A version of this interview first appeared on JHU Online in September 2009. Updated August 2013.
British artist Mike McKone is best known for his work on Teen Titans, Fantastic Four, Exiles and Deadpool. In October, Marvel will release the original graphic novel Avengers: Endless Wartime by McKone and Warren Ellis, and in the spring DC will launch Justice League Canada by McKone and Jeff Lemire. Back in September 2009, I chatted with him while he signed books and sketched for customers at JHU Comic Books in New York City.
You’ve had some notable runs on Teen Titans and Fantastic Four… Is there a particular team or group that you prefer to draw?
I really enjoy drawing Exiles,
actually, because it was a different setting and different costumes
[each issue], so that was a lot of fun… a little bit more work than it
is drawing the Fantastic Four.
In the back of your first Fantastic Four
collection with J. Michael Straczynski, there are some pictures of a
clay model you did of Ben Grimm. Do you often use sculpture reference
in your work?
It was just for The Thing. I was never
going to be able to have the plates on his body consistent, so I thought
the least I could do was try to get the plates on his face consistent.
The easiest way to do that was to take a—I had a phrenology bust, and I
just got some kids’ plasticine [and worked on it] until I got the shape I
wanted. Because he didn’t have to look human, it was pretty easy to
I just moved here a few months ago and I was going to bring
it, but in the years since I made it, the plasticine had dried out.
When I picked it up, it fell apart, and I was left with the phrenology
bust. So it was a one-off, now it’s a none-off.
Is it more difficult to draw characters with abnormal body proportions like Morph or Reed Richards?
Fantastic is difficult, because he looks odd if you don’t if you don’t
stretch him in just the right way. But Morph is real easy to draw –
it’s not so much the stretching with Morph, it’s that he can change into
anything, which is a lot of fun to draw.
Do you prefer to work off detailed scripts, or do you prefer what’s known as the “Marvel Style”…?
really don’t mind, because it’s-- if I have to add stuff, then that’s
just part of the job, if I have to condense a really detailed script,
again that’s part of the job. Generally, I’m just working with the
script up until the point where I’ve drawn the thumbnails, and then I
leave the script behind. Once I know the placement of the characters
and what they are meant to be doing in a thumbnail, then I don’t really
have to refer to the script. There’s an old joke that you read it once
and whatever you don’t remember cannot really have been that important.
It’s not quite as mercenary as that, but I don’t mind.
Are there any characters that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?
Ooh… I really like the cosmic characters, actually.
I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cosmic stuff…
Yeah, one of my best friends is Andy Lanning [noted inker and co-writer with Dan Abnett on Marvel’s cosmic books - Jeff]. I’d really like to work on some of the stuff that they are working on.
Speaking of inkers, with inking over your pencils, do you prefer a particular inker--
I prefer Andy, really. I mean that’s not to say the other inkers that
I’ve had have been bad or anything, it’s just that he seems to be able
to make me look a little bit better than anyone else. He works
primarily in pen, and I like that a lot. He doesn’t allow himself to be
overworked – I think he pretty much divides his time between myself and
Phil Jiminez. So he really spends a lot of time on the inks, and I
appreciate that. And I guess he can do that because he’s a writer, too.
But apart from his personality, I like him a lot! [Laughs]
Do you have any desire to do creator-owned work?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a few things I could [have done], it’s just a question of finding a place to do them.
How did your current Amazing Spider-Man gig come about?
Whacker asked me to draw a couple of issues, which I did. Then he
asked me to draw a couple more, and I said I couldn’t, I was going to
DC. And he said, do you mind if we offered you a contract? They made a
better offer than DC, and I’ve really enjoyed drawing Spider-Man.
So you’re exclusive at Marvel, right?
Yeah, Marvel were good enough to sponsor me for my work visa so I could come and live in New York.
Now the work visa, that’s a benefit to creator exclusivity that hadn’t occurred to me.
I’m not even exclusive in the way I used to be exclusive because I’m
actually an employee of Marvel now. I pay taxes… I guess I’ll be
invited to the Christmas party, now.
How long are you on the book?
Some of the Spider-Man
writers live in New York, Marvel editorial is in New York… When you
work with a writer, do you meet with them, or is it all scripts?
all just scripts. I try-- Its not that I got anything against the
writers, or editorial, it’s just that I spend so much time working on
the books, that who wants to spend spare time with them? I talked to
Dan [Slott] a couple of weeks ago actually, and we’re going to meet up
and talk about what to do [together…] That could be useful actually.
[JHU Manager Steven Norman] How did you get the recent Green Lantern gig?
Berganza asked me if I would do it, and I said no. And then he called
me up a few months later and said “OK, I’ve put you in Previews so you’ve got to do it!” [Laughs]
Honestly, that’s how it happened. I was just about to start work on
Spider-Man and I had to push that back three months to do Green Lantern.
Never make friends with an editor because they will abuse you! But I
got to work with Geoff [Johns] again, so it was all good.
[SN] When you guys started the Titans series, did you decide on the black t-shirt for Superboy or was that Geoff’s call?
think it was more his, actually, because I just did a generic superhero
costume type thing. He wanted least one character with regular
civilian clothes. At the time I thought it was crazy, but it came out
perfectly, because it just worked for the character. And he’s really
easy to draw.
[Customer] That must have been easier than with Exiles where you had to redesign everyone in the Universe every two issues, right?
did that for two years, but it wasn’t meant to be that way. The
locations were meant to change, obviously, but the costumes were meant
to remain constant. But I’ve got a terrible memory for costumes, and
since I designed most of them, I could never remember them, so every
issue I changed them!
Is it difficult to convey emotion when you are dealing with fully masked characters like Spider-Man or Deadpool?
particularly, I rely a lot on body language. Deadpool is a lot easier
because you can kind of draw on his mask, as it were, showing through
the mask. With Spider-Man, I just rely on his gestures and body
language to do it, a tilt of the head…
asked Steve Dillon this when he was here a couple of months ago: Do you
prefer to draw regular clothes or do you prefer tights and capes and
Actually, I used to be afraid of drawing people
in regular clothes, because I just couldn’t draw them well enough. But
then I did Vexed for six issues
where everyone was wearing regular clothes, so I was forced to do it.
After that, I didn’t mind at all. For me, it’s better to draw people in
[regular] clothes, because you can suggest movement much more easily
then when people are wearing skin-tight costumes.
But original art tends not to sell when if you’ve got a bunch of civilians running around in regular clothes. [Laughs].
Copyright 2009, 2013 Jeffrey O. Gustafson