Earlier today CBR News brought you an interview with writer Matt Fraction about one of Marvel Comics' newest super teams, the California based "Champions." We conclude our coverage by speaking with "Champions" artist Barry Kitson, who recently signed an exclusive deal with Marvel.
Marvel approached Kitson, who in recent years had primarily worked for DC Comics, about an exclusive deal at just the right time. "I guess it was a matter of timing and opportunity really; some might call it fate!" Kitson told CBR News. "Mark Waid and I were coming up to the scheduled end of our time on the 'Legion of Superheroes' for DC and Marvel were kind enough to offer me a chance to play a role in the Marvel Universe just at the right moment. I've long hoped for a chance to work with the folks at Marvel and I think with so many of my friends and past colleagues there now it helped make the transition possible.
As to why Kitson signed the exclusive with Marvel, the reasons were two fold. "On a practical level, mostly because it's a mutual show of good faith – that Marvel are willing to invest in my career and that I'm serious about playing as large a roll as I can in the Marvel Universe," Kitson continued. "There are enough very talented people that I have a great deal of respect for at Marvel now – including my old 'LSH' editor, Steve Wacker, that I had confidence I'd be in good hands. If you look back over my career you can see that I prefer long-term commitments – one of my favorite things is to have a regular book to call 'home' and signing an exclusive makes that much easier for a company to feel comfortable offering an artist. I have really high hopes for the move – and I have to say so far everyone at Marvel has been incredibly kind and generous in welcoming me. I've very high hopes that I'll have as fun, productive and happy a relationship with Marvel as I did with DC over the years."
Another reason Kitson is excited about working for Marvel is because he now literally has a whole new world of characters and concepts to depict. "It's certainly giving me a real thrill – I feel like a child with a whole new box of great toys to play with!" he said. "On a personal level, this is a chance for me to draw a whole other universe of characters that I grew up reading about and that inspired me to draw as a kid and to really get to grips with them over a substantial period of time rather than just dipping my toes in the water! You can probably tell I'm quite excited about all this!"
The Marvel Universe is populated by thousands of characters and Kitson would love to draw every one of them. "I'm still trying to think of a Marvel character that I don't want to draw!" he stated. "Of course, I would have liked to draw Stiltman, but I guess Matt put paid to that (only joking)!"
After Marvel offered Kitson the exclusive deal they offered him a number of assignments to work on. "I have to say I was really flattered as there were some great projects, but 'Champions' was really the one that caught my imagination!" Kitson explained.
What was it that drew Kitson to a project like "Champions?" Well, pretty much everything. "The pitch was great – I had a chance to talk to Warren Simons the editor, whose enthusiasm and approach to the project couldn't be better – I'm sure I'll really enjoy working for him," Kitson said. "Then of course there was the writer, Matt Fraction – I've read his work on 'Casanova,' 'Punisher War Journal' and 'The Immortal Iron Fist' (with the equally excellent Ed Brubaker) and loved all of it – so I was very excited about the prospect of working with him. From the pitch I knew he had a whole bunch of great ideas for the book and that I would have a great time drawing it – what more can you ask for in a project beyond a cast of strong characters, great ideas and a team that you're enthusiastic to work with? (and Matt tells me he'll even pander to my wish of drawing lots of the famous Marvel characters in cameo appearances - works for me!)"
Kitson's work on "Champions" will differ in some ways from some of his more recent work. "I don't think I'll be doing anything you'd describe as radically different, but I do try to improve and employ new techniques all the time so you'll probably spot some differences in the book," he explained. "I want the Champions to look as cutting-edge as I can. The LSH were very 'retro orientated' in their costumes – the Champions will be just the opposite. I'm also keen to take advantage of some of the innovative production techniques Marvel use, if I can, so that may result in some interesting changes too!
It'll still look like I drew it though – I'm pretty sure of that."
Kitson's work on "Champions" has involved a lot of character design. "There's a pretty huge cast in 'Champions' – so lots of new characters and technologies associated with the 50 State Initiative," Kitson stated. "I've not had to redesign any established characters - yet."
The new characters that Kitson is designing for "Champions" are people who have been given a very unusual opportunity and with that opportunity comes a whole gamut of pressures to deal with and new things to experience. "The Champions is about what happens to people when they become immensely super-powered creatures, they have to deal with that in the public eye both as a job and as human beings," Kitson said. "They are definitely major league heroes, but as part of the 50 State Initiative they have to live up to the standards expected of them by Tony Stark, or just like an under-achieving player on a sports team, they are replaced. They live in a world surrounded by celebrity, pressure and constant rivalry and still have to save the world as part of their day job!"
Part of Kitson's job is working closely with "Champions" writer Matt Fraction, something he's enjoyed very much. "It's been great!" Kitson stated. "Matt seems to be a real team player and very open to my ideas (probably more so than might be considered wise). We share some similar views about what makes great comics so I'm very optimistic that we'll forge a really strong working relationship."
Fraction packs his "Champions" scripts with a number of elements that Kitson appreciates both as a reader and an artist. "They're full of a sense of how much he loves comics, brimming with ideas, energy and enthusiasm," Kitson explained. "There's a sense of irreverence and humanity that really appeals to me. If I can capture any of that artistically I'll be happy - even more so if Matt and Warren think I've managed it, too!"
For Kitson, working closely with Fraction and Simons has proven to be a highlight of his work illustrating "Champions." He said, "Getting to know Matt and Warren and coming up with the character designs has to be the most fun aspect of this assignment and for the most rewarding aspect, that has to be all the enthusiasm they've shown for my work!"