Battlefield Photography: McNiven talks "Civil War"

Thu, July 13th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

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The opening shots in "Civil War" have been fired and the costumed champions of the Marvel Universe are now locked in a bitter struggle against each other. The lead up to, and the actual conflict, are being chronicled in the seven issue "Civil War" mini-series, by writer Mark Millar, the first two issues of which are in stores now. If those two issues are any indication, readers are in for a series chock full of shocking, dramatic, thrilling, and just plain cool moments. Those moments are made even cooler by the man charged with the daunting task of bringing Millar's epic storyline to life, artist Steve McNiven. CBR News spoke with McNiven about his work on "Civil War."

When the art chores for "Civil War" were offered to McNiven, he jumped at the chance to become the Matthew Brady (the famous American Civil War photographer) of the four color world. "It was the chance to work with Mark Millar on a huge Marvel epic, though to be honest I'd have drawn anything Mark wanted me to (except him naked)," McNiven told CBR News.

McNiven has found working with the Mad Scotsman -- that being Millar -- on "Civil War" to be a pleasant and nudity free experience. "We email back and forth all the time," McNiven said. "He's very generous with his time and very supportive of the work that Morry [Hollowell], Dexter [Vines] and I are doing. Of course, if he called me I wouldn't have a fu@#ing clue what he was saying with that thick Scots accent of his."

He might not be able to understand what his collaborator would say in a phone call, but McNiven understands what Millar is saying with his scripts for "Civil War" and is working hard to capture all the elements of the writer's scripts in his illustrations. "I want to get all of it, as much of it as I can, from the most subtle layering to the big chunks of explosive action," McNiven explained. "That's the fun stuff, telling the story. That's what comics is all about."

When he's illustrating a comic, it's storytelling that McNiven focuses on, and with his workon "Civil War" he isn't employing any new stylistic devices. "I draw naked now," McNiven joked. "Other than that I really don't pay attention to how I draw, focusing instead on the storytelling and letting it all just hang out."

"Civil War" is a tale with a very dark tone and McNiven has worked hard to evoke the right mood for each scene. "I keep the lights down low. That also helps ease tensions with the neighbors ('cause of the whole nude drawing thing)," McNiven jested. "I also work with my colorist Morry Hollowell to get the right mood to come across in a particular scene. For example, I think the coloring in the Cap hellicarrier scene goes a long way to establish the tension and conflict of the scene. I'm a big fan of the widescreen cinematic look that Hitch has originated and I am using that approach throughout the series. Morry will scour all kinds of movies to get a sense of the kinds of lighting used in similar type scenes and incorporate it in the coloring and he does a brilliant job of it."

With the majority of the Marvel Universe making appearances in "Civil War," the cinematic/widescreen approach has aided McNiven in depicting scenes involving crowds of characters. "It's insane," McNiven stated. "I'm no George Perez, that's for bloody sure, and my God has this given me even more respect for talented guys like him and others that can pull this kind of stuff off. It's a constant struggle, but hey, that's the only way you learn."

Illustrating the huge cast of characters has been the most demanding aspect of "Civil War," but not the most challenging. "The most challenging part is to get Mark's phenomenal scripts properly translated into pictures," McNiven explained.

Translating Millar's scripts into pictures has not involved a huge amount of design work for McNiven. "There has not been much character design work, just the usual location shots and background gobbledygook," McNiven said. "I got a capekiller design sketch from Howard Chaykin that I worked from to get those guys in costume. Other than that, it's just trying to track down the latest versions of the costumes that have me emailing Tom Brevoort and Molly Lazer almost every other day. And you know I'll get something wrong, a belt buckle or something and I'll get hammered by some relentless fan with an obsessive compulsive disorder."

When "Civil War" wraps up in November, McNiven hopes that first and foremost readers were entertained. "I hope that we have given them their money's worth of good comic entertainment," He stated. "Anything more, like initiating discourses on civil liberties and what not, is all gravy."

And now you can discuss this story on CBR's Civil War Forum.

 
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