Marvels: Eye of the Camera

 height=(WoW OCT 08)

By Roger Ash

When it was first published in 1993, Marvels took the comic world by storm and brought its creators, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, into the spotlight. Since that time, it's remained a perennial favorite. Now, Marvel is releasing a six-issue follow up, Marvels: Eye of the Camera, which is written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Jay Anacleto. This book may ring a bell with some readers and that's because Marvel announced five years ago that it was in the works. Why did it take this long to hit the stands?

"It simply took us five years to get it completed," says editor Tom Brevoort. "From the start, we realized that anything we were going to do under the Marvels name was going to be compared to the original series - so because the fact that this story is 'timeless' in the way that the original was, we didn't need to publish it on a particular timetable. We could take the time to do it up right."

Let's back up a moment. How did this project get started in the first place? "When we did the first series, I had two ideas for sequels," says writer Kurt Busiek. "One of them got started up and famously imploded, and I kept the story for it and eventually turned it into Astro City: The Dark Age (the third 4-part "book" of which will be hitting catalogs any day now). But the other was a different kind of story - it was originally conceived as a 30-page one-shot, a special revisiting Phil Sheldon, since he wasn't going to be in the other sequel, having retired at the end of the first series.

 height="So I had that idea, and was busy enough that I had no plans to do anything with it, until Tom Brevoort called me up and suggested doing some sort of 10th anniversary Marvels project, to go with the 10th anniversary hardcover they had planned. We talked it over, and I told him my idea for the Phil Sheldon story. He liked it, and we started messing around with it - it worked pretty well as an epilogue to Marvels, but ten years had passed, and it didn't exactly stand on its own. So we kind of put a new story in front of it. Thus, what would have been that 30-page special is actually the last issue and a half of this new 6-issue series. It's the same story I originally conceived (and now that it's written, I'll say it came out almost exactly the way I conceived it way back in 1994), but it has four and a half issues of setup and development in front of it, as Phil Sheldon experiences the Marvel Universe of the Seventies and Eighties.

"So we figured it'd make a good 10th anniversary project, when we started on it in 2002. Yeah, that's right - this project has been in the works so long, Bill Jemas had a hand in it. It just took years to finish - Jay Anacleto is a painstaking, amazingly-talented artist, and we didn't want to rush him - but it's finally approaching the finish line. We joked, along the way, that it'd wind up being the 20th anniversary celebration, but we were a little faster than that..."

Since this is a follow up to Marvels, do you need to know the original series to enjoy this new one? "No," replies Brevoort. "While Marvels: Eye Of The Camera does pick up on the life of Phil Sheldon where he was left at the end of Marvels and carry him forward through the next ten or twenty years of Marvel publishing, everything you need to know about him, his life and his situation is very clearly established in the first issue."

Is Busiek enjoying this return to the common man's view of the Marvel Universe? "Yeah. It's a very different experience, of course, both because Phil's story is more important to events this time around, and because the Marvel Universe changed, and things have a very different flavor. It's also different - for me, at least - because I started reading comics regularly in 1974, right around the time the first series ended. So this time, Phil's witnessing events that I 'saw' happen as they came out on the newsstand, and even some that happened while I was already a professional writer, which gives me a different perspective on the whole thing. I don't think anything made it into the story that I wrote myself, back in the Eighties - that would have been just too weird..."

Busiek's fondness for comic history is well known, so a book dealing with the history of the Marvel Universe seems like a perfect fit. Was it fun for Brevoort to work with him on Marvels: Eye of the Camera? "Kurt and I have done a number of these sorts of projects over the years - even when simply working on modern day ongoing titles there was almost always a historical component to them. So it's a very comfortable fit."

So, that's the set up for the series. What can readers look forward to in Marvels: Eye of the Camera? "We start out with a kind of stage-setting issue, to remind readers what a shock it must have been for people when the whole Marvel Age began," replies Busiek. "We did that in the first series with an issue set back in WWII, when the marvels debuted, and this time we actually get to see Phil's reaction to the debut of the Fantastic Four, something we had to skip the first time around because we didn't have the room. But after that, we're solidly into events that happened after the first series - from just after the death of Gwen Stacy up until somewhere around 1987. So that encompasses the debut of the Punisher, of the new X-Men, the whole Elektra/Bullseye saga, both Secret Wars and more. There's a lot to see."

This series also brings photographer Phil Sheldon into sharper focus. "It's Phil's story in a more personal way," says Busiek. "In the first series, we see how things affect Phil and his family, but it's very definitely Marvel history that's driving the series, and Phil simply reacts to events. This time, partly at the urging of Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada, Phil's got a story to experience as well, one that weaves in and out of the big events of the Marvel Universe, and affects how he sees things, and how they affect him and his family.

"At the end of the first series, as you may recall, Phil retired - or decided to retire, anyway. He and Doris were going to move to Florida - which would have come as a shock to his kids, being uprooted from school like that and having to readjust. But he doesn't make it to Florida, at least not at the start of the series. Six issues of him covering the Man-Thing and the Micronauts would probably be a little slow. So he stays in New York, for reasons you'll find out about in #1 and #2, and gets caught up in events again, even managing to be on scene when the Molecule Man repairs the Rocky Mountains in the aftermath of Secret Wars II.

"As to what he's dealing with, and how it affects his worldview, you'll have to wait and see."

Joining Busiek this time around is artist Jay Anacleto who is sure to be compared to Marvels artist Alex Ross. What does Anacleto bring to Marvels: Eye of the Camera that makes the series distinctly his? "Jay's got a hyper-detailed, hyper-realistic style," replies Brevoort. "He can draw ordinary people and environments and make them look interesting and inviting. And he can contrast that to the moments where the super heroes show up, and they're larger and grander than life."

What does Busiek have to say about his collaboration with Anacleto? "It's a very different kind of collaboration from working with Alex Ross. Alex and I co-conceived the project, and spent a lot of time on the phone, faxing pencils and script pages back and forth. But Jay's in the Philippines, so I haven't actually met him or spoken with him. Due to the big changes in technology since 1993, though, we've been pretty closely in touch, sending layout pages and pencils and scripts and reference stuff back and forth on the internet, so the geographical distance doesn't seem as great as it would have back then. I may not have spent time talking on the phone, what with time-zones and all, but we've been in contact every step of the way, and I've gotten to have input into the art from layouts up to the finished color job Brian Haberlin's been doing. And Jays' been able to ask questions, or show us different ways he'd like to play a scene, so there's still been that productive kind of push-pull communication you get in a good collaboration.

 height="And the work is just gorgeous. We wanted someone who'd deliver a sense of realism, of 'this is what it's like to be there' that Alex did, but in a different way, so readers didn't look at it as an imitation, but as a visual statement in its own right. And Jay really delivers on that. What he's doing isn't painting, it's insanely-detailed, intensely-rendered pencil art, so lush and immersive it starts to feel like a photograph. The settings, the people, the atmosphere - it all looks very, very real - so when the Thing lumbers into view, or the Punisher leaps in, guns blazing, it's got a ton of impact. And then Brian Haberlin takes that lush pencil art and colors it, working with the pencil textures to blend the tones and colors into something the really pops as artwork. It's got everything we'd want for a story like this, but in Jay's own way, complementing but not competing with what Alex did in the original."

If you enjoy Kurt's work on Marvels: Eye of the Camera, where else can you find his work? "Alex, Brent Anderson and I are still churning ahead with Astro City, of course, and as of this interview being done, Brent's at work on #4 of Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three, so we've got one more mini-series arc to go on that epic adventure - which, as noted, is sort of an other-universal sequel to Marvels in its own way. And Mark Bagley, Fabian Nicieza and our other cohorts in crime are in the midst of producing Trinity, this year's weekly extravaganza from DC, which as I speak is hitting the big climax of its first act, and kicking off the second act in a way I don't think anyone's really expecting. I'm working on other things, too - an Arrowsmith novel, a new "remastered" edition of The Wizard's Tale, and some other projects, but nothing else that's actually on the schedule. A weekly book, Astro City and Marvels: Eye Of The Camera are more than enough to fill my time!"

In conclusion, Busiek says, "I'm grateful to all the readers who've supported Marvels - and my other books! - over the years, so I get to keep doing them. When Alex and I started out on Marvels back in 1991, we thought it would be a fun project for us to do, but not something that would be a huge hit - after all, it was choked with history, it started out in World War II, and the lead character was a little one-eyed Jewish guy with no superpowers, who went around taking pictures. It didn't exactly have 'hit' written all over it. But the readers out there were amazed by the art, and that gave us a chance to hook them with the story, and here I am 15 years later, wrapping up a sequel. None of that would have happened if the readership hadn't made it all possible.

"So I'm grateful to them, to Alex, to Marvel for going with such an odd project, to Tom Brevoort for bugging me into doing a sequel - a storyteller is nothing without an audience, and I've gotten to work with some great talents in putting on the show. I hope everyone'll keep coming, because I'm not done yet."

To link to this interview, use this link (right click and copy)