One of my favorite new comic book series of 2010 has been Thor: The Mighty Avenger, by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. It is extremely difficult to take a character with decades of history and continuity and “re-boot” it in a way that’s A.) accessible and appealing to new readers and B.) doesn’t inspire nerd rage in longtime comic book fans. Thor: The Mighty Avenger has been a huge success on both fronts, and although it’s not technically an “All-Ages” comic (it’s rated “A”: appropriate for age 9 and up), it’s an excellent addition to Kids Comics Month.
Depicting a more human-sized Thor who has been banished to Earth to find redemption, Thor: The Mighty Avenger has been having a blast depicting Thor’s romance with Jane Foster, his camaraderie with the Warriors Three, a hilarious battle with Captain Britain, plus robots, sea monsters, Namor, and much more. Samnee’s incredibly expressive, fun artwork has perfectly complemented Langridge’s deft writing.
Unfortunately, one area Thor: The Mighty Avenger has not been a huge success is in sales: while issue #1 debuted with about 20,000 copies sold, sales eventually dipped below 10,000, and the series ends in January with issue #8. This has prompted an online campaign to save the book, so who knows? You should probably order Thor: The Mighty Avenger Vol. 01 The God Who Fell to Earth to be on the safe side.
Without further ado, in honor of this very special book, we present an interview with artist extraordinaire Chris Samnee (name rhymes with “Omni”):
TFAW.com: Hi Chris, thanks for “chatting” with us today! First, I wanted to tell you how much I’ve been loving Thor: The Mighty Avenger. It has been delightful, and it’s inspired such an enthusiastic fan response. Did you have any idea how beloved the book would be?
Chris Samnee: Thanks so much. It’s my pleasure. As for feedback I really had no idea what the response to the book was going to be like. Upon reading the first outline that Roger Langridge had put together I knew it would be a new fresh take and that it looked like it was going to be a ton of fun for me to work on. I was just keeping my fingers crossed that readers would like it as much as I did.
TFAW.com: Had you been a fan of Thor previously? What kind of research did you do before you started the book?
CS: I had read plenty of Thor and Avengers comics growing up and was familiar with the character, but for some reason he never really spoke to me. After being offered the job on Thor: TMA I picked up the Marvel: Essential volumes of Thor by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and started at the very beginning. Reading those early adventures gave me a much better idea of what Thor’s character really is, without all of the baggage he seems to have amassed over the years.
TFAW.com: Thor has had so many incarnations over the years and years–and years! How did you create his look for this series?
CS: Thor’s look in Thor: TMA is sort of a cross between Kirby’s classic interpretation of Thor, Coipel’s Thor, movie Thor and a healthy dose of what I think would look neat on him. The original editor of the book, Nate Cosby, had given me a few hints at what the movie’s incarnation of Thor would be and asked if I could give Thor the metal sleeves. Beyond that Roger and I fought for the blue pants. They seem to bring his look back a bit closer to the Silver Age version.
TFAW.com: Even though Thor is many eons old compared to a human, he’s relatively young in Asgardian years–and he looks it in the book. He’s a much more human-sized Thor here; sometimes he has his godly moments, and sometimes he looks like a kid playing dress up. Was that intentional?
CS: Well, I wanted this incarnation of Thor to be a bit more relatable, a bit more down to Earth. According to editor Nate Cosby, he’s closer in power level to the Superman seen in the Fleisher Studios cartoon from the ’40s. Beyond that–as he was banished to Midgard–he was stripped of Mjonlir and de-powered. A slighter build on Thor for this story works as a bit of a shorthand for that.
TFAW.com: What’s it been like, working with writer Roger Langridge?
CS: It has been an absolute pleasure. I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun making comics. Roger and I just seem to click on the stories we want to tell. Also, as an artist himself, he is a master of pacing out story beats. Not just issue for issue but panel-by-panel on the page. Each page of Thor: TMA has an average of six to eight panels, which is considerably more than the average book on the shelf nowadays, but every single beat counts. I’d work with Roger again in a heartbeat if the opportunity ever arises.
TFAW.com: The story is pretty pared down, usually focusing on a few characters at the most, but you’ve been able to draw a wide range of things–Asgard, Captain Britain, the Warriors Three, a dragon–as well as situations: everything from quiet, romantic moments to epic fights. Do you feel like you’re really flexing your artistic muscles?
CS: Oh, for sure! But it’s not just in this book. In comic books artists are called on to draw any variety of people, things or situations. Every project I take on pushes me to learn and make myself a better, more well-rounded artist.
TFAW.com: The book is ending with issue #8. Do you feel like you and Roger got to complete the story in a satisfying way?
CS: It’s as satisfying as each issue has been, I suppose. Roger does a great job of keeping each issue basically self-contained. There are still a number of plot threads left open and a considerable mystery left to be sorted out by the end of #8, but I think it ends on a pretty great note.
TFAW.com: Your style is so unique–it’s got a cartoony feel to it, but it’s so expressive and engaging. How did you develop your technique?
CS: I’m not sure . . . My style is really just a collection of my varied influences and how I see the world. I wish I had a better answer, but there was nothing deliberate about developing a style. This is just how it comes out.
TFAW.com: I’ve heard (from you!) that you once completed an astounding 11 pages of artwork in a day. How did you develop such a steady work ethic?
CS: The 11 pages of pencils in a day is my record. It was for an issue of Thor after I had gotten comfortable with the characters, design, story and locations so it’s hardly an average. Generally, I produce 11 pages of pencils or inks each week. I like to think that I had a strong work ethic (inherited from my dad) before I was drawing comics professionally. Early on in my career, I realized that I wanted to pencil and ink a monthly comic, which meant I had to work harder and be faster to meet that kind of deadline.
TFAW.com: What artists did you like growing up?
CS: As a kid, I was really into Tom Mandrake (who illustrated the first comics I ever read), Jim Aparo, Tom Lyle, Norm Breyfogle. Pretty much every artist working on Batman in the mid-’80s was my hero.
CS: Absolutely! Ever since I was about six years old I had no doubt in my mind that “comic artist” was where I was going to end up. My string of crappy jobs from the time I was 16 can attest to the fact that I never even came up with a back-up plan outside of drawing comics.
TFAW.com: Obviously, you must have been a kid who loved comics. How do you feel about kids comics today?
CS: I think some of the best comics being put out right now are “kids” comics. I love Tiny Titans, Thor and the Warriors Four, Franklin Richards, and everything that Paul Tobin writes for the Marvel Adventures line.
TFAW.com: When I was putting together my wishlist of interviews about all-ages comics, I was kind of surprised when I realized Thor: The Mighty Avenger was an all-ages comic. It just reads like a great comic to me, regardless of audience. Have you even approached this like a kids comic?
CS: Well, it’s actually rated “A,” so it’s not technically an “All-Ages” comic (“A” is the rating above “All-Ages”), but I think it has an all-ages sensibility to it, so I understand why it’s been mislabeled. My approach to Thor: TMA hasn’t been any different than my approach to anything else I’ve done. I always just try and tell the story as best I can, regardless of the perceived audience.
TFAW.com: Are you excited for the Thor movie?
CS: Oh man, you don’t even know! I can’t wait to see it!! I must’ve watched the Thor footage that was shown out at SDCC at least a dozen times.
CS: Well, there’s been an awful lot of positive feedback, which I’ve been very happy to hear. I’m sure there are some fans who prefer a more photo-realistic art style to the approach I took in drawing the characters. I tried to stay true to the actor’s likenesses, but not at the expense of not having the characters in the book “act.” I wanted the characters in Shepherd’s Tale to be their own characters, inspired by the actors in the show, but not dictated by them.
TFAW.com: Were there any Serenity-related moments you were itching to draw that didn’t make it into the book?
TFAW.com: If you had a pick another Serenity character and draw a one-shot around him or her, who would you pick, and what kind of story would you like to tell?
CS: Hmmmm, I think probably Kaylee or Jayne. For either of them, I’d love to know their back stories.
TFAW.com: It’s still pretty early in your career: what kinds of projects are on your “to-do” list?
CS: There’s a list as long as my arm of characters I’d like to draw one day. At the top of my list is Batman or any of Batman’s supporting cast, like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred. I’d love to do a book starring Lois Lane and/or Jimmy Olsen. Apparently I have a thing for supporting characters. At the end of the day, though, as exciting as it is to draw characters that I grew up reading, I’d really like to do something creator owned. Something that I can call my own. That’s a big one for me.
CS: I don’t know about Kitty Pryde . . . but working with Parker on Agents of Atlas vs. X-Men backups last year was a blast, so I’d love to work on anything with him. Working with Parker again is definitely on my to-do list for 2011.
TFAW.com: What other projects do you have in the works?
CS: I have a number of projects I’m juggling at the moment. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about them just yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to spill some beans soon.
TFAW.com: Thanks again, Chris!
Are you sad to see Thor: The Mighty Avenger go? Post your comments and opinions below!