team does the same in the modern era. We talk
ed to Kitson about playing in the sandbox he loved as a kid, his continued working relationship with Waid, and the challenges of Giant-Man’s helmet!
Marvel.com: When it comes to working on a project like this that’s set in a very specific comic book era, do you find it difficult to put your own spin on the designs and characters?
Barry Kitson: I’m not aware of that being an issue really. I have been focusing more on trying to be true to the era we’re aiming to honor and then just let my own style rather take care of itself. I don’t really feel that I can “design” the characters as such. If I could, Giant-Man would not be wearing that helmet which is a nightmare to draw!
I have just tried to have the characters retain the look and feel of the era, but allowed myself some leeway as to how that look is rendered. I’ve tried to strike a balance between the simplicity and exuberance of the era with some of today’s more advanced production possibilities. The main thing is to honor the time we are portraying above all else. It was the era that inspired me to want to draw comics so it’s important for me to respect that first and foremost.
Marvel.com: Speaking of the era, it was a pretty crazy one in the Avengers’ history. It was the first time that all of the founding members left and a recently-thawed Cap brought in a bunch of one-time villains. How does all that change the way you handle these characters?
Barry Kitson: I think at the time we’re dealing with characters were distilled down to their essence and there’s an energy and joy that follows from that. For me these are the characters in their purest form. More recent times have introduced all kinds of nuances and shadows to the characters that certainly add a depth and subtlety to them but also sometimes diminishes the energy and directness they had in their original incarnations.
With this series I’ve been able to revisit the characters I grew up with and try to establish exactly what it was that they represented to me as a kid and how I understood them. I don’t want to go too much further into that line of thought as it might give away something of what we’re trying to tell in the series.
Marvel.com: In the pages we’ve seen and in much of your other work, you put a great deal of energy into the facial expressions of everyone from the main characters to crowd members. What makes this such an important step for you as an artist?
Barry Kitson: Thanks, I take that as a great compliment! The root of everything for me is to tell a story and so I try to convey that as best I can. I think if you can identify with a character’s feelings it draws you into a story. As a reader I used to pore endlessly over the artwork looking in detail at each panel, so as an artist I hope if anyone out there does the same thing with my work their attention might be rewarded. So each crowd member will have a little back story in my mind—why they are there, how they are feeling, etc. It certainly adds to my enjoyment when I’m drawing to be thinking about these things.
Marvel.com: Heroes and crowd members are great, but how fun is it drawing the giant monsters and other villains of the Silver Age Marvel Universe?
Barry Kitson: It’s a pure delight. It is literally my chance to live the dream I had as little kid learning to read. I wanted to draw the Frightful Four! I wanted to draw giant Jack Kirby monsters. This is just the dream job for me! I can’t thank Mark—and [editors] Tom [Brevoort] and Alanna [Smith]—enough for letting me loose on all these characters I’ve longed to draw all my life!
Marvel.com: You and Mark have worked together on and off for years now. How do you feel your collaborative relationship has grown and evolved in that time?
Barry Kitson: Well I can only answer for myself, but I think really we have just grown to know each other better and recognize each other’s strengths. We do discuss a lot to do with the stories and how we’re going to approach them, but we’ve also reached a place where we don’t have to actually articulate some things. For example, if we’re doing a scene based around dialogue I know Mark will nail it and there’s really no need for me to even suggest any lines of dialogue any more. Every issue we’ve ever worked on, when I see the final dialogue it’s always way better than whatever I had been imagining.
Conversely I think Mark has come to trust me with the visual storytelling to the point where he’ll just tell me what he needs to have happen and then let me work out how we’re going to show it. I think we’ve both come to respect each other’s strengths over the years and we’re both team players so we try to let each shine whenever we can because we know it makes for a better book.
The reason I loved the early Marvel comics so much was that they were so obviously collaborations between the artist and the writer which made each partnership unique. A Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] story was different from a Stan and Gene [Colan] story was different from Stan and John [Romita] story. I’m not for one moment suggesting we’re anywhere near in the league of those guys—well, Mark maybe but I know my limitations—but at the root of our partnership is the simple truth that we both love comics, and specifically creating comics above all else so we trust each other to make each book we work on the best we can. That probably all sounds way too idealized and positive, but it’s also honestly how I see it working.
Explore the past with Mark Waid and Barry Kitson in AVENGERS POINT ONE #2.1, coming this December!
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