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AICN COMICS Q&@: Russ Sheath chats with comics superstar artist Mark Brooks about his new art book SET LIST and his plans for San Diego Comic-Con!

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Q’s by Russ Sheath!

@’s by Artist Mark Brooks!!!

Russ Sheath here and with San Diego Comic-Con just around the corner one of my Favourite aspects of the show is the raft of sketchbooks that emerge each year. If you have a favourite artist from the world of comics there's a fair chance you will find them at a comic-convention with a selection of prints and sketchbooks for sale.

You might also find some recognizable names from the world of animation or film as one of the cool aspects of shows such as San Diego is that it attracts artists from outside of comics, allowing them to 'stretch their creative muscles' away from the 'day job'. if you take the time to stroll through 'artists alley' (a must at any convention) you might find the likes of Bill Pressing (UP, CARS 2) and Chris Sanders (LILO & STITCH, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON) appearing alongside their comic book counterparts. The great thing about convention sketchbooks is that they give readers a peek inside the creative process and afford a rare glimpse at concepts, designs and discarded ideas. The idea of seeing where a piece 'might' have gone and the decision making process behind that is something I really enjoy discovering.

Many artists offer commissions and convention sketchbooks are also an opportunity for fans to see pieces that otherwise might languish, unseen, in art collections. Add to this, the work that many artists do in the worlds of toys, movies and video games and you have a lot of unseen work for fans to marvel over, particularly for fan favourite artists such as Jim Lee, who has an army of fans and 'completists' wanting to pour over every piece he lends his talents to. Convention sketchbooks, in many cases, started off as simple reproductions but over the years became high-concept showcases in their own right as the likes of J. Scott Campbell (DANGER GIRL, WILDSIDERZ) took the production of sketchbooks to the next level. Books such as J. Scott Campbell's VINTAGE TIN and TIEM EXPOSURE are just two examples of limited edition sketchbooks that became highly collectible on the secondary market.

Adam Hughes, Jim Lee, Bruce Timm and Travis Charest are just a few regulars who's sketchbooks become sought after over the years while the likes of Mark Brooks have taken the concept to the next level, producing lush, hardcover art books to showcase their work. In this series I'll be looking at a few of my favourite artists who will be premiering new books and offering a sneak peek at what they have on offer, this convention season.

Mark Brooks' SET LIST Sketchbook 2014

Mark Brooks has long been a favourite artist of mine who has rapidly risen to the hallowed status of 'superstar artist' with an art style that draws upon influences such as Adam Hughes and J. Scott Campbell combined with a clean, animated style that has become his trademark. Brooks joins those fan favourite artists in having become a 'go to' cover artist and as a Marvel exclusive artist for a number of years, Brooks art speaks for itself, where his sought after pencils can be seen on the covers of some of Marvel's biggest hit titles.

A regular cover artist on DEADPOOL, you will have seen Brooks art grace covers on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and FEARLESS DEFENDERS while also delivering high octane interiors in the likes of ULTIMATE X-MEN, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, AVENGERS and a favourite of mine, a one shot CLOAK & DAGGER comic from a couple of years back. Mark's art has also taken 3D form as the masters of the pop culture collectible, Sideshow, translated some of his designs into statues depicting some of Marvel's most striking female characters. With a new art book out now, I spoke to Mark Brooks about his career and what fans can expect at Comic-Con 2014.

RUSS SHEATH (RS): Mark, thanks for talking to AICN today. How's it all going?

MARK BROOKS (MB): it's good. I'm trying to get some San Diego prep done right now so it's hectic, but it's moving along.

RS: What does preparing for San Diego involve for you?

MB: I've got the art book coming out so I'm trying to get the book plate done for that. I've also got a couple of commission pieces that people are picking up at the show, so trying to get those finished, it's just general malarkey and nonsense, all the little details to take care of.

RS: I've always had the impression that for a lot of creators San Diego is a double edged sword in that it's something that you 'have' to do but it always sounds like 'hell on earth' for anyone who has to go there as a professional?

MB: I think the hell of San Diego always comes the few weeks before the show, but San Diego and Comic-Con itself I've always really enjoyed. It's always a hectic time getting everything there and getting set up, but once all that's done it's a pretty fun five days. I do hear some folk complaining about how tough it is, but I don't have that problem, maybe I'm weird (laughs). I like talking to the fans and will spend valuable drawing time chatting away with whoever drops by the table, much to my wife's chagrin, but I like talking to everybody.

RS: I'm looking forward to it, but this year is only my second time ever. Is it nice to take a break from what is a fairly isolated profession, to head out and meet the fans?

MB: it is! I think our life is a pretty solitary one. I work in a studio by myself and my wife and kid leave in the morning at around seven thirty and won't be home until around five thirty, so I'll go all day without saying a word. It gets kind of lonely and weird sometimes which is why so many of us go mad on Facebook and Twitter, just so we can interact with someone.

RS: so, let's talk about you. Can you give us a concise history of your career and how you broke into comics.

MB: I always wanted to draw comics ever since I was a kid, I bought my first issue of X-Men when I was 11 or 12 and I started copying images out of them. We have a convention here in Atlanta called Dragon-Con and I started going to it when Marvel and DC would set up at the show and I'd talk to artists and editors and show them my work and take notes and then go home and start practicing.

I was very lucky that I started to get noticed by some smaller publishing companies here in the South. I then took that work to conventions and got hired by Dreamwave and Devil's Due to work on Transformers and G.I.Joe. As Dreamwave started going under I was contacted by Erik Ko who was a former member of Dreamwave. He'd started his own company called Udon Entertainment and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining. Udon was working with Marvel at the time so Erik introduced me to Bill Jemas who was the publisher at Marvel and they ended up giving me a gig on Deadpool and the all ages Spider-Man title. I've been there ever since.

RS: time has flown by, I remember your Deadpool work, it doesn't feel like ten years ago.

MB: It amazes me as I look back and think of some of the things I've done. It feels like I just did them last month.

RS: let's talk about your influences. As I was preparing to chat with you I was reading though some of your back catalogue and it's very hard to pin down your style. Certainly in some of your commission pieces I see some Adam Hughes, some J. Scott Campbell and certainly some anime and animation influences.

MB: I think I'm always very dissatisfied with the way I draw and I always want to get better. My influences come from all around me. Adam (Hughes) lives 20 minutes from me and we are good friends so every once in a while he'll point out a technique or something like that. I know J. Scott Campbell as well so you kind of come to a homogenization by incorporating different techniques into your work. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Disney.

Leinil Yu and Olivier Coipel are two really good friends who I've spent time drawing with and learned different techniques from, so that's kinda how it goes, it's a journey to get better. I see it every day when I go on Deviant Art or to my Facebook feed and think 'I wish I had drawn that, it's amazing'. When you see that it influences you and makes you try to take what you are doing to the next level.

My two biggest influences in comics when growing up were Alan Davis and Marc Silvestri. Alan Davis drew the very first couple of X-MEN issues I ever bought and Marc Silvestri did the Fall of The Mutants and the Outback Saga and they really influenced the way I saw comic art. Before then comic art seemed very blocky and chunky, very realistic but Silvestri had this really scratchy, kinetic style that really spoke to me.

RS: Sketchbooks, to me, are a fun aspect of going to conventions. Let's talk about your new sketchbook 'Set List' which is out this summer. It's not your traditional sketchbook, is it?

MB: yes and no. Set List is actually an ART OF MARVEL book, so it's all Marvel work that I've done and you won't see anything but Marvel characters. It's actually the second volume, I did one two years ago called Groundworks. Groundworks was more along the lines of a regular art book where as this one has a music theme. Music was always influential on me. I hooked up with a designer, Leonardo Olea who runs Mafufo, and is an amazing designer so he just knocked this thing out of the park. It's one of the prettiest things I've ever seen, even if you take my artwork to of it.

RS: I know the name, doesn't he do J. Scott Campbell's art books?

MB: that's correct, he does J. Scott Campbell, Humberto Ramos, he does a lot of them, it's stunning stuff.

RS: You said there's a musical theme to the book, can you tell us more about the contents?

MB: It's a mix. You are going to find finished pieces, commissions, sketches, thumbnails, pencils, it's got a bit of everything in it and some stuff that no one has ever seen before. I think it will be a fun book and for the fans that think they've seen it all, they are going to see some stuff they have never seen before.

For example, I had to redesign Valkyrie for FEARLESS DEFENDERS and what everyone saw was the final design, but if you take a look at this book you'll see 8 other interpretations of the costume. So it's process stuff that only my editors have seen but now fans can take a look at.

RS: I really loved the cover you did for FEARLESS DEFENDERS that looked like an action figure package. That got quite a reaction online.

MB: My favorite reaction to that was that I saw a tweet where someone was angry because they went to the comic shop and thought the comic came with an action figure (laughs).

RS: Seeing as the book has a musical theme to it, what tunes are fueling your artistic endeavors right now?

MB: My music tastes run the gamut from punk to rap to pop. It really depends on what my mood is at the time. I still fall back on the music I grew up with a lot which was bands like The Smiths, Cake, Front 242, Beastie Boys, Ministry, and The Dropkick Murphys to name a few. I'll also choose music from time to time that fits the theme of what I'm drawing so my art has it's own personal soundtrack. I've been on a big Muse kick lately though, I think it's helping calm the stress of Summer convention season.

RS: Back to the book, tell. us about the format of the book?

MB: it's around 50 pages with a gold foil stamped textured cover with a 3 page centerfold and we are doing two different packages. The first one is just the book by itself and it's $25 and the second one is a Gig Pack. You get the book, a lanyard with my artwork all over it, a book plate, slipcase and a custom guitar pick. The book itself has an embossed area where the pick actually fits. You get that whole thing for $40. Both editions come signed.

If you're not able to attend the show and would still like a copy you can pre-order the book now. They can e-mail and we'll reply asap with ordering instructions. I've also got custom prints that no one has seen yet, original art work and all kinds of stuff, so please come by!

RS: What booth will you be at in San Diego?

MB: I'll be at booth 5557 in the illustrator area, inside Hall F.

RS: Mark, thanks for talking to us and have a great San Diego. Be sure to check out Mark's new website, launching soon. Follow Mark on twitter at @markbrooksart and check out his DA page.

Follow Russ Sheath's blog Russwords here and @russellsheath on Twitter.

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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