Following the events of House of X and Powers of X, Marvel’s mutants have entered an all-new, all-different era. It is the Dawn of X. To celebrate, AiPT! Brings you X-MEN WEEK–seven days of original interviews with past and present X-Creators. Pax Krakoa!
Do you believe in magic? If your answer’s “no,” you just might once you start reading Marvel’s all-new Excalibur series, written by Tini Howard and illustrated by Marcus To. Swords! Dragons! Apocalypse in more comfortable clothes! We’ve been promised a lot–and you know what? You’re about to learn even more, because I had a chance to talk to To and Howard at New York Comic Con 2019!
(OK, full disclosure, very few words were actually exchanged between Howard and I at NYCC due to her losing her voice–but she was nice enough to answer my questions after the con once she was fully recovered!)
AiPT!: Tini, when preparing for Excalibur, did you revisit any of the classic Excalibur comics for inspiration, or is this series very much its own thing?
Tini Howard: Both? That’s a silly answer, but I think you have to do both, as a writer. You can’t build on something in a satisfying fashion without an awareness of what’s come before. I think House of X and Powers of X taught us that, if we didn’t already know, right? The combination of a completely fresh take with the presence and prominence of mutant characters and history from all over. I’m absolutely endeavoring to do the same in Excalibur.
AiPT!: Marcus, were you a fan of the original Excalibur?
Marcus To: Maybe not the original one, but the era of Pete Wisdom and Kitty Pryde dating and Colossus coming in after he left for the Acolytes–that was my era. I didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, so I’d sparingly buy one–“Oh, Colossus is in that one, I’ll buy that one–oh, Cyclops is in that one.” So I jumped around a lot as a kid and it wasn’t until later in my years I could read them. But I always loved Excalibur because it was a fun book. You could so so much more with that book.
AiPT!: Excalibur seems to be a team composed of “big” personalities. As a writer, how much fun is it juggling Rogue, Jubilee, Apocalypse and the other leads?
Howard: Incredibly! As I’m writing this, I’ve just finished #6 and it’s amazing to me how far these characters have come. They might seem like a motley crew to some, but to me, who has been spending so much time with them, they’re unquestioningly linked now. It does sometimes feel like juggling–right now I could write a solo about each of them, but that’s team books for you.
AiPT!: Marcus, you redesigned the entire team, right?
To: Yep, I redesigned pretty much all of the Excalibur characters.
AiPT!: What’s it like redesigning so many characters with such iconic costumes?
To: A lot of panic and late sleepless nights. I mean, obviously, with every character, there’s different things you need to make sure that they have. Every character kind of had their own different design differences. Obviously Betsy had the most drastic change, as she’s Captain Britain, so you pore over a lot of references to see what other people have done and see some of the similarities with what they’ve done and try to take those similarities and then add your flavor to them. So color schemes to try and stay on top of–Rictor has more green in his costume with a little bit of red and blue, then Gambit is purple or pink–one of the two. Jubilee is pink and yellow. A lot of those things you start off with, then go as crazy as you can, and then the editor pulls you back.
AiPT!: We haven’t seen Rogue in her ’90s costume in many years. What made you go that route?
To: Well, you’ll see in #1, she will have a slightly altered costume later on. But #1 will set the stage. We just needed her in something for now.
AiPT!: Tini, magic can be a turnoff to some superhero comic readers. Why should these specific readers, who don’t care for magic and mysticism in fiction, give Excalibur a chance?
Howard: I’ve never seen magic as just an aesthetic choice, it’s really the same as great science fiction, it’s a way of talking about the unknown and the speculative. It’s a good way to talk about things in reality we don’t understand–consciousness, connection, these nebulous things that are a big deal. I actually read a lot more science fiction than fantasy, and I think it’s because of the way I use magic in stories. This is a story about magic not as a thing we use to do the dishes for us but as a natural part of a culture’s history, that mysticism develops just like other cultural touch points.
AiPT!: I know you’re friends with Leah Williams–are there any aspects of Leah’s take on Betsy in X-Tremists you plan to carry over to Excalibur?
Howard: Leah and I have talked a lot about Betsy. I think one place we both really connect with her is that she has both the literal complicated-relationship-with-her-own-body, and also the same ones that many of us have as women. She’s a model, she’s been changed by the people who had power over her, distrusted, had a lot of messy affairs. There’s something I really connect to in ‘woman feels that another body would be better, easier to live in than her own, but is wrong about that in so many ways.’ There’s the added complexity that she is a white woman who took over the body of an Asian woman, at the hands of a man who was making her into the object of his desires… there’s guilt that’s legitimately hers and guilt that isn’t, guilt she’s feeling because the men responsible for it won’t feel it like they should. There’s a lot to say about Betsy.
AiPT!: And in terms of Betsy’s powers, artists have really delivered some very cool visuals using her revamped psychic weapons. Marcus, have you been having fun illustrating the new Captain Britain’s powers?
To: It’s been super fun. I think just drawing Betsy, in general, is a lot of fun. I think she has a lot of character. I think she’s going through so many things in her life right now, like drawing a lot of what her psychic powers mean to her now, which is a different part of her. It’s been awesome.
AiPT!: Finally, Tini, what do you love the most about the new status quo for mutants? And is the freshness of it all liberating for you as a writer?
Howard: It’s totally liberating. It frees us from a lot of the constraints that can happen in writing superhero comics. I’m really lucky to be a part of it.
Be sure to return to AiPT! tomorrow for X-Men Week: Day 5!