Q&A: Mitch Breitweiser Part One

As you should know, Captain America: The Chosen is our Book of Doom this week. If you remember, it was also the series that we here at Doomkopf brought you an exclusive announcement about a few months ago.

Now, I’m pleased to bring you another exclusive — interviews with series artist Mitch Breitweiser. Below is the first half of the interview. And remember to come back this weekend for our roundtable review of this book (a sneak peek: I really enjoyed it).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketJean-Claude Van Doom: So, how did you break into comics?

Mitch Breitweiser: I was going to trade shows and buying tables on what they call artist’s alley. I would do sketches for $10 a piece. I was just trying to break even at the time. I started meeting people the more I went. We would hang out at the bar after
the show. And then just started meeting editors and other artists and writers. I just sort of forced my way in.

JCVD: So, a lot of convention hopping?

MB: I’d go from here to Chicago. I would drive from New York City to Chicago, or fly to San Diego. I even drove from Little Rock [where he lives] to San Diego. If I couldn’t afford a plane ticket, I would drive.

JCVD: What’s your background in art?

MB: I went to Harding in Searcy, through their art program. Then I went to New York to try to get into comics. I lived in the northeast from right after college to two years ago. I accomplished what I wanted to do, what I needed to do. Paying $1,600 a
month in rent, there didn’t seem much point anymore. I felt secure, since Marvel offered me a contract. I came back to buy a place, start a family.

JCVD: Why did you end up working with Marvel and signing with them?

MB: Marvel was always more receptive of my art, even when I wasn’t published. They seemed more interested in me. I was drawn to them just because the editors more receptive to my art.

I always had more of a passion for the Marvel characters anyway. Growing up, reading Wolverine, X-Men and all of that good stuff back in the ’90s. But I never really was a big comic book reader. I didn’t go out and blow my allowance on comics every week. I got really drawn into just the artwork. I’ve been drawing since before I could write. I was always, when I was younger, drawing little cartoons and making up stories before I even knew what a comic book was.

JCVD: Do you remember your first comic?

MB: My dad brought home an issue of Spider-Man 2099 for Christmas one year and it just clicked. It just captured my imagination. This makes sense. I’ve still got that book lying around somewhere. Rick Leonardi was the artist on that. I need to get
him to sign it.

So, from then I was just picking up anything that caught my eye. I wasn’t so much reading the stories. If the art captured my attention I would pick it up. I would maybe read it once but look through it a hundred times. How was all this created, what materials were they using? I began a long process of imitating covers and inside pages. It was just a long process of discovery that went all the way from junior high through college. Anything I could to figure out how it works.

JCVD: So, you really had to teach yourself?

MB: There was nobody around me who did that sort of thing and I had no access to it. Blind and in the dark, trying to figure out how to do this. I had a good high school teacher who encouraged me a lot. And I had good college professors, but there’s no curriculum for that sort of thing. A good art education in general always helps. In a sense, I was all alone in the woods on this.

Before the Internet, there was no content readily available for anyone to look at. Now, if I wanted I could post a tutorial on my Web site and a hundred thousand kids could look at it. There was just nothing like that back then.

JCVD: You always hear people talk about talent, but it seems like really all that means is someone put in a lot of work.

MB: You have to spend a lot of time to improve and get better, and just to get work. It’s a long process. It’s like the story of the concert pianist who’s playing for a large audience, and his father is watching and a woman says how it would take her thousands of hours of practice to play like that, and the dad says that’s how long it took his son.

JCVD: Is it strange now to be good friends with some of the artists you grew up being a fan of?

MB: It was weird for a while to meet artists that I grew up admiring. Five years later, I’m hanging out at the hotel bar chatting it up like it was nothing. For a while I was kind of shell-shocked.

JCVD: What artists do you count as influences, and who now do you think you’re most similar to?

MB: I’m really going for that sort of realistic, gritty brush style. Michael Lark, I love what he’s done the last three years. Tommy Lee Edwards. John Paul Leon. When I was a kid, I would’ve just passed those artists up and gone for something flashier. But that’s the work I’m doing now.

For series going now, I read Cap. I really dig that whole series. Both the artist and Brubaker is just awesome. That’s one that I do read and enjoy. I recommend that to anybody who’s trying to try out comics.

JCVD: What’s it like, working in comics? Does it compare to how you imagined it?

MB: There’s a good, healthy amount of chaos that goes on. Not everybody’s on time, certainly not me.When I was a kid, I used to go to sleep thinking of how cool it would be to be part of some studio where you work with all these artists and there’s a cool office buliding you walk into and there’s comic book posters and toys all over the place.

That’s not really how it is. It doesn’t disappoint me to have it not be that. That community exists, but it exists through meeting friends at shows and making more contacts or emailing every once in awhile or sharing a creative idea over the internet. Most all of us work from home. It’d be cool to work in a community, but that’s not how it works out.

It’s really great. I get to work from home. I have a 15 second commute. I get to travel, on my own dime, for now. If you get to be a really big artist they’ll fly you around. I did get to do that once. I’ve been all over the U.S. Baltimore, Philly, Boston, San Diego, New Hampshire, Texas, New York. I continue to meet people I’ve read or admired their artwork for years. Having them treat you as a peer is really, really cool. It’s really great.

JCVD: Do you do any writing?

MB: Writing? Not really. I played around with it in college. Maybe it was more exploratory than anything else. To see it from that other perspective. I read some books on writing. I read some books on writing for film. I used it more as a tool to learn of the art of storytelling.

If your work is great, you can draw amazing cars and buildings a thousand times over. It really does you no good unless you can
progress the story along and create emotion and mood and suspense in the appropriate sections of the story and enhance a script visually. You’re not doing your job if you can’t do that.

How does the process work of interacting with the writer and colorist, etc.? Is their a lot of back-and-forth?

MB: It works any number of ways. They just let the writers and artists collaborate how they each feel comfortable. A lot of times, there’s the writer, inker, colorist assembly line process. I ink my own art. Usually I go right in with a brush. That’s how I best express my ideas on paper. We skip the pencils. It’s however they can accomplish it the best.

They used to do that Marvel style. It seems kind of counter-intuitive. I don’t know any book that uses that. It really led to some nutty scenes some times and scenes that didn’t make any sense. I guess it was fast, though.

JCVD: What all projects have you worked on for Marvel prior to CATCH?

MB: I did Drax the Destroyer. They just released Annihilation as a hardcover, so it’s included in that. I recently did some work on
Ultimate Fantastic Four, filling in for Greg Land. I helped him out for a few issues. That’s also available in graphic novel form.

I’m really proud of this one. It’s Captain America: The End. A What If? book. That’s what we’re doing. It’s six issues. I’m painting all six covers. It’s my first painted covers. It’s written by David Morrell. He wrote the novel of First Blood, a New York Times bestseller, and this is his first comic. We’re all very excited about it. Hoping a big name outside of comics helps sales.

JCVD: It seems like Marvel and DC are really trying to bring in outside talent to contribute to comics, which has been good and bad.

MB: They’re bringing in Hollywood people to do stuff. There’s a few others. Which is cool. I’m all for that.

JCVD: What kind of books do you want to work on in the future?

MB: I would do anything, as long as it was a captivating story and I could be paid as I did it. That’s always tough. That’s the reason a lot of writers have trouble breaking in.

In a way, the Captain America book itself is outside of the superhero genre. It’s more of a war comic. It harkens back to the war comics. It follows one soldier. Captain America is sort of shadowing a soldier. I’m not great at describing stories.

Marvel has had a lot of crossing genres. The last five, six years of Daredevil has been a cross genre story. Everything’s sort of crossing genres, and I think that’s what superheroes do really well. They’re more realistic stories: I think that’s definitely a conscious move on Marvel’s part. That’s great.

I would read older comics and be like, this is ridiculous. This is awful, but the drawings are cool. I’m very happy to be involved with it at a time when the standard is held really, really high, both within the company and by fans. It just creates more interesting stories to draw.

JCVD: You mention fans, is it hard working in an industry where the consumers are so tough on the producers?

MB: I tend to stay away from Newsarama.com, or whatever, when an article’s out. You’ll have fans out there who will just trash you. People let loose when they wouldn’t if they were talking to your face. Most everybody is really awesome, laid-back people. I meet tons of them at the shows. They’re really receptive to what I do and are grateful. Occasionally you’ll get one that says, “You changed the costume to the wrong color on Tuesday!” It can be bad.

Come back for part two of the interview!