Terry Dodson Talks Uncanny X-Men

Wed, December 17th, 2008 at 11:16am PST | Updated: December 17th, 2008 at 11:59am

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Dave Richards, Staff Writer

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Uncanny X-Men
"Uncanny X-Men" #505 on sale now

When the X-Men moved to San Francisco from New York, they didn’t just bring their furniture. They also brought along all the secrets, worries, and grief that have haunted Marvel’s mutants for decades. The current “Lovelorn” arc began in “Uncanny X-Men” #504, and finds a number of X-Men wrestling with these personal demons. CBR News spoke with artist Terry Dodson about the arc, part two of which is in stores now from Marvel Comics.

For “Lovelorn,” Dodson is spending a lot of time depicting Peter Rasputin (Colossus), who has wandered into the Russian neighborhood of San Francisco in an effort to deal with the grief he feels over the disappearance and possible death of his girlfriend and fellow X-Man, Shadowcat. “I'm trying to make him look slightly more Russian, whatever that means,” Dodson told CBR News. “I'm trying to make him more than just a big strong guy. I want to give him a bit more personality in his face, so he looks more ethnic. And in this story he's dealing with a broken heart and trying to get over it so I'm trying to capture his personality by what he's going through in the story.

“But at the same time he is Colossus. He turns into a massive metallic guy, which is really fun to draw. I'm messing around with ways of conveying the metal in his form. Any time you deal with conveying different metals in a two dimensional medium like this, it's a lot of fun to figure out what really works and makes things look cool,” Dodson continued. “You're taking what's being done with him now and you can also go back and mine things that have been done in the past. Then you can take all those different influences and make your own version, which is made up of the things you like best but doesn't include any drastic changes. That's because I split this book with Greg [Land] and we've got to keep a certain level of consistency in these characters.”

Another important character in “Lovelorn” is the X-Men's leader, Cyclops. “With his involvement in X-Force and taking over the X-Men, he's trying to be the leader that he's been forced to be. He's the commander and has to make all these executive decisions,” Dodson explained. “So for instance, I'll give him maybe a bigger, stronger jaw. Or maybe I'll do a more dramatic lighting on him. I'll do things like that to give him a little more presence.”

Cyclops isn't entirely about command presence, though. The existence of X-Force, his clandestine “wetworks” team, means Cyclops is a man with secrets, and as readers saw when his paramour Emma Frost entered his mind in “Uncanny” #504, Cyclops can get very nervous when those secrets are in jeopardy. “That's actually kind of the Scott Summers we know from the past,” Dodson said. “In moments where he gets caught like that, it's almost a young Scott, so it's fun to draw.”

Pages from "Uncanny X-Men" #505 on sale now

Terry Dodson considers Emma Frost to be every bit as tough -- if not tougher -- than her boyfriend. “Emma is someone I see as a person who can be very icy. I still remember when she was a villain. So I try to convey a little of that in her face,” the artist revealed. “She's an attractive person but she's also very hard. She can be very tough if she needs to be.”

The first issue of “Lovelorn” introduced two characters to the X-Men's world; the World War II hero known as Doctor Nemesis, and a mysterious tattooed Russian man. “Doctor Nemesis is actually an existing Golden Age character. Basically his original costume was just a surgical mask and now he's an older more sophisticated version of that character,” Dodson explained. “We're not trying to make him look like a superhero. He's more of a pulp fiction science hero as opposed to a superhero.

“The tattooed man is a new character and he's actually someone from Colossus's childhood in Russia. He's the nemesis for Colossus in this four issue arc.”

“Uncanny X-Men” writer Matt Fraction's description of the tattooed man called for an old Russian man covered in tattoos. In designing the character, Dodson went with the idea that those tats were Russian prison ink. “I think the most familiar thing for people with that is the film 'Eastern Promises' with Viggo Mortensen,” said the artist. “We wanted this character to be more of a realistic villain as opposed to a supervillain. He was actually pretty simple to design. It's more how he acts and reacts. His character is what's going to make him separate as opposed to a flashy costume. He's a little more street-level and that just kind of goes with along with his storyline.”

When readers first saw the tattooed man, he was bullying the owner of a restaurant in San Francisco's Russian district. Fraction and Dodson both feel placing Colossus's confrontation with the tattooed man in a specific area of the city personalizes the story. Indeed, both creators feel San Francisco itself is another important member of the “Uncanny X-Men” cast. “It's always nice to have a specific place that you're drawing so you know it's not just a city and it's not random. When you know it's a specific place, you can find reference that gives you inspiration to want to draw it as opposed to random buildings,” Dodson explained. “In our scripts, we're being told the specific places where events are occurring and I had gone to San Francisco and took a ton of photos before I started working on this. So I got a really good feel for the city, and of course with the Internet you're able to pull up specific images or neighborhoods. So it's nice to try and find little things that are unique to San Francisco and the Bay Area and put those into comics, like the colleges or coffee shops or the particular shirts kids are wearing.

Pages from "Uncanny X-Men" #505 on sale now

“It would be nice to live there and really give the book that feel but I think you can get to know the city much better this way. By the end of my work on Spider-Man, I could walk everywhere I wanted in New York because I knew the city so well from drawing it. And it's interesting that's how I'm getting to know San Francisco.”

Terry Dodson's also had to become reacquainted with the dynamics of drawing a superhero team book. “I did 'Generation X' almost ten years ago,” he laughed. “But now that I think about it, since then I've just been doing solo character books. Not on purpose, though. That's just kind of how it worked out. So, it's a change going from an individual book like 'Wonder Woman' to a team book like 'Uncanny X-Men.' I've got to take into account specializing in a bunch of characters instead of just the one. So I'm spreading things around and probably my biggest thing is focusing on making all these different characters individuals.

“But that's also the great thing about a team book; there are all these characters that you get to play around with,” Dodson continued. “I only really work on the black and white end of things, so I really have to focus on separating the characters. There's seven or eight female characters and seven to eight male characters and all of them have these little things that make them individuals. It's their attitudes, their clothes, their hairdos, and their body structure; all of that stuff is really what makes them who they are.

“A lot of these characters have been around a long time, so there are ones that I may have drawn once or twice before and its a little easier for those, but there are a bunch that are new to me. So it's fun. I enjoy drawing team books.”

On average, it takes Terry Dodson and his wife Rachel, who inks his work on “Uncanny X-Men,” about six weeks to complete an issue. “That seems to give us enough time to draw the book to our satisfaction level. With the number of characters I have to draw and then do a cover, six weeks is good,” he said. “The fact that we're switching off drawing the book with Greg gives us time to do that. I could have done other books at a faster rate, but I like taking the time that's necessary to do a good job on [‘Uncanny’]. For a team book, especially one with so much stuff and characters like X-Men, you want to get in there and do the designs and work that you have to do. There's so much and you can cheat on a lot of it but I like to do it to the best of my ability, and six weeks seems to be a good amount of time to do that.”

Pages from "Uncanny X-Men" #505 on sale now

Naturally, Dodson begins his work on any given issue of “Uncanny X-Men” by reading the script. He doesn't simply read from page one to twenty-two, though. Rather, Dodson goes through the issue looking for sequences with which he's most comfortable or has enough reference for to draw right away. “I than go and get some pages underneath my belt,” he explained. “Each page I breakdown with quick thumbnails for as long as it takes for me to figure it out. Then I go ahead and I draw that page. A lot of times, I'll leave some things until a whole sequence is done. Like, I'll make sure to leave a background until I'm done with a whole sequence and then I'll draw the background last because I want to make sure that everything plays out correctly. When I have about three or four pages done, Rachel starts inking and she usually finishes inking the book about three or four days after me.

“The way these scripts are being written is that they're broken into about three to six different scenes. There are all these characters, each with their own little subplot, so it makes sense to draw the book in that way. There will be scenes that say start on pages 4-7 and then conclude on pages 18-20. So if I go ahead and draw 4-7 and then 18-20, I'm actually drawing them all in one sequence and it really helps to maintain consistency. I also think it speeds me up because I'm not having to remember what I did.”

Terry Dodson takes his cover work for “Uncanny X-Men” even more seriously than his interior work. “My main goal is to sell the book. I ask myself, 'What can I do for this cover that will make the book sell?' I will sacrifice time on the interiors in order to make sure I have time for the cover. For the last three or four years I've felt that the cover is more important than anything else. So I'll spend two to four days on a cover just to make sure that it's exactly the kind of cover I want it to be. And for the last two years I've been coloring the covers myself and that usually takes an extra day or two. I usually have to look to weekends to find time to do that.

“When I design the covers, I do little drawings and I scan them into Photoshop and I make alterations to them there,” Dodson explained. “Then you add color. That's how I see the work, in full color. So it makes sense for me to just go ahead and color it myself. It keeps the vision consistent.”

"Uncanny X-Men" #506-507

When designing covers, Dodson prefers to go with an image that highlights the story inside, rather than an iconic pin-up image of the title characters. “All of the four issues in the 'Lovelorn’ arc, except for one, are very story related,” he said. “I would say 90 percent of the time, as long as I know exactly what I'm drawing, I'll go with some story related idea. I'll pick the most interesting moment or scene in the book and use that as a cover. There are times though when you want to tease something, so you can't draw what's in the book, but I generally go story related for covers.”

Dodson has found working with writer Matt Fraction on “Lovelorn” to be a very easy and fun experience. “The scripts are pretty much all there and when I get them,” he said. “I'll e-mail Matt and go over all the questions I have and all the additions or changes that might need to be made. But it's been really solid stuff. I've hardly had to make any changes at all. It's been really well written and well paced. There have been no problems trying to fit everything on the page.

“Matt's action scenes read very well and are very easy to draw. And I think he has some really good dialog. His one-liners and stuff like that give me a chuckle. Matt's been really good to work with.”

“Lovelorn” is a very important arc in the larger story of “Uncanny X-Men,” and Terry Dodson is excited to be drawing scenes that lay the groundwork for so many future stories. “It's amazing how many things are being set up here. Like on the first page of issue #504, the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants shows up. It was kind of their first scene so I thought it was pretty cool to draw those characters,” he said. “And Greg and I designed those characters so it was especially cool.”

When “Lovelorn” wraps up, Greg Land takes over the art chores for the next “Uncanny X-Men” arc, and Dodson will rotate back in for the storyline following Land's. “The only way I'd want to draw the book is to rotate in and out of it,” Dodson stated. “Greg draws a book in approximately five to five-and-a-half weeks, so over a year he'll be doing more issues, but it's cool and works out really well for me. I think it's the best way to draw the X-Men. It gives you freedom to really do your best work, and with a book like 'Uncanny X-Men' you really want to make sure it's your best stuff, because there's such a legacy of great artists on the book.”

“Uncanny X-Men” #505 is in stores now from Marvel Comics.

TAGS:  terry dodson, uncanny x-men, matt fraction, x-men, marvel comics

 
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