Coming in March from IDW, writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Mike Cavallaro are teaming up to tell the story of The Life and Times of Savior 28. It’s a tale that’s been percolating in the back of DeMatteis’ head for nearly a quarter of a century. The writer told Comic Related at the New York Comic Con early this month that he has been wanting to tell this story since he was writing Captain America at Marvel in the early ’80s. But Mike Cavallaro, whose dynamic art completes the book and sets a tone for the fall of America’s most beloved superhero (in this particular universe, anyway), hasn’t even been in the business that long. Coming a little late to the party, exactly how do you approach creating a look and feel for an ambitious, clever script that’s completed before you ever put pencil to page? Read on…
Blog@Newsarama: How did you come to be chosen as the artist for this project? Did you help JM develop it?
Mike Cavallaro: I’ll answer that in reverse order. J.M. had the entire concept down from the get-go. It’s been his task to hammer out these scripts all on his own. All I bring to the table are the visual interpretations of the characters and situations. He gives me pretty free reign in this area. I think I did my first sketch of 28, and J.M. said, “I love it!” I felt obliged to do more sketches and he was like, “No, I love the first one! Go with it!” Ha ha. Pretty easy to work with.
I’ve been a fan of J.M.’s for many, many years since reading Moonshadow as it was being serialized in the 80′s. A few yeas ago, a mutual friend put us in touch with each other and we struck up a correspondence. I had become part of the webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE, and had just completed my first story, Parade (With Fireworks), which has since been nominated for an Eisner Award and released as a trade paperback from Shadowline/Image Comics. I sent J.M. a preview of my new AIV comic, Loviathan, and he felt the visual tone was what he’d been looking for on Savior 28. He sent me the synopsis, I signed on, and we had IDW verbally onboard by the end of the day.
BLOG@: Do you approach the old-school, superhero Savior 28 pages differently than the pages that were either happening later in his career, or after his death?
MC: That’s a cool question. This past year I was working on a graphic novel. The main character was described as being “not attractive” in the script. I was like, “What does that mean? I want to like the character I’m about to draw for the next 160 pages. What’s not attractive?” My studio mate Dean Haspiel advised, “Sometimes attractive isn’t how someone looks, it’s how they carry themselves — an attitude.” That set a light bulb off for me that resolved the problem for that project, and I carried this thinking over to Savior 28.
The page mechanics are the same between the “old-school, superhero” pages and all the others. The difference happens in 28′s bearing, attitude and acting. There’s definitely something slightly more world-weary and haggard about 28 in some of the scenes as opposed to what I’ll call the “dynamic innocence” of his hero shots.
BLOG@: How do you go about trying to create a look for a superhero that evokes a certain era and feeling, without being derivative of any particular character?
MC: J.M. started me out with visual cues so I could understand what he was thinking for some of the characters, usually by saying, “Think this actor or that actor”. So in the first place, refer to real life. I thought that was a good way of approaching it, so I carried that through with my own research. In a lot of cases, there are actors who really seem to embody their era: James Cagney is a good example. Artists are similar in that way. Kirby and Romita are very ‘60′s/‘70′s to me. Their art evokes that period. If you want to evoke a particular era, marry the way an iconic artist from that time would draw an iconic actor of that time, filtered through your own sensibilities, and you’ve gone a long way in concocting something new that feels very familiar.
BLOG@: Did you intentionally evoke the look of Nomad when depicting the aged Savior 28?
MC: No. To tell you the truth, I never read an issue of Captain America before signing on to this project, and had never heard of Nomad until relatively recently. There’s no purposeful narrative attempt to relate the two characters on my part. I don’t think it’s accurate to call him “the aged Savior 28″, because he doesn’t age. Again, he’s more world-weary and emotionally distressed, and it goes back to what Dean was saying about how a character carries themselves. I gave him stubble, mussed up his grown-out hair, made him forget to put his costume’s gloves or cape on at times, all in an effort to tarnish his outward appearance to show that his attention was focusing inward.
BLOG@: Given that JM has a history with Captain America, and that there are some obvious similarities between the characters, how hard was it to distance the assassination sequence in the first issue from the one that took place on the courtroom steps back in Captain America #25?
MC: AAARRRGGHHH! SPOILERS!!!! CAP’S DEAD??????NOOOOOOO!!!!
No, seriously … there was just no problem with that at all. I’m finally reading Brubaker’s Captain America run now in trade paperback, and I just bought the first Civil War volume yesterday. I’m not up to the part where Cap buys it. I know it happened, obviously, but it wasn’t a book I was reading and was sort of on the periphery of things for me. I just did my best to interpret J.M.’s fantastic script, and never thought about the fact that other superheroes have “died” previously in other comics. Maybe having not read Captain America #25 made it easier on me, in fact, because I didn’t have that floating around in my subconscious. But I didn’t think about it. I was just focused on doing a good page of comics, to the best of my ability.
BLOG@: How fun was it to draw that strange, hilarious splash panel on page 15 (the one with the alien, Uncle Sam and J. Edgar Hoover in a fez)?
MC: Man, you nailed it. I laughed out loud the first time I read that in the script, then read the page out to my studio mates. Hilarious. One of my favorite moments in the first issue, and colorist Andy Covalt deserves a lot of credit for his spot-on mood setting. The fez became an in-joke for a couple days, and I think we discussed releasing an S28 incentive fez. Ha!
BLOG@: I tell you what—I’d buy one of those!…Thank you, so very much, for respecting your audience enough to draw 9/11 instead of superimposing a digitally-altered version of some crappy AP photo; I’ve seen far too many of those in the last eight years.
MC: Wow, well, thank you. I live in NYC, and love it dearly. Everyone who was here that day has a 9/11 story. I stood in the street and watched the second tower fall with my own eyes. It was a horrible, horrible day, with many more to follow. Since The Life and Times of Savior 28 shines a light specifically on violence in popular culture, it was imperative to include this pivotal moment from our own lives.
In terms of comic-making in general, I normally don’t dig it when you see photos slammed up against drawings. I just don’t think it works. Or at least, it works very rarely, and I certainly don’t think it would mesh with what I’m doing on S28. I never even thought about using a photo there. Never crossed my mind.
Many years ago, I read an interview with guitarist Angus Young from AC/DC. He said he never does anything in the studio that he can’t actually play live on stage. That made a real impression on me. I liked the honesty of that aesthetic. I keep my comics pretty lo-fi in many ways. I don’t do a lot of trickery. I like drawings, I like the humanity of imperfections, I’m not concerned with realism. I guess that’s why I like Kirby so much. It’s more about the vibe than the accuracy.