Weekly readers of this column know I always kick things off by welcoming X-Fans to “another uncanny edition” of X-Men Monday at AIPT. Doing so, especially without acknowledging the tremendous pain, anger and outrage so many people are experiencing right now, would be disingenuous. The world outside our windows is anything but uncanny. But this is also nothing new–and something X-Men fans know more than most. Racism, intolerance, injustice and police brutality are persistent in our society.
Black lives matter.
If you want to do more but don’t know where to begin, you can start by visiting this comprehensive online resource center, which will direct you to ways to support the George Floyd Memorial Fund, the National Bail Fund Network, organizations like Reclaim the Block and others working to enact positive change. So many people have already given what they can.
THAT is uncanny.
Thank you, and I hope this week’s edition of X-Men Monday provides some joy.
In the Jonathan Hickman X-Men era, each X-Title has its own unique voice. This is definitely the case with the latest volume of X-Force, where writer Benjamin Percy and artist Joshua Cassara have delivered one memorable moment after another.
A shattered Cerebro helmet next to the lifeless hand of Charles Xavier. A legless Wolverine–still the best there is at what he does. A jaguar composed of sticks, stones and vegetation. Oh yeah, and in the most recent issue of X-Force, a little establishment named the Green Lagoon. Astonishing stuff!
Since Ben’s received the X-Men Monday Creator Spotlight treatment not once but twice, it was high time Joshua and I had an eXtended chat. Fortunately, he agreed (and also agreed to participate in our latest interactive sketch–but more on that at the end of this week’s column!)
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Joshua! Let’s go all the way back to the beginning: What was your first X-Men eXperience?
Joshua: My brother got into collecting comics and he had Wolverine #1–the John Buscema cover where he’s just on a pile of dudes–and I was just like, “Whoa.” I didn’t even know who this character was. I had gotten comics from the spinner rack at the local liquor store. The first book I ever bought was actually Groo #57 by Sergio Aragones, but Wolverine #1 was the first time I saw something and went “Whoa.” From then on, we’d go to the comic store and I’d pick up some cheap X-Men back issues. My first real time was the Jim Lee-Chris Claremont X-Men #1, and that was when I really jumped in and took it all in, all the crazy characters. Jim Lee really blew away my young and impressionable mind.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite X-Men story of all time?
Joshua: Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. That was the first time where I really went in deep and followed the story along and it was awesome stuff. So that’s probably my favorite one.
AIPT: You have such a distinct art style–every panel is hyper-detailed and offers so much to look at. Who or what would you say have influenced your style the most?
Joshua: Literally every artist I come across and especially all the artists I follow on Twitter, I feel like I want to draw like each one of them. My favorite comic book artist of all time is John Cassaday–his work’s just very iconic. I loved his stuff on Planetary. If I had to deathmatch all the artists, I guess he’s my favorite one.
And Barry Windsor-Smith, the lines he did. Then I really got into Mike Mignola or Michael Avon Oeming–his work on Powers, just more simple, blocky stuff combined with amazing storytelling. Then Brian Stelfreeze–like everything he does seems like it’s already perfect in his head and then he puts it on paper. I don’t know how he does it–he has such a vision on the stuff he does. Olivier Coipel, of course. I also try to soak in as much Pepe Larraz as possible. When they first asked me to come onto X-Force, they gave me this big dump of House of X and Powers of X art and it was just mind-blowing. I think Pepe Larraz might be the perfect X-Men artist. I loved his and RB Silva’s work to introduce this Hickman era. But I generally describe my own work as the illegitimate love child of Declan Shalvey and David Marquez.
AIPT: On your Twitter page, you post a lot of “process” pictures. What’s your typical process like for putting an issue of X-Force together?
— JAWS Cassara (@joshuacassara) April 28, 2020
Joshua: My favorite part in the whole process is my first read of the script. Sometimes I’ll get a little bit of an outline–Ben will say, “Heads-up, this is where this issue’s going right now,” and he’ll ask for ideas and thoughts. But it’s the full read of the final draft of the script, because that’s where a lot of the visuals will pop in and some of them literally don’t change from the moment I read that sentence. There are definitely key moments where the second I read it, I already see it in my head. So that’s my favorite part. I’ll read through it once, and then again, and I’ll send any notes back or reference questions or ideas I might have. After I get all that back, I’ll sit down and thumbnail only the first four pages, or whatever I can do in one sitting or a full day. I’ll thumbnail those out just to get me kick-started. They’re not super detailed, just the basic compositions and from there I draw it separately on the big boards with a trusty old pencil on paper then spill ink on it eventually.
— JAWS Cassara (@joshuacassara) May 30, 2020
AIPT: How long would you say it takes to complete a regular-sized issue of X-Force?
Joshua: Generally, I like to stay on a five-week schedule. So five weeks for an issue. Sometimes more if they give me a long leash. I do it all in the traditional way and I’m not the fastest artist in the world, I work some pretty long hours. I have done issues in just under a month or so if I need to, but I tend to not be happy with how they come out.
AIPT: You’re too hard on yourself! Now, the last time we talked, you mentioned that you and Ben have a “total and complete mind-meld” as collaborators. That was before X-Force #1 came out. Has your relationship changed at all since then?
Joshua: Our minds are completely fused together now. One brain inhabiting two bodies! In all seriousness, it’s been the best. We text each other nearly every day about story things and life stuff, too. Ben’s an incredible writer and we share similar sensibilities towards the kind of stories we want to tell. He’s so freaking talented and the really cool thing is that he’s very inclusive of any ideas I have. He’ll randomly just ask me, “What do you want to draw, what do you want to do?” And then he’ll make it work somehow. Even the bad ideas he’ll at least entertain. He’s awesome–he’s been nothing but super complimentary. I think we just work very well together. I love the way he tells a story. We get to be the adult book of the Dawn of X stuff, so he likes to get really gnarly and I’m more than happy to get as gnarly as they’ll let us get away with.
AIPT: Well, aside from all that gnarly stuff, you’ve given us Jean Grey using her telepathy to recreate crime scenes, Black Tom Cassidy communicating through Krakoa and so much more. It’s X-Men iconography we’ve never seen before in the pages of X-Force. Are you and Ben setting out to give readers something new or is it just this Krakoan status quo that’s inspiring you?
Joshua: It’s a combination of both. The crime scene idea is one I really hope we get to use a lot more. I don’t have a lot of retention with fiction, so when I think back to past X-Men stories, I don’t really remember how people did those things. I would literally have to Google “Jean Grey using powers” to get reference material for how they did her visuals in the past. I’ll just do them how they pop into my head.
Regarding the crime scene moment–it all starts with the vivid vision Ben puts into words that gets my head turned in the right direction. On the actual page when I ink, I’ll generally do some gray tones and ink washes. In the final product, you don’t really see the tonal stuff, but I like to have it look as finished as possible and draw like it’s going to be printed as a black-and-white book. So when I did that scene, I created the real world with Jean, Beast and Sage using hard lines and black ink. Then, to separate it, I did the vision in a rough ink wash kind of thing. It worked in black and white, then a great colorist like Dean White takes it to another level. A lot of people talk about that splash page in X-Force #2 where Jean has all the visions popping out of her head.
Ben and I did our thing first, but then Dean slapped these amazing, psychedelic colors on top. I told him, go crazy and get as experimental as you want on this series. And he did. Both Dean and Guru-Efx have been killing it on colors. We all work together really well like that.
Then the Black Tom stuff–Ben’s a genius with how he’s been using Black Tom. He’s so damn fun to draw–he’s got so much personality the way Ben writes him. You want to draw a character like that who’s unexpectedly awesome.
AIPT: In addition to great characters, X-Force has had so many crazy visuals–what do you love drawing the most in this series?
Joshua: What I loved when I first got the Hickman bible was this whole idea that everything is organic and homegrown on Krakoa. It just worked out really well with the way I draw. A lot of times I just put vines on everything in the background. We did the healing gardens and it’s raised beds of moss and roots and vines. Everything’s popping up and going straight into people’s veins and stuff–It’s creepy, weird sci-fi stuff i’ve never had a chance to draw and didn’t realize I liked drawing until I started doing it. Ben also comes up with some wacky and over-the-top ’80s action-movie moments that are simply irresistible.
AIPT: I’d like to talk about the Green Lagoon, which has become very popular after just one appearance in X-Force #9. How did Krakoa’s watering hole come about?
Joshua: When I read X-Men #1, they were in a cafeteria setting. It immediately popped into my head–they’re going to have a bar on Krakoa. I immediately texted Ben. I naturally leaned toward a tiki bar–but I didn’t want to bite too much on the Bar With No Doors from Chris Bachalo and Jason Aaron–which is straight-up awesome. I wanted to make it my own thing unique to Krakoa. And I love Geof Darrow’s crazy spreads. I always wanted to do one of those but never had the time or gumption to do it. And I also wanted to draw something kind of wacky and not totally realistic. Ben was like, “Let’s do it.” And that’s a testament to Ben–any idea I have, he’ll come back two weeks later and say, “We’re going to do that now” or “Got approved for that.”
He found the right place in this action book for the bar scene–right at the end of Domino’s arc to slow down the book for a moment before we jump into the next adventure. I drew up a list of mutants who could be at the bar. After writing down all the names I could think of off the top of my head, I dove into X-Lore. We also asked the other writers, so we got tons of input. “Will this help you in your book?” “Any characters you want to see together or not together?” I took down a ton of notes. Ben had some fun ideas and we came up with all the little vignettes in the scene. Then I’d Google. OK, who did Polaris used to date? She’s sitting at the same table as Havok. I’d look up all the romantic relationships in case I wanted them to react to other characters. It took me a lot longer than thought it would.
AIPT: So if other X-Creators weighed in on the scene, does that mean there could be Easter eggs in there that tease future storylines?
Joshua: Yeah, there’s at least two for sure. Others are vague suggestions. Then there may be some intentionally misleading visuals just for fun. But some are very intentional.
AIPT: Who is that with Mister Sinister up in the right corner?
Joshua: I can’t tell, it’s kind of dark up there.
AIPT: So the Sinister vignette is one of those Easter eggs?
Joshua: No comment.
AIPT: Haha, fair enough. And based on that Green Lagoon scene, is it safe to assume Chris Claremont lives on Krakoa?
Joshua: So, the spread I did in X-Force #2 where Xavier’s dead, there are about 40 characters. There are about 70 in the Green Lagoon spread. Because of the first spread, Ben and I are officially canon since we’re there along with Jordan White and Chris Robinson, the issue’s Assistant Editor.
For the Green Lagoon, I think Ben suggested we throw in writers and artists. I did Claremont because he’s the first X-Men writer I knew of. Then I did Dave Cockrum because basically at the center of the whole image is Black Tom. So I’ve got Cockrum, his co-creator, checking in on his boy with a slight smile, like he’s doing alright.
AIPT: And Jack Kirby’s there too, right?
Joshua: He’s in the back with a bubble pipe, talking with Magneto and Professor X.
AIPT: What was your favorite moment in that scene?
Joshua: There are just little Easter eggs all over–the helmets, the Shadow King fez hat. The M.A.S.H. inspired signpost. I like that Sebastian Shaw couldn’t handle his liquor. I’m a little upset that no one caught the tiki bird in the top left corner from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Nobody got that.
AIPT: After I reached out to you for this interview, I realized the panel with Cyclops sipping on his drink has been my phone lockscreen since we previewed the image way back in X-Men Monday #49. So, can you finally tell me what Scott and Jean are drinking?
Joshua: Sure I can. So I totally nerded out on this and I drew up a drink menu, I drew and designed the different drinks and mugs they’d go in and I wrote down the ingredients. They’re actually cocktails and I have a full drink list. Some day it’ll see the light of day, I hope.
The one that Jean’s drinking in the Apocalypse tiki mug is called “The Four Horsemen.” It’s basically a classic Mai Tai but with four rums in it: rhum agricole, white rum, black rum, spiced rum, shaken with orgeat and fresh lime juice–it’s heavy-duty stuff. The other one Scott’s drinking is a type of daiquiri. It’s a play on the Hemingway Daiquiri, but with cream on top. It’s really good. We were trying to play with which writer we wanted to go with for the name. First, we debated which writer in X-Men history could get the cocktail, then we wondered if there was a fake writer in canon in the X-Men universe we could use. But we never finalized the name on that one.
AIPT: It’s so awesome to hear how nerdy you guys got simply naming Cyclops’ drink.
Joshua: Well, I was a bartender before this was my job, so I have deep nerdy knowledge on that too. So I might as well use that and have fun with it. A lot of people were asking where the official tiki mugs are. Everybody should have gotten a free mug with every issue of X-Force #9.
AIPT: Looking ahead to future issues of X-Force, back in March, Ben tweeted the following:
For the horniest X fans out there…@joshuacassara just handed in a page from issue 10 that is going to melt some hearts and fan some flames and go down as one of sexiest in X-Men history. And yes, it’s about THEM (and no, I’m not going to say who THEY are).
— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy) March 10, 2020
What do you have to say in response to that?
Joshua: Ben lets his imagination run wild. Remember, he’s isolated and very lonely–he’s up in the north woods and hasn’t seen another human being in a long time. I think he gets a little too excited.
AIPT: Haha, well is there anything visually you can tease about what’s coming up in X-Force?
Joshua: Mayhem. Violence. Funny stuff. Treachery. A snowball fight. A humpback. I finally get to draw more Colossus and I’m finding a good groove in how I’m drawing Beast.
AIPT: The hair details on Beast are great.
Joshua: Thank you. I picture him as a mix between an abominable snowman, an Ewok and every classic drawing of Sasquatch or Bigfoot from Harry and the Hendersons. But blue. I just really dig drawing him right now.
AIPT: Can’t wait for everything to come! (and here are two eXclusive sneak peeks Joshua provided, fresh from his drawing board):
Before I let you go, Joshua, I have to ask: How has quarantine time been for you?
Joshua: The beginning was really hard. I just struggled drawing, visualizing and doing my job well. But I’ve been working the whole way through and that helped get me back into shape. My family’s been self-quarantining and being as safe as possible. My life really hasn’t changed, honestly. My standard joke is it’s literally the same, I just haven’t eaten In-N-Out Burger in two months. I work from home, so it’s not really much different. I’m so very fortunate and thankful that I’m still able to work and keep my family safe. Also, I’ve eaten two pounds of salami in the last few days, so I’m good.
AIPT: That’s good to hear–especially the salami part. Thanks for taking the time to chat, Joshua and keep up the great work!
Hold up, X-Fans, it’s not over yet! If you follow AIPT on Twitter, maybe you participated in our latest interactive X-Men commission sketch (click here to see artist Todd Nauck’s “Soulsword Storm” sketch from X-Men Monday #59). Joshua was down to revisit the Green Lagoon in a one-of-a-kind illustration–he just needed X-Fans to tell him who he was drawing and what they were drinking.
An #XMen character walks into a tiki bar… but WHICH X-Men character?! YOU get to decide! #XForce artist @joshuacassara will draw the winning character in an original sketch that’ll be revealed in the next edition of #XMenMonday. Check back for part 2 of our poll at noon EST!
— AIPT (@AIPTcomics) May 28, 2020
Poll 2! A lucky #XMen character will be sipping on one of the Green Lagoon’s signature drinks in an original @joshuacassara sketch next #XMenMonday. But WHICH tiki mug will Fred Dukes serve it in? YOU get to decide! Vote below, and remember to vote in part 1 of our poll!
— AIPT (@AIPTcomics) May 28, 2020
As you can see, Maggott had no trouble beating Charles Xavier, Mystique and runner-up Jean Grey! And Japheth wasn’t just going to celebrate with one drink–he was getting two, apparently! Actually, two drinks was pretty considerate of all those X-Fans who voted–Maggott’s got two slugs, after all. Anyway, Joshua took these ingredients back to the bar, and like Fred Dukes mixing up a “Four Horsemen” cocktail, turned around this work of art, featuring a special guest…
[Insert Fassbender Magneto “Perfection” gif here.]
Seriously, though, I’m sure all those passionate Maggott fans who voted can agree this is an amazing sketch. And you know what else is amazing? You have a chance to own it, while also helping the comics community. Joshua has agreed to mail it out to whoever places the highest bid and then donates that same amount to The Hero Initiative, which supports comics creators in need of financial assistance. The highest bidder will, of course, need to provide proof and receipt of payment.
Bidding will begin Wednesday, June 3 and end Friday, June 5, on AIPT’s Twitter page–so keep your eyes peeled for the tweet with further instructions.
That’s it for this week, X-Fans. Please stay safe out there, look out for others and be eXceptional!