Tuesday Q&A

Tuesday Q&A: Marvel Knights: Hulk

Joe Keatinge, Piotr Kowalski and Bill Rosemann go through their process for creating a different kind of Hulk book!

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By Jim Beard

The return of Marvel Knights continues this December with MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK, a four-issue limited series that not only spotlights everyone’s favorite emerald giant, but two more rising stars in Marvel’s firmament.

To celebrate the new story, we assembled a triple threat of an interview: editor Bill Rosemann, writer Joe Keatinge, and artist Piotr Kowalski. Without further ado, let’s jet off to Paris and discover why the Hulk’s wandering the streets of the City of Lights…

Marvel Knights: Hulk #1 cover by Piotr Kowalski

Marvel.com: Bill, set the stage for us, please: how did the project come about? What is its goal as a story?

Bill Rosemann: A few months ago, during one of our weekly editorial meetings, Axel Alonso challenged the editorial team to seek out creators with fresh voices and unique styles; writers and artists that we’ve had our eyes on and who were ready to tell their “dream story” starring some of our most popular characters. So the goal of the returning Marvel Knights imprint is to offer a spotlight to creators we believe have something new to say, and to provide them with the best stage possible to say it, while the goal of MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK is to blow people away with an edge-of-your-seat thriller filled with psychological anguish and plenty of smashing!

Marvel.com: As an editor, why do you believe both Joe and Piotr perfect for this book?

Bill Rosemann: When I read copies of Joe’s [Image] book Glory, I loved how he mixed crazy sci-fi ideas with compelling character arcs. Likewise, when Joe pointed me to Piotr’s art, I was impressed with his unique ability to ground the grandiose with realism. Together, they’ve placed Bruce Banner in a very unique and dangerous spot that’ll have readers wondering what in the world will happen next.

Marvel.com: How would you characterize the back and forth between them and your editorial team on MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK?

Bill Rosemann: Joe and Piotr are both passionate creators who not only embraced the collaborative nature of the writer/artist relationship, but who are also completely dedicated to telling their perfect Hulk story. It’s been a daily—and highly enjoyable—open flow of emails filled with wild ideas and beautiful art!

Marvel.com: Joe, overall, what's it like being part of the new Marvel Knights books? What’s it mean to you?

Joe Keatinge: Overall, it’s very surreal. The original Marvel Knights line—and, by inspiration, the early 2000s Marvel line—had a major impact on me not just as a reader, but informing the types of comics [I create]. I mean, look, I think anyone will admit that pre-Marvel Knights, comics from pretty much every major publisher were grasping at straws to even get a modicum of the success they had in the early 90’s.

So, Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada come along, ask for what [were] perceived as Marvel’s lowest rung characters, the characters shareholders worried about getting out of bankruptcy would never even notice, and do something really damn cool with them. And holy crap, man, the comics that came out of that era? DAREDEVIL with Quesada and [Kevin] Smith? FANTASTIC FOUR: 1 2 3 4 by [Jae] Lee and [Grant] Morrison? SPIDER-MAN by [Terry] Dodson, [Frank] Cho and [Mark] Millar? INHUMANS by Lee and [Paul] Jenkins? Heck, SENTRY by Lee and Jenkins? I went from reading a couple Marvel books to nearly the entire line, my favorite to this day being MARVEL BOY by [J.G.] Jones and Morrison. I still go back and re-read every Marvel Knights book I listed almost as much as I do my Kirby Fantastic Fours and Ditko Spider-Mans. It all holds up. And it’s damn inspiring. Because from all this Quesada became Editor-in-Chief and spread the philosophy line wide: you got NEW X-MEN by [Frank] Quietly, Morrison and a bunch of amazing artists, X-STATIX by [Mike] Allred and [Peter] Milligan, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN by [Mark] Bagley and [Brian] Bendis; I mean, pretty much everything up to this day. How is the DNA of Marvel Knights not in Aja and Fraction’s HAWKEYE?

Marvel Knights: Hulk #1 preview art by Piotr Kowalski

Basically, what Piotr and I were told by our editor Bill Rosemann was, “Hey, you guys are doing some interesting stuff at Image, we think you’d do interesting stuff with the Hulk, do whatever you want with the Hulk.” So we crafted this metaphysical, psychological examination of why we love the Hulk so damn much and included a bunch of smashing. He kills like 95 robots in issue #3 alone. That’s the same issue we cut apart and remix HULK #1 from 1962. Issue #2 has a tribute to the Marvel Third Eye Blacklight posters. So, yeah, what does this mean to me? Everything. The phrase “labor of love” gets so tossed around interviews it’s abused and nearly meaningless, but I cannot stress enough: this book? The ultimate labor of love for Piotr and me. He even told me at one point he was born in a crib with a Hulk sticker on it. Essentially, this series is a couple lifetimes in the making.

Marvel.com: Whew, that’s incredible! So, why Paris? How does it make for a great backdrop for this story?

Joe Keatinge: A lot of people seem really stuck on the Paris element of the story, and it’s important, but it only appears in the first and—very briefly—last issues. It’s not so much about Hulk in Paris, as it is Hulk in the world. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s of absolute importance to how I view the character: Hulk is essentially anti-Captain America. Captain America is everything we—I’m speaking as an American—want America to be. Hulk? Everything we fear America can become. Captain America is freedom, liberty, patriotism, the victory of Normandy. Hulk is corruption, warmongering, drone bombing, our devastation of Nagasaki. 

After we were given the edict of “do whatever you want with the Hulk,” I basically took it as an edict to examine what I find so interesting about this character, so enthralling. What I loved about him. What I loathe. What it means to me. What it means to the world, which is the point I’m getting at.

We're putting this extremely American character into an extremely un-American setting, putting him through the ringer, dissecting what makes him work, then taking him all over the world with it. The first issue has a lot of elements of Eurocomics in how we’re telling it. I’m pacing it more like I would something I write for France, the story itself begins much more in line with something like XIII than it does, say, Avengers.  While it’s a bit more subtle, the second issue has a lot of elements of manga-storytelling. It’s faster paced. There [are] some crazy space ships, a giant robot. The third issue completely breaks down the concept of the Hulk, and the fourth issue? Well, read it. 

Marvel.com: There are other Hulks in the book; what will they be like? Why are they hunting Banner?

Joe Keatinge: They’re a bunch of evil bastards who can turn into Hulks. A lot of Paris—and, later on, the rest of the world—is going to get smashed by some not so great people as they attempt to kill Banner. As for why, you don’t want me to tell you that. It’s part of the comic. No one really wants spoilers in interviews, right? See it for yourself. It’s pretty damn cool. Ties into Marvel history. There [are] a couple of killer cameos in issue #3. But, yeah, just read it. 

Marvel Knights: Hulk #1 preview art by Piotr Kowalski

Marvel.com: How will you balance the mystery and the Hulk-out action in the story? And which one do you tend to lean toward with personal preference?

Joe Keatinge: I don’t think you should really lean towards one more than the other, right? If you don’t have the mystery, the drama, the personal emotional core, the Hulk-out action means nothing. Like, I love horror movies, right? Big time. I loathe horror movies that are basically just torture porn. The stuff I love the most—like, take “The Innocents” starring Debra Kerr for example—is the stuff that has this core that you can relate to. That freaks you the hell out. So if the Hulk is just smashing a bunch of stuff and it doesn’t mean anything, who cares, right? You’ve seen that a million times before over the years. It’s gotta mean something. Or, whatever, it could just be a bunch of violence. Read into this comic or don’t. There’s plenty of stuff blowing up if that’s all you want. There’s plenty more behind it if it’s not.

Marvel.com: What's the working relationship between you and Piotr on MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK?

Joe Keatinge: He’s my partner on this. 100%. This is our book. The voice you see is ours. That’s why I love working in comics. If I just wanted people to solely read my own voice, I’d write prose. But I love two or more voices combining to tell a story you wouldn’t read by just one person or the other. People who just toss over scripts for artists to draw? Well, look, if it works for both parties, great, but I don’t have any interest working that way. I want to develop this thing together; play to what, in this case, Piotr loves to draw. What he loves about Hulk comics. We talk a lot about what we’re doing—in e-mails or the script or whatever—and then this comic book comes out. And it’s been going really well. We’ll be doing collaborating again shortly. We hope the Hulk’s involved.

Marvel.com: Well, Piotr, over to you; why was it the natural thing to do to sign up for this project and work with Joe on it?

Piotr Kowalski: Joe and I have known each other for over two years. Before the Hulk project came up we had been preparing another comic book and it was then when I realized how much of a fertile imagination Joe had and still has, obviously. So naturally enough I embraced this amazing opportunity to do a Hulk book with Joe, knowing that it would be something really
good. Whenever I set about making a comic book, the visual side of it is particularly important since I am directly responsible for it. Joe provides many amazing landscapes for me so I can get carried away quite often and have real fun while designing the pages and especially the action panels. And there is a lot of action in this comic book!

So if you ask me about my cooperation with Joe, I can only say one thing: It's been just great!

Marvel Knights: Hulk #1 preview art by Piotr Kowalski

Marvel.com: Who is your favorite Hulk artist of the past and why?

Piotr Kowalski: Well, early Dale Keown has always been my favorite Hulk art. When combined with Peter David's scripts his art always appealed to me; [his] drawings were simple and done so effortlessly, so lightly and yet sold the story so smoothly. This is what I like the most in comic art, I think; the ability to tell the story using simple—but not simplistic—techniques, and clear, strong lines. I try to do that myself although a good comic book artist has to be flexible. This is what I have learned while working in Europe for so many years: every project must be tackled differently, but regardless of what styles or techniques you use, what is crucial is fluent communication with your readers. And by communication I mean clear art that does not overpower the story. I see this quality in Dale Keown's style.

Marvel.com: What's your own visual take on Banner and the Hulk? Do you draw any kind of visual link between them?

Piotr Kowalski: I like when Hulk brings out all things we do not see in Banner. That includes Banner's psychical condition and appearance. This is why I decided to draw a Hulk who does not resemble Banner in any way, as if those two were totally different, independent creatures. But I guess that’s an approach that many Hulk artists often choose.

Marvel.com: What's your research been like on Paris? What's important to convey about such a well-known landscape as the City of Lights?

Piotr Kowalski: To be quite honest, while making this story I focused my attention not on drawing the city but on conveying some sort of a "European" atmosphere in nearly all the panels. In order to achieve this I drew this book in a very European style. I to create an impression that we are “really” abroad, not only because the plot takes us there but also because the art suggests that we are in Paris. Certainly, my own European background helped here enormously.

Marvel.com: What's it been like for you in designing the other Hulks in MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK?

Piotr Kowalski: In general, I adore drawing twisted, athletic, weird-looking bodies; the huge mass of muscles which often challenge real anatomy is great fun for me to draw!

Marvel.com: Are you doing anything different in your art on the series? Any experimentation or change in your usual work habit?

Marvel Knights: Hulk #2 cover by Piotr Kowalski

Piotr Kowalski: Well, apart from the technical aspects of my work, nothing really changed. I am still active in French comic markets where the whole process of drawing comics is in many ways totally different [than in the U.S.] The usual pace of work there is much longer: you produce one 46-page book in eight or nine months. That gives you a lot of time, which is a good thing, but on the other hand it limits the number of books you can produce annually. In the American comic market you need to work much faster but you are also given the amazing possibility to produce a lot of books within shorter amounts of time.

In the end it pays off; if you work hard enough you are able to do much more, to learn much more and to achieve much more. As drawing comic books has been my only job for many years, I find this quality of the American comic industry tremendously appealing.

MARVEL KNIGHTS: HULK #1 hits on December 11

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