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Joss Whedon - "Astonishing X-Men" Comic Book - John Cassaday Comicon.com Interview

Jennifer Contino

Saturday 26 June 2004, by Webmaster

With issue two of Astonishing X-Men hitting stands this week, now’s the perfect time to catch up with artist John Cassaday and get a few quick comments about his work on the series.

THE PULSE: Right off the bat, let’s talk Planetary. A lot of people are worried this new assignment means we won’t see any more Planetary for a while. Is Planetary still something you’ll be able to work on or is that going to have to be postponed for a while?

JOHN CASSADAY: I’ll continue to work on Planetary. I’ve got two Planetary scripts in front of me. I plan to plug away at scripts as they come during my X-Men stint. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

THE PULSE: It seems a no-brainer with Joss Whedon writing that almost any artist would be thrilled to be working on this project, but you’ve worked on tons of high profile assignments before. What, besides Joss, were the reasons you wanted this assignment?

CASSADAY: Well, I love the X-Men. It’s really the perfect team book with a fantastic cast of well-defined characters. Characters I have an affection for. Since my career began, I knew that at some point I must do X-Men. I didn’t think it would happen this soon, but when Joss was pulled into the mix, it all seemed to fit. It felt like the right time.

THE PULSE: How, as an artist, were the wheels turning in your head when you heard "Joss Whedon, X-Men" in the same sentence? What thoughts immediately sprung to your mind about what YOU could do with something like that?

CASSADAY: Well, Joss and I have been talking about getting a project together for some time. We both lacked in the time department. I was busy on Planetary and Captain America and several other things and Joss was doing a TV show or something ... Joss is well known for his humor and team genre writing, but what most people don’t realize is what a fantastically energetic flamenco dancer he is.

Okay, sorry. You never know what to expect from screenwriters when they try their hand at comics. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories and have dealt with this problem myself. I was relieved, not to mention incredibly excited, when I read Joss’ first script. He fucking nailed it. He’s an excellent comic writer. He understands pacing, he certainly understands the visual side of storytelling. That element of a writer makes my job so much easier. Warren is very much the same type of visual writer. They both know how to take full advantage of the medium and let the art do the work when possible or necessary. Joss is a big Planetary fan too, so I think he knew what kind of storyteller I was and how I’d been working ...

THE PULSE: How does it feel to be a part of this Reload event?

CASSADAY: It’s exciting, but to be honest, I haven’t been reading up on all that’s going on. I tend to stay off-line about that sorta stuff. I know there’s a lot of buzz going on about it and I’m very happy about that. I get e-mails all the time about it. They don’t launch a new on-going X-Men book every day and the other X-books have some amazing talents involved. It feels special. And not like just another X-thing happening. This will be something substantial that, with any luck, people will remember in the years to come.

THE PULSE: How, if at all, does being a part of Reload put any extra pressure on you?

CASSADAY: Not really. I suppose if I stopped to soak it all in, I might feel differently, but who wants to live like that? Listen, the script is excellent, I’m busting my ass on it and Marvel is 110 percent behind us. If it doesn’t work and people don’t like it, then that’s just the way the cards fall, right? But from my point of view, there’s nothing we aren’t doing to make it the best work we can do.

THE PULSE: When hearing "reload" you get an idea of putting in a new round and seeing if you can hit any of the targets with that. What were your expectations for this new project?

CASSADAY: Success and glory. And buckets of nacho cheese. It’s written in my contract.

THE PULSE: What kind of new designs or elements are you incorporating into the Astonishing X-Men?

CASSADAY: Actually, at the first meeting Joe and I had, I told him that if I agreed to do the book, I’d want to put them back in costumes and shake it up. And without me knowing it, that’s exactly what Joe and Marvel were wanting. To that end, some of Joss’ story deals with the "why?" of the costume argument. I won’t go into it here, but the team has very specific reasons for suiting up in costumes. Costumes, not uniforms. I like the leather look of the movies as well as Grant’s run, but for the comic, it’s time for change. My designs deal with the costumes looking less like painted-on spandex, and more realistic. More like thicker protective material that a hero might truly wear. Still tight, but not paper thin. Then I start with the detail elements and patterns. Some of which, I’m sure you’ll recognize. I’m keeping it as simple as possible. Early on, certain parties involved were looking to have the characters loaded up with all sorts of pouches and extra belts and ... stuff. Pointless stuff. I did away with practically all of that and did my best to streamline the outfits. These people are about what they can do, themselves. They don’t need pouches and five armbands and headbands and six buckles on their head ... You get the idea. All along I wanted to bring the designs back to what they were in the first place. I think we’ve gotten too far away from the simplistic beauty of the original designs.

THE PULSE: How does the title reflect the content within this series?

CASSADAY: Honestly, when Joe told me the title, I didn’t like it. My first impression was that it sounded slightly retro and tired. I went back and forth about it with Joe and company and it was left up in the air for a while. During that time, I’d see it written on paper, I’d see a logo, the script ... and suddenly it works! I think it’s perfect now. Not only do I like the sound of it, I like the slight retro feel of it. Like we’re going to the root of what’s great about X-Men. And, as you’ll see, the team is looking to be larger than life. Joss makes it evident how the title works in the context of the book, right in the first issue. It actually "means" something.

THE PULSE: Why did you want to do both pencils and inks? How much time does that add to the creation process involved with each page?

CASSADAY: It’s how I’ve always worked. In fact, I haven’t "only penciled" any of my work since probably 1997. I’m a bit of a control freak. Laura, the colorist, will attest to this! I need to finish the art as much as possible. I do a page a day, sometimes more. Inking doesn’t really add on any time. If I weren’t inking, I’d be spending that time tightening up every little detail in the pencils for the inker. So I might as well do it myself!

THE PULSE: Which members of the merry mutants are featured in Astonishing X-Men?

CASSADAY: Cyclops, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Beast and Emma Frost (I just can’t bring myself to call her THE WHITE QUEEN!). But you never know when someone else might drop by and join up. No, that’s not much of a hint, but that’s all you get.

THE PULSE: How are you pushing yourself to be different on this project as opposed to your other superhero comics work?

CASSADAY: I’ve never really worked on a true-blue team book. It is a challenge, but not a particularly tough one since I’m working with a writer like Joss, who is so accustomed to the team soap opera genre. His characters interact realistically and that takes a lot of the weight off me. Actually, this may be the most super-hero-ey project I’ve done. It’ll definitely be one of the funnest. Doing X-Men on one hand and Planetary on the other, I have two sides of the spectrum working at the same time. This will be an interesting year.

In my spare time, I plan to climb Everest.

THE PULSE: What’s your current time of creativity? Are you working early in the morning or late into the night?

CASSADAY: Late night works better for me. No phone calls, no deliveries, fewer distractions. I feel like if most of the population is asleep, I can concentrate. I may be mental.

THE PULSE: Is Whedon writing full scripts or plots? Which, as an artist, do you prefer?

CASSADAY: Joss is writing full script. Does anyone write plots anymore? I don’t know. I don’t work from plots. I like to know what’s being said. It helps to flesh out the characters.

THE PULSE: How tough is it to work with Whedon? When you have a problem or question about the script, do you have to go through his "people" or are you able to just e-mail, call, or talk to him in person about it?

CASSADAY: [laughs] Joss and I are friends. He’s a super nice dude. We talk a lot.

THE PULSE: How did you develop your storytelling technique for this particular title? Does your technique change with each new assignment?

CASSADAY: Not with each new project, but there are differences. I like to experiment when the story allows.

THE PULSE: What do you do if you face the blank page and just feel blocked and can’t get started? How tough is it to overcome the intimidation factors?

CASSADAY: I can almost always get something down on paper. If a page isn’t working, I can put it down for a bit and do thumbnails or cover designs or do lettering or coloring notes or any number of things that are involved with getting the book out. A lot of things many people may not think about. Have I mentioned that I’m mental?

THE PULSE: One or two times, but I thought you were joking. About how many pages are you able to create each week? What factors add to the length of time?

CASSADAY: A page a day. Five a week, if not more.

THE PULSE: What’s coming up in your first Astonishing arc?

CASSADAY: Let me give you a list of some things you might see : Fun, fun, fun, danger, danger room, excitement, blood, sex, white lipstick, claws, lasers, costumes, students, guns, parties, the jet, a press conference.

THE PULSE: You’ve always been working on a few different projects both in and out of comics - at least when I talk to you it seems like you’ve got a lot going on. What - if any - outside comics projects are you working on along with Astonishing?

CASSADAY: I’m doing my best to say no to anything else this year besides comics. Producing twelve issues of Astonishing X-Men in twelve months, and a few issues of Planetary on top of that, will be taking up most of my time.

THE PULSE: When you’re not creating comics, how do you wind down? How do you spend your free time?

CASSADAY: I’d rather not say. Flamenco anyone?

Joss Whedon - "Astonishing X-Men" Comic Book - John Cassaday Comicon.com Interview - Gallery

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