Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
Sunday, July 26, 2020.
It’s a day X-Fans will never forget.
It’s the day Mondo dropped several gorgeous, limited-edition X-themed posters, pins and slip mats that, of course, sold out in seconds.
But the incredible eXcitement around these releases–along with the crushing disappointment so many felt as soon as Mondo sold out–made me think Matt Taylor, the artist behind the highly coveted X-Men: House of X/Powers of X screenprinted posters and pins deserved his own edition of X-Men Monday.
Consider it a consolation prize, X-Fans!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Matt! Before we get into your work with Mondo, I want to go all the way back to the beginning. What was your first X-Men eXperience?
Matt: I’m trying to remember. Comics-wise, I’m pretty sure the first X-Men comic I read was the ‘90s X-Men #25. So “Fatal Attractions,” where Magneto rips the Adamantium out of Wolverine, which I’m pretty sure I picked up in a comic shop or no–even on a newsstand because we still had newsagents at the time. I just liked the hologram on the cover. I’m pretty sure the hologram was of Gambit. And I’m pretty sure I would have seen that because the ‘90s X-Men cartoon was running in the U.K. So I would have known who the characters were.
In fact, probably the cartoon was my entry point and then there was my discovery of the comic. It would have been the Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira run of Uncanny X-Men. The first issue I picked up was where Sabretooth is holed up in the mansion and he fights Psylocke. Yeah, and then Wolverine and Archangel go and try and track down a gem somewhere with a little monk dude.
AIPT: Yeah, you’re talking about the Crimson Dawn. When Psylocke almost died and then came back with the red tattoo over her eye.
Matt: Yeah! That was the one. I think I probably picked that up because, obviously, I liked Joe Madureira’s artwork. And to be honest, I’ve been really into X-Men intermittently from there. I stopped for a few years, then got back into it for Grant Morrison’s run in the early 2000s and stayed through the end of that. I’d dip back and forth. I read a bit of Kieron Gillen’s run, but Jonathan Hickman’s run is probably the first time since Grant Morrison’s run I’ve been pretty much reading the whole line. Because Grant’s was when X-Statix was out and there were some other peripheral, excellent X-Books at the same time. So I’ve had an on-off love affair with X-Men and it’s definitely on again with Hickman.
AIPT: There’s so much to love right now, and we’ll return to that later in this interview. But first, could you tell me how your House of X/Powers of X-themed projects with the Mondo came about? The pins and the posters.
Matt: I think it was earlier this year–Allie Whalen, the Creative Director at Mondo who’s in charge of apparel, got in touch and asked me if I’ve been reading the Hickman run and that they’d been floating the idea of doing a small capsule collection based around it. So I pitched ideas for Professor X and Magneto pins and it was pretty straightforward. I think they were planning on releasing them back in the springtime. They teased it and got a really huge reaction. And then, based on that huge reaction, Mondo Creative Director Eric Garza got in touch and asked if I wanted to do a poster to accompany the pins. Obviously, I said yes, absolutely. And I think initially, he said in the initial briefing email, could you do something kind of quickly, to which I said yes–because I always say yes, I’ll do it quickly, but I end up not doing it quickly. But it kind of grew as I was drawing it because I realized it was such a big story and there was so much I wanted to incorporate.
AIPT: I’m very curious about that last point. How quickly did the whole concept for the poster come to you? You’ve got two images in one, Mother Mold looming on one end and Nimrod on the other, Professor X’s stylized Cerebro helmet “X” and so on. Could you walk me through the process, from beginning to end?
Matt: I tend to share sketches both with the guys at Mondo and also I have a Slack group with a bunch of other artists from Mondo and some comic artists as well. So we all throw our work in there when we’re working to kind of get feedback from other artists. That poster kind of came together pretty easily. I think I decided pretty swiftly that I wanted to do a split poster that can be flipped so that people can hang it whichever way they want, which kind of made it easier because, essentially, all I had to do was design half of it.
So basically, I sketched the Powers of X side with Moira, Apocalypse, Sinister, Cardinal and Rasputin. And then, once I drew that, I copy and pasted it and flipped. That gave me a template for where to sit the characters on the House of X side. So each character I had sort of had an opposite character mapped out. I knew that Professor X would go where Moira was and then Magneto would go where Apocalypse was. And then once that was done, I started moving things around, so it sort of felt a bit more aesthetically pleasing because, you know, when you do a straight flip, it never looks quite right.
But because I do all of this at the sketch stage, it means that when I actually come to paint it, it’s just a case of looking at the sketch and just painting it, basically. I only did one sketch for this and I was confident enough that it felt right. Also, I was very lucky in so far as Hickman and Tom Muller have created such a strong visual language for the book. The new logo is so beautiful in its kind of simplicity and elegance. Essentially, what I did was I kind of put that in the center and then I just dragged it out and sort of followed where the lines went. So it felt respectful of what he’d done without just straight-up copying his kind of infographics.
AIPT: You mentioned balancing the reflections on the two sides of the poster. Are there any characters that you wanted to include that were sacrificed to produce a better image?
Matt: I’m trying to think. I kind of wanted to get Doug Ramsey on there because he feels fairly integral to the Krakoa side. I think Emma Frost was one that I didn’t have on there initially, and the guys at Mondo or possibly Marvel suggested she be included. Oh, the Archivist. I wanted to get him on there, but then once I put the little robotic Nimrod, having the Archivist as well felt slightly redundant because they both referenced the same thing. Actually, they suggested Sinister, who wasn’t on my initial list. I don’t know how I missed him because he’s great in it, you know? They did suggest Sebastian Shaw, but I couldn’t find a way to fit him in and he didn’t feel quite as essential to the story. I feel like Emma filled that role. I also wanted a balance between male and female X-Men as well. So I didn’t want to just chuck another dude on there unnecessarily.
AIPT: Just as a reader, what was your initial reaction to what Hickman was doing in House of X and Powers of X?
Matt: Oh, I was totally blown away by it. I don’t know what I was expecting and I was really pleasantly surprised coming from having not read X-Men probably for five years or so. I didn’t feel like I was in the dark as to who the characters were. It did a really good job of introducing everyone. I mean, everyone knows the deal with Magneto, Professor X and Cyclops, and he introduced their characters and personality traits really well. Cyclops has gone through a pretty radical change since I was reading him in the ’90s. And he’s kind of more militant. It was very apparent from just that little interaction with the Fantastic Four. And you know immediately you’re not reading the sort of pushover ’90s Cyclops, and you don’t necessarily need to know the story that got him to that place. So yeah, it felt very inclusive. Like you didn’t have to be a hardcore reader to get into it.
AIPT: I’m curious, have Hickman, Muller or anyone else involved in the series complimented you on the poster or talked to you about it since it was released?
Matt: Yeah, Tom had. Well, I mean, I know Tom. So I haven’t done that much in the way of interiors on books, but I did an issue of Zero for Ales Kot a few years ago, and Tom is friends with Ales and he was the designer on that. And then Ales and I did a book called Wolf, which came out in 2015. I did the first four issues and Tom designed the logo–so I know Tom, and he said some nice words about it. But I think Jonathan’s been off Twitter and Instagram. I remember when Mondo did the teaser way back in March, they were super excited because Hickman retweeted it or liked it. So when I went to post the artwork last week, I was kind of frantically looking for him to tag him and get his seal of approval. I hope he likes it.
AIPT: You just mentioned that you’ve done some interiors. If Hickman asked you to come play in the X-Men sandbox, would you?
Matt: Yes! Yes, yes, without a shadow of a doubt. I’m not very good at interiors, but I will happily do covers. Because I struggle with the idea of interior work because I want to make everything look like one of my posters. That’s just not possible because it would take me a year to do a 22-page issue. But I’d love to do more stuff with Marvel. In fact, Marvel is the last company that I haven’t done cover work for and I kind of wanna tick it off.
AIPT: Right, because I saw you did Cave Carson covers for DC, right?
Matt: Yeah. I did Cave Carson for DC. I did a variant for Shade, the Changing Girl as well. I did a couple of Young Animal ones. I was supposed to do one for Doom Patrol, but it didn’t quite come through in the end. I did the Green Lantern 80th anniversary issue. So Marvel is the last company that I haven’t done a main line cover for. One of the Mondo posters I did was reused as a second printing for one of the issues of War of the Realms. But it wasn’t a proper Marvel cover.
AIPT: So, obviously, your posters sold out in seconds. What was your reaction to that?
Matt: Yeah, I’ve been working with Mondo for about 6 years now and I’m on progressively higher and higher-profile projects. So at this point, I’m kind of used to it. I feel like before every print drop, I have to tweet something along the lines of, “Can we all be nice about this?” Because there’s never enough posters. Not everyone who wants one can have one and I get it. Like, I tried to get Michael Cho’s poster and I didn’t because I wasn’t fast enough. As I make clear in pretty much every interview I do, I’ve got quite a healthy obsession with sneakers. So I’m always trying to buy sneakers on the drop for Nike. I’d say like 9 times out of 10, I don’t get a pair, which is probably good. Because if I got every pair that I entered a raffle for, I’d be drowning in the damn things. But yeah, I completely understand the frustration as a fellow collector. But also, you know, you want people to get the thing they want and if the thing they want is your art, you want them to be happy. But then you can’t have everything.
AIPT: Yeah, it has to be such a weird experience to create something so many people want and so many can’t have.
Matt: Oh yeah, it’s quite a double-edge because you sort of feel bad because someone is now upset because they didn’t get the thing that you made and you don’t want a bad feeling associated with your art. But I guess the other thing is that the kind of constant stream of releases means that even if someone’s annoyed, there’ll be something along next week they want, so it’s not going to linger. And also, in fact, I was chatting with other artists about this the other day–everything is available. You just have to like mentally tally up how much you want it. Because everything’s on the secondary market. And I feel like, by this point, you just have to accept that there is a secondary market for things. So you will be able to get the thing you want–it’s just how much you want to pay for it.
AIPT: A depressing point, but a valid one. As we wrap up here, I have two more X-Men questions. First, who’s your favorite X-Character of all time?
Matt: Damn. I feel you should have asked me ahead of time and I could’ve thought about it. Oh no, of course–Doop. 100% Doop.
Tom Whalen did a series of Marvel pins for Mondo where they asked other artists in the Mondo family to name their favorite characters. And Tom would make pins of them. So it’s like an artist-curated series and it was me, Jock, Becky Cloonan. And I think Tom’s son picked one out as well. Becky picked Lockheed, I think Jock picked Juggernaut. I’m trying to remember who Tom’s son picked out. It’s going to bug me now. So I remember I picked Doop, I genuinely didn’t think he was going to make it, but he did. And it’s my favorite thing. The fact they brought this little green jelly bean-looking thing into the Marvel Universe and he’s still hanging around.
AIPT: Nice pick. And you mentioned that you were reading beyond House of X and Powers of X. Do you have a favorite Dawn of X series you’re really into right now?
Matt: I mean, the main X-Men book is great, even though at this point it feels like 10 issue ones. And I assume that “X of Swords” is going to maybe pick up on some of those threads. But I also really like Marauders, which is a lot of fun.
AIPT: Marauders is one of my favorite new series as well. Do you have a favorite piece of work that you’ve done in your career?
Matt: A tough one. My default answer is I did a little Lion King poster for Mondo a few years ago, which was basically for my oldest daughter. I just wanted to make something she could hang up in her bedroom because a lot of the stuff I do is, you know, she’s got no interest in Fargo or The Breakfast Club. So I made that for her and it’s the only piece of art of mine that I would hang up in a house for that reason. Because that’s for her. There are loads of other things that I’ve done, which I’m very, very happy with. But that one, in particular, is always going to be pretty special to me.
AIPT: Very sweet. OK, final question: What are you working on now that you’d like to plug?
Matt: I’m doing an ongoing project this year with Topps baseball cards. It’s 20 artists each reimagining 20 classic baseball cards. They’ve been coming out two every day of the week. I’ve released 10 cards so far, so I’m about halfway through the series, which is coming out until November. So that’s very fun. And I’m very close to finishing a Tron Legacy soundtrack for Mondo, which is a big dream come true, personally, because of Tron. But also because of Daft Punk. Daft Punk will see the art I did–even if just to say that it’s fine.
AIPT: And this is artwork for the soundtrack?
Matt: So Mondo has a soundtrack division that does vinyl re-issues of classic soundtracks. So Tron Legacy’s 10th anniversary is this year, so they’re putting out vinyl re-issues. I’m pretty close to finishing, so hopefully, it’ll be out sometime in August. Beyond that, I’m doing a bunch of things I can’t talk about. Sadly, that’s always the way.
AIPT: While that’s sad, this interview’s been anything but! Thanks so much for swinging by X-Men Monday, Matt! I’ll be on the lookout for those upcoming projects. And if you want to see more of Matt’s work, visit his website or Instagram.
That’s all for this edition of X-Men Monday. Have an eXceptional week, X-Fans!