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Mike Choi Dishes on His Olivia Munn ‘Complex’ Cover Art

You’ve probably already heard the news out of the recent Complex magazine cover story (online now, and on stands soon) that G4 hottie Olivia Munn was cut from “Iron Man 2″ — and then reshot for a totally different, as-yet-unspecified role. Her photo spread for the magazine, which involves her cavorting with woodland animals and riding a unicorn, among other things, is all over the internet, but the art woven into the photo shoot has a connection to comics that goes beyond Munn’s geek appeal — it was drawn by comics artist Mike Choi (“Uncanny X-Men,” “Witchblade”) with colors by Sonia Oback.

We talked with Choi — who was kind enough to share his in-process images from the cover — about switching up his style to bring Olivia Munn’s wild animals to life and what it was like to sit in at her photoshoot.

ComicsAlliance: What was the initial concept for the cover?

Mike Choi: Complex has been really good with keeping a finger on the pulse of the comic industry, and not just the more mainstream stuff like Sonia and I are working on. I’ve always been impressed with the broad spectrum of the people whom they work with, guys like, Niko Henrichon and Paul Pope, just to name a couple, so them asking us to do something for them was kind of an honor. I think the main pitch was to put a spin on a photoshoot with Olivia and make it more fun, and kind of make it more interesting visually. I mean, I don’t know about most guys, but I’m getting tired of just seeing stunningly attractive women in the underwear. I want to see more cartoon animals. No? Just me? I mean, sweet, hot women in underwear! Beer me.

Basically it was a fun project to do in between books at Marvel, so we just jumped at it. Our day job has us drawing guys with claws coming out of their hands to literally slice through bad guys. Not nice and clean like bullets or lasers like in the old GI Joe cartoon, but like, stabby/slice-y things in a “Parental Advisory” comic book. So yeah, unicorns and smiling forest critters? Yes, please.CA: Was the half-human/half-cartoon animal concept your pitch?

MC: The woodland animals angle wasn’t mine at all. When I first heard the pitch, in my head I was actually visualizing along the lines of the A-ha “Take On Me” music video where the hand comes out of the comic book. But I think the cartoon animal was really cool just because, well, it’s just so ridiculous. It’s only fun. And there’s just something kind of refreshing about that to me. Most pitches and assignments we get end with the words, “And just have fun with this,” even when we’re being asked to draw a sad death scene or a conversation on a park bench. In this case we really did have fun.

CA: What was the process like for you and Sonia, from concept to completion?

MC: It was definitely harder than we originally thought when we first took the job. Cartoon animals? On paper it seemed like it would be such an easy gig, plus we’d get to eat at the catering buffet at the Munn photoshoot. Not so much. First of all, pretty people in fashion don’t eat shit.

CA: So you actually got to go to the photoshoot? Was that as glamorous as it sounds?

MC: Meeting Olivia was pretty cool, but since I don’t watch G4, I’m not really familiar with her stuff, other than as the other person in the profile pics of half of my fans on Facebook. She seemed really nice, but the whole thing was just as unglamorous as you could imagine. There’s a lot of yelling, mostly from the photographer. It was kind of cool when she’d start asking me questions of where to go, just enough to let me feel involved, but eventually Sonia and I just kind of parked ourselves next to the catering table and ate muffins and brownies all day.

CA: After the shoot, what’s the next step? Did you need to go through significant revisions?

MC: The hardest part was trying to nail down a specific style. First of all, this project was already a huge departure from what we usually draw, both in content and style. I think, while the concept of cartoon animals seemed easy to grasp initially, our instincts were to nevertheless go realistically, in form and in surface rendering. Once we kind of came to grips with the right juxtapositions between the animals and Olivia in the real environment to kind of maximize the fun and initial impact, it was a lot smoother sailing.

From the get-go, we were definitely trying to deliberately go in a more cartoony-style to bring on a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”-kind of aesthetic as it interacted with the real-life elements of the compositions. However, given the styles of how we work in our day jobs we kept creeping back to our natural inclinations towards realism to the point that it started looking like slightly deformed animals playing with Olivia, to something out of the new “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies, with the CGI animals. While that’s harder to do, to get that realistic look, I mean, you almost immediately start losing that initial impression that something real-world is interacting with something artificially created, the more realistic you go. There is something cool in that, like in “Roger Rabbit” or that Paula Abdul video (Remember when she wasn’t crazy? MAN I’m old). You kind of take it for granted in the more modern movies like “Chipmunks” and “Garfield” etc, plus there is that uncanny valley where they [can] kind of just look alien and creepy. And in these photos, it’s definitely all in the initial impression, if you ask me.

Check out the process shots of the cover below! (Click through for bigger versions)

Original Photo:

Layouts for Placement:

Rough Sketches:

Finished Composite:

Final Cover:

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