[Cartoonist/comics historian Michel Fiffe has agreed to contribute occasional long-form interviews with cartoonists of note to The Beat. We’re pleased to present the first one, with the stylish Marcos Martin. Click on all images for larger versions and make sure to check out all the supplementary materials and art here.]
Marcos Martin is one of the few modern cartoonists whose work I unconditionally follow. Although his art style is compelling and stripped of pretentions, it is Martin’s emphasis on storytelling that sets him apart from his contemporaries. From his first major breakthrough with Batgirl: Year One to his current Spider-Man arcs, Martin’s increasing facility with the form can only be a result of careful study and dedication. It’s no accident that his art has grown more confident and his narrative solutions seem profoundly thought out.
In speaking with him, Martin revealed a sincere passion for his craft and the thinking that goes behind it. We discussed his humble beginnings and artistic revelations as well as going through a number of his past works. He was gracious enough to take time from his busy schedule to speak to me from his home in Barcelona, Spain. You’ll notice that he’s as kind and humble as he is talented, sharp, and refreshingly critical. I almost feel guilty for prying him from his drawing board, but I couldn’t pass up this rare opportunity to talk to a creator of Martin’s aesthetic caliber.
Michel Fiffe: How did you discover comics?
Marcos Martin: When I was around 3 or 4 years old, I used to read the Walt Disney comic books that were published in Spain. They were actually Italian. The Italian magazine for Disney Comics was called “Topolino” in Italy but in Spain it was called “Don Miki”. I also discovered superheroes really early on because my sister, who is four years older than I am, for some reason had the early [Stan] Lee and [Jack] Kirby issues of Fantastic Four. She liked them because, y’know, Sue Storm would change her hair every once in a while (Fiffe laughs) and things were happening besides the battles. I was probably around 4 or 5.
Fiffe: I remember the comics [in Spain] were put out by [Ediciones] Zinco.
Martin: Zinco put out the DC Comics back in the 80s. I’m talking about earlier on, probably around ‘76 or something, earlier than that even. Marvel was being published by Ediciones Vertice back then.
Fiffe: I remember they were magazine sized, some of them in black and white, some of them in color. I think the later company was Forum?
Martin: Yeah, Forum was the company that published Marvel in the 80s and 90s up until around 3 years ago when they lost the rights to Panini. But I went through adolescence reading those Marvel /Forum Comics. I was a big fan of those Spanish editions.
Fiffe: Were there any other type of comics around, any Independent or European comics around?
Martin: Yes, I read Asterix, of course and Tintin and I read them all when I was a kid. I also read Mafalda. You know Mafalda?
Fiffe: Mafalda? No.
Martin: Mafalda is by an Argentinean artist [Quino aka Joaquín Salvador Lavado] and he’s very popular in South America and Spain. Very, very popular, so I read that. Not so much the European comic books like Heavy Metal. I wasn’t into that stuff. I really like [Richard] Corben now but I only learned how to appreciate him fairly recently. It wasn’t really my thing before. I liked Moebius, though. Him I did like, but I didn’t discover him until I was 14 or something. The only European comics I read through my adolescence were the ones drawn by artists in the French-Belgian style that sprung from Hergé and was later spearheaded by [Yves] Chaland. People like Daniel Torres, Max, Pere Joan, Sento…
Fiffe: Did you always draw comics back when you were reading Disney comics or did that come later when you were discovering other types of comics and art?
Martin: Much later. I didn’t really think of becoming a comic book artist until I was around 14. What I wanted to be, really, was a writer. I didn’t want to be an artist. I was better at writing, actually. My sister was better at drawing and I was better at writing. She ended up studying philology and I ended up being an artist for some reason!
Fiffe: Did you guys ever collaborate?
Martin: No, no, no [laughs]. She likes comic books but not that much. I liked to draw a lot, but I never drew comic books. The first comic book I drew was when I was 17 and I was spending my senior year in Upstate New York. I did this comic book for the school, Le Roy High School. Le Roy is a small town in Upstate New York.
Fiffe: You made your first comic attempt when you were up there?
Martin: Yeah, because I thought it’d be very cool. You could never do that here in a high school in Spain. Or at least, that’s what I felt back then.
Fiffe: What, comic books?
Martin:Yeah, to have an idea like that and then just do it. I came up with the idea and I told the art teacher. She said sure, let’s do it. So I created a comic book magazine. It only lasted two issues but it was fun to do.
Fiffe: More issues than some people put out at that age.
Martin: More issues than what I put out in a year now (laughter).
Fiffe: That’s actually really rare that a teacher is supportive of comic books. I’ve always felt a sort of resistance toward the form from Art teachers, at least back in the day.
Martin: She wasn’t. She was very supportive and she helped me out with the whole thing. I think she even knew about Frank Miller at the time. This was in ’89, when Watchmen and Dark Knight had come out 3 years prior. And the medium was being perceived in a more positive light and certainly regarded more seriously than it had ever been. So she probably knew about those.
Fiffe: So then you went back to Spain. Did you go to college in Spain?
Martin: I went to Facultad de Bellas Artes de la Universidad de Barcelona.
Fiffe: Did you still make comics on the side?
Martin: When I was in my 3rd year of college, I started working for Forum/Marvel and I started doing illustrations and covers and different stuff for them.
Fiffe: You have to let me see that, Marcos!
Martin: I’m not sure if I have them in my computer, but I do have the copies somewhere. I mean, they are terrible (laughter). I mean… I was 20 years old. It was like a dream come true. I was in heaven doing that. But they were still terrible.
Fiffe: Because they were primarily reprints, would you mostly just do illustrations and covers and other technical, production types of work?
Martin: No, no… sometimes, because of the way they published comic books here, sometimes they needed a different cover for the comic book. So they would ask different artists to do them. Sometimes they would ask me, or Javier Pulido, who was there, too. That’s where I met him. So they would ask different people to do either interior illustrations or covers or whatever. It wasn’t production work, though.
Fiffe: It was more art based.
Martin: It was completely art based. They started it as a way to discover possible talents, young comic book artists, because they didn’t pay too much. They did pay which was good, but it was mainly devised as a way of discovering people. They started out Carlos Pacheco a few years before I did. And [Salvador] Larroca worked there, too.
Fiffe: Did that Forum work lead to you getting your first published work at DC?
Martin: No, that was completely unconnected. There really was no connection between the companies, between Marvel and Marvel in Spain, even. So what I did was I left to New York for a while and I tried to meet people. I started to show some samples around and see if I could get work. I did this for a couple of years after I finished Fine Arts, until I thought I was more or less ready. At first, I lived there for a few months, and after my first job at DC it was a while before I got my next assignment.
Fiffe: Yeah, I was wondering about that. There was that first job and then years passed before your next one. I was wondering if you had stopped doing comics or maybe still trying but came of it. What happened?
Martin: Here is the honest truth. I did my first work there, my first job, the Batman Chronicles [#12] job in ‘97, living in NY during those 3 months. I got that job partly because I met Mark Waid in Spain and he thought my work was wonderful. He wanted me to do a mini series with Devin Grayson. So what happened was that Devin’s editor was the Batman editor, and that’s how I ended up more or less at the Bat Offices. I did that story and they hated it. It was horrible! This was the first time I was doing comic books, aside from the thing that I did in high school. I hadn’t drawn any comic books at all. I had done covers and illustrations but no sequential art at all so I had no idea what I was doing.
Fiffe: Maybe you were mismatched with the inker?
Martin: What happened was that, yeah, it was a mismatch, but there was a reason for that. They didn’t like the pencils at all. What they did was that they tried to… I remember the editor’s words… “Spice it up with the inker”, which basically meant the pencils sucked and they needed to fix it somehow. So they got this inker [Vince Giarrano] who I think was also an artist and he basically used my pencils as layouts to do his own stuff. It was tough for me but perfectly understandable because my work was pretty horrible. However, I still think I did my best having to draw 18 pages in 18 days.
Fiffe: That couldn’t have been easy at all.
Martin: No, it was tough. It was supposed to be the best thing ever, because it was your first job doing comic books… and at such a legendary company as DC… but it turned out to be quite a nightmare. Still, the work was terrible so I understood that they wouldn’t give me any more work. What happened then was that I had to go back to Spain for a year, and I spent that whole year working on more sample pages and a series for Forum that never came out. In ‘99 I went back to NY and I stayed there for a year. That’s when I really started, basically.
Fiffe: You pretty much started over again.
Martin: Yes, pretty much. That first job really doesn’t count. I was actually worse off because they knew me and they thought I sucked. I had to get over that.
Fiffe: That must be even more difficult than being an unknown.
Martin: Yeah, it’s harder. Usually, the second assignment can be much, much harder than the first one.
Fiffe: You helped Javier Pulido in the last issue of Robin: Year One. Did he just need someone to help with the deadline?
Martin: Yeah, he just couldn’t meet the final deadline for the final issue. That’s basically what happened. They wanted someone that could more or less copy his style. They wanted to have very little difference between styles as possible and Javier thought that I could do it. I needed the job at the time since it had been a while since my prior job, but I was also waiting for an assignment at the time. The assignment didn’t come when I thought it would, though. I waited half a year for that assignment.
Fiffe: That’s a long time to wait.
Martin: It’s hard and I didn’t know if I should look around or not. I wasn’t secure, because I had my contact at DC and I didn’t want to look for more work and then get the assignment that I had been waiting for.
Fiffe: So the assignment didn’t come?
Martin: No, no, the assignment did finally come but it took half a year for it to come by. I took the Robin job just to help Javier with the issue. Which I never think of it as being mine, really, because I had to copy his style and… I mean, look at the pages. They’re terrible (Fiffe laughs). But most people associate me with that comic, which I really had no part in. I just did those 18 pages but the whole thing really, is Javier’s… he worked really hard on that series and deserves all the credit for it. It’s his baby.
Fiffe: A job is a job, right? You weren’t too precious about it, it doesn’t sound like.
Martin: No, not with this job. I wouldn’t recommend doing something like that, but at the time I needed the job so I did it. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not really proud of it. It was helpful, in a way, because it was forcing me to draw in Javier’s style, and that made me realize that I had been straying away from what I really wanted to be. If you look at the work I did before Robin: Year One, I reached the point before where for the first time ever, I had been doubting myself. I felt like the editors didn’t like [my work]. For the first time I started to develop insecurity about what I wanted to do, the style that I wanted to do and what I wanted to achieve. So what I did was take the easy way out and just overdo the rendering. You know, throw in more lines. If you look at the short story I did with Brian K. Vaughn [Gotham City Secret Files #1] and the Robin issue [#81] before that, there were a lot of lines and crosshatching… basically because I was so insecure that I thought that was one way of at least assuring that I would get another job.
Fiffe: Underneath those lines I could tell what your style looks like, I could see…
Fiffe: Yeah, I could tell but I could also see that the inking is way overdone. I wasn’t sure if that was the inker or you.
Martin: That was me, that was me.
Fiffe: It was really detailed for you, with all this feathering and fancy shadowing kinda stuff. Now with what you’ve told me, it’s funny how it took a job that was just a job, nothing special about it, to make you come into your own and discover what you really wanted to do.
Martin: Yeah, to rediscover it again. That’s what I always thought it should be, but I kinda lost it along the way.
Fiffe: Because you just wanted a job and so you just thought that’s what the editors wanted.
Martin: Instead of thinking of what I wanted to do I started thinking about what the editor wanted me to do. Which I never thought I would do but I did. It’s funny when I look back and realize what I was doing but again, I just needed to get a job. At one point, I think I drew 60 to 70 sample pages and then I realized that there was no way for me to develop my craft any further by doing just sample pages. There’s just a point you reach that you’re not gonna go anywhere doing that and you need to get actual work. You need to work from a real script and see all your mistakes in print in order to learn more and move forward. So that’s when I got to the point where I put what I felt the editor wanted before what I wanted. That’s when the change of style came. And when I did the Robin:Year One I sort of rediscovered what I wanted to do when I first decided I would become a comic book artist.
Fiffe: At least you realized it, that you should do what you want to do instead of meeting some sort of editorial standard or second guessing what the editors want. At least you only have 5 or 6 stories where you thought like that.
Martin: Yeah, it took me awhile, yeah. It was… it all comes down to insecurity, I guess.
Fiffe: Well, you know, some people never see that. Some people just wanna be the hired gun and they’re ok with that and that’s certainly fine. It’s not for everyone, though. At least you caught that early on in your career instead of years and years later.
Martin: I think I was lucky with that but I think the other thing that helped me not to fall into that “hired gun” thing was the fact that I realized with my very first job that I would never be the kind of guy that could do a page a day.
Fiffe: You mean a monthly comic?
Martin: I could never do that. I realized that I wasn’t fast enough and that I would never be fast enough. I would never be the guy that the editors would go to, you know, to do a monthly. So I thought the only way to keep getting work was to get it to be good enough for the editor to be able to overlook the fact that I was slow. Because speed is such an important factor in this business… you must be able to provide the editor with something that compensates for the fact that you can’t produce 22 pages a month.
Fiffe: You did a monthly with Batgirl: Year One, though. Did you just have a lot of lead time?
Martin: Yeah, it was monthly but it wasn’t a monthly for me. I worked on that … the first issue came out in December ‘02. I started working on it October ‘01.
Fiffe: That sounds like a pretty good lead.
Martin: I was very lucky with that. It was really thanks to my editor at the time, Matt Idelson. He was patient enough to give me enough time when he really didn’t have to because I was no one. He could’ve very easily taken it away from me, or rush me, or split it between different artists… So I credit him with a big part of my success with the series.
Fiffe: Batgirl was your breakthrough work.
Martin: Batgirl is what I consider to be my first work. Everything that I did before that were just small jobs to start working. Batgirl was my first real project, the first thing where I could sit down and really think about what I was doing or what I could try to attempt. I could sit down and think about what approach I was gonna try without having to worry about what my next issue would be about or when it’d come.
Fiffe: With the other jobs you would have to crank out page after page, so to speak. get them out quick with not too much thought put into it.
Martin: I’ve never really cranked out pages if I think about it. I don’t know if you saw the Joker’s Last Laugh issue that I did.
Fiffe: Yeah, the Chuck Dixon/ Scott Beatty story.
Martin: Right. That was 30 pages long and it took me three months to draw. That was hard work and I’m telling you, I’m not fast.
Fiffe: Well, that story is detailed. Very detailed (Martin laughs). You put in every necessary line.
Martin: Yeah, there was lots of stuff I had to draw there. It was pretty crazy.
Fiffe: Batgirl:Year One loosely followed the tradition of Batman: Year One, theme-wise. Art-wise, though, were you ever conscious of trying not to ape the Frank Miller/ David Mazzucchelli aesthetic?
Martin: I was aware that there was no way that it could live up to that standard. It was also, I think, a very different kind of animal. [Both Year One stories] are really completely different. The only thing they have in common is the brand name and the fact that they’re trying to chronicle the first year of those characters. Obviously, Miller, Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon are completely different writers and obviously I couldn’t even compare myself to Mazzucchelli at all.
Fiffe: Thing is, everyone has a Year One now and they’re all pretty different from one another, especially the Batgirl one. But I thought editorial would’ve wanted something along the lines of Mazzhucchelli’s stark, bold lines for that particular Year One.
Martin: The only thing that I thought of when I started working on Batgirl stylistically was that I wanted it to be simpler that my earlier stuff. I was trying to find my style, I guess. Story-wise to me, superhero comics work best when they function as metaphors. I don’t care that much about projects based only on continuity aspects. And what I liked about the Batgirl story was that at its core it was really a story about a teenager that was angry at the world, angry at her father, and she was strong and she wanted to prove her place in the world. I think that’s a powerful subject matter and something people can relate to and it was what I tried to convey. Many of my stylistic and storytelling decisions stem from that point of view. For example, making her slim and more girl-looking instead of a buxom bombshell. Also, much of the superficial aspects of it, the style of it, has to do with the coloring, I think. Much of its appeal and its uniqueness comes from the coloring because it was really different from anything that was going on at the time. And that was all thanks to my friend, Javier Rodriguez.
Fiffe: I was going to ask about him.
Martin: He was a friend of mine, and we had never worked before but I had seen his work as a comic book artist and he colored it himself. I thought the colors were really good, and I knew that one of the fundamental things of making the material work the way I wanted it to was to control the coloring in some ways, to be able to communicate with the colorist.
Fiffe: For you to have some control over the color choices or have some input.
Martin: I really didn’t want it to go to some colorist or whatever. It doesn’t matter how good they are, I wanted to be able to talk to the colorist and let him know what I wanted. I knew that with Javier, he was good and I could talk to him and we could work together. That’s basically what I wanted. I wanted to work with a colorist not just… I didn’t want it to be… a chain…
Fiffe: An assembly line.
Martin: Like an assembly line, right. I wanted to be more personal.
Fiffe: Yours is a good example of working closely with a team as opposed to just random freelancers.
Martin: Because it was a personal project for me and I invested a lot, I wanted someone I knew would invest a lot, too. I just didn’t want it to go to some …again, as good as they can be, and there are some excellent colorists out there, you never know what their approach is going to be. You never know if they’re gonna get the job and say “Well, I’m just gonna do this in a day” or “I don’t care about this” or even perhaps they care but the approach they take is not the one you think it should be. I like being involved with the whole thing. The lettering, the coloring, everything.
Fiffe: The lettering, too?
Martin: The lettering to a certain extent. I do the indications myself. It’s vital to the story, the lettering.
Fiffe: I agree. Sometimes something as simple and subtle as balloon placement can ruin a story or make it better.
Martin: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Fiffe: It’s a little weird how letterers sometimes forget that. It’s just funny. I mean it’s more sad than funny because it can actually ruin a comic sometimes.
Martin: Yeah, I think it’s sad. I do my own indications and I can get mad when they change something that really completely changes the original intention. As you say, a balloon can really change a scene, completely.
Fiffe: Now with computer lettering, do you guys ever work with hands on lettering? No one really does that anymore.
Martin: No, they just can’t. I remember when they changed at DC, I got really mad because my letterer in Batgirl, Will Schubert, was really good. He got fired. They were gonna go with computer lettering. I remember I tried, but there was nothing I could do at the time.
Fiffe: That’s too bad. I think a lot of those guys join studios or develop their own fonts but no one does hands on lettering anymore. I guess there’s just no time.
Martin: They just won’t take it, I think. At least at Marvel and DC, it has to be computer lettering now.
Fiffe: It’s weird to see the original art pages nowadays, these wordless things all over the place.
Martin: Yeah, I felt the same way when I did Breach. Breach was the first comic I did that didn’t have hand lettering, but that’s when I started to do some of the sound effects myself.
Fiffe: That can be more a part of the art anyway.
Martin: Yeah, yeah. I don’t like how the effect that computer lettering has. It’s not integrated into the art, it feels like something that’s not part of the page. It doesn’t look natural with the art. They’re too perfect I guess.
Fiffe: And there’s something superficial about it that makes it look like it was slapped on top. It can really take you out of the story… maybe it’s just me.
Martin: That’s why I try if I can, which I usually can’t… but I’ve done it with my latest issue of Spider-Man, where I’ve drawn the title and credits myself, just because I had a very clear idea of what I wanted and wanted to make sure it turned out right.
Fiffe: I want to talk about Breach a little bit. How did that series come about?
Martin: Well, basically I had finished Batgirl: Year One, and my editor, Matt, wanted me to do something else and we started talking about what that could be. He had this series he wanted to do with Bob Harras. They had already developed it, so I came into the equation when everything was pretty much done. I didn’t have much to do with the story or plot development.
Fiffe: Did you design the characters?
Martin: I came in and I designed the characters. That’s pretty much it. I tried to give some input into the story, but everything was already laid out.
Fiffe: Was it a full script or was it the Marvel style where you drew the pages first and dialogue was added later?
Martin: This was a big thing for me at the time. Breach was done in the Marvel Style and I didn’t know that when I accepted it. I had always worked with a finished script up until then. So this was the first time I encountered the Marvel style. I remember being ok with that. But what I didn’t want to happen was what happened to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko with Stan Lee, which was to draw the pages in a certain way and then have the dialogue come in and change the artist’s intention.
Fiffe: Right. It’s almost as if working in that Marvel way you have more control over the scene, the pacing, the design, but ultimately if something is written that’s in conflict with what you drew, that can be a problem.
Martin: Yes. That’s the illusion of being more creative and having more control when ultimately the writer has the most control because he’s the last one working on a page. I wanted to avoid that. I didn’t want that to happen.
Fiffe: That’s the only time you’ve done it, though, right?
Martin: What I did then was that I talked to the editor and told him that I thought the best way for me to work in that way was to do layouts first, working from the plot and then send it to Bob for him to put the dialogue over the layouts. In the meantime, I would be doing layouts for the rest of the issue. And when I got the dialogue back from Bob, I could rework the layouts based on the dialogue.
Fiffe: That sounds like such a long process.
Martin: Oh, it was such a long process. Everything is like that when it comes to me. (Fiffe laughs). But that’s what I thought that needed to be done in order for me to be comfortable with the work. And for the sake of a better product, I think.
Fiffe: Breach was also a monthly. Did you have as good a lead as you did with Batgirl?
Martin: Yeah, I had a year. I started a year ahead.
Fiffe: Did you know if the story was slated to be finished or did it depend on sales?
Martin: It was ongoing and its fate depended on sales. It always depends on sales. But I knew it wasn’t going to work. I knew that from the beginning, and I told my editor. I wasn’t really uplifting. I wasn’t really positive.
Fiffe: Of this comic in particular?
Martin: Yeah, of Breach. Basically, DC was trying to create new characters and heroes but they just weren’t working and to me this was just another one. I didn’t have the big enough name to draw people to come read the comic book. Perhaps Bob Harras, because he was the Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, perhaps he had some more appeal for fans but ultimately I knew that it was doomed to fail. Because all the others weren’t succeeding either so why would this be any different? All the titles they were putting out with new characters were just failing. The whole Focus line didn’t work at all. They weren’t bad comics but people weren’t buying them. They were putting out a couple of other titles… Bloodhound was one of them?
Fiffe: That sounds familiar. I remember one about this kid in prison who had the ability to leave prison or something…
Martin: I think that was Hard Times. That was part of the Focus line, too. The Focus line was not in the DC Universe so it had even less of a chance in succeeding. But DC was putting out titles that with new characters and they just weren’t working. They promised us at least 12 issues, but the sales were so bad that they ended it with the 11th issue.
Fiffe: That reminds me of Marvel’s New Universe, where a new set of characters are created that no one really cares about, there’s no big name to push it…
Martin: Yeah, yeah… I found it strange that they would spend so much money and time on developing a new series but then just leave it to die. That’s basically what seemed to happen with most of this new series. I sometimes think they pray that it succeeds but that’s obviously not enough. In the end if the publisher doesn’t believe in something, it’s very difficult for it to succeed. But it’s always difficult to point out a particular reason why things don’t work. I mean, with Breach, perhaps they could say it was my art and it was my fault so you never know…
Fiffe: They could say that, but I hope you wouldn’t believe that. You did the best you could.
Martin: Yeah, I mean, I’m happy with it and I’m very proud of it but I knew going in that it would be very difficult, that it wouldn’t stand a chance. What attracted me to the project, though, was something that ultimately didn’t happen. After doing Batgirl, I wanted to do a more mainstream superhero kind of comic book. I thought Breach would probably be close to what I had in mind. I knew about Bob Harras from the time he was writing the Avengers back in the early 90s, so I thought this was going to be like a hardcore superhero book.
Fiffe: Meaning with big fights and explosions and…
Martin: Yeah, like a very mainstream kinda thing. I sort of wanted to do that, to see what I could do with that kind of material. I felt attracted to it, to something more basic. When I ended up doing the project, it wasn’t like that at all. I visualized it more as a science fiction kind of TV series, like an X-files thing and so that’s how I ended up approaching it, more like a TV series.
Fiffe: Is that because when you read the script, it was different than what you expected?
Martin: Yeah, when I finally got the story, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was different, so I took a different approach.
Fiffe: I thought maybe you got the story and you started drawing the superhero thing you wanted and then you realized “What am I doing? I didn’t want to do this at all!” and so then you approached it like a sci-fi story.
Martin: No, at least not that I’m aware of. I might have done that subconsciously,
but the story just wasn’t a superhero story. It was something else.
Fiffe: You’ve done superhero stuff since.
Martin: I’ve done the Dr. Strange story, and now I’m doing Spider-Man so that’s pretty super hero.
Fiffe: That’s pretty much the ultimate super hero comic.
Martin: Yeah, but when I did Breach I was thinking about something different than what Spider-Man is. I don’t know how to express it, but I guess hardcore superhero would be…
Fiffe: Ultra dramatic…
Martin: Yes, Ultra dramatic, exactly. Over the top.
Fiffe: Like what Kirby did.
Fiffe: Even if Kirby drew a quiet scene with a family having their morning coffee, it would be the most dynamic, most intense thing ever. And that’s what you were trying to do…
Martin: I wanted to do the whole soap opera thing. The ultra dynamic thing is what I had in mind when I accepted Breach. Something that was hyper real. Perhaps you’re right, perhaps it was a hardcore superhero story but when I read it, I just didn’t read it like that.
Fiffe: Actually, thinking about Breach, it’s definitely more of a sci-fi drama with less action. Sure, there are moments of hyper realism, but they’re only moments. It’s not a comic with that as a primary theme. I could see how that isn’t what you were expecting if you were looking to channel Kirby-type of energy.
Martin: I learned a lot from Breach. I made lots of mistakes. I was looking at it a few months ago and I thought “Wow, I don’t do this anymore”.
Fiffe: Like something in the approach to the page?
Martin: Like storytelling solutions. Things I thought were cool but that I don’t do anymore.
Fiffe: Well what you tried totally works and I think it looks good and different. Personally, I’m not too into the story, but I read it for the art, and I think the solutions work. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
Martin: I remember I was more into Manga at the time. I was reading a lot of Manga. And I think I used some of the tools and solutions that Manga uses more than in any other project I’ve done.
Fiffe: In terms of pacing?
Martin: In terms of pacing, actually. And again, it’s because I felt the story asked for that. I remember I was quite influenced by [Minetaro Mochizuki’s] Dragon Head. Have you read it?
Fiffe: I can’t say I have.
Martin: It’s very disturbing. I think it’s been published in English. It’s very good. I read it in Spanish, but it’s really cool. Really cool story. I read it back in 2004, but it’s a little older and I think it’s out in English. Very good and disturbing. It has elements that I could connect with [Breach].
Fiffe: So that got you by, it inspired you to keep moving along.
Martin: Yeah, it did. Every time that I start working on something, it doesn’t matter what it is, I invest myself completely into it. So at one point I don’t care if it’s good or bad, I just want it to be as good as I can make it. So I always try to find ways to find what’s interesting in the stories for me, what works for me.
Fiffe: Well, that’s an interesting distinction because you just want to do your best. Usually that implies that you’re gonna do good work by virtue of that dedication.
Martin: Well, that always depends on how good you actually are. Unfortunately I don’t always make the best or even the right decisions. But I can at least assure you I always work to the best of my abilities no matter how big or small the project is.
Fiffe: Some people choose to be bad, depending on the job. For whatever reasons, either they don’t care about it or there’s a deadline.
Martin: I know what you mean. I’ve always… I cannot do that. I’ve always avoided getting into a situation that might make me do that. That’s why it takes me a long time to decide what I’m going to do next, because I know that once I start doing it, it’s gonna take me a long time to do it and I’m going to be completely dedicated to it. So it has to be something that I find interesting.
Fiffe: It’s not necessarily that you’re a slow artist but the amount of care and thought that goes behind it probably takes up more time than actually drawing it, I would assume.
Martin: Yes. It’s like the Stan Lee story I did recently [Spider-Man #600]. If you look at the final result you might get the impression it just took me a week to draw (characters against a black background). But I think this was probably one of the hardest stories that I’ve done, in figuring out the right approach to the script. It took me a long time.
Fiffe: Did Stan Lee write a full script for you?
Martin: Full script, yeah.
Fiffe: Kinda funny considering he’s the one who created the Marvel style.
Martin: Yeah, that was surprising to me. I was expecting to get like a one line plot (Fiffe laughs) and I got the full script. That’s what I got. I don’t know if he wrote it or not but I know it had his name on it (laughter). He was extremely happy, that I know.
Fiffe: So he liked what you did.
Martin: Yes, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
Fiffe: That’s fantastic. That has to feel good.
Martin: It’s very cool. It was really very cool. The child in me is happy now (Fiffe laughs).
Fiffe: I don’t mean to give any spoilers but did he say anything about the ending?
Martin: No. You know what, I don’t know if he ever realized that I put Ditko in it.
Fiffe: That’s such a huge detail. I could see him missing it, though.
Martin: It’s kinda obvious that it’s going to come, but he looked at the layouts quite closely from what my editor told me. I’m not sure that he ever saw it, though. I really don’t know if he did. But if he’d seen it, I’m sure he would have been fine with it.
Fiffe: I’m glad it was included. I think it’s a clever little detail and I actually didn’t see it coming. Maybe it’s just me. I thought it was a nice surprise.
Martin: I thought that Ditko had to be included. I actually discussed this with my editor and he didn’t want him to appear at all. Stan Lee wasn’t part of the story either, he was not a character. The whole story was just a psychiatrist and Spider-Man talking.
Fiffe: Who came up with the idea to make it Stan Lee?
Martin: I made the decision, so that’s why I had to talk to my editor, Stephen Wacker, about it and it was a big enough change that I couldn’t have done without asking. He was fine with that. And Stan Lee loved it, actually. When I told [Wacker] about the ending, that Ditko would be the psychiatrist, he wasn’t comfortable with that. I understood that, knowing how Ditko feels about the whole thing. He said he wasn’t comfortable with [Ditko] being in the page. He didn’t want to make Ditko uncomfortable or do something to disrespect him. My original idea was that he would’ve been fully shown. I would’ve drawn him fully in the best way that I could.
Fiffe: It’s better that he’s in the shadow.
Martin: Yes, I think Steve [Wacker] was right but I also felt that he needed to be there somehow.
Fiffe: I think the solution was the best possible solution.
Martin: I think so, too. I told him that I’d have him in shadows and make some kind of obscure reference that he was, in fact, Ditko. Which made both of us happy.
Fiffe: Let’s back track a little bit. I want to talk about the Dr. Strange story you did with Brian K. Vaughn, whom you’ve worked with before. How was it that time around, working on a much larger piece and with your new style?
Martin: It was great. I had a lot of fun with that. I’m good friends with Brian and I love working with him. He’s probably one of the best dialogue writers there is right now. I just love his dialogue. I have lots of fun with it. The challenge there was to try to do something different with what he had given me. The script that he gave me, if you drew it the way that it was written, it worked. You didn’t really have to add anything because everything worked perfectly, but the challenge was to do it in a way that would add to what he had already done. Sometimes when you get a script, if you were to draw what the writer describes in the same way, it doesn’t work.
Fiffe: What, it would just look like storyboards… maybe a little flat?
Martin: Or many times it just doesn’t make sense. Because the writers’ job is not to visualize everything. That’s our job. If the artist doesn’t do that job and just draws what the writer’s describing, many times it just doesn’t’ work. Brian’s not that way because his script does work if you draw exactly what it says. However, if you just do that, you sometimes run the risk of being a bit too much, how you said, like a storyboard or a TV episode. It might not take complete advantage of the medium.
Fiffe: A typical complaint with writers is that they sometimes write 3 different actions for one character, all in one panel. They don’t take the visuals into account when writing. I don’t think Brian is an artist, is he? I think he’s only ever been a write, or maybe he just understands the comic book dynamics. I guess…
Martin: He’s just a writer, but I think he understands how the medium works so he knows how much information to put in a panel or a page.
Fiffe: I think that sets him apart, actually, the fact that he understands the form so thoroughly.
Martin: Absolutely. But then again, there’s still the part of the job that the artist has to do. I don’t think he’d make mistakes like having 3 different things happening at once in one panel, but sometimes you can find ways to show things in a way that will add to what’s he’s already written.
Fiffe: Sounds like his scripts are almost idiot proof.
Martin: You would say so, almost. It’s very difficult to mess it up. I always try to find a better way to tell things, a better solution. But sometimes you also have to go back and realize his option was the best to start with.
Fiffe: Regarding Dr. Strange, were you ever influenced by Ditko?
Martin: Well, Dr, Strange to me is just Ditko, and the only artist that I think of when I think of Dr. Strange is Ditko. That’s basically who I looked at for that story. That’s the version I had in my head when I thought of him, Ditko’s Strange. I also looked at others, like Paul Smith which I think is great, and Marshall Rogers, and the only Michael Golden story that he did for Dr. Strange.
Fiffe: The one where he draws Ditko, bunny slippers and everything.
Martin: Yeah, yeah, (laughs).
Fiffe: Looking at your Dr. Strange, though, it doesn’t really look “Ditko”. I think there are some minor nods to his style, but it’s really your own take on those characters.
Martin: It’s impossible to replicate what Ditko did. I think that… this is difficult to explain… what I tried to do is to get a feeling of what Ditko did with the character. I had the Ditko issues with me when I was doing the story but I wasn’t really copying his solutions, or not even his approach to the character. Or at least, that’s what I’d like to believe.
Fiffe: You weren’t copying the visual…
Martin: I wasn’t copying the visual style. I was trying to capture the feeling of it, if that makes sense. I’m sure it’s different for every person. When I read Dr. Strange, I get a certain vibe from it and if you read it you’ll get something different so you’ll approach it differently.
Fiffe: Whenever I read Dr. Strange comics, I don’t know what’s better or worse, when people try to copy Ditko’s exact style and visual language or when they try do be “weird” and they overdo it, as if the weirder the better. That all misses the point. I think yours was a nice balance of both.
Martin: I guess that magic is very difficult to visualize… and I don’t even like it, (Fiffe laughs). I don’t like magic or sorcery. I’m not mystic at all and Brian is the same way. I love the character but I really don’t like anything that surrounds the character. What I liked about the character was Ditko’s approach,
Fiffe: As it turned out, you and Brian created one of the more compelling Dr. Strange stories.
Martin: Thanks. It’s funny because Brian wasn’t so much into it. I suggested it to him because we were trying to find something to work together on, find a character at Marvel that we could work on. And he really resisted, he didn’t want to do Dr. Strange. I had to convince him. I told him to take a look at the Ditko issues because there was something in there that I’m sure he could’ve used, and he did. He turned out a great story out of that.
Fiffe: I thought it was great.
Martin: Yeah, I was very happy with that story. Again, even though I am the person furthest removed from mysticism and magic.
Fiffe: It seems as though Marvel always had getting Dr. Strange right, never quite having a handle on him.
Martin: It’s a difficult character. I thought about it when I was doing it. It’s very difficult to relate to him I guess. He’s old, not really handsome and lives in a world impossible to relate to. And to me that’s what makes him so cool. And I’m sure there are things that you can do with him, but the right approach hasn’t been found. He’s a difficult character to carry his own regular series, I think. I’d love to go back to the character at some point.
Fiffe: What if you wrote it yourself?
Martin: Oh, no no no. I can’t write it. I’m not a writer. I know that.
Fiffe: Well, you’ve written a comic recently…
Martin: No, I haven’t really. Are you talking about that Captain America thing?
Fiffe: Yeah, I assumed you were interested in going in that direction, in writing your own stuff.
Martin: Well what happened is that I didn’t actually write that. Although the credit says “by Marcos Martin” I didn’t write the text for that. It was really my editor Tom Brevoort who wrote it but he felt he shouldn’t be credited.
Fiffe: So how did that go about,. He just sent you the text and you drew around that? All the pages are poster/montage type of images.
Martin: No, he sent me an outline, what would happen, what he wanted every page to be about, more or less. So let’s say the first page was described as “the origin of Captain America”, and it wasn’t much more than that. Each page had a subject but it didn’t have any text. The text was added later. They came up with the text after they saw the layouts so they knew more or less how much space they had for everything.
Fiffe: I really thought it was your first writing assignment and thought it was an interesting choice to do it in that style, thinking you weren’t ready for dialogue yet (Martin laughs).
Martin: No, I don’t think I can write, even though I used to want to be a writer.
Fiffe: You wouldn’t even want to write short stories or anything like that?
Martin: I don’t think so, I don’t think so.
Fiffe: Even if you tapped into your early interest in writing?
Martin: You never know. I might eventually. Not at this time, though. Mark Waid asked me this a while ago and the honest answer is that I have nothing to say. I really don’t.
Fiffe: Even like a basic superhero action story?
Martin: I guess I could but I don’t see the point of that. I guess at least right now I don’t have any desire to do that. There are obviously many other people that are better than I am at that, more capable, and I think I work better working from what these people are able to dream up.
Fiffe: So you think it’s more restrictive that freeing, writing the material yourself.
Martin: Uh, coming up with a story myself?
Fiffe: Well, say if you were drawing from your own story, would you be preoccupied in trying to make your story function and so you wouldn’t necessarily work on the art as much? As opposed to “Now I can write any kind of story I want!”
Martin: I think if I were to write a story I would probably end up being too preoccupied with making it mean something. Trying to come up with either something that’s meaningful or so innovative that it would justify my becoming a writer. And that approach usually spells disaster.
Martin: I think with my approach to things is that you have to be as honest as you can with everything, with drawings, storytelling with everything… writing, too. I try to be as honest as I can. If I can’t draw something, I try to draw it as best as I can, especially if that’s what the story asks for. I’ll draw it even thought it may look bad, because I feel that’s what the story needs.
Fiffe: Well, you have to do that sometimes. Sometimes you have to draw horses.
Martin (laughs): Sometimes you have to draw what you don’t want to and what you don’t know how to draw. And sometimes you have to make decisions that might end up showing your flaws as an artist or that perhaps are not appealing to the reader in the surface. But you have to make them anyway. And sometimes we don’t do that. We’ll find excuses or go out of our way to not draw or not think, because of many reasons…
Fiffe: Well, I think you’re being pretty honest in realizing that you have “nothing to say”, so you don’t write.
Martin: I think you basically have to be honest with yourself and realize your own limitations, I guess.
Fiffe: A lot of writers would benefit from that approach
Martin (laughs): Perhaps we would have fewer writers which might not be good.
Fiffe: Not good for business.
Martin: At this point, if you ask me right now, the reason I don’t write is that I would have nothing to say. I guess because my parents raised me as a happy child with no traumas, really (Fiffe laughs). I didn’t have enough traumas in my life to now be talking about them. I’m too shallow!
Fiffe: How dare you not have any traumas?
Martin: Ha! How dare I? I was a happy kid and I blame my parents for that (laughter}. Damn them!
Fiffe: I see writing your own stories as a way of controlling what you do to the fullest. You’re already into having a say in the coloring and the lettering, like you said, and recently also in the inking. You never really inked yourself before. Did you always see yourself doing your own inks?
Martin: It’s something that I had to do. I was never technically capable of it and I was always too scared of inking my own drawings. Even when I started working for Forum, all my work was actually not inked, it was all pencils.
Fiffe: Even the final cover art?
Martin: The final art was always pencils. I was like a pioneer a the time..
Fiffe: I was about to say that’s what’s happening a lot now.
Martin: I did it back in ’93 because I didn’t know how to ink. It was very tight pencils. Very clean. It wasn’t because of choice, it was because of not knowing how to ink.
Fiffe: How do you like it now? Are you comfortable?
Martin: I’m pretty comfortable now but I’m still trying to improve it. I can’t ink with a brush. I use markers, basically.
Fiffe: How about nibs?
Martin: I’ve never been able to use that. I’m better with a brush than I am with that.
Fiffe: I don’t get from your work that you use markers. Do you use Rapidographs.
Martin: Not exactly but yes, more or less. They’re markers. It’s very difficult to ink with that because it‘s difficult to get a clean line with that. I’m trying to get better at it.
Fiffe: For using a marker, it looks very brushy.
Martin: Well, I use different types of markers thickness, and I usually use a thin line, then I get a thicker marker and just go over it to give it the brush quality.
Fiffe: I still don’t get how people ink buildings and straight lines with brushes. That’s a science to me.
Martin: Some people are amazing with brushes. My friend Alvaro Lopez, who inked Batgirl, he’s amazing. He can do stuff with a brush that is unbelievable. Brushes and rulers… I actually don’t use rulers anymore. I use them for the pencils but not for the inks. I got tired of the whole polished look of everything, this search for perfection that everyone is going for lately. I wanted it to feel as organic as possible.
Fiffe: You’re pretty much doing everything opposite to most popular mainstream artists right now.
Martin: Am I? I guess that’s why I’m not popular!
Fiffe: Well, you do have a fan base and that’s a good sign, that the fans recognize a talent with your approach. It’s just a good sign.
Martin: I don’t know… I’m not aware of any fan base.
Fiffe: You definitely have one here in the States. I’m not sure about Spain, but every time your work is discussed amongst peers or fans, they seem to love it. Even the clerks at comic shops like it and they’re not easily impressed.
Martin: That’s good to know because the things that happens to me here is that being in Barcelona, I’m removed from everything. Which can sometimes be good for work, but it’s a little bit alienating. I’m so far away from everything that’s going on that I really don’t know what’s going on.
Fiffe: Let’s talk about your actual art for a minute. You have the ability to draw pretty pictures, yet you put a lot of emphasis on storytelling and layouts. Clearly, you emphasize the “how”. Would you agree that it’s the “what” one is saying that is ultimately of more value to comics?
Martin: I think what you’re basically asking is the never-ending question of form and content.
Fiffe: Right, and while neither of them have nothing to do with superficial style, I wonder if one trumps the other. It seems like you’re more interested in the “how”.
Martin: I know what you mean, it’s just that I’ve never … when it comes to the discussion between form and content, the “how” and the “what”, I always find it very difficult to separate one from the other. I’ve never really agreed with that thinking.
Fiffe: You don’t think there’s a distinction?
Martin: I think they are not mutually exclusive. I think they affect one another. The “how” is going affect the “what”, so what I’m saying is that there’s really no way that they wouldn’t be affected by one another.
Fiffe: An example would be that you can tell a story really well but the actual story may not be so great.
Martin: I guess what one is trying to say and how one is saying it is what you want to identify, but you can’t have one without the other. It’s the way you present the message to the reader that is key to the way it gets across. So you cannot have one without the other. Take a look at Chester Brown and his “Louis Riel”. You might love the subject matter, what he is saying, you might love the message, but the way he’s chosen to show it is equally important. If you take that same story and get Barry Windsor- Smith to draw it, you’re not gonna get the same message, and what you’re saying will be completely different.
Martin: It’s one of the big questions in Art and Art History. Basically, art movements would always ask what’s more important, form or content. And they seem to either choose one or the other. The answer is that usually it’s a balance. I may sound foolish saying that you can’t have one without the other.
Fiffe: It makes perfect sense.
Martin: Although, perhaps I’m a bit biased by my role as a hired artist always working from what someone else has thought of first. In our particular case I feel our job as artists is to analyze the information, discriminate what’s relevant and what not and find solutions to present it in a way that best communicates the writer’s intentions. In other words, we’re committed to transmitting the message regardless of what that may be. And all the decisions made on how to communicate the message are going to inevitably affect the way the reader perceives its content. So it’s not a matter of the art or the story being good or bad separately because that can always depend on personal taste. It’s a matter of both being adequate to each other and consequent with what they pretend to achieve.
Fiffe: Speaking of personal taste, who are your influences?
Martin: This is one of those questions that I feel can be kind of pointless because it just becomes a list of artists. I answered it once and I ended up giving this long list of people and I realized it was just absurd.
Fiffe: Ok, well, let’s narrow it down… who do you try not to rip off?
Martin (laughs): Well, let me answer you like this. If I go back to the point when I thought about comic books and what my approach to them should be… my thinking process was established the first time I read Mazzucchelli. That was the point when I changed the way I looked at comic books.
Fiffe: Was it with Batman: Year One?
Martin: This was with Daredevil, actually, with the “Born Again” storyline. Yeah. That still remains to this day the turning point where I suddenly realized what it meant to be a comic book artist. I pretty much established the whole notion of the “how” and “what” I just explained. It was reading that and realizing the difference between having a flashy style or not and which was more important … establishing my priorities and all that. When I discovered Mazzucchelli, and later following what he did outside the superhero comic books, to me there was a logic to everything that he was doing. I understood what he was doing perfectly. It made perfect sense to me. So I guess, Mazzucchelli will always be my reference and influence in terms of thinking.
Fiffe: I couldn’t think of a healthier influence, to tell you the truth.
Martin: I think there really isn’t. I remember Pulido once told someone who was showing him samples to just look at Mazzucchelli. That if you have to look at someone, look at Mazzucchelli. You can’t go wrong with that. I pretty much agree with that.
Fiffe: Well, thank you so much, Marcos, for talking a bit. I know you’re trying to get that Spider-Man issue out the door. Are you late at all?
Martin: I’m very late, but hopefully I’ll be able to finish it.
Fiffe: So that’s the next thing from you we should look forward to?
Martin: It’s been announced already. The first 2 issues are coming out in January? The 3rd one is hopefully coming out in February.
Fiffe: Is this all because Spider-Man is now weekly with a rotating creative team?
Martin: It’s not weekly but it is 3 times a month. It’s actually pretty well thought out and the whole process is pretty clever and it works. It’s funny because it really is the main reason why I’m able to do Spider-Man. If it were monthly, I would’ve never had the chance of doing it. But weekly, there are so many artists that I get a break. And on the other hand because of that same schedule I end up turning out a much bigger amount of pages a month. Sometimes it’s actually like working on a 66 page monthly comic book!
Fiffe: Well, I can’t wait to see it.
Martin: I hope you like it.
Fiffe: All your efforts don’t go unnoticed, just so you know. Just think of all of us cartoonists waiting in the store for your next comic.
Martin (laughs): That’s going to help me in the really long nights ahead. And Michel, thanks again for your interest and your patience.
More Marcos Martin art, comics, rarities, and sneak peeks can be found here.