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The Foot Soldier

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As the artist on Marvel’s Civil War, Steve McNiven probably could very well make a claim to be included among the modern day’s comic book walk of fame. With a detailed style that perfectly blends kinetic action and encompassing emotions—McNiven is a master at facial expressions—he certainly has every right to. The Canadian penciler, however, doesn’t see things that way. All he cares for is doing his job to the best of his abilities.

BF spoke to McNiven about pencilling Marvel’s biggest event in years, its key moments thus far, and what the series means to his artistic career.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You blew everybody away with your art on Civil War #1. How satisfied were you with the issue turned out, both artistically and in terms of acclaim from fans and peers?

STEVE MCNIVEN: That’s a hard one to answer because I don’t want to come across as the humble artist, but I’m really never all that happy with my own art. There may be a bit of storytelling that I like and want to explore further but overall I’m always left feeling I could have done better.

BF: In our interview on the opening issue, Tom Brevoort mentioned that you were clearly in sync with inker and colorist, who join you on almost every project you do. Beyond sheer understanding of each other’s qualities, what makes it such a joy to work with them?

SM: I’ve worked with Morry Hollowell for my entire comic career and he and I have a great time working together. It’s a collaborative effort so to have an established working relationship with your fellow artists makes the whole process so much more satisfying. Working with Dexter Vines is a dream come true. He inked some of my first printed stuff at CrossGen, truly horrible stuff on my part and I have always wanted to work with him again. When the opportunity to get him on board for an issue of New Avengers came up I jumped at it. That he was having enough fun with my work to continue into Civil War put a spring in my step so to speak. The three of us are working our asses off to get Marks story out there looking as good as we can make it.

BF: Both online and in print, the fact that you were basically hand-picked by Mark Millar to draw this event got a lot of attention. How did you feel when things became official? Excited? Surprised? Daunted?

SM: All of the above! I met Mark at a Chicago wizard world con and he was a real gent.  Huge fun to hang around with. We had talked about getting together and working on a project but nothing fit our schedules until this project came up. When it was offered to me I was floored. A real ambitious project by one of the top writers in the business? I said yes faster than a street corner whore, and I’m still riding that high today.

BF: Because your art on the first two issues was absolutely excellent, there are already negative-minded fans out there who wonder if you can keep this up. I’m sure Marvel has given you enough lead-time to make sure you can and to avoid feeling a lot of pressure…

SM: There is always pressure to do the best that you can do, no matter what you do. The quality vs quantity struggle is always there for me to pick at if I want to chase my tail. But as to the pressure, I just put it all in perspective and go at it one day at a time.

BF: One of your biggest fortes as an artist is your line work: it’s dynamic enough to support both the heroic/powerful and the emotional a major story like Civil War needs, and your facial expressions are almost unparalleled. Do you agree?

SM: I really wouldn’t know. I just try to draw what feels natural to me. My focus is on the storytelling, not on how I draw something. If I want the characters acting to really show through I have to work on those expressions that I am drawing. Because I have such a great relationship with Morry I tend to not draw for color and not use a lot of the black and white rendering techniques so my work seems to be more line driven than others.

BF: Are you fully aware that Civil War may very well be a career-altering move for you? I mean, you’re now definitely part of the upper-echelon of today’s artists. Case in point, at Wizard World Philadelphia last month, you even had special signing appearances scheduled, a feat only shared by the Lees, Turners and Kuberts of the world…

SM: That ‘upper echelon’ stuff comes and goes. Careers have ups and downs. I’m just trying to tell some good stories while I have the chance, have fun and learn a thing or two along the way. Enjoy the ride, sure, but it’s ephemeral so I don’t pay it much mind.

BF: There probably will also be young artists cropping up who’ll model their style after yours. No fear of copycats yet?

SM: Copy away!  Like I said, I’m not concentrating upon how I draw but why, what I can do to tell a better story in the time I’m given. Styles come and go, oftentimes faster than they can be mastered, but good storytelling will never go out of style.

BF: Although you obviously have to be very tight-lipped about what’s going to happen over the course of the remaining five issues, can you say which issue is shaping up to be your favorite?

SM: The crazy thing about Mark, and why he’s so in demand is that they are all good, every last issue. Whatever issue I am working on is my favorite so I guess that Civil War #4 is my current favorite now.

BF: Assuming that Spidey’s unmasking was your favorite moment of Civil War #2, what about your favorite moment of the first issue? For many people, it was Cap escaping from the Shield Helicarrier—is that your pick as well?

SM: That one was mine as well. I saved that scene for the last and it was a blast to draw!!

BF: Did you immediately have a pretty good idea how you were going to visualise said moments when you got Mark Millar’s script?

SM: Mark is one of the, if not the most visually inspired writers out there. His scripts play out like a movie in my mind.

BF: A lot has been said and written about Spider-Man's public unmasking over the past couple of weeks. As always, a controversial move like this leaves fandom divided. As a storyteller, do you think it was a good move by Marvel to make, both in terms of  how it affects the character and what story opportunities it opens up?
SM:
You're right, it is a controversial move, and has made a division amongst fans. Ultimately as a reader you will decide if the story has merit as it unfolds in the marvel universe. Having a bit of insight into the story progression I think that it was a brilliant move by Mark, and opens up a plethora of fascinating story lines. It was a tough one to draw though. I pencilled and re pencilled the pages early on and kept them in the drawer until the last minute. There's still stuff that I see in the pages that I'd like to redraw but that's the nature of the beast.

BF: Now, it’s a typical fanboy-ish question, but since BF has got its own Civil War event going on, called ‘Warring Sides’, let me ask you: if you were living in the Marvel Universe of today, where would you stand on Superhero Registration? In favor or against?

SM: That would depend on whether I had superpowers or not.

BF: Looking beyond Civil War, what is life going to be like for you? You were once mentioned to be pencilling Bryan Singer’s Ultimate X-Men arc. If that ever comes to happen, will you still be involved?

SM: Honestly I can’t really say. I’ve got a few things that I’m pursuing but nothing I want to comment on now. One thing I know I will be doing after this series is taking a little vacation time with the family!

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