It’s time for the next and final edition of Empyre State of Mynd, and boy oh boy, is it extra-sized. This is the column that gives you, the reader, the chance to ask questions of the creators behind Marvel Comics’ big summer event. You’re in the driver seat, and this week Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti answer all your questions.
Empyre #6 was the finale of the event, wrapping up the series, and Empyre Aftermath Avengers #1 (by Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti) is closing the door on some key details. Last week, we asked you to give us your best questions and we delivered with all the answers. The creators let you know their favorite moments in the series, detailed who those people were on the final page of Empyre Aftermath Avengers, and offered a little about the future of the Marvel space age.
For more Empyre State of Mynd, check out previous installments below:
Before diving into the interview below, know there are spoilers for the Empyre event and Empyre Aftermath Avengers #1.
To start, Dave, aka your Empyre State of Mynd MC asked, “Al and Valerio, congratulations on wrapping up the Marvel summer event of the year! What was the high point for you in the series, and the low point in the series?”
Al Ewing: The high point was always getting to see each new page of Valerio’s art and Marte’s colors as they landed in my inbox. Empyre was a tougher job than most even before COVID hit, so getting to see all that gorgeous art always felt like a little reward for the work put in. In terms of story beats, I have a few favorite moments – getting to write that Thing speech was a highlight, as was that final Black Panther swordfight. And of course, the ultimate story high of getting to write Wiccan and Hulkling getting married, not once but twice. We really get to have that cake and eat it.
The low point was the low point for everyone, even those not reading the book – a pandemic happened, and is happening. That definitely affected the writing of it in places, but it also affected what tie-ins made it to the shelves. I ended up making the decision to continue as if those tie-ins had gone out, and allow the reader to fill in the gaps themselves – in the case of Thor, for instance, the alternative would have been letting him vanish entirely on a quest that we never saw the resolution to. That probably would have been the smarter move, looking back, but I doubt Thor fans would have thanked me for it.
Valerio Schiti: The high point was definitely Billy and Teddy’s wedding. I love the Young Avengers, I care about those characters, and when I read the script I was almost taken by surprise by that final splash page.
I had lots of mixed feelings: of course I was happy for that unexpected development, but I also felt the pressure of drawing a page like that, a moment that will be a Marvel Milestone for sure. I could not fail.
I don’t think that there’s a proper low point in the series, but there were lots of stressful moments in the development! Sometimes when I was drawing those huge fight sequences I was so tired, I thought to use some “artist’s old dirty trick” to speed things up. But at the same time, I was overwhelmed by the responsibility for all the readers that deserved some true epic moments.
In short, to draw a Marvel Event is a real emotional rollercoaster for an artist.
Jacob asked, “Empyre was unapologetically gay; featuring some of the most heartwarming scenes between Billy and Teddy – how important was it that these scenes not be shown as gimmicky but in the same light as those between heterosexual couples?”
Ewing: Obviously, when you put it like that, it was incredibly important, but at the same time, I wasn’t really thinking about it. The idea that those moments might be seen as gimmicky never really occurred to me – I’m glad of that, because I’d have ended up in a state of total paralysis, second-guessing myself into oblivion. We’d have ended up with something kind of stilted and turgid, very self-conscious – and self-consciousness and love scenes really do not mix. Instead, I got to concentrate on Billy and Teddy, these two wonderful, gorgeous, unique fictional people, these beautiful guys who I’ve known for years as a writer and as a reader, thinking about what they’d say, what they’d do, how they’d feel, and trying to get as much magic and love into these small, intimate moments as I could. So I’m glad it was so heartwarming, and so affirming for people, because it all came from this place of love.
Time to talk spaceship design! Az asked, “What was the design process like for building up the Kree / Skrull alliance ships? How did you two coordinate on these designs?”
Ewing: As I remember, I just told Valerio what I needed from a plot standpoint – in the case of the Flagship, for example, we needed a big ship with some windows and a big space on the command deck for fighting – and the rest was all him.
Schiti: At first Marvel decided to “sell” the event like a Kree-Skrull invasion, so I decided to make the ships very aggressive, designed for a race of warriors. That’s the reason for the triangular/pointy shape. The smaller ships were easier to do, but we tried some different versions, mostly for the mothership. I did a few sketches and I left the decision up to Al and Dan and they chose the most powerful. It’s like a giant fortress because we needed lots of room inside, but shaped like a shuriken or a buzz-saw, definitely a good call!
Pame followed up with, “How did you decide on the outfits for the wedding? Specifically, Tommy’s and Kate’s old purple dress from the Hawkeye run.”
Schiti: It was logical: the wedding was a quick decision so the guests had no time to buy new dresses, right? But the hard part was that they also had to be recognizable.
I decided to use a simple t-shirt with a thunder for Tommy, this is something that he could actually have in his closet, or maybe he was already wearing that when his brother called him.
I used the same reasoning for Kate, and I took advantage of this opportunity for a quick tribute to Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye series, which I loved so much.
Time to talk Teddy and Billy as Christopher asked, “With the ever-expanding catalog of feats and power displays made available to Billy & Teddy, do you as creatives find it more or less challenging in deciding how to depict their powers? Does the near lack of limitations grant for more creative freedom or difficulty in deciding?”
Ewing: More creative freedom, definitely. Hulkling’s got a pretty defined set of powers – he’s strong, he can change shape, he has a teleporting sword that disrupts magic – but I take a perverse pleasure in Wiccan being able to essentially do anything, except when he can’t. He runs entirely on dramatic logic. I love that – it kind of cuts right to the heart of what magic is for me in Marvel, but that’s a whole other conversation I should probably save for another time.
Schiti: I think it’s a good thing for an artist to have no limitations, it gives you the possibility to try different things when you draw the characters. This has been true mostly for Wiccan: I think that I depicted his powers every time in a different way, different kinds of energy waves. The funniest one was that bubble effect I used to show his “solar shield”.
Skrull’s powers on the other hand are great because you can play with body shapes and proportions. Maybe the greatest and more grotesque transformations in the book are not Teddy’s, but the one I did for Kl’rt and R’Klll (or Fakeling, as we used to call her).
Tyler followed up with, “What corner of the Marvel Universe are you most excited to see change in post-Empyre?”
Ewing: Space, clearly. The Kree and Skrulls came out of this not just temporarily allied, but fully merged, and that’s not going away soon – and it changes the map. It starts dominoes falling, some of which we’ll see in the Aftermath issues. I’m also looking forward to seeing what spins out of the tie-ins – Captain Marvel’s half-sister Lauri-Ell has a bright future ahead, and I want to see what Vulcan gets up to.
Shooting back to Empyre State of Mynd MC Dave, “With Empyre now over, did you leave any easter eggs or hints–or anything you snuck into the art–in any of the issues for fans to go back and look for?”
Schiti: There’s plenty of easter eggs!
There’s me, my wife and our dog running for our lives, Tony Stark’s references to Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, the design of a character inspired by the movie The Mission, Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung celebrating Teddy and Bobby’s wedding and again, in Avengers: Empyre Aftermath, joining the cocktail party with other fellow artists and writers in Kree/Skrull uniforms. There’s a tribute to Jack Kirby’s crazy-eyed Skrulls, to Blur’s Coffee and TV video, to David Bowie in Labyrinth, to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, to Samara from The Ring… and I can go on and on!
Brason wants to talk space, asking, “Will the Space Age be an imprint for Guardians, FF, Eternals, etc. or more a broad term for fans to use for this phase?”
Ewing: It’s a broad term for this phase – I’ve been pushing since I came on GUARDIANS for a return to a more coherent galaxy, this time with Earth having a big part in that, and I think the idea’s catching on. Or at least, great minds are thinking alike. I can’t say more than that right now, but there definitely is an Age of Space brewing, and it’ll bear some fun fruit going into 2021.
MC Dave Mynd asked, “Valerio, you drew so much in this series, what was your favorite page to draw and why?”
Schiti: I loved that first page in Empyre #05, with Teddy and Billy talking in bed.
Believe it or not, I have a lot of fun drawing small, normal moments between characters. I think this makes them humans and more relatable for readers. This happens a lot of times in Empyre: the dialogues between Tony and Reed, Johnny eating a yogurt in Teddy’s apartment, the Richards talking with their kids… and that first page is not different just because we decided to show a pillow talk between two gay characters. That page was not a “statement”, just an opening sequence as many, a cute moment between two people in love, and yet that’s exactly why it is my favorite page.
Representation in comics is very important, if you want to be true and show to the readers the reality as it is, and I think that every little step counts. I like to think that my “little step”, even more than the wedding, was to draw a page with two guys clearly in love, happy, deciding to be together forever, in the most natural and unapologetic way.
Cyril asked, “This event has definitely involved some members of the Young Avengers, which has led to some fans saying that now would be the perfect time for a third Young Avengers volume. If you can answer, do you think we’ll be seeing more of the team in the future?”
Ewing: I think it’s pretty definite at this point that we will.
But we insist, and persistence is key, Christopher asks again, “Please and thank you in advance: Post Empyre, are there narrative plans for Teddy & Billy in any book(s)?”
Ewing: Again — yes. I just found out about one, actually. I have my own plans bubbling in Guardians, but it sounds like they won’t be limited to there.
Let’s talk about kings, as AJ asked, “Even in the face of many hardships, Teddy has maintained a rather optimistic, caring, and sometimes naive persona. Qualities not typically associated with monarchs. How have the events of Empyre shaped his character and how he sees himself?”
Ewing: He went in thinking it was a temporary gig, that he was a figurehead – he knows now that he’s the real guy on the throne of these twin civilizations that take their rulers very seriously. That brings a level of responsibility – he’s got to turn the Kree and Skrulls away from their old, warlike ways and make them a force for good. But he’s also developed the confidence to know he’s up to the task. We’re going to be testing him in the role, though – it wouldn’t be dramatic to give him an easy ride.
Your ESoM (Empyre State of Mynd) MC comes back with the final four questions asking, “With Avengers: Empyre Aftermath coming out this week, is there anything bittersweet about writing/drawing a post-event tie-in book?”
Schiti: I started working on Empyre almost a year ago so I shared a lot of time with those characters. They kept me company even during the long lockdown we had in Italy because of the COVID-19 pandemic! So yes, it was bittersweet to draw that tie-in, but somehow it was also the perfect way to say goodbye to those characters and move on, towards something new.
Ewing: No, it was all pretty sweet. It was the easiest issue to write, and I got to write – and force Valerio to draw – the celebratory crowd scene I’ve been planning since the start of this. And I’m looking forward to the next thing – Dan and me are both coming out of that particular gate swinging.
AIPT: Valerio, the cocktail party scene in Empyre Aftermath is impressive with 75 (or more) characters across the double-page spread. Al just told us he’d planned on it from the start, can you talk a little bit about how you crafted it, what went into adding details, and how long the page took to draw?
Schiti: Crowded scenes are every artist nightmare, ask anyone. Even worse when the scene is slightly from above, so you have to draw everyone! So yes, that was tough and I still have second thoughts about the poses and the characters. It took me three days to complete the first version and, as I moved forward with the pages, someone pointed out that we forgot a character or two. I kept adding characters for a week, it was like a real party, with people coming and going!
But I was prepared for that, I saw that coming since I heard that we had a wedding in our book, and as everybody knows Marvel has a long tradition of crowded weddings. I was sure that I just had to pray to George Perez every day and I’d be safe.
AIPT: For the final cliffhanger page, can you talk a little bit about what (and who) we’re seeing?
Ewing: Well, we’re seeing some of that looming drama I promised for Hulkling. Coming to his rescue – that’s Abigail Brand, Manifold from the Avengers, and some shadowy figures. What are they up to? I couldn’t possibly comment, but the December solicits will provide further clues.
AIPT: There are clear signs of preparation going on for future stories, like the big reveal of Abigail Brand at the end of Empyre Aftermath. When you set up something for the future, is there a moratorium on the use of that character in other books? How do you seed a story early to be used months or even years later?
Ewing: I’m going to get into the process a little here. This is what I like to call a “lego brick”, though I’m sure other writers have their own names for the same technique – it’s undoubtedly as old as the hills. It’s a little snapshot of a future story, and while that snapshot is definitely going to happen, I’ve given myself a lot of freedom in terms of when and how. So right now, it’s connected to a particular plan for the future, but if things change or I get a better idea, I can use the same brick to build that, which gives me a lot of flexibility. I like to make plans that can easily change to fit new circumstances – setting end goals rather than plotting every step along the path.
When it comes to Abigail Brand, though – this scene functions as a promise that Hulkling isn’t going to fade into the woodwork, but it also functions as a first glimpse of something involving Brand that’s already well into development. I wouldn’t have the scene end so definitively – with the new costumes and everything! – if I wasn’t going to pay that part of it off very soon indeed.
Dave here; those are some exciting tidbits about Brand’s future in the Marvel universe as well as an exciting ending to our column. That’s a wrap, readers!
A big thank you to the creators who took the time to answer your questions today and in previous installments as well as Marvel Comics for setting the interviews up.
A big thanks as well to you, the reader, who checked in with us as we picked the brain of some of the best comic book creators in the industry. Empyre State of Mynd might be over, but keep it tuned to AIPT’s weekly X-Men Monday column as we approach Marvel’s next big event, X of Swords.