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Exclusive: ‘S.W.O.R.D.’ Artist Steven Sanders Discusses His Marvel Comics Debut

On the eve of his November 11 Marvel Comics Debut, artist Steven Sanders has a lot on his mind. “S.W.O.R.D.” #1 arrives in stores Wednesday, but the world’s not slowing down quite enough for him to savor it in full.

He’s contending with pages from the series’ third issue, a phone that won’t stop ringing and — as he’s just discovered — a frayed shirt sleeve care of his kitten, Disco.

Fortunately for us, Sanders is willing to push the details of day-to-day life to the background for just a moment, taking sips from his piping hot glass mug of Nestle’s imported Milo chocolate drink and kindly ignoring a series of camera flashes as he chats and tries to wrap at least a little bit of work.

Comics Alliance: Can you give us a little backstory as to how you got setup with Kieron for “S.W.O.R.D.”?

Steven Sanders:
It was on a night just like this one, in a house just like this one when the old sea hag came a knockin’. Marvel editor Nick Lowe heard the sound and it set his heart a tremble… Ok, this is stupid and why I don’t write. So, the big “secret” to getting work in comics is networking. I.e.: Going out and making friends in the comics community. (But don’t try and be friends w/ people just because you want work from them. It usually shows through and is irritating.) Sitting at home mailing stuff out doesn’t really work. Matt Fraction and I had a table at SDCC with Kieron and Jamie McKelvie, whose work you should check out in “Phonogram.” Seriously, go read “Phonogram.” It’s pretty great.

I had turned in some X-Men work to Nick Lowe as a try-out for that time travel/steampunk run in X-Men, but I was seriously out of practice from doing ad and production work for a couple years, and didn’t make the cut. (This illustrates how just knowing people in the industry isn’t enough, by the way. You need the chops, too.) But, Nick really liked my Beast, and my illustration in general, and thought that Kieron and I would be a good pairing for “S.W.O.R.D.” as we are both sci-fi nerds. I think that was the rationale. Oh! Regarding the Beast design, the fan base on the Internet LOVES it, let me tell you. Nothing but positive reactions out there. I think I need to make his muzzle even longer and give him gigantic ears that he uses to fly and put out forest fires with.

CA: What about the book interested you as an illustrator?

SS: Everything? I had read the early “Astonishing” run, and liked Brand and the assorted and sundry characters. The more “fantastic” properties like the X-books gives me more opportunity to make stuff up, and since concept art was my first love, I get to draw lots of armored suits and drones and flying cars and space stations and freelance peacekeeping agents, yes?

CA: Had you been keeping up with Marvel’s current events prior to your assignment, or did you have to catch up on some reading before receiving Kieron’s scripts?

SS: Not really. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t read many American comics besides what is given to me by friends in the business. There’s a lot of really great work out there, (Jason Aaron? HOLY CRAP.) I just have limited reading time and end up reading the Nikopol Trilogy or something. So, yeah ,I had to read up on “Secret Invasion” and some other stuff. Wikipedia is really handy.

CA: Before you started on this gig, you’d illustrated several other titles outside of the “Big Two” and worked as an artist in many other avenues. What areas of your artistic/professional background do you feel like you most heavily rely on in your “S.W.O.R.D.” work?

SS: The comic work, of course, and concept art and the sci-fi cover painting areas. Michael Whelan covers keep coming to mind. And Moebius. And in certain areas, the film “Holy Mountain.” I just kind of have a big catalogue of things to steal from in my head. The degree of your originality is directly proportional to the obscurity of who you steal from.

CA: I know you’re a pretty huge “Doctor Who” fan. Given the franchise’s inherent Britishness, did that interest help you strike up a rapport with [the British] Kieron? How collaborative are you through the process of completing each issue?

SS: I constantly annoy Kieron over IM with dorky technical questions about… I don’t know… thickness of anti-radiation shielding in the Peak’s generator areas or something. I was going to be an engineer before going to art school, and I keep wanting to make machinery “work,” which probably gets in the way of Kieron’s writing during the day. And it’s also very different than Jamie McKelvie IMing him about adding extra pretty girls to the background. The English — so inscrutable.

I also have to ask for frequent translations. I thought watching as much “Doctor Who” and other BBC programming as I have would of prepared me, but there’s a bunch of little differences that get me when it comes to the Queen’s English. I usually follow up by making fun of the English for words such as “carboot” and “rockery” and say their English is a mincing Nancy boy compared to the rugged, manly American English. Our words crush men’s souls and steal their women.

CA: Right now you’re working several issues ahead of this week’s “S.W.O.R.D.” #1 release. What’s been your favorite story issue/moment/image to draw so far?

SS: I had a great deal of fun drawing a huge dropship hangar scene in issue 3. Everything in there did something. Little garages for the ships, aircraft carrier style freight elevators, etc, etc. But I enjoy drawing nearly every page. The ones I don’t enjoy are because I’m tired from overwork or something.

CA: Do you have any rituals while you work? Music you listen to, DVDs on in the background, pets you sing to, that sort of thing?

SS: I usually listen to something “upbeat” while doing layouts and bluelines, and as the day wears on and I get tired, I’ll go for a walk and then listen to old radio shows or something instrumental because I feel like an old man. Then when my wife Dawn gets home I whine to her about how much I work, and she is a saint and puts up with it.

CA: After “S.W.O.R.D.” are there any other established comic properties you’d like to take a stab at? Any creator-owned projects on the back burner?

SS: I like properties with robots and explosions. I’m not really picky. Well, I’d probably be a waste on something like “Daredevil” unless he goes into space or becomes a time traveling android or something. I have a project called “Ares Rising” on the back burner with Harold Sipe, who wrote “Screamland,” and is the best writer nobody’s heard of. “Ares Rising” involves a clash of a “realistic” sci-fi future Earth and a John Carter of Mars/Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers sci-fi human population of Mars
that developed concurrently. Indy comics don’t really pay the bills, though. I need a robot clone to do this for me because I really want to make that happen.

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