CREDIT: Shawn Crystal (Marvel Comics)
In comic books, some of its top heroes were once criminals — but in a new series coming out of “All-New All-Different Marvel,” they’re letting the bad guys be bad guys according to Shawn Crystal.
Crystal is illustrating the upcoming Illuminati series which this fall, with super-villains such as the Hood, Thunderball, Titania, Mad Thinker and Black Ant doing well, as the artist puts it, “bad guy things.”
Details are currently sparse on the exact details of Illuminati, but Newsarama has the first look at three inked pages from the first issue, along with character designs by Crystal and cover artist Riley Rossmo. Newsarama talked with Crystal about his approach to the book, why he’s continually drawn to drawing criminals and thieves over more upstanding superheroes, as well as his recent Guardians Team-Up issue and work as a college instructor of sequential art.
Newsarama: Shawn, easy one first — what can you say you’re working on today? What’s on your drawing board?
Shawn Crystal: I’m inking page 4 of Illuminati #1. Josh Williamson wrote a banger of a script and I get to draw one of my all-time favorite Marvel heroes. I hope I get to play with him again someday. Yeah, that’s all you’re getting… “HIM.”
Nrama: What can you tell us about the Illuminati series besides just pronouns?
Crystal: It’s written by Josh Williamson. I think we have one of my favorite colorists on board. I’m not 100% yet, so I can’t say anything. Fingers crossed.
It’s a book about a crew of bad guys, doing bad guy stuff across the Marvel U. I’m getting to play with so many iconic characters and environments in the Marvel universe; It’s pretty surreal. Josh has a real vision with the story, and it was tailor made for me and what I like to draw.
Nrama: Outside of the story, for the art and your approach — what are you aiming for with this?
Crystal: I’ve been finding a lot of pleasure in playing with a structured page design (grids and static panel shapes) for the quiet moments, then completely deconstructing that structure when chaos and action erupt. I think it adds a nice contrast in page design that makes for an interesting read. My drawing is feeling better than its has, and I’m loving what I’m getting out of dry brush these days. I’ve reached a point where the challenge in my art isn’t totally overwhelming; it’s fun challenges these days. I’m really enjoying the continual growth and evolution of my art. I don’t want it to ever stop.
Nrama: The line-up of this book is interesting, with the Hood, Thunderball, Titania, Mad Thinker and Black Ant. What’s it like drawing these villains?
Crystal: I’m just getting started, so it’s hard to really say. But, I am so looking forward to playing with these baddies. They seem to fall in my lap, even when they’re the bad boy heroes. Batman, Deadpool, and Fantomex. Something about my style seems to work well with them. The contrast of cartoony and gritty, I think works well with a double-sided character.
Nrama: Do you find yourself liking to draw good guys more than bad guys, in your experience?
Crystal: No. I like them both. It really comes down to the characters that really fit with the way I draw. I’d love to get dirty with Doctor Strange or Etrigan, but I don’t think I’d work well with Green Lantern. It probably boils down to my interest and love of the character. I’m best on characters I’m invested in. Terrible answer, I know. Its late, I’m tired and my eyes are burning from inking all day.
Nrama: Don’t get the ink in your eyes, Shawn!
You’re coming into this after having done the one-off Guardians Team-Up #7 featuring Drax in Florida. As someone who lives in the South, what was it like depicting Marvel’s other big green character down in the Sunshine State?
Crystal: Getting to draw South Beach was fun. I wish we had more issues to play down there. Drax was a blast to draw, and Ant-Man… well something about him and the way I draw just worked. I didn’t expect that going in.
Nrama: People may not know this, but up until recently you were a Program Coordinator for the Savannah College of Art Design’s Atlanta campus. What led you to leave?
Crystal: It was just time. I had been there for about 10 years and my comics career was starting to look like something I could do full time. I felt I had done all I could do as a teacher, but i hadn’t even scratched the surface of what I could do as a cartoonist. Plus, working two full time jobs was killing me softly (the Lauryn Hill version). I’m sure I’ll go back to teaching one day, when my tank is full again.
Nrama: How do you think your time teaching and mentoring affects the work you do now as a full-time freelance artist?
Crystal: A lot. I spent so much time deconstructing how comics work, it makes me question everything I’m doing. With every book I do, I’m trying to get a better handle on how to make a good comic, tell a good story, stage a good shot,, design a good page, ink a good texture, etc. It’s kind of daunting.