Spinning the Final Web: Bagley talks "Ultimate Spider-Man"

Fri, December 22nd, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #103
Over the years a number of artists have received acclaim for their rendering of Spider-Man;   artists like Steve Ditko,   John Romita Sr. and Jr. ,   Todd McFarlane,   and for the past ten years. Mark Bagley.   Bagley drew Spider-Man's adventures for almost five years before taking the art chores on Marvel Comics flagship title of their Ultimate line, "Ultimate Spider-Man" which launched in 2000.

To this day Bagley's collaboration with writer Brian Michael Bendis on "Ultimate Spider-Man" continues and with issue #103 (which hit stores on December 20 th ) the duo broke the record for the longest continual run by a creative team in Marvel history.   But all good things must come to an end and Bagley recently announced he was leaving "Ultimate Spider-Man" with issue #110. CBR News spoke with Bagley for a look back at his time on the book.

When Bagley began bringing the webslinger's adventures to life all those years ago it was a way to fulfill a childhood dream. "When I was doing 'Amazing Spider-Man' that was because I grew up reading Spider-Man and he was my favorite character," Bagley told CBR News. "Peter Parker was such a nerd and such an every man. He was a fun character to draw he really appealed to me.

"But he's kind of changed over the years, he's married to a supermodel and there's a variety of other things," Bagley continued. "Because of that he's become a little less interesting to me."

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #104
Bagley's interest in the wall-crawler was revived though when he began drawing "Ultimate Spider-Man. "With 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' it's not really a book about Spider-Man, it's more about Peter Parker," Bagley explained. "He's the more interesting character anyway. In fact that's what's kind of ironic about the current story arc we're doing, 'The Clone Saga.' In the story he's in costume for the first issue and that's it. It's a six issue arc and he's only in his costume for the first issue. So, I think that's sort of the theme of the book. Peter is an interesting kid. He's a great kid and he tries really hard, but he still screws up and life is really hard."

Bagley loves working on "Ultimate Spider-Man," but when the book was originally offered to him he was skeptical. "I was near the end of my run on 'Thunderbolts' and Bob Harras called me and said, 'Hey, we've got an idea for a book,'" Bagley said. "It was going to be called 'Ground Zero.' I'm glad we didn't use that. It was pitched as a six issue mini-series with Brian Bendis, who I had never heard of. It was basically taking Peter Parker back to age 16 and it seemed   to me to be a lot like John Byrne's 'Chapter One' and that had gone over really bad for a whole lot of reasons. I said, 'no thanks.'

"I knew Bob Harras didn't like my work so I knew the offer wasn't coming from him, but he called me back twice," Bagley continued. "I was always looking for extra work because I can do more than one book at a month, but not two full books, and on the third time he called it was just sort of put to me as if you don't take this, don't expect any extra work. So I said okay I'll do it."

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #104, page 5
When Bagley began working on "Ultimate Spider-Man" he found things like Peter Parker's lack of costume time in the first issue a little weird. "It took me a few issues to realize what was going on and to really start enjoying things," Bagley stated. "I was actually going to leave the book with the 6 th issue anyway. I told them I was going to leave when I found it was going to be an ongoing series .I was a little burned out at the time and didn't feel like I wanted to stay on. Then the first issue came out and was accepted so well and I was really enjoying Brian's work, so I just called and said, 'Hey can I stay on the book?' They said sure and five-six years later I'm still doing the book."

Over the course of his run, Bagley has illustrated a number of stories in "Ultimate Spider-Man" and some of them proved to be quite taxing. "The Geldoff story arc was kind of challenging," Bagley said. "Brian loved that arc and it has got some really interesting overall themes; like the idea of manipulating babies in utero to make them mutants and Geldoff being totally irresponsible with his powers whereas Peter is the opposite of that. But with that story I had a hard time getting my head around drawing the X-Men. It always takes me awhile to get used to drawing characters and so much was thrown in there to draw that I don't think the story came out as well as I hoped.   It was the same with 'Warriors.' There was so much stuff in there plus I don't think that guys with guns are my forte. It just takes me a little while to get used to doing it.

"Aside from that I can draw anything they put in front of me," Bagley stated. "Some things I do better than others. There's an old saying, 'Only the mediocre are always at their best.' So you have to do what you can to make things as good as you can."

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #104, pages 8 and 9
There have also been many arcs, especially recent ones, on "Ultimate Spider-Man" where Bagley has been quite proud of the way his art turned out. "I thought the two issue Morbius story arc came out really well. It's different than what I usually draw because it's a horror story," Bagley said. "I also think the Silver Sable story arc came out very well. The coloring and the inking was spot on. It had loads of visual challenges and just interesting things to draw. And so far the 'Clone Saga' has been a lot of fun. I think everything is kind of firing on all cylinders right now."

Since "Ultimate Spider-Man" takes place in a new Marvel Universe, Bagley has had a chance to reintroduce many of Spider-Man's cast of characters often giving these characters new looks. "I haven't really done radical redesigns on almost any of the characters, but I really was happy with the Doc Oc design, the way I kind of changed his look and his arms," Bagley explained. "I also liked Ultimate Vulture. Brian gave me an idea of what he wanted for the Ultimate Vulture and I just sort of went with it. I had done a younger, armored Vulture when I was doing 'Amazing Spider-Man' so I had to make it look different from that and still look sleek and I think the character came out pretty well."

In addition to doing design work on the "Ultimate Spider-Man" comic, Bagley also did design work on the 2005 "Ultimate Spider-Man" video game. "It was fun, but I was basically doing character designs," Bagley said. "I didn't have that much to do with it because my plate was full at the time. They gave me a list of guys I had to design, many of whom I had already done."

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #105
There was one character though that made his debut in the "Ultimate Spider-Man" video game, but has yet to debut in the comic. "I did a few designs for Ultimate Beetle," Bagley explained. "He came out kind of cool. I would have liked to use him in the book. I had actually redesigned Beetle before in 'Thunderbolts' so that was kind of fun."

In addition to redesigning characters, for Bagley, another fun part of working on "Ultimate Spider-Man" is collaborating with writer Brian Bendis. "I hate to sound like Tom Cruise and what's her name in that movie, but Brian completes me," Bagley joked, a reference to the film "Jerry Maguire.". "When I read the stuff he gives me I just can't wait to draw it. He trusts my storytelling ability so that if I want to take something off on a different tangent or add a panel or drop a panel he goes, 'OK, this is better' or 'It's different.' It may not even be better, but he's very flexible with it. It's pretty much the perfect working relationship when it comes to writers. He trusts me implicitly when it comes to my storytelling skills. After about six years of working together I've only redrawn like a page and a half. So that's not too bad."

One of the reasons Bagley has only had to redraw so few pages is because he's always striving to improve and evolve as an artist. "The second you think you've figured out everything that you need to do you become a caricature of yourself," Bagley said. "A lot of guys they become shadows of themselves because they've figured out every angle and shortcut they need. They're not still learning. I still sit down and go, 'How does this work again? And how can I make it better?' I'll always push a page away and send it off knowing that there are things on that page that aren't right but it's got to be done and it's got to get out. It's the kind of thing where maybe me and two or three other guys are the only ones who can spot it as not being right but it's the kind of thing where I go, 'Okay how can I make it better next time?'"

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #106
As one of the artists that worked   on the 1995 Spider-Man storyline "Maximum Clonage," Bagley is immensely grateful for a chance to work on a new story involving Spider-Man and clones, the current Ultimate Spider-Man arc, "The Clone Saga." "I'm enjoying the hell out of this story," Bagley stated. "It's such a nice cohesive story and it's completely different than the last clone storyline because that was at the peak of the 'What can we do to make this cool?' type of thinking. This arc is story driven and it's creator driven rather than company driven. It's just Brian and I and the editorial staff and not four books trying to coordinate everything. It's definitely a breath of fresh air."

After "The Clone Saga" wraps up in "Ultimate Spider-Man" #105, Bagley's final arc, "Ultimate Knights," begins in issue #106. "It's basically Spider-Man, Ultimate Daredevil and a few other characters and Daredevil is very aggravated with the Kingpin," Bagley explained. "Brian wants to resolve things with the Kingpin and Daredevil and I think it's a good way to go out. At the end of 'Clone Saga,' we go a long way towards settling what's going on with Nick Fury and Peter Parker, which is good. That's what I wanted to do. I didn't want to leave it the way it was. That's the nice thing about Brian he looks at the big picture and all the little bits in between are also really good."

Bagley is unsure of what he'll work on once he completes his run on "Ultimate Spider-Man," but he is certain that it will be a Marvel project. "I'm under contract for another year at Marvel and they've been really, really good to me," Bagley said. "I am getting sort of an itch to play with Superman, Batman and those guys, but we'll see."

The other thing that's certain about Bagley's next project is that it will most likely be another ongoing series instead of a mini. "To be honest I'm too prolific to do mini-series after mini-series," he stated. "Because to me the only thing that makes them interesting is the combination of players creating the book. It has to be a fan favorite artist and a fan favorite writer. I'm the first to admit that I'm not a 'favorite' artist; I'm not this hot guy whose going to bring in a whole bunch of readers just because I'm drawing it. So, I'd like to get on a monthly book. I think that plays to my strengths. It keeps the fans interested. With a monthly book it's all about the story and it's not so much about who is on the book."

Bagley has enjoyed his time working on "Ultimate Spider-Man," but feels the time is right to take a bow and move on to other work. "This has been what I've wanted to do since I was ten years old. So it's been a wonderful experience," he said. "I'm real upfront about the fact that I'm still enjoying 'Ultimate Spider-Man' I could do it for another ten years but I think as a career move it's better to go out on top. I think we're doing really well. Issue #100 outsold every other issue we've ever done of this book and that's not too bad. Now I'm looking for opportunities to play with other people, not just characters, but other writers and editors."

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