Mario's Highland Fling

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This month saw the House of Ideas’ Marvel Illustrated imprint debut its latest classic novel adaptation – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. The book is adapted by long-time comics scribe Roy Thomas with visuals from Ant creator Mario Gully. Broken Frontier sat down with Mario to talk about the particular challenges of bringing one of the greats of English Literature to the comics page…

BROKEN FRONTIER: Without giving away any of the salient details (or any major 120-year-old spoilers!) what's the basic premise of Kidnapped and why do you think today's comics fans should be considering picking up this adaptation?

MARIO GULLY: 120- year old spoiler. Andy that's a terrific line! (Laughs). Kidnapped is an adventure about David Balfour, a young heir whose mischievous uncle tries to swindle him out of his inheritance and plots to ship him on a boat and have him sold as a slave.

Why should comic fans check out this adaptation? Well, it is a classic and usually when you hear that people think boring, old-fashioned stuff that nobody cares about. But, I beg to differ. Look at the talent that Marvel are putting on these books. The quality is really great all round in my opinion. I'm putting as much effort and detail in these pages as if I were drawing Astonishing X-Men! I hope that, combined with the fantastic work that Roy Thomas is doing adapting these babies, at least that deserves a look.

BF: Kidnapped is your second foray into the Marvel Illustrated line Mario after last year's Treasure Island. How did you become involved with the imprint?

MG: Well, with Treasure Island I heard it had some success. I was bugging the Marvel peeps for another series and Editor Ralph Macchio said something about it one day. I actually think I pestered them enough for them to do it to just to shut me up. No, I honestly don't know how and why. I did let them know I was down for whatever though.

BF: Something I noticed when I reviewed Treasure Island for Broken Frontier last year was how effectively your art captured the memorable grotesques of the novel like Blind Pew and Long John Silver. How much fun was it getting to put your own interpretation on some of the great characters of English Literature?

MG: Man, You make it sound like I'm doing something right! (Laughs) Actually, it's a blast to be able to draw these characters and knowing that I can put my stamp on them. It's not like drawing Hulk or Spidey and having to compare those characters to the great Marvel artists of today. I draw the best Long John Silver and David Balfour dammit.. and I'm proud of it. Where's my exclusive?! *

BF: You're now working on another very "Boy's Own"-style novel in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. Were you familiar with the novel beforehand or was this your first encounter with the work? And how did that inform your approach to the adaptation?

MG: I never heard of the book before. I Googled it and started to read a copy online to get familiar with it so, when people asked, I could act like I knew what the hell I was talking about. I was all prepared to draw it. My goal was to blow my Treasure Island art out of the water and I'm happy the way the work came out. I have still got a lot of growing to do though.

BF: Kidnapped is a wonderful, rollicking adventure yarn but a very distinctive period piece set around 18th Century Scottish history, full of Jacobites, Redcoats and Highland intrigue. Tell us a little about the obvious visual research that must have gone into your work on the book…

MG: This transition was fairly easy because I did draw six issues of Treasure Island and I got pretty good at how I think I wanted the art to look like. With Kidnapped, I have a lot of help with the editors and Roy Thomas making sure that the work is authentic to the time period. Plus, my CPU is set up by my drawing table and after I drew a few pages over three times, like the spread of the mansion pictured here (pictured right and in color below - click to enlarge), to get them right, I Google the hell out of anything I have trouble knowing how it is supposed to look.

BF: Comparing Kidnapped with Treasure Island were there any particular contrasting challenges between adapting the two novels? And how does the experience compare with working in the world of the super-hero?

MG: Honestly, they were and are very hard for me. I'm totally out of my element. My wife thinks I make it look easy but.. I'm just trying to be a true professional and make it look like I know how to draw this stuff. Super-hero material is easy because, most of the backgrounds and modern day props you’ve already drawn them fifty times before. Hell, I was drawing that stuff in high school. Now.. drawing muskets and Redcoats, pirate ships and bagpipes, that Old Ebeneezer Balfour… I'm drawing for the first time. I can't call too much experience for help on this. I'm on my own here.

BF: You're working with the legendary Roy Thomas, who is writer of the Marvel Illustrated line, on this project. What's it been like working on a "Rascally" Roy Thomas script?

MG: It's great. He gives me a lot of room to do my thing. He never minds when I toss in a double page splashes or I get gritty on pages. Also, I love the experience with working with a legend like Roy. I am pretty much known as an T&A artist because of my creator owned book ANT. But now, I got two Marvel Illustrated series under my belt with Roy Thomas at the helm. I think it shows that artists can have range and be pretty good at it if given the chance.

BF: If Marvel Illustrated ever tackled Kidnapped's sequel Catriona would you be up for a return to the characters?

MG: You bet. But I'm eager to work my way up the food chain and that is my goal. I'm still waiting to improve and to break out. I keep bugging the Marvel editors and I think they want me out of diapers first.

BF: We can't let an interview about Marvel Illustrated pass without mentioning what a worthy line this is. How do you feel about being part of something that aspires to bring the classics to a whole new audience of readers who may then be inspired to go back to the original novels?

MG: It's truly a pleasure. I was there from the beginning of the line and I wanted the art to look like modern comics with a spin on it. It feels great being a part of that and working to show people what these Illustrated books have got. My work is used to lure in new readers to the comic book industry with the Marvel Machine behind it. That's something else!

BF: If there was just one other classic novel that you could illustrate what would you choose… and why?

MG: Man, I would have hurt somebody for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That would be the one. Skottie Young is killing it though but that would be the book.

BF: And finally Mario, what else are you currently working on? Tell us a little about your other projects including a certain insect-based creator-owned one…

MG: Ha, I can't say much about Ant because we want to make an official anouncement. But she will be returning in ‘09. Contracts are signed in blood. That’s all I can say. ANT RETURNS IN 2009!

Marvel Illustrated: Kidnapped #1 is on sale from Marvel Comics now priced $2.99.

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