Friday, May 17, 2024

Amazing Adventures

Lifetime Goal Unlocked!

In 2023, the Amulet imprint of my publisher, Abrams Books, put out a book titled Marvel Super Stories, an anthology of short stories about Marvel superheroes done for middle-grade readers by cartoonists who don't usually do superhero comics, such as Jerry Craft, Nathan Hale, Lincoln Peirce, Maria Scrivan. You may not know all those names, but 8- to 12-year-old kids devour their graphic novels. 

Shortly after that book was announced, it came up in conversation with my editor at Abrams, Charlie Kochman. I said I thought it was a great idea, and it would be a real thrill for me to do something like that someday. I was a Marvel comics reader from the age of 10, and at one time I'd collected every Avengers comic in print, going back to issue #1 from 1963. In my late teens and early twenties I wanted to draw superheroes professionally, and submitted work to both DC and Marvel. I got some encouraging replies and even a tryout, but nothing came of it. It would be a lifetime bucket-list achievement for me, I told Charlie, if I ever got to write and draw an Avengers comic.

"Well, we're doing a Volume 2," Charlie said. 

"Oh?" I replied, slow on the uptake.

"Send me a proposal," said Charlie, "and we'll see what John (Jennings, Amulet's editor) and Marvel say."

"But I'm not a middle-grade author," I said, arguing myself out of a gig.

"You actually are," Charlie said, pointing out that Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? won an award for best astronautical literature for young adults and was picked up by Scholastic. The Last Mechanical Monster made the American Library Association's best graphic novel list. Even Mom's Cancer won a youth literature prize. 

"Oh!" I replied, still slow.

Each of the 15 Marvel Super Stories is six pages long, plus a couple of pages introducing the character. I drafted a script, drew finished black-and-white art for the first three pages, and hit "Send." A while later, I got word: I was in!

My short Avengers story features the Beast, a furry blue mutant who began as an X-Man but later joined Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I set the story in the era of MY Avengers, which the Marvel folks told me I needed to address because the Avengers' roster and headquarters have changed a lot since I was young. A caption box on Page 1, explaining that this was a tale from the team's past, did the trick.

Two Avengers covers featuring the Beast from back in my day.

I won't say more, except that a couple of other Avengers also show up and I didn't get to use my first choice of villain because someone else had already claimed it. Luckily, the Marvel editors suggested a substitute villain, a deep cut from the Avengers' earliest days, who worked out even better! 

It was an interesting challenge capturing the proper tone. Light, lean, clear. The Marvel editors had a few notes that helped me find it. I also realized I'd have to draw smaller than I intended to achieve the right balance of detail in the art and legibility in the lettering. These were easy but necessary adjustments. An invigorating creative stretch! I also drew a couple of panels that I think may be the best artwork I've ever published.

Although the story is meant for young readers and I aimed for that, I didn't condescend. I wrote and drew an Avengers tale I would have done if Marvel had hired me when I was 24 and said, "Brian, we need to fill six pages in the back of the next issue, what've you got?" As far as I'm concerned, my story really happened. It fits with the chronology and mythology. To me, it's canon.

I did these renderings of the Beast for the cover above, which unites all the superheroes appearing in the book drawn by the artists who did their stories. The cover designer gave me a rough idea of the pose they needed and I returned two slightly different options that I thought would fill the space well. Part of the Beast's arm is missing because I knew it would be hidden by the "E" in "Adventures." 

Marvel Super Stories: Amazing Adventures comes out October 22. I can't express how delighted I was to contribute to it. Comics can be serious nonfiction adult literature. They're a medium like film, TV, theater, print, radio, etc. that can tell any type of story those other media can. You can't do books like mine if you don't believe that.

But sometimes comics can and should just be fun for kids! There's nothing wrong with that, either. Especially if it checks a big item off your bucket list!

1 comment:

Sharon Tuttle said...

Cool beans! Congratulations, and I'm looking forward to reading this! 8 - )