Kirby 100: Brent Schoonover
The Howling Commandos & Captain Marvel artist kicks off the King's centennial celebration!
1917 to 2017: 100 years of Kirby.
Join us this month to celebrate Jack “The King” Kirby’s 100th birthday by learning about the characters and stories he created to change comics forever. To commemorate Jack’s centennial, we’ve sat down with the modern-day creators he influenced—and the decades of work he gifted us all.
Whether they know it or not, just about every artist making comics today owes something to Jack “King” Kirby. Brent Schoonover, who sketched the likes of Kirby characters Dum Dum Dugan and Orrgo in the pages of HOWLING COMMANDOS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., understands this creative lineage thanks to some of his earliest comic book purchases as a kid.
We spoke with Brent about his early exposure to Kirby’s work, the joys of classic Marvel Monsters, and the genius Jack Kirby brought to his signature characters.
Marvel.com: Do you remember when you started to appreciate Jack Kirby’s work? Was it something that happened right away or did your appreciation develop over time?
Brent Schoonover: It was probably around middle school in the mid-1990s. When I was really getting into Bruce Timm and trying to find anything I could with his work. I found an interview where he listed his influences and Kirby was on there. I knew of Kirby, but it just never really clicked for me. But once I started seeing Bruce’s take on Kirby characters and how he took form, design, and style choices from Jack and expanded them to make it his own, a light bulb just went off in my head. Not only did I learn to understand and appreciate Kirby, but I learned how to make my own work less of a clone of someone else—and try to take what I loved about someone else’s work and merge it with my skill set.
Marvel.com: Are there any elements of Kirby’s technique or style that influenced you specifically?
Brent Schoonover: The first thing I remember using from him was the Dutch angle—showing that something is off or tense in a scene by giving that panel a slight tilt. I loved it and still use that a lot today. As far as draftsmanship, I like to think I still draw hands in a Kirby style with these big sausage fingers. I can’t help it. I just wish I could turn it off when doing a female’s hands. Also it’s impossible to not use Kirby Krackle when it comes to drawing space or energy.
Marvel.com: One of your first Marvel works was the Ant-Man Annual in 2015. That’s a different Ant-Man than Kirby drew, but it does feature Hank as Giant Man and Janet as the Wasp—plus some early Avengers flashbacks. How was it drawing some of these important characters that Kirby helped bring to life?
Brent Schoonover: Yeah I had worked on the Punisher for a little bit the year before and then the Ant-Man Annual came along. Reading that entire script, I had a giant smile from ear to ear because it was just a big love letter to the things I fell in love with early on, collecting comics. When I first got into comics, most of my collection came from this big box of books I got at a garage sale. It was a random collection of reprints of ‘60s Marvel and comics from the ‘70s. So I had a lot of stuff that was older but it really made me fall in love with collecting older issues. It also had a few issues that featured Egghead in that box, so it was cool that he was my first true Marvel villain I got to draw in a story.
But that issue was a blast. I had the Marvel Essential collection of Ant-Man and I’d spend a lot of time looking at that and the way Jack would really use perspective in panels, to convey the size differences and the urgency in the scenes, was incredible. And he’d still manage to get seven to nine panels on a page and still make it all feel dynamic. It was mighty impressive.
Marvel.com: Not long after that, you drew HOWLING COMMANDOS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., with more than a few Kirby co-creations—from Dum Dum and Jasper Sitwell to Orrgo. Was it intimidating to update some of those characters?
Brent Schoonover: It was! Especially Dum Dum. He’s kind of one of these characters who’ve dropped in on almost every title in the Marvel Universe over time. Jasper had a nice cheat since he was a zombie, so you could kind of make him your own. Orrgo is tricky because you can really make that face cartoony or creepy. They all had their challenges in their own right, but then add that Jack was their co-creator on top of it all, and was a little intimidating. Thankfully, you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it as the pages need to get done to hit that deadline. I was proud that [in our final issue] we were able to do a cool callback to the original Howling Commandos cover Jack did.
Marvel.com: Your Orrgo retains a lot of Kirby’s initial design while framing him in a different light. Did it feel like you were adding to this character that first debuted so many decades ago?
Brent Schoonover: Yeah, like I mentioned above, he can either come off cartoony or scary. And I like to think we played that up in the series pretty well. He’s kind of got an Iron Giant quality to him that I appreciate. And I thought Frank Barbiere did a great job fleshing his character out as the series went on. Our last issue was a Standoff tie-in and he was the main focus. I don’t think he’s had too many issues where he’s gotten to be the main character since the Kirby days, honestly.
Marvel.com: In a more general way, you got to play in the mega monster sandbox in COMMANDOS. How fun was that?
Brent Schoonover: It was a dream come true—going back to the box of comics I got at a garage sale as a kid. That box had a ton of MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN, TOMB OF DRACULA, and WEREWOLF BY NIGHT issues. So even though I wasn’t around when they came out, I was certainly hooked on ‘70s Marvel Monsters, which made me hunt down as many horror comics as I could as a kid. I was lucky to get a few of the early Kirby monster books that he did before Marvel started doing super heroes and they are all really fun. I’d love to see a collection of those sometime.
Marvel.com: You mentioned digging Kirby’s Hulk work. He only worked on that series for five issues, but clearly left his mark. Which of those left their impressions on you?
Brent Schoonover: The first issue of the Hulk may be my favorite comic ever. It’s this perfect blend of horror, sci-fi, and super hero comics all rolled into one. I mean Banner turns into the Hulk for the first time and like five pages later he’s in outer space taking on The Gargoyle. All those issues have so much fun going on: The Ringmaster, Kirby inked by Ditko, Mongo the Gladiator from Space! Hulk had always been my favorite character in the Marvel Universe simply because he feels like a Universal Monster that plays in the Marvel superhero sandbox. The thing I loved about Kirby’s original design was that the Hulk was ugly. And he wasn’t this big, giant, muscle guy either. He looked like Frankenstein but changed forms like the Wolfman. He’s just too cool.
Stay tuned to Marvel.com for more throughout Kirby Month and beyond! And join the conversation on all of our social channels with the hashtag #Kirby100.
The Hype Box
Can’t-miss news and updates from across the Marvel Universe!
‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’: The Directors on Miles and Gwen’s Importance