Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
This week’s guest is an artist with GIANT-SIZE talent I’ve wanted to talk to for some time now. It’s Russell Dauterman, who exploded onto the Marvel scene with 2014’s Cyclops, endeared himself to fans with his work on The Mighty Thor and War of the Realms and, most recently, left X-Fans’ jaws on the floor with his breathtaking illustrations in Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost #1.
Just last month, Russell remixed an image from the first page of Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost #1 with a ’90s feel (just for fun) and it’s racked up 6.7K likes on Twitter alone!
TL;DR: Russell’s a pretty big deal right now, and you probably want to hear more from him than me. So without further ado, here’s Russell!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Russell! Your art style is instantly recognizable. Who or what would you say have been major influences on your art?
Russell: My favorite artists are Frank Quitely, Olivier Coipel and Chris Bachalo. Joe Madureira and Bruce Timm too, especially when I was younger. Chris Bachalo was the first artist that I remember knowing the name of. I followed him from Generation X to X-Men when he kind of got a little more Disneyfied. I loved that mixed with the dark and edgy quality he had. So that was a huge influence growing up. And animation is big for me, starting with Disney and now with things like The Legend of Korra.
AIPT: What is your approach to illustration? I saw on your website you sell artist’s proofs of your pages.
Russell: Yeah, I do everything digitally, so my version of original art is an artist’s proof–a one-off print of each page and cover. I made the switch to digital during my first comic book gig, a Boom Studios series called Supurbia. The first four issues of that were penciled traditionally. I never felt very confident inking traditionally, so I’d scan the pencils and do some digital Photoshopping to make them look more like inks, but I wasn’t happy with that. So I made the switch to digital. It was a little bit of a learning curve, but once I got the feel of it, things really opened up for me. The art looks more polished and I’m able to do a lot more with effects and rendering. I’m too much of a neat freak for traditional inking!
AIPT: What was your first X-Men eXperience?
Russell: My first X-Men experience was X-Men: The Animated Series. I was probably 7 years old. I was completely obsessed with it and wanted more X-Men in my life, so I went to the comics. Do you remember those X-Men Adventures comics? The tie-ins?
AIPT: Yeah, I have a few of those.
Russell: I know I had those, but I’m not sure if they were my bridge to X-Men comics. The first one I actually remember holding and reading was Uncanny X-Men #302. It has this incredible double-page, vertical spread of Storm by John Romita Jr. After that, I was all in. Although it took awhile for me to figure out comics came out every week! For the first few years, I’d go to the comic book store and pick out whatever titles had characters I liked on the covers. I had some trades–The Dark Phoenix Saga and From the Ashes. From probably “Operation: Zero Tolerance” on, I had a pull list and went to the shop weekly.
AIPT: Do you have an all-time favorite X-Men story?
Russell: My all-time favorite is probably Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s New X-Men–specifically, and this comes as no surprise, New X-Men #121. That’s my favorite comic of all time. But that whole run was such a bold new direction for the X-Men, with wonderful character work and all the awesome/weird sci-fi fantasy stuff you’d expect. It also has this 3-dimensional view of mutantdom that expanded the world, with a larger student body, the U-Men harvesting mutant organs, the hate crime against Jumbo Carnation–there was just a lot of world-building outside the X-Men, which I liked. Then, of course, at the center is the incredible soap opera.
But I also love “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” And Uncanny X-Men #308, with Thanksgiving at the mansion and Scott and Jean’s engagement–that’s another favorite.
AIPT: Speaking of Scott, your first Marvel work was on the Cyclops solo series. What was that like, being a longtime X-Men fan, then getting to draw Scott, except it’s a time-displaced, teenage version of Cyclops in space?
Russell: Well, I was just excited to be at Marvel at all, let alone working on something even tangentially related to X-Men. I was also pretty nervous because it was my first Marvel thing and it was with big-deal people like Greg Rucka, whose Batwoman I loved. But getting to draw Scott and the other original X-Men was very exciting.
AIPT: In an interview with Anthony Blackwood for Marvel.com, you mentioned Jean and Storm are your “favorites.” So they’re both your favorite X-Men characters?
Russell: Yeah, I’d say it’s a tie! I’ve gone back-and-forth over the years, but if I had to pick one, I’d pick Jean. But I love them both!
AIPT: So what do you love about Jean as a character?
Russell: I love that she’s an empathetic and emotional character, which some people might view as being weak and she’s often underestimated. But she proves over and over again that she’s incredibly capable and smart, tough and powerful–Phoenix or not.
I love X-Men #28, where the X-Men are having trouble with Sabretooth and Jean stands up to him, hits him with a psychic blast and delivers that great speech about being like an atom bomb. Sabretooth thought she’d be easy to manipulate and she proved him wrong.
AIPT: Jean’s one of my favorites too. And what do you love about Ororo?
Russell: I love that she’s this regal goddess–but also a switchblade-wielding thief. That dichotomy is very cool. Her character is really rich with a lot of layers, her character design is incredible and her powers are really fun to draw.
My favorite Storm stories are probably from the Paul Smith era of the Chris Claremont run–where she starts doubting her powers and has that amazing fight in the Morlock tunnels leading up to her punk transformation. It’s a great arc for her.
AIPT: We’ll talk more about Storm in a little bit. But first, before Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost #1 was released, Jonathan Hickman appeared in X-Men Monday #48 and said:
“When we were talking about what we wanted to do, Russell brought up New X-Men #121 as one of his favorite issues ever, so we both said, ‘screw it, let’s do our version of that.’”
Now that we’ve all had a chance to read the issue, could you talk a bit more about how you decided what to incorporate from New X-Men #121 and how you decided to pull in moments from older X-Men comics?
Russell: That issue is really a dream-come-true for me. I love Jonathan’s story and Matt Wilson’s colors are so incredible.
But yeah, Jonathan and Jordan wanted these issues to be more artist-driven. They asked me what characters I’d like to draw and what sort of story I’d like to tell. I said I’d love to do something with Jean and Storm, and suggested Emma as a third character–I thought that’d be a great combination. And I said that New X-Men #121 was my all-time favorite, and how I’d love to do something that incorporated the bits I loved about that issue: how it involved a team of X-Men, but focused on just a couple people, how Jean and Emma had great character moments and great showoff-your-powers moments, how it involved supernatural stuff. Jonathan said he loved that issue too and suggested we do our version of it.
Jonathan wrote an outline as opposed to a full script. Some parts were pretty detailed, specifically the bits at the beginning and end that are direct homages to #121. Those pages were purposefully similar in layout and the way shots were composed. Hopefully, them being so similar helps highlight the differences–showing how the characters have grown and changed by comparing them to New X-Men.
Other things were left more open-ended, like the scene in the canyon. In the outline, Jonathan mentioned a few things that could happen at that point–one of them was Jean and Emma meeting a pride of lions and offering them a gift. I thought the gift could be a demonstration of their relationship to Storm, proving their friendship. And Jean, of course, shows something heartfelt and Emma shows something provocative, which doesn’t go so well for her!
AIPT: You mentioned how the characters have changed since New X-Men #121, and Jean giving Logan a kiss on the cheek comes to mind. That got a lot of X-Fans talking. Is it fun to stir the pot like that with a single image?
Russell: [Laughs] That was in the outline, so this is a Hickman question!
AIPT: Something else that’s gotten X-Fans talking is the return of Jean’s green dress, which has split X-Fandom in two. But I’ve seen many fans embrace your redesign of the X-Men Red uniform. What made you want to put Jean in that costume and slap a new coat of paint on it?
Russell: Well, I like the green dress in the context of the ‘60s. I think that a college-aged woman in the ‘60s would feasibly wear that as her superhero costume. I don’t think a 30ish woman in 2020 would wear that as a superhero costume. I think it’s anachronistic and I wanted Jean in something modern to match the rest of the team.
Mahmud Asrar designed such an awesome modern costume for her in X-Men Red. Jonathan had talked about Jean’s colors being green and gold, so I tweaked the costume and asked if we could use that. They were up for it and seemed to be willing to play around with costumes and the whole mutant clothes idea. I was very glad we got to use that.
AIPT: As an artist working on a silent issue, is it more freeing or stressful knowing your pencils alone are driving the story forward?
Russell: Both [Laughs]. On one hand, I loved that the book could be an art showcase. I loved leaning on facial expressions to tell the story–like Jean’s slight snarl and silent yell when she fights the snake, or Emma’s “f*** it” before picking up the flower.
On the other hand, silent issues are a risk–I wasn’t sure how people would react. I tried to put as much as I could into making the art special, so people felt like they got their money’s worth.
AIPT: Something else Jonathan talked about in his last X-Men Monday appearance was Giant-Size X-Men: Storm, which he said “really sets up what we’re going to be doing with her for the next couple of years.”
Marvel also just released the September solicitation for the issue, which said:
“In GIANT-SIZE X-MEN: JEAN GREY & EMMA FROST, Hickman and Dauterman took Jean and Emma into Storm’s mind to learn what had happened to her. Now they take the X-Men’s resident goddess to the far end of the world to save herself!”
That’s all we know so far. What else can you tease about the story? And is it finished?
Russell: Yep, it’s all drawn! Right now it just needs color and dialogue.
The issue picks up where the Jean and Emma issue leaves off, and Storm leads a team on a mission to save her life. This was done Marvel Style too, but the plot is more involved with Jonathan’s larger plans.
AIPT: Did you get to draw any characters you’ve never drawn before?
Russell: Yeah, a few! One of them I suggested we add–someone who’s been a favorite for a long time, so that’s very exciting.
AIPT: Now X-Fans can dig through your past interviews to see who it could be.
Russell: Someone on Instagram or Twitter actually mentioned this person to me! Like, “I hope this person’s in the book.” I didn’t say anything at the time but thought, “Oh, glad you hope that!” [Laughs]
AIPT: You mentioned you finished the issue already. How has quarantine life been for you, in general? Have you been able to keep busy?
Russell: Most of my quarantine up until a few weeks ago was Giant-Size X-Men: Storm–I was very glad to have something to do. I work from home normally, and if I’m on interiors, I usually work seven days a week. So I was pretty well set up for this as a homebody already. But yeah, it’s been fine and I’m very grateful to be working.
AIPT: What are you currently working on?
Russell: I’m doing covers now, which I really enjoy. I still have my cover job on Marauders that I love very much, and I’m doing some other fun variants.
AIPT: Is it safe to assume you’ve been drawing some swords?
Russell: You know what? I’ve done a couple of “X of Swords” Marauders covers and there aren’t any swords on them. [Laughs] I just finished one this morning–no swords, but there is wine.
AIPT: Interesting. OK, finally, a two-part question for fun. First, you have a background in costume design, right?
Russell: Yeah, I studied costume design in school. After graduating, I worked briefly as a costume illustrator–where you work for a costume designer and illustrate their designs.
I’ve always loved costumes, though, especially with X-Men. That’s where my X-Men #1 variant came from–with Jean in all her various looks. I’d draw that sort of thing all the time as a kid, so that’s a special one.
AIPT: Very cool. And now the fun part: If you were asked to redesign the X-Men, what would your approach be? Unified design or individual looks?
Russell: I love individual looks for the X-Men, but I’d include some motif that connected them. It’d be fun to look at everything that came before and mix the iconic bits with new looks. That’s what I tried to do with my design for Emma in Giant-Size.
AIPT: I loved Emma’s little half gloves. Hopefully, you’ll get to design more X-Costumes in the years to come! Thanks for taking the time to chat about your work, Russell!
That’s all for this week, X-Fans–have an eXceptional week and if you’re around others outside or indoors, please, PLEASE wear a mask!