A New Initiative: Scott Kolins Leaves Marvel Comics

A comics interview article by: Keith Dallas
A professional comic book artist since 1992, Scott Kolins distinguished himself with a two and a half year run on DC Comics’ The Flash before signing a Marvel exclusive contract in 2003. Four years later, after having worked on such titles as Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Thor: Blood Oath, Annihilation, Beyond! and Omega Flight, Kolins has decided to end his exclusivity with Marvel and move on to work for other publishers. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Kolins about his decision to leave Marvel and about his career as a Marvel exclusive artist.

Scott Kolins’ Marvel Comics Exclusive Production from 2003 to 2007
(excluding covers and pin-ups):

2003 (cover date):
Avengers #72-73

Avengers #74-75, #81-4
Iron Man #89
Marvel Team-Up #1

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1-8
Marvel Team-Up #2-7, #9-11
Thor: Blood Oath #1-3

Thor: Blood Oath #4-6
She-Hulk #4
Annihilation: Prologue #1
New Excalibur #9
Beyond! #1-4
Civil War: Choosing Sides

Beyond! #5-6
Ultimate Fantastic Four #39-41
Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #2
Omega Flight #1-5
Wolverine: Firebreak (one-shot)

Keith Dallas (KD): Let’s get the most pressing question out of the way first: why have you decided to leave Marvel?

Scott Kolins (SK): Having a long term working relationship with a single company seems to be becoming a rarity these days. Four years exclusive with Marvel has been a good run, and I feel very fortunate to have been with them for that long. Publishing plans grow and change as do my goals as an artist, so it can be difficult for both our needs to move in the same direction. That may sound cliché, but it’s true. I’m not saying that I don’t wish it was longer, and there are so many things I still want to do at Marvel someday, but right now this seems to be the right move.

KD: Just so I’m understanding you correctly: for you this is a matter of the current creative direction of Marvel Comics not being in synchronicity with what you hope to accomplish as a comic book creator and vice versa. Would that be a fair characterization of how you feel?

SK: I don’t mean Marvel Comics’ direction as a whole. I love what they are doing. The problem is how it pertains to me and the jobs I’m working on.

KD: Okay, it’s about what projects are—and are not—available to you. Understood.
Let’s go back some years. After drawing DC Comics’ The Flash for two and a half years, you signed your first exclusive contract with Marvel Comics in 2003. Four years later, do you look back on the decision to go Marvel exclusive any differently?

SK: Not at all. It was the right choice at that time. I’ve done a lot of cool fun books and had a great time. As freelance artist, I have to be flexible to find work where it may lead. At that moment DC really didn’t have the projects for me outside of The Flash. Geoff [Johns] and I tried a host of possibilities before I left. None worked. Meanwhile, Tom Brevoort offered me a list of his Marvel books to work on. It’s luck of the draw sometimes. I could talk with an editor on Wednesday about any openings, and he would tell me none are available. Then Thursday he could call me back frantic about five books he’s got to organize.

KD: Wow. Just like that? One day “no,” the next day “yes”?

SK: Just like that. So no one’s at fault, it’s just the nature of the business.

KD: So were you lured to Marvel with the prospect or promise of drawing The Avengers? In other words, were you told that you’d be assigned to draw The Avengers if you signed an exclusive contract?

Covers to Avengers #73, #74 & #81

SK: Not quite. The exclusive contract was a given, and then it was a matter of going through Tom’s list to pick the right book. As I remember, Tom and I thought I was going to work on Thor. Joe Quesada then suggested I work on The Avengers which is how it went.

KD: But ultimately, you ended up drawing only seven issues of The Avengers before “Avengers Disassembled” ensued with Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch. I’ve asked you this question in a previous interview, but I’d like to revisit it: how did you react when you learned your run on Avengers would be so brief?

SK: The Avengers was in a bit of a mess. The long standing Busiek/Perez run had been over for about a year and no one had stepped in to take it somewhere new yet. Geoff Johns probably would’ve been the guy, but he decided to go exclusive with DC. So I wound up caught in the between-time that just kind of coasted. I could tell the book was going to change. It needed it. I was perfectly okay with the change. I mean, it’s never fun to hear you’re being taken off a book, but the decision wasn’t made because of my work. I had barely started. In fact, early on I was still on the list to remain as a part-time Avengers guy during Bendis’s run. But then Earth’s Mightiest Heroes came along, and Marvel decided that was a better fit. Which was okay too. I love the retro stuff.

Covers to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1-8

KD: Ah yes! Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a.k.a. “Avengers: Year One.” I know you adore the work of Jack Kirby, that your own style has very much been inspired by his work. When you were offered to draw Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, did you look at it as an opportunity to pay tribute to “The King”? What I mean is, since EMH revisits the Avengers era that was drawn by Kirby, did you look at this project as a means of “channeling” Kirby’s legacy?

SK: Yes and No. I love Kirby’s work dearly, but he wasn’t on that book really long. If I was drawing The Fantastic Four, I couldn’t help but be heavily influenced by Kirby. He defined the FF for more than 100 issues! But it doesn’t feel the same with The Avengers for me. Kirby only worked on – what? 16 issues? Now besides looking over the exact stories we were dealing in EMH, there is still a direct Kirby influence for me because he did define The Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and of course, Captain America, all separately. I think my Hulk in EMH shows the strongest ties to Kirby – I was actually trying to get really close to his look back in those first Hulk issues. I love that look.

KD: So EMH would be your favorite Marvel project from the past four years?

SK: No, my favorite would be Thor: Blood Oath with Omega Flight coming in a close second. Both books I would’ve liked to continue or taken farther. I’m a huge Thor and Alpha Flight fan.

KD: And what Marvel project was your least favorite? Maybe a story that you didn’t enjoy drawing as much as the others?

SK: Probably one of the fill-ins I did for Tom. Iron Man or She-Hulk. They are great characters, and I like the stories and all – I just like to spend time on a book and really get to know the character and how I draw them. That’s still the one regret I have at Marvel is not being on one book for a few years. It’s more fun for me that way.

KD: I bet, especially since you came to Marvel after spending almost three years on The Flash. Out of curiosity, since you’ve now spent so many years working for both DC and Marvel Comics, can you tell us if there is any significant difference between how DC and Marvel operate editorially?

SK: Well, I haven’t worked for DC under Dan DiDio really. Both companies are the same in their determination to be the best. Competition is as fierce as ever. Every company has its good days as well as its bad. Despite my love for it, it is still a job. It mostly depends on who you’re working with every day and the professionalism involved – Editors, Writers, and for me, Colorists. Those are the guys who I work with every day. I think DC editorial and Marvel editorial operate similarly now. From what I’ve heard, I think there used to be a difference back in the 60s & 70s and maybe even the 80s, but comics have become too much like the rest of the business world. And then it just depends on the times if things are more conservative or more conducive to risk taking.

Covers to Marvel Team-Up #1 & #2

KD: Let me go back to a comment you said a minute ago about your desire to be on a title for a long time. After Avengers, your next on-going monthly assignment was the Robert Kirkman-written Marvel Team-Up for which you drew 10 issues. The series lasted 25 issues before its cancellation. Any reason why you stopped at issue #11? Why not continue on since it was an on-going assignment?

SK: I was told around issue #5 that the book was being cancelled at #9 or #10. It changed a few times in the next months as to exactly when it was being cancelled, but I had already asked Tom to look for my next gig. I had fun on the book, and Robert was extremely nice to me, but I had to jump ship then instead of waiting until the last issue – to see what was available. It was sad, but I was very lucky to land the Thor: Blood Oath job.

Covers to Thor: Blood Oath #1-4

KD: So let’s talk about your favorite Marvel project over the past four years. Besides the fact that it’s a Thor story, what else about Blood Oath do you like? Do you think your best work over the past four years is presented in Blood Oath?

SK: Beyond his cool look, attitude and powers, I love Thor partially because he is able to mix mythology and modern day heroics. Mike did a great job with this on Blood Oath. The first issue starts with Thor defeating the Absorbing Man. Then we get to see Dr. Blake handle casualties from that battle in the hospital. Then because of some foreboding nightmares, Thor goes to Asgard and finds out his friends are on trial because they killed a whale that was actually a giant in disguise! How cool is that! I got to draw giant talking eagles, a magic pig that makes wine and a huge slugfest between Thor and Hercules! I’m just made for a book like that.

KD: No question. That fight between Thor and Hercules was old school Marvel magic.
When Blood Oath was proposed to you, did you immediately recognize it as a great project for you?

SK: Even before I read Mike’s outline, I knew I’d have a great time doing an old school Thor story. I love all that stuff.

KD: Getting back to the matter of on-going Marvel assignments… after Marvel Team-Up, your remaining Marvel work involved limited series, one-shots and fill-in issues.

SK: Well, Omega Flight started as a monthly job.

KD: Right. True. Omega Flight was originally billed as an on-going… but that came much later. Were you offered other on-going assignments after Marvel Team-Up and before Omega Flight?

SK: Yes, I was offered The New X-Men by editor Mike Marts.

KD: Oh, really? Who was in the book? What was it about?

SK: This is when the book became basically the New Mutants. It was the only monthly book I turned down at Marvel. I love mutants and all that school stuff, but I didn’t know the characters at all, and I couldn’t get a handle on what they wanted to do with it.

Annihilation: Prologue Interior Pages

Covers to Beyond! #1, #2 & #5

KD: So after Annihilation Prologue and Beyond! you finally get the on-going assignment that you were looking for in Omega Flight, but before long it gets reduced from an on-going to a limited series. What was your reaction when you learned about the reduction?

SK: Not happy. I was very surprised. Especially because of its connection to the huge Civil War event, I thought we’d have a bit longer to prove ourselves. Issue #1 hadn’t even come out. I understand making business decisions and cutting losses or however you want to put it, but cutting a book down before it comes out was not right. Why spend the time and money in the first place? Why hire everyone? I had to really work up the attitude to stay and give it the best I could. Mike Oeming was stellar in that. He pretty much convinced me to stay. I’m glad I did, and I hope to revisit Alpha Flight someday. I love those characters.

KD: And it was in Omega Flight that you changed your art style. Actually, you debuted your more shaded style in some Ultimate Fantastic Four issues, just prior to Omega Flight. Did someone at Marvel encourage this stylistic change or did you change it on your own?

SK: Well, the Ultimate FF might have come out before Omega, but Omega Flight was where it started. Almost on a whim really. While I was working up the sketches for the Omega Flight covers, I saw Omega Flight cover #3 – the Guardian cover – in the tonal style. I hadn’t drawn like that in years, but I thought how much fun it would be and decided to give it a try. I got a huge reaction out of Marvel. I had already finished the interiors to Omega Flight #1 – but they asked me if I could go back and retro fit those pages in this tonal style and do the rest of the series this way. We agreed on a new page rate and off we went. Everyone seemed really excited. It seemed like a whole new career was opening for me at Marvel.

KD: Do you plan on keeping this style in your post-Marvel career? How have you found the fans reacting to this new style?

SK: More seem to like the tonal style right now, but that may be just because it’s “new.” I do have fans who are already asking if I’ll go back to the linear style, but it also depends on what the publisher wants. They sign the checks and help pay my bills. I have fun working either way, though the tonal style does take me longer.

KD: That brings me to my next question. When you became Marvel exclusive, your work no longer was “traditionally” inked. Instead, you have been digitally inking your pencils since 2003. Would you ever go back to having someone else ink your pencils?

SK: Again, that more depends on what the publisher wants. I’m perfectly happy to scan my own pencils and finish it that way. I’ve had a couple really good inkers, but my pencils have always been super tight and even with the good inkers I’ve had, it was never a 50-50 kind of thing. It wasn’t like they had to figure out shading or feather something better than I drew it. I didn’t break into comics when loose pencils were encouraged, so that’s how I’ve grown to draw my pages. It might be really fun to work 50-50 with an inker sometime. I guess I did that once with Klaus Janson. He inked a Green Lantern story I drew. Mike Carlin was the editor, and he let me know that Klaus had already been hired as inker before me. He also mentioned that Klaus’s style is very strong over pencillers. He wanted to make sure I understood that. I jumped at it, even more excited for the job. Being inked by a legend like Klaus is still an honor I cherish! I’ll never sell those pages!

KD: I don’t blame you.
Now it was only a couple of months ago when we learned that you were going to draw Wolverine for a multi-issue story arc. Now I see you’re only drawing Wolverine #57. What happened here?

SK: There should be some resolicit for #57 because I believe Howard Chaykin will be drawing the whole arc. I’m now just drawing a Wolverine one-shot called Firebreak. It started before this, but this is really where Marvel and I began to diverge from the same direction. I was assigned for a five issue Wolverine arc, and then I was un-assigned. There didn’t seem to be any outside reason for the change so that kind of changed things for us. I’m glad I got to draw “Firebreak” though.

Cover and Interior Pages to Wolverine: Firebreak

KD: Now that you’re moving on, name the one Marvel title (or character) you wish you could have tackled.

SK: It’s always so hard to pick one. I’ve been able to dabble near a lot of things but not really had a full run to tell a bunch of stories. Thor, Doctor Strange, Alpha Flight, and The Hulk would still probably top the list. But I can’t imagine turning down FF or Captain America. I could go on and on.

KD: The writers you’ve worked with on your Marvel projects over the past four years include Mike Carey, Keith Giffen, Geoff Johns, Robert Kirkman, Dwayne McDuffie, Michael Avon Oeming, and Dan Slott. Was there one that you “connected” with better than the others? Any one whose scripting style you most admired?

SK: Well, Geoff is the easy answer for many reasons, but I also worked with him for 3 years at DC before our work at Marvel. I didn’t work with these other guys ½ the time I worked with Geoff. Still, Geoff and I hit it off on day one like no other writer I’ve worked with. That said, I barely worked or talked with Mike Carey or Dan Slott. Nothing wrong with them, and I’d work with them again, of course. Kirkman was fun on Team-Up, but I don’t think that was the right book for him. McDuffie was really good on Beyond!, but again, he’s built for bigger and better things than that. Oeming and I had a lot of fun on Thor and Alpha Flight stuff. Stuff I’m way into. I was thrilled to work with Keith Giffen on the Annihilation Prologue. He is one of my many heroes in this biz, but he also nearly killed me with all that armada stuff. Whew! Oh, and you forgot Joe Casey on EMH and Chuck Austen on Avengers.

KD: You’re right!

SK: Joe’s a nice guy, and I know he loves the Avengers - probably more than I do – but we really didn’t see eye to eye. Chuck was nice too, but I don’t know what he was doing. Those Avengers issues after the Geoff Johns “Search for She-Hulk” story were my weirdest time at Marvel.

KD: Weird in what sense?

SK: Chuck’s Avengers stories were weird. Wasp and Hawkeye making out? On some drafts Cap was swearing! Y’know, “#@%$” or something. What the—?

KD: Wow. Really?

SK: Really.

KD: How about the editors? You mostly worked for Tom Brevoort and Andy Schmidt, right? Did you prefer one over the other?

SK: Tom and Andy are great. Pretty different in their approach, but both very dedicated, so both are good by me.

KD: I know that you aspired to write your own Marvel projects. Were you pitching proposals throughout your Marvel career? Can you tell us what characters these proposals involved?

SK: I was all settled to just draw some great comics until the Avengers thing happened. Then I started to feel like I could and maybe should get involved with stories and projects too. I handed in several proposals over the years. After EMH – and how everyone seemed happy with that kind of material – I had “Year One” proposals for Hulk, Hawkeye, and Alpha Flight. I had a Lockjaw story I’d still love to do. Just something different but cool. I also had some Doctor Strange ideas floating around, but it never made it to a serious proposal. None of them, of course, actually worked up, though the Alpha Flight thing might’ve had a chance now.

KD: I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the phrase “Lockjaw story.”

SK: The teaser line was: “It takes an Inhuman to hunt an Inhuman.”

KD: I got to admit that’s a pretty intriguing teaser line.
Moving on… provide a self-assessment of your Marvel work from 2003 to 2007.

SK: I think I did some really fun stuff. I’m very proud of the She-Hulk Avengers story, EMH, Marvel Team-Up, Thor: Blood Oath, Beyond!, Annihilation: Prologue, Ultimate FF and Omega Flight. Despite never hearing a negative word on the coloring during my Flash run in the linear style - it did seem like we never quite figured out the coloring on my linear style at Marvel that satisfied everyone. Except maybe my Beyond! covers. I never heard a criticism about the coloring on those. The only other “failing” was never finding a “home,” never staying one place long enough. Part of that is just how the business has changed too. Trade collections have really encouraged creative teams for an arc versus a run.

KD: You know, that’s an astute observation that I’ve never considered. That’s a great point.
So what can we expect from Scott Kolins in the near future?

SK: Hopefully more good comics! In fact, I’ve been talking with my good friend Geoff Johns – and I’m very excited.

KD: Geoff Johns? Oh really? Excited about what exactly?

SK: [laughs wryly]

KD: [after a pause] Scott?

SK: Can’t say yet, but it’s good. Really good. Best in years.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of SBC’s Interview of Scott Kolins: “The Return!”

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