Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
This week, I had a chance to chat with Peter Nguyen, an X-Men-loving artist who’s not only illustrated X-Characters in Marvel comics, but worked on the Wolverine and the X-Men animates series and hung around on the set of The Gifted. Peter’s got some eXcellent stories and I’ve wanted to get him “on the record” for some time. So, without further ado…
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Peter! Anyone who follows you on Twitter knows you’re a huge X-Fan. So let’s go back to the beginning: When did you first fall in love with the X-Men?
Peter: I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and there wasn’t a lot of content. I went on a family vacation in California and I found a Toy Biz Gambit kicking action figure–my dad bought it for me and it synched up with the cartoon. We couldn’t have comics growing up, but I found random comics at the used sale at the local carnival and they had the reprint of the Storm vs. Callisto issue and that also synched up with the cartoon. So it was just this perfect synergy. But I think X-Men action figures were the real way in for me.
AIPT: Nice. So who’s your favorite X-Men character to draw? Is it Gambit?
Peter: Gambit is up there–it changes so much and people ask me all the time.
So Magneto, for example–I love drawing Magneto but he’s such a challenge because his helmet doesn’t synch up with his eyeballs all the time–but I love reading about Magneto. And I love mutants who can create composition, so like Storm or Iceman. Gambit does create composition but it’s usually just that triangular composition, kind of like how Quicksilver always has one pose. But Gambit’s face scruff is very fun. I like “laser mutants,” I like explosive, really dynamic characters. Iceman’s up there. I love drawing metal so I love Colossus too–I like them all! It changes every week.
AIPT: OK, well is there anybody you don’t like drawing because they’re really complex?
Peter: Oh, if we’re talking like that then it’s Galactus and movie Optimus Prime, who’s horrible for me. But that’s OK, I can do it, it just has to be a different mindset. But the honest truth is I don’t like “stabbing mutants” because it’s a lot of forearm–a lot of muscular dynamic poses. I wasn’t really comfortable with Wolverine and the first book I did in the X-Men universe involved Wolverine, so it’s like this really huge mind game–“Crap, there isn’t a single laser mutant to draw here,” you know?
AIPT: And that book was Wolverines, so you had to do multiple characters like that!
Peter: Yeah, there was only one non-stabbing mutant and that was Elixir. So he was fun, but he’s not like, let’s say Iceman, who can build an ice castle plus an ice shield. He’s like the Green Lantern of that universe. But I learned to love it and honestly when [editor] Mike Marts told me I had that book, I practiced Wolverine. I didn’t know he wasn’t in the book–I thought he was still going to be alive by the time I got to the issues. So I was only practicing Logan. But you can just apply Logan to Dakken or Sabretooth or whoever. But yeah, I have this whole Facebook album dedicated to “learning how to claw”–learning how to draw stabbing mutants.
AIPT: Who or what has influenced your art style?
Peter: Growing up in Hawaii, we had a lot of anime influences on TV like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball, and we had a lot of Disney films, of course. But for comic books it was Jim Lee. I didn’t know who he was but I knew his artwork was all over that era of stuff. And Whilce Portacio–who sits next to me at San Diego Comic-Con. That’s mind-blowing to me. His family’s so nice. To add Bishop to this whole roster of huge X-Men is pretty amazing to me. I think if you looked at my 7-year-old drawings–there are Cable-esque characters, very Rob Liefeld. And Archangel wings–I loved drawing those. If you’re talking about X-Men, those guys meant a lot.
AIPT: You worked on Wolverine and the X-Men, which many people are now discovering for the first time on Disney+. In the credits, you’re credited as Production Assistant. So what does that mean? What role did you play in the show?
Peter: So I was about to graduate from Cal State Northridge and I needed to find a gig and I emailed Steve Gordon, who was famous for X-Men Evolution. I said, “Will you take an unpaid person to come in and work? I’ll do anything.” I just needed to find something and I loved X-Men. I came in there and Boyd Kirkland, who also did Batman: The Animated Series, was there. They were all together in this tiny, little room and they just put me through a bunch of tests. So I did storyboard clean-up for that first episode. Boyd gave me a bunch of drawing work. It was me drawing Kitty and Wolverine–I was a mess, I had no idea what I was doing. After a week of trial they decided to use me in production to help organize the scheduling, take care of things that need to be shipped out and talk to directors. It was three directors and they would switch every episode, so like, Steve would do episode one and then episode four and so on and they needed continuity–someone to organize all this stuff for them.
But at the same time, they needed people to draw miscellaneous things. So every single effect in that show was drawn by me except for Nightcrawler’s bamf and maybe something else. It was so much fun drawing Iceman’s slide and Cyclops’ lasers. So if you watch the intro, all those effects were mine–even MRD soldiers with tiny lasers had to be drawn. I ended doing some backgrounds. Iceman made a huge ice thing he fought on and it became a background.
Then I did extra character designs–like background mutants–and props. They needed a broken Sentinel, so I drew one–that was a dream. Then the real power was because Marvel would have to approve everything, and the directors honestly didn’t know X-Men as well as someone as nerdy as me. They would ask, is Bishop’s signature red or blue? “Totally red!” There was another moment where Armor was going to be used and I think they were referring to Tildie, who was also in Joss Whedon’s run. I was pretty sure the creators meant Tildie because of the issues they were talking about. I felt so useful, nerd-wise–all this random knowledge that was finally coming into play and it was just fun. It was stressful, I was working a lot, eating a lot–I got high cholesterol. But it was the really great first job of my life and truly an amazing experience.
AIPT: I’ve seen character designs and scripts from the proposed second season online. Did you have any involvement in that planning?
Peter: Yeah, I was talking to Boyd–unfortunately, he passed away–he was such a great mentor to me while he was editing the first season. Spoiler alert: They were supposed to introduce the Age of Apocalypse. So my small contribution was that there’s a scene where AOA Cyclops comes out and there’s a massive crowd, and I was going to draw a bunch of cameos, like Nemesis and Abyss and all these other guys cheering in the front ground. So I had drawn all the AOA characters–these were not approved designs, but they were just filler extras in the crowd scene. Unfortunately, I was extremely devastated when it never made it past that.
AIPT: And you mentioned before, you had a chance to draw some X-Men comics in Wolverines and Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy. How did that opportunity come about?
Peter: My original editor was Mike Marts. He was the head of the X-Office but he was also at the Batman Office before and I did Gotham City Sirens at DC Comics and he asked me to do these issues. I don’t think he knew how much it meant to me. For me to be like, dude, any X-Men book, it can be any X-Men character and I’d be happy. It could be Krakoa’s day off and it’s just an island of nothing and I’d be happy. So, I didn’t know the cast but it was Charles Soule and he gave me such cool characters. I didn’t think I’d like drawing Sabretooth but I really enjoyed it. His build is really fun for me. I kind of love the Capcom version of him, so I think I’d always reference that. I love that X-Men arcade era. Then, The Logan Legacy had Lady Deathstrike and I didn’t realize she could retract her fingers. She was in bed with Shogun and they had a sex scene, but I left the fingers long.
AIPT: Bringing it back to television, could you talk a bit about the work you did for the cast of The Gifted?
Peter: I was at San Diego Comic-Con and Matt Nix and Derek Hoffman came by my table and asked how much I charge for commissions. They found me, saw my X-Men stuff, bought a bunch of it and asked me to come out to Georgia. I timed it with Dragon Con, so Dragon Con flew me out and I got to spend a good five or six days on set and that was my first set experience ever. But basically, what I did for them was each established actor at the end of season one got a wrap gift, and they all got an image that was their character’s comic book version and their TV version merged together–like a half and half. That’s what the producer wanted–what their characters would look like in the books.
The really cool thing was some of the actors were not main cast members and then Jamie Chung, who plays Blink, she private messaged me and ordered other commissions to give to the other actors. So she got a gift herself and then ordered others so that was really sweet. I spent 12 hours a day on set. A stand-out memory was eating lunch–all the directors were at one table, all the actors were at another table. I sat down at an empty table and Jamie left the actors and sat at my table and talked to me about Blink. I’m like, oh my God, this is my moment to splurt out all the useless information I know about Blink. She was like, “I just play her perky, is that OK?” I kind of froze because it’s not the only Blink. This is a happier Blink than the AOA Blink.
While there, I sketched all day and learned so much. I really appreciate Derek having me out there. Emma Dumont, who played Polaris, is super cool too. We went out at Dragon Con. She was so nice and loves the character. She knows Polaris inside out–she’s a huge fan, you could really tell. All my experiences have been X-Men-related but they’ve all been very valuable to me. I’m a huge fan but super lucky I get to be around such creative, smart people.
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AIPT: What an amazing opportunity. (Readers, here’s a photo Peter provided from him visiting The Gifted’s take on the Morlock tunnels).
So, your Summers family tree image was featured in the last edition of X-Men Monday. It’s awesome! How did that piece come to be?
Peter: The best part is there are a bunch of really cool forums–House of X on Facebook and Reddit–they’re going through the whole thing. My whole objective was for people to Google and learn who characters like Hyperstorm are–even I didn’t know who Hyperstorm was. Every time I draw things, I have to make up rules, otherwise, I don’t get inspired enough and it becomes too open-ended. So I decided not to include the Grey family because I thought Jean deserves her own family tree and I’ll get to that. Then I realized that the other rule was you had to be superpowered and an adult. So Alex has a kid with Wasp in an alternate reality but she’s not superpowered and he also has a kid with Madelyne Pryor in Mutant X but he’s not superpowered either. Otherwise, I’d be drawing forever–I’d be drawing Scott and Alex’s grandpa.
It was such a fun rabbit hole to go down, realizing Genesis and Hyperstorm are cousins and they’re extremely powerful. It made me realize how obsessed Sinister is with this DNA. Magically, there are tyrants down the lineage and nobody’s a happy mutant. Nobody has a great life, nobody builds a utopian society–only Nate Grey’s closest to doing that. Fabian Nicieza created Adam-X and on Twitter, he wrote “Vulcan who?” I liked that burn–that’s really awesome. I love Adam-X. Tony Daniel created him art-wise and Tony’s a good friend of mine. But I loved Adam-X before I met Tony. I think he’s such randomness and I love how he upsets people on the forums–“He’s not part of the family!” We don’t know that. My favorite families are the Maximoffs and Rasputins. I don’t know why I did the Summers, I just thought it was kind of fun.
AIPT: Do you have a dream comics project?
Peter: I would love to make some contribution to the X-Universe someday. Right now, for #XMay, I’m drawing a lot of Asian mutants because it’s also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and I made a whole list and can’t believe I made it to 30 mutants that possibly know the X-Men. So I’d like to show not diversity for diversity’s sake but I want a team that’s the X-Men in Giant-Size. They were going all around the world picking up people. I’ve been to 30 countries and I love exploring the world. I would love to tell a world-based X-Story with obscure ethnicities and obscure prejudices. That’d be really fun, just getting stuck in alleyways, small things I remember about these countries. Anyway, I would love to do a book about world-based X-Men–not like X-Corp but personal stories from around the world.
AIPT: I think a lot of X-Fans would love that. So, final question: How has quarantine life been?
Peter: I definitely have been drawing a lot. I’ve gotten some freelance gigs since conventions aren’t happening. I miss people a lot. I miss other artists I see at conventions. I feel like conventions are like interdimensional portals mixed with high school reunions. You see different parts of the world. I’ve been doing new hobbies. I chopped down a tree in my backyard. I’m also trying to take it easy. We’re not expected to make our masterpiece right now and creativity is so hindered by all the stress out there, so I’m also trying not to go crazy. But I also want to be productive. It’s a balance. If I want to draw, I draw.
AIPT: Well, hopefully you feel the urge to keep drawing in the days ahead–your work’s amazing! And thanks for swinging by X-Men Monday to share your stories!
Before we wrap this week, we’ve got an eXtra treat for X-Fans looking for a fun activity. You know Peter’s X-Women piece that was used for this edition’s feature image up top?
Peter went ahead and made a list of every X-Woman and X-Ally he included in that image. Can you find them all? (Answers at the end of this article if you can’t.)
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay smart, safe and have an eXceptional week!