Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
Every day, we’re reminded how much life has changed in just a few short months. Recently, I realized this year will be the first in a long time where I won’t attend a single convention. In fact, I was granted a press pass to ACE Comic Con Northeast in Boston for March 20-22, but it was thankfully canceled as Massachusetts was quickly becoming a COVID-19 hotspot around the same time.
Since I’ve been on staff here at AIPT, it’s become something of a summer tradition for me to travel to New England conventions big and small–from the events held at Connecticut casinos, like ComiCONN and Terrificon, to my summertime ride or die, FAN EXPO Boston. While cons and all the post-show interview transcribing I have to do always leave me exhausted, the chance to chat with creators whose work I love, purchase original art, search for obscure back issues and buy collectibles I definitely don’t need but must have are just a few of the reasons why I keep coming back.
I’m honestly not sure how conventions will change or when they’ll even be able to return. But in the meantime, all this thinking about what I’d be missing in the months ahead made me want to bring a little bit of that convention flavor to X-Men Monday–without the overpriced food and beverages! So I reached out to one of my favorite faces from artist alley–artist Todd Nauck, who appeared briefly in both the San Diego Comic-Con 2019 and Terrifcon 2019 editions of X-Men Monday!
Todd’s not only eXtremely talented and a longtime X-Fan, but just an all-around great guy, too! And, in keeping with this week’s convention theme, Todd was game to create a one-of-a-kind commission with a little help from his fellow X-Fans! More on that process–and the big reveal of the finished piece–at the end of this article. For now, let’s catch up with Todd!
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Todd! So how has quarantine life been for you?
Todd: So far, quarantine life for me hasn’t been that big of a difference from what I do in my normal life as a freelance artist. I’m in my studio drawing all the time, so the stay-at-home order just kind of plays into my wheelhouse. I think I’ve been conditioned for this way of life so it hasn’t really affected me too adversely, fortunately.
AIPT: That’s good to hear. Are you working on any projects?
Todd: Right now, I’m mostly doing commissions and live streams. Those have been keeping me busy through April and into May while I’m waiting for the industry to unpause. I’ve been having a blast!
AIPT: Yeah, I love that you do daily YouTube art videos. It’s great to see creators keeping busy in cool and creative ways. Could you talk about how the idea to do daily videos came about?
Todd: I’ve had a YouTube channel for a lot of years and I’ve been doing art videos, and more recently, live streams, which I haven’t been able to do as much because of my work deadlines and convention travel. The videos usually take a backseat, so once this quarantine time happened and knowing that a lot of people would be at home–and a lot of parents with kids stuck at home–I saw this as an opportunity to get content onto my YouTube channel, reaching a captive audience, for lack of a better term, and have some fun. So I started doing five live streams every week. I did a Post-It Note art live stream for six weeks–a different one every day–then I switched it up and now I do sketch covers Tuesday through Thursday with pencils, inks and colors. That’s just so I can do some full-figure stuff because a lot of people are learning from the stuff I’m doing. The Post-It Notes are pretty much just headshots and people want to learn how to do draw bodies, hands and poses.
AIPT: Looking at your YouTube channel, I see X-Men–but I also see other Marvel characters, DC characters and Pokemon. How do you decide which characters to draw in your videos?
Todd: Several different factors might come into play there. Oftentimes, I ask myself what character am I jonesing to draw? Sometimes, the Post-It Note color can inform the character I might pick. Fan suggestions, too. Sometimes I’ll open it up to them and see which characters are showing up more frequently than other characters–is there a general consensus I might want to move toward? Then I started doing Marvel superhero team theme weeks. I did a DC week, a villains week, a robot week. And I did an alter-ego week. Half Peter Parker, half Spider-Man or half Steve Rogers, half Captain America. That was really well-received–people really enjoyed those split-screen characters.
AIPT: As commissions take some time to create, the fans who request them don’t always have insight into the artist’s process. So I’d like to dig into that with you. When you get a commission, where do you start, whether it’s a character you know well or not so well?
Todd: I’ll research a character whether I’m strongly familiar with the character or not. If not, I have to. I try to stick to superhero characters. If I draw a character I’m not connected to or have some passing knowledge of, it’s hard to find that spark to make the character come alive on the page. So most people will ask for an X-Man or Avenger or Spider-Man–I draw Spider-Man all the time. I rarely have to research Spider-Man. If anything, I research what poses I’ve done before so I don’t redo that pose again. That’s probably the greatest challenge–doing a pose I haven’t done before. I’ll also research costumes. Some people are specific on the era of costume they want but if they leave it open to me, I’ll search out a costume maybe I haven’t drawn as much to make it a challenge for me.
AIPT: Not wanting to repeat poses is interesting. Are you thinking about these pieces in terms of them being a part of a larger series?
Todd: I post my commissions to my social media–especially my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages. Most recently, I’ve been working on a Spider-Gwen and as I was doing her poses, I said, “Wow, this feels familiar.” I go back to look at what I’ve done this year and she was almost in the exact same pose as a Catwoman I had done. So the torso and legs were almost exactly the same and I don’t want someone to go, “Ah, Todd phoned this one in.” I really want to be thoughtful. Now there’s going to be incidental overlap and similarities because it’s superheroes and there are some common poses but I try to be as thoughtful as I can and nudge it just a little bit so it’s just a little more unique so each client gets something that’s freshly theirs.
AIPT: And how do you approach backgrounds? I notice your X-Men commissions typically feature a more technological background.
Todd: With X-Men, I love the Danger Room–that Shi’ar technology that got brought into the X-Mansion. I can hide an X logo in the background and just bring forth a little extra X-Spark there because they have the X logo on everything in the X-Mansion. It’s in their clothes, their walls, their vehicles, on their breakfast cereal–there’s going to be Xs everywhere. It just gives a little something more for the client and makes it fun for me. It gives a hint of the Danger Room or technology they have underneath the mansion that’s special for the X-Men and makes it better than a blank background.
AIPT: The details are great–especially in your Doug Ramsey/Warlock commission you did. I love that one.
Todd: I grew up with New Mutants so Doug and Warlock are two of my favorite characters. So that person came in with Douglock and just tapped into a deep fan cut for me.
AIPT: And what’s your approach to composition–like inking and coloring?
Todd: For me, I like to do pencils and inks–I ink with a Pigma Micron multiliner pen–and then add Copic colors. People really seem to enjoy the style I developed with my Copic marker skills. It’s something I’ve experimented with, trial and error, these past few years. Using Copics and learning what the markers can do, so I have a lot of fun blending the colors and creating new colors by overlapping one color with another–because Copic color is made to blend with other inks so you create these really fun effects of shading and blending. So when people want a commission, I offer watercolor sometimes but people seem to want my Copic. So I enjoy Copic for studio and commissions.
AIPT: What do you love the most about doing commissions?
Todd: One thing I really enjoy is either I’ll get to draw a character I love, like Douglock or Kitty Pryde–I got to do four Kitty Prydes in this latest “Stay at Home Con” wave of commissions. Then, I get characters I may have never drawn but actually like, like Sharon Ventura, the Ms. Marvel from the 1980s, who later became She-Thing. I’ve never drawn her–I’ve never thought to draw her and it was such a fun and exciting challenge because it taps into my youth. I remember those Thing comics and Sharon being a Thing. I looked at past appearances to get a sense of her personality and translate that onto the page. So that can be the fun challenge of it–characters I don’t always get to draw.
AIPT: We’re in a convention season without conventions–what do you miss the most about conventions?
Todd: I miss the chance to be extroverted. At home, when I’m working, I’m introverted. I say to my wife, “I’m going to the Marvel Universe for 8-10 hours–I’ll be back for dinner.” But conventions are a chance to be extroverted and to recharge and have conversations with fellow geeks that enjoy comics and the culture that we experience at a comic convention. And I get to be Peter B. Parker in cosplay! I miss that chance to really geek out, both as a professional and a fan. I also get to see other parts of the world–getting to go to Seattle or New York or Chicago. I haven’t gone anywhere this year. I was supposed to be at a convention in Germany and things got really bad before we left and that trip got canceled. My wife and I were so excited to spend two weeks in Germany and it fell through. Not getting to travel and visit other places is something we’re missing as well.
AIPT: Who or what would you say are your biggest artistic influences?
Todd: I started drawing at a very young age, so cartoons were the big draw for me at first. I loved Looney Tunes cartoons, Hanna-Barbera and Marvel cartoons as well. Spider-Man, Hulk and then Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends–that’s what really got me interested in the Marvel Universe. There were so many characters I’d never heard of before, and that was also my first exposure to X-Men. I was just blown away by the characters and had to learn more about them. That’s what drove me to comics. I started collecting at age 13 and by age 14 I made my first homemade mini-comic. I realized this is what I wanted to do for my career.
Arthur Adams was my biggest art influence–he blew me away when I was 15 years old. Rick Leonardi was another influence starting off, as well as Alan Davis and Walt Simonson. They’re my Mount Rushmore of artistic influences. But then there are so many more–Mike Zeck, Jon Bogdanove, Marc Silvestri, then the Image guys like Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, then into the ’90s with Mike Wieringo, Humberto Ramos, J. Scott Campbell and on. So many either influenced me or inspired me or continue to inspire me.
AIPT: Do you remember what your first X-Men comic was?
Todd: Absolutely I do. I first started collecting comics with a three-pack of Marvel comics I bought at a Target store–Secret Wars #7, #8 and #9. So those were my first comics that featured the X-Men. But I cut out the coupon in the back of Secret Wars #9 to subscribe to Uncanny X-Men. So my first issue was #193–the double-sized 25th-anniversary issue with Wolverine vs. Warpath on the cover and the Hellions.
I remember getting it in the mail, so my first issue was double-size, not realizing that not all comics are double-sized. I thought, “This is enormous, I can’t wait for next month’s issue!” I knew I was in the deep end of comics when I opened it up and didn’t see Wolverine or Cyclops, the characters I know. I see Warpath drop-kicking Banshee. I thought, wow there’s a lot I have to learn here.
AIPT: More recently, you illustrated a variant cover for the upcoming Children of the Atom #1, a series that’s still shrouded in a lot of mystery. How did you go about creating that image with characters old and new?
Todd: I was given the initial costume design sketches for the characters as well as the concept of the book. Then I just ran with it! I paired each kid with their X-Men counterpart and crafted a classic X-Men group shot.
AIPT: And we don’t know when Gwen Stacy #4 will come out now, but we know you drew the original X-Men in it. Is that issue finished? And what can you tell us about getting to draw the O5?
Todd: I have that issue done, it’s in the can. It was a lot of fun. It’s probably my favorite issue of the series, not only because I got to draw the X-Men but Christos Gage wrote just a really powerful story on so many levels. I’m just so thankful to get to draw a story like this. I’m so excited for what we’re going to show everyone–I guess later than sooner. So much built up to this and then throw the X-Men in the mix and it just made it such a fun comic for me to do. I’m so excited about it.
AIPT: Obviously, Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby and Warren have changed so much since the 1960s. How did you approach drawing them in their early days?
Todd: I looked up a lot of those first 50 issues of X-Men and scrolled through there to make sure I could get the Beast hairstyle right and so on. For the fashions–because we do get to see them out of costume with Gwen Stacy–we’re trying to keep the time nebulous because it’s not the 1960s but it’s not 2005 either. We want it to be this really amorphous timeframe, so I tried to capture things they could wear that could be anytime and falls into fashion that’s timeless. Just trying to capture the spark of those characters when they were younger and how they’d interact and Christos wrote some great stuff. He knows his Marvel history. He wrote them so well. He has great voice for Spider-Man comics and he tapped into the X-Men really well too.
When we get to see them in costume–I don’t think we’ve ever seen them fight this Spider-Man family villain. It was so much fun because I don’t think anyone’s ever had a chance to do this–having those Jean Grey and Gwen moments. They’re both kind of around the same age. This is a really unique experience here to do something in the past that’s canon and we’ve never had a chance to see until now.
AIPT: I can’t wait to read it! Now, speaking of Jean–any readers who follow AIPT on Twitter knew about last week’s chance to help Todd create a unique commission just for our loyal X-Men Monday audience. The collaborative process was broken down into three parts: Character, Location and Prop. Here were the results:
The talented @ToddNauck is going to create a special sketch for you, the eXtraordinary #XMenMonday audience! But FIRST, he needs your help. Join our collaborative process in 3 parts. First, which #XMen character is Todd drawing? Vote below and check back at 1 p.m. EST for part 2!
— AIPT (@AIPTcomics) May 12, 2020
Voting is still underway for part 1 of our #XMenMonday collaborative art project, but now it’s time for part 2! WHERE in the Marvel Universe will your chosen #XMen character be? Vote below to help the terrific @ToddNauck sketch your new favorite masterpiece!
— AIPT (@AIPTcomics) May 12, 2020
The final part of our collaborative #XMenMonday sketch! Our chosen #XMen character – wherever in the Marvel Universe they’ll be – needs a prop. Vote below so @ToddNauck knows what that prop will be! (And be sure to vote for parts 1 and 2 – There’s still time!)
— AIPT (@AIPTcomics) May 12, 2020
And here, is the finished commission:
Uncanny. Todd, can you walk us through how this amazing piece came to be?
Todd: The fans voted for Storm in a poll that came down to the wire. Storm has sooo many great designs from the past 40+ years from Giant-Size X-Men to present day. My favorite is Paul Smith’s Mohawk Storm of the 1980s (the look she had when I started reading as a kid). It would be so easy to go with that version. It’s the one I gravitate toward. But I decided to go with Storm’s current look based on the winning result of the location poll. It’s a design I’ve drawn a couple of times for some X-Men variant covers. So I’m fairly comfortable with it.
The background location of Krakoa, the winning result of the second poll, is put in my paneled framing shape and filled with Krakoa-like rocks and foliage. To really bring home the Krakoa-ness, I have its face manifesting at the bottom to the panel and even spilling out beyond the panel borders.
Lastly, the third poll was an item from the Marvel Universe and the Soulsword was the runaway winner of that poll. And that’s when my creative ideas really kicked in. This is when the options open up and can go in “all-new, all-different” directions! This Soulsword has a lot of power as well as story and history behind it. In the early days, when Magik summoned her Soulsword, her silver armor would appear on her left arm and right leg. When Kitty had Magik’s Soulsword, she developed the same silver armor. These were things that immediately came to mind and I wanted to keep that theme going!
So for Storm’s left shoulder armor, I tapped into the Jim Lee-era shoulder pad design with X-logo. And for the right leg armor, I harkened back to Storm’s first costume from the Dave Cockrum era and utilized that distinctive thigh-high boot with oval cutaways. For the Soulsword itself, I wanted to blend Magik’s two types of Soulswords: Her classic slender blade sword and her current wide sword with black trim. I wanted to keep the sword more streamlined because that seemed more in instep with Storm’s character. For the hilt, I utilized Storm’s original (Cockrum era) iconic headdress shape. I even used the Cockrum design collar red gem at the bottom of the hilt’s handle. And then adding some blue lightning to the bluish hue of the blade to ramp up the power! All to make Storm’s Soulsword distinctively hers!
I loooove getting to do pieces like this where I can get creative with the character and their design based on the character’s/item’s aspects and history. It allows for the fun of doing my take on the familiar and then add a spin we have not seen in the comics. It allows me to tell a story in the micro-moment and lets the viewer play with their imagination of how or why THIS came to be.
AIPT: You did an amazing job, Todd! And despite the random nature of this commission’s components, this image fits in perfectly with the X-Men’s upcoming X of Swords era. And as an eXtra treat, Todd let me know he’ll be posting two videos covering the commission’s creation on his YouTube channel this week–so be on the lookout for those videos!
a GIANT-SIZE thank you to Todd for taking the time to collaborate with X-Fans on this art and chat! (And thanks to the X-Fans who voted!) Until neXt time, stay smart, safe and have an eXceptional week!
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