Cover Story

Cover Story: Black Panther Annual #1

Behind the scenes with cover artist Juan Doe

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By Ryan Penagos Juan Doe doesn't create art that most people would consider traditional for the medium. With a heavy emphasis on the overall design of each piece, and influenced by everything from animation to graffiti to underground comix to political propaganda art and much more, the NYC artist consistently concocts compelling images (see THE 198, FANTASTIC FOUR: ISLA DE LA MUERTE and CIVIL WAR: X-MEN).

BLACK PANTHER
ANNUAL #1

So when we first saw the cover for BLACK PANTHER ANNUAL #1 (in stores February 27), not only were we blown away by its sheer awesomeness, we were pretty sure Doe would have some cool background info and materials relating to the creation of book's cover. As usual, we're right. Check out what went into the development of Juan Doe's piece, complete with some early design images. And keep your eyes peeled for future installments of Cover Story, here on Marvel.com.
Marvel.com: What's the inspiration for the layout/look/design of the cover? Juan Doe: Definitely the concept [of the story]. This is a future where Wakanda is the de facto empire with T'Challa and Storm at the helm. When [editor] Axel Alonso reached out to me about doing this cover, he wanted something that was iconic and symbolic, a more stated representation.

Juan Doe's BLACK
PANTHER ANNUAL #1
cover designs

My initial approach was to think about the term "Black Panther" and zone in on what stood out for me in regards to the character and how that connected with the Black Panthers—the political party. I found that the Marvel character pre-dates the use of the name "Black Panther" by the political party. It struck me that everything I remembered, any collateral material—the iconic Black Panther logo, pictures of party members, fliers, everything involving the Black Panther movement was in black & white—then I thought about the Xerox copier. By 1965, the Xerox plain paper copier had reached critical mass. The Black Panther party was founded in October 1966. The copier, in perfect congruence with the time-frame of the Black Party movement, had established itself as a super cheap facilitator of information. The movement ran its course through the early '70s with a lot of political upheaval. In a relatively short amount of time they managed to spread the message through organized grassroots efforts and millions of cheap, b&w fliers as the ammunition. Anyhoo, all of this is just the detritus of research; what interested me was the legitimate link between the copier lending itself to a whole lexicon of socially and politically relevant b&w imagery and it influenced the execution of the piece—a flyer-cum-poster approach with a twist of color.

Juan Doe's BLACK
PANTHER ANNUAL #1
cover sketch

Even though we were working with a fictional character, we were still dealing with the heavy reality of black history and trying to appropriate that in a way that was empowering and reflective of where the roots laid and where it had ended. The title "Black to the Future" is exemplary of this and I think that visually we were able feed off the title. I created an iconic T'Challa in the same breadth as the ubiquitous Ché Guevara image—it seemed appropriate. I tried to mock and pay homage to the medium of how the Black Panthers spread the word. I imagined a future where a form of the Black Panthers are still in the world and this would be their vision of T'Challa as ruler. Marvel.com: Do you prefer to do covers that are story-centric, iconic or just free-form whatever you're feeling? Juan Doe: For me, the challenge of a cover is that you can approach it with a variety of efforts. The overall look will usually be determined by what the concept is. In this case, it seemed more sensible to create something in an iconic execution. If I had done a full-blown illustration of T'Challa sitting on a throne with a staff it still would've represented the same message, but the contextual nuances would have been very different. I felt the graphic approach was better suited.

Juan Doe's BLACK
PANTHER ANNUAL #1
cover in b&w

In general, I adapt my style to fit the project. It is usually done in reverse where an editor hires a particular artist because they have a good idea of what the final result will be. In my case, I think an editor works with me because they don't know what the final will look like but they know it'll be interesting and that is where the challenge of being an artist comes in. I'm always looking for different angles to execute my pieces. In some cases, a full-blown illustration would better serve my needs and in others it could be a more iconic approach or a full-blown free-form project. In the end, I'm extremely comfortable and confident that the results will usually prove to be successful. Heck, if I was tied down to a particular style I would probably stagnate real quick so my approach is always to take on projects that have no predisposed template. Marvel.com: How long did it take you to do the cover, from initial designs to getting the final sign-off from editorial? Where there any hiccups along the way? Juan Doe: Probably about a week from beginning to end. The process was smooth as silk. Once I had my initial conversation with Axel and realized we shared similar sensibilities on the subject, I had a good idea of what he wanted.

BLACK PANTHER
ANNUAL #1

Marvel.com: All said and done, how would you stack this cover up against your others? Juan Doe: It's difficult to rank my work in any sort of hierarchy. I like to think that I learn something new from everything I make, so the barometer for me has more to do with feeling satisfied that I did my best at that given moment. I look at that cover now and wonder how many other ways I could have done it. Not thinking that any of them would be better or not, but just realizing that I was pleased with the choices I made at the time. In either case I love all my children equally. Fo' rillz!

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