Artist Duncan Fegredo says he was was fast to sign on for "MPH" -- the latest series of Image Comics Millarworld projects from writer Mark Millar -- because for him, a quick trip was the kind of comic project he needed.
After collaborating with cartoonist Mike Mignola for several years on various "Hellboy" series, Fegredo had an itch for a shorter, stand-alone project that he could make his own. And as he told CBR News, Millar was the catalyst to making that happen.
"I knew Mark, but not very well. We used to see each other at the UK conventions way back in the day, and he's an affable guy -- he's never at a loss for words when he's trying to persuade you to do something," the artist said, laughing. "Although it wasn't really a hard sell. Yeah, I've been working on Hellboy for six or eight years. It's run into one big massive thing. When Mark contacted me, he just pitched me, saying, 'Let's do something together!' He was thinking about doing maybe a ten-issue miniseries of some sort, and my initial reaction was 'I'd love to do something, but that's too long.' I'd been wanting to get back to the short form again after the long haul with Hellboy. Even though those were separate stories and separate series, it was really one big continuous run.
"When Mark contacted me, I was also mindful of the fact that I wanted to work on something that was mine. I really loved working on Hellboy with Mike, and I'm sure we'll work together again sooner or later. But for as long as I've been doing those books -- as good as they are -- it's always me working on 'Mike Mignola's Hellboy.' As Mark was proposing this, it was all about creator-owned. Even without figuring out the content yet, just the idea of doing something with Mark that would be ours. It wouldn't be like I did in my early days -- books for Vertigo that were supposed to be creator-owned, but were only kind of creator-owned. I felt before I did anything else, I'd need to do something like that.
"And you know, it should be 'Mike Mignola's Hellboy,'" the artist added, half-joking that, "In our case, this story could end up being known as 'Mark Millar's MPH' as well, but that's okay so long as I own half of it. It's all good."
Once he finished "Hellboy & The Midnight Circus," Fegredo's schedule was open to dive into that creator-owned arena, and "MPH" became the go-to book not only for its shorter length but also for its setting, in a very real, very modern Detroit. "Looking back on it, I can't believe I got used to drawing those crazy battle scenes and the huge piles of rubble all throughout Hellboy," he said. "The thing about that stuff is that you don't have to relate to the real world. You have a certain license when you draw a forest. You can draw an impression of an English forest. I mean, I'm English. I know enough to just do that sort of thing, but the weird thing about going to 'MPH' was really getting back into drawing the real world. That was kind of the thing I was really excited about avoiding when I went to Hellboy in the first place -- not having to draw street scenes and cars. Now, 'MPH' is kind of like going back to what I'd done at Vertigo. You describe it as mundane, and that's the kind of stuff I like drawing -- guys sitting at a pub for page after page. Some artists find that really tedious to draw, but I love it. It took me a while on Hellboy to get used to those giant battle scenes because I was so used to doing small guys chatting in bars. The interesting things in stories like that is making the small moments bigger. They're very different muscles and a different mindset -- but it's all drawing, at the end of the day."
As for creating an exact representation for the beleaguered American city, the artist said he knows his limits. "I'm trying to not be overly precious about getting the real specific details. If I do, I'll spend all my time looking at Detroit in Google streetview. That way lies madness! This is more of an impression. You've got to give a distinct feel for where you are at any given time. For me, Mark's script says, 'We're outside a bar in Detroit,' and that's almost enough. To get more specific than that is kind of subtractive. I tend to overload detail in what I do anyway, but you have to leave a certain amount for readers to discover.
"The mind needs something to engage. You need to suggest an image rather than being prescriptive. If there's an area of vagueness, you suggest what's going on in that panel, and the reader finishes the details. That's how comics work. Your pen moves from panel-to-panel, but the way the two images work together lets you see the separate images in a sequence together in your own mind."
Over the course of planning the series, Fegredo said he's spent a lot of time in Millar's mind as he's refined the look of the first superpowered heroes of the growing Millarworld universe. But even with that task at hand, the artist said he's not looking too far beyond "MPH" from a conceptual standpoint. "I'm trusting if I do something wrong, Mark will point it out. I do some things where Mark will say, 'You can't draw it like that because we need to set up X.' But as far as I'm concerned, Mark tells me what I need to know to do my job. Anything else would be counterproductive. My concern is getting our main characters nailed down. I spent a lot of time designing these characters, until I got almost a slice of Mark's brain on the page. We went back and forth a lot about the designs. Once you get the characters right, you have people you can relate to in the story. You can set them on the page and let them play. If you don't believe the characters, you won't believe the story. They need to act stuff out and emote. That's the nuts and bolts of what I'm concerned with."
"MPH" #1 debuts this June from Image Comics.