Russell Dauterman was kind enough to sit down with us for a quick chat at this year’s C2E2 in Chicago. He has a pretty atypical origin story and he discusses that along with his work on Thor and his collaborations with colourist Matt Wilson.
Hussein Wasiti: What was it that got you into illustration and comics?
Russell Dauterman: It was actually X-Men: The Animated Series. I saw that first and I was obsessed with it as a kid and it was so easy to jump into the comics around the show, because all the characters pretty much looked exactly the same, except Jean Grey had a ponytail. It was really easy. I think I picked up this issue with Colossus on the cover being restrained, and when you opened it up the first few pages was a vertical double-page spread of Storm. I think John Romita Jr. drew it and I was hooked on comics ever since I saw that.
Wasiti: You have a really strong sense of design. Did you train or did you just have it in you?
Dauterman: I went to school for costume design. I studied illustration but costume design was my focus. I originally thought I was going to do costume design for movies, and after school I started working for costume designers and doing sketches for them. A lot of the bigger movie designers don’t do their own drawings; they will give you reference and say they want things to look like this. They’ll design the costume but then they’ll hire illustrators to do a rendering and that’s what they’ll show to the directors.
I did that for a little while but comics was always something I loved. I just never thought that I would necessarily be good enough to do it. Maybe my skillset was stronger in doing design, and maybe it would be easier to do designs than to break into comics. At one point I thought, I really love comics and I really wanted to give it a shot. I started going to shows and tried to get my portfolio out there and get noticed.
Wasiti: What movies did you work on?
Dauterman: I worked on Captain America: The First Avenger really briefly. They had a couple costume designers on that who I worked for in the early stages, so I don’t know if they used any of that stuff. I worked on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Those were the main ones I did with little things here and there for designers. It was during Captain America where I thought that comics was what I wanted. That movie got me into San Diego Comic Con that year as a professional, and I thought that was where I should bring my portfolio. That’s when I started to meet editors and got my first portfolio review at Marvel.
Wasiti: What aspect of comic art do you love doing the most?
Dauterman: I do like to put a lot of effort into layouts. I like to figure out what’s going on in a page and try to emulate that in the panels and how they’re structured with the shapes of the panels. If something’s falling I’ll try to stagger panels where you get a sense of vertigo and you’re falling with the page, or if something’s on fire maybe the panels are a little scorched. Anything to really immerse yourself in it. I love doing designs and collaborating with Matt Wilson. I work digitally, so I separate all sorts of elements for him, like blurred stuff, or the lightning and power effects so that he can more easily work with them and get a look that is a little more unique or special.
Wasiti: What is it about Matt’s colours in particular that work well for your line art?
Dauterman: He and I have a similar aesthetic in terms of the kinds of colours he likes. His favourite colour is bright pink so that kind of magenta really pops and I love that. We talked early on about what kind of colours we wanted, and I showed him reference of things he had done previously. I was such a fan of his and we got paired together on some Valiant covers years ago and I recommend him for Thor. He’s been colouring my stuff since then. I just think that we have similar sensibilities and he always elevates everything I do and makes it really special.
Wasiti: How long have you been working on War of the Realms?
Dauterman: I started drawing right after Mighty Thor ended. Jason [Aaron]’s been able to do that because he’s had this story planned for so long, so it was pretty easy for him to skip ahead to the climax of his run. For me it was great because the book itself is going to be coming out every two weeks, and we were able to bank a lot of issues ahead of time. I could take my time with the art and make it something great. It was great that we had such a long run on Thor with the same creative team working on the bulk of it. I was such a fan of Jason’s Thor: God of Thunder. That was my favourite book before I ever got hired at Marvel.
Wasiti: What are you working on after [War of the Realms]? Are you taking a break or moving on to the next project?
Dauterman: I can’t say what’s next, but I’m under contract with Marvel so I’ll be working on a Marvel thing.