Summers always seem to fly by too fast. For Wolverine, the only thing more fleeting than the season is his own mortality.
On September 3, the four-issue weekly limited series DEATH OF WOLVERINE begins the end of one of Marvel’s most treasured heroes. While readers should never judge a story by its cover, they clearly relish great images. Steve McNiven has earned a reputation as a veteran creator widely respected for spectacular covers, and for the first issue of DEATH OF WOLVERINE, the artist makes it clear that blood is in the water for Logan.
With a story as critical as this one, the cover design process entails a great deal of planning and consideration on the part of many talented people. As detailed in this first installment of a four-part examination, McNiven, writer Charles Soule, colorist Justin Ponsor and editor Mike Marts reveal what it takes to develop such a vital portion of DEATH OF WOLVERINE.
Marvel.com: In full color comics, opting to have black appear so predominantly on a cover is not a decision made lightly. Was there a great amount of discussion regarding Wolverine in costume as a reverse out silhouette?
Steve McNiven: There was a lot of back and forth about the silhouette as we were initially thinking of a progression of figures, starting with one quite similar to this first one followed by Logan getting mortally hit and end with him collapsed on the ground. Great idea but it was difficult to put anything in the silhouettes, especially the last. But the silhouette stayed with us for the first cover.
Charles Soule: The cover for #1 really developed from Steve's interpretation of some earlier ideas we were kicking around—like the silhouettes he mentions—bringing more of the specific story of this issue into it. Each part of the DEATH OF WOLVERINE has a different location and even genre, to an extent, and the covers came to reflect each of those impressions in a very cool way. The idea here, with #1, is to focus on the idea that Logan has been associated with the wilderness for as long as we've known him. To get more specific, I wanted to reflect stories like ORIGIN with this issue, and it does that in spades. There are elements more directly connected to the plot of this story that you'll understand when you read the issue, but let's save that for September.
Marvel.com: Am I right to perceive a subtext of "blood in the water" being one of the cover's messages? Can you discuss how that came about? Also Justin, what kind of color mix approach do you take when trying to convey that?
Steve McNiven: It came about through iconography found within the script that Charles wrote. I went through the script and pulled out all the pivotal imagery I could use which is how I start any cover assignment if I have the script in front of me.
Justin Ponsor: That's a great inference regarding theme. I'd only thought of the image in a literal context since I was working on it as forms, but you really summed up the theme of this first issue there in four words. For the execution—excuse the pun—I treated the distant parts more like water with a red tint and faded it into a graphic red toward the bottom. Steve had a pretty clear idea for the color in his layout, so credit for that goes to him.
Marvel.com: Logan's back is to the viewer in this cover, Steve did you do a draft version where Logan faces the viewer or did you and the team know this was the staging needed from the start?
Steve McNiven: I turned the back because of two things: One, to reinforce the idea of Logan being targeted and also because the silhouette is front on.
Marvel.com: Mike can you explain, typically in a cover of this importance, how soon do you start plugging the creators into the process for input? At what point is the inker's input considered or the colorist's, for example?
Mike Marts: With DEATH OF WOLVERINE we’ve been taking a team approach from the get-go. Typically, Steve, Charles and I will talk up some ideas based off of Charles story outline, and then we rely on Jay [Leisten, the inker for the covers on DEATH OF WOLVERINE #2 through #4] and Justin to let us know how far we can go with certain effects, etc. The end result is almost always much better than what we originally conceived—primarily because we have talented creators involved!
Marvel.com: The iconic image of "x" serving as the kill target on Logan, as well as symbolizing both Weapon X and the X-Men. Who suggested that detail?
Steve McNiven: When I was putting in the target graphic I thought that having the X in there would add interest to the image so I dropped it in.
Marvel.com: Were there certain aspects of getting this cover just right that may have proved more challenging than any of you expected?
Steve McNiven: This was a tough cover for me and I did at least a dozen different takes, trying to bring a unifying design that I could use for all four covers but eventually gave up on that and went in another direction with the remaining ones. I did the inking on this one as I wanted to pull in grey tone work on the figure and background. I also did an initial color rough for Justin so that he could have a better idea of what I wanted to do with this. The silhouette actually appeared last in this final design even though it was the first thing I was messing with. As I said earlier, I abandoned it and after a lot of different ideas, I had finally settled on a new cover design. But it still wasn't really working until I went back to the silhouette idea, and squeezed into the silhouette the stuff I liked from the cover design. That ended up working for everyone and off I went.
Justin Ponsor: I spent a lot longer fiddling with how far back to push the distant shore than I expected. Also went back and forth several times to get the right amount of ripples on the water. Too much and it pulls focus from the figure. Too little and it looks like a mirror with tiger stripes. Tinkering backgrounds sometimes engrosses me until I lose track of time.
Tomorrow, the DEATH OF WOLVERINE creative team discusses the cover for issue #2 and how it plays into the landmark series!