Ian Churchill Feels Like a Fish in the Water on 'Marineman'

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Ian Churchill’s had a rough couple of years. To this day, if you think of the British artist’s body of work, it’s still the projects he did during the Nineties and the turn of the century that jump out in collective fandom memory – Marvel’s Cable and Uncanny X-Men or his own The Coven book at Rob Liefeld’s long-defunct Awesome Entertainment. His short stint on DC’s Supergirl volume in the middle of the past decade? Not so much.

It wasn’t until his longtime friend and fellow creator Jeph Loeb tabbed him to fill in for Ed McGuinness for a few issues on Hulk that Churchill’s name started to reawaken almost forgotten memories. The reason for his ‘disappearance’ so to speak was health-related – the artist got hampered by a shoulder problem that prevented him from spending much if any time at the drawing table.

Luckily, most of those woes are behind him now, and Churchill wants you to take note when his new project, Marineman, debuts from Image Comics tomorrow. He’s using an extra vibrant art style on the book, as if he wants to tell the world he’s back in full force and ready to make a splash – no pun intended.

tells the story of Steve Ocean, a marine biologist with an awesome job, blonde hair, shiny white teeth… and a secret he doesn’t want to be revealed. But before diving into Marineman – again, no pun intended – I couldn’t resist and pop a fanboy question first.

BROKEN FRONTIER: I first discovered your work during my teenage years in the Nineties, when you were doing Cable with Jeph Loeb. Do you consider that run one of the defining moments of your career?

Wow, that makes me feel old!

Cable is the book that really kickstarted our careers in comics and we were very fortunate to be paired together so early on. I'd done a few things at Marvel prior to Cable – the most notable of which was the second Deadpool mini-series – but it was Cable that really cemented my reputation in the industry as being a reliable penciler who could hit a deadline.

Jeph and I had a lot of fun in our time with Cable – I think it was a defining moment for both of us and conversely a defining moment in Cable's history because of us.

BF: Have you kept track of the character or the title since leaving?

I kept track for a little while, but no, not really.

Actually, after my contract with DC expired, I floated the idea of revisiting Cable to Jeph but his dance card was already full. Maybe one day the stars will line up and allow us to have another crack at Cable, it surely would be fun!

Showcasing Ian Churchill's work on Cable, Uncanny X-Men and Supergirl

BF: Over the past few years, things have been rather quiet for you. Not everyone knows that’s in large part due to a shoulder problem that’s been plaguing you. Is it doing better now?

It is doing better now, thanks for asking!

I do still get the occasional twinge so I have to pace myself instead of going like a bull in a china shop like I used to, but touch wood, so far so good! I had a combination of two problems, one was that I had an un-naturally tight shoulder apparently and the other was a spur of bone that was cutting into my muscle whenever I moved my shoulder, and this was all on my drawing arm!

So to cut a long story short, after the operation it took twice as long to heal because of conflicting physiotherapy and then it didn't heal properly so I had to have another operation to rectify it! It still wasn't 100% after that and it took two steroid injections to eliminate the inflammation and get me back to work.

I have to say that DC were amazing while this was going on. I never saw the shoulder trouble coming and they certainly didn't, but they gave me steady work behind the scenes during my recovery which kept my bills paid and I can't thank them enough for that.

BF: Your shoulder problem is also the reason, I assume, why you ‘opened up’ your style and left behind the heavy linework that defined your early career. Do you consider it a blessing in disguise in that sense?

Ha! That's one way of putting it! I was still healing when Jeph came calling and asked me to fill in for Ed (McGuinness – ed.) on Hulk while he got ahead on the next story arc. I was a little hesitant as I didn't know how my shoulder was going to react, making the leap from the odd page or pin up to the sudden intensity of 23 pages.

As we all know, Jeph has a way with words and I eventually agreed! I started the arc in my more angular, heavily rendered style and it was causing my shoulder to flare up, so Jeph and Hulk editor Mark Paniccia both agreed to allow me the freedom to draw in the style I found more comfortable in the interest of hitting the deadlines and letting my shoulder recover. As it turned out, it worked out well, bridging the gap between Ed's arcs without causing much of a visual 'jolt'. I also got a lot of positive remarks from fans on various message boards which was very encouraging…

Churchill's more open detailed style in full display on Hulk

BF: Has your revamped style made you find new freedom as an artist?

It's given me the confidence to draw the way I draw rather than emulating other artists. I think my natural drawing style wouldn't suit all characters, so in the future I'll be tailoring the style I employ to meet the demands of the character I'm drawing.

BF: How are we seeing that put into effect on Marineman?

Marineman is a labor of love! Working on a creator-owned project, you have the creative freedom to approach things however you see fit, which is incredibly liberating!

Most of my career has been work for hire, which comes with a catalogue of restrictions and parameters to work within and all of them necessary given the longevity of the characters they serve to protect. When you're handling your own creation, only YOU know what's best for that character and how to translate that to the page. For instance, on Marineman I've drawn all the characters in the style I'm most comfortable with, but a lot of the backgrounds I've drawn with the detail I'm known for, creating an interesting visual contrast between the two.

BF: Is it a smooth act both writing and drawing that series?

Yes… and no!

I don't consider myself a 'writer/artist', I think I’m more of an 'artist/writer'. A small distinction perhaps, but one that should apply to anyone who predominantly makes their living drawing rather than writing. I'm a storyteller first and foremost though and it's a joy to flex both sets of muscles.

I've plotted before but not scripted, and it's been a learning curve for sure. Keeping the word count acceptable was a real battle in the first issue… there was a lot of technical information that needed to be there, so the real challenge was to incorporate it all and keep it balanced.

To stop myself from getting too 'wordy', I've taken to sketching each page at print size and then writing the rough dialogue on the sketch in situ complete with balloons. That way, I can only use what sits well in the space available and it seems to be doing the trick.

Churchill enjoys his artistic freedom on Marineman

BF: Marineman is an idea of yours that goes back about 30 years. Has it seen many changes over the years, or is the version we’re seeing today very much in tune with how you first envisioned the character?

Marineman has evolved constantly over the years, which is a good thing considering I created him around the age of eight, when all that was important to me was that he was a superhero and that he could breathe underwater!

He was influenced by a lot of things I was into at the time, but mostly TV shows rather than comics. This would be mid 1970's, so I was into The Six Million Dollar Man, The Gemini Man, The Man From Atlantis, The Beachcombers and the old Jacques Cousteau documentaries to name a few…

I revisited Marineman around the age of fifteen which is when I began to re-think things and send him in the direction he's in now.

BF: Do you have a special fondness for water characters like Aquaman or Namor?

I wanted to be a marine biologist while growing up, but quickly realised my strengths lay in other areas. So I've always had a passion for the oceans which I suppose extended to superheroes. I used to enjoy Sub-Mariner stories as a kid, but DC books were hard to come by where I lived so I never had the opportunity to read Aquaman.

The Namor storyline that I remember most was when he lost his ability to breathe underwater. Apart from some cool action involving Stingray, it was the drama involved in that turn of events that I found particularly engaging.

BF: How does Marineman fit in with your recent Marvel work?

Well, I don't have a Marvel exclusive as I signed to be exclusive to the HULK arc only. I didn't feel comfortable signing an exclusive so soon after my shoulder problems with the uncertainty that I might not be able to deliver what I'd agreed to provide. In fact, I was all set to progress with Marineman as my first project on my road to recovery until Jeph called and put a spanner in the works!

Initially, Marineman is to be six issues with a view to continuing if the demand is there. I hope it is because I'm really enjoying myself and have enough stories stored in my head to keep going for some time!

Marineman #1 goes on sale December 2, 2010 from Image Comics. Read a preview here.

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  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Dec 2, 2010 at 3:46am

    ok... this interview I really like! Ian totally opened up! Very nice!

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