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Of the myriad artists working at Marvel in recent years, Valerio Schiti, who kicks off a two-issue stint this week on Avengers A.I., stands out as one of those deserving a great deal more attention. I’m hard pressed to define what most appeals to me in terms of his work, but Schiti’s knack for distinctive facial reactions ranks high on the list. It’s also an element he and I discuss in this interview (be sure to also peruse the preview of Avengers A.I. #5 on Comic Book Resources). I hope Schiti’s boundless enthusiasm for his craft, which is reflected in his work, comes across in this interview.
Tim O’Shea: The first issue of your two-issue stint (Avengers A.I. #5-6) leaps right into the deep end, as detailed in the solicitations, as Issue 5 tackles the “mind-bending origin of Alexis.” How excited were you when you learned you got to tackle that in your first issue?
Valerio Schiti: It’s great to have the chance to work on such a defining moment for a new character. We don’t know anything about Alexis yet, even if Sam [Humphries] and André [Araùjo] introduced her. We already know what she looks like, some of her abilities but we still don’t know who she really is, what’s her purpose. Usually a normal writer would use a flashback sequence to answer such questions, but Sam is not a “normal” writer. He decided to take advantage of the artificial nature of Alexis to reveal something new about her in an original way, which means that is also a visually original way! I had a great fun drawing this scene and Frank [D’Armata], with his amazing talent for colors, made it spectacular.
How challenging is it to convey visually a title that delves into artificial intelligence ? On the flip side, what kind of visual opportunities does such a situation provide that your enjoyed taking advantage of?
Honestly, André already did the heavy lifting; he invented the technological style for the series, and I just had to follow him. And it’s great because I really love Andrè’s art! The technology is the soul of the series but it’s not fancy or smooth: most of the characters are A.I., engineers and also slightly nerds, so the idea is to suggest that they’re always building, modifying or disassembling something. I guess that the preview of the book will be out soon [it came out the same day as this interview was conducted], so if you’ll take a look at the first panel of Page 1 you’ll see what I’m talking about.
You can put a lot of stuff in a story with a setup like that, I did a lot of research to set the “visual style.” My references came from manga artists like Katsuhiro Otomo, Masamune Shirow or Tsutomu Nihei but also from movies like District 9, Tron … believe it or not, there’s also a bit of The Big Bang Theory and Real Genius in it.
As Sam Humphries noted in a recent CBR interview, “Vision has always been powerful, but now he’s definitely a major heavy-hitter in the Marvel Universe. His “body” is composed of a swarm of nanites controlled by his A.I. This upgrade gives him a world of possibilities — as well as a world of possible weaknesses.” Given all the new storytelling and power possibilities with Vision, what kind of stuff did you relish getting to do visually with the character?
Of course I tried to make him muscular and heroic, but I tried also to communicate some kind of awkwardness or an effort in his body language. He’s the closest thing to a human being that an artificial intelligence can be, he has lived with humans for decades but he’s still a robot and now he has to face this uncomfortable role to be the “bridge” between the humans and the machines. In my opinion this is the real, great improvement that Sam imagined for Vision and it impressed me a lot! That’s why I tried to show a brand-new Vision: better, stronger, more powerful but also more human than ever.
Speaking of Vision, in Issue 6, am I right in thinking there will be some comedic moments when he starts doing the morning show rounds (as teased in the solicitation text)?
Both issues are filled with comedic moments and that’s another peculiarity of Avengers A.I.: Despite the artificial nature of some characters this is a series about humor, drama, feelings and emotions.
Avengers A.I. has a really diverse cast–who else did you love getting to draw?
I fell in love with Pym and Alexis, but the real challenge was Doombot. I absolutely wanted him to be expressive and we need his facial expressions in a couple of scenes but he’s a robot, he doesn’t even have a proper face! I really hope that readers will appreciate my effort.
What do you most enjoy about collaborating with Sam Humphries?
Sam is a volcano. He left the artist free to express himself but on the other hand gives a lot of inspiration tips for the story, stuff coming from movies, video games, art and pop culture in general. I loved his previous works and it was a pleasure working together. He has this amazing talent to run from the most sensational and breathtaking sequences down to the most human and confidential dialogues. It was very fun to follow him on his “emotional roller coaster.”
Sam is clearly enthused to work with you. As he noted in his recent CBR interview you got to draw “a big scene for Hank Pym in Issue 5.” What’s the key to getting the right look for someone like Hank?
You’ll find a new Hank here, different from before and even different from the version that Andrè did. I can’t talk a lot about this, I don’t want to spoil nothing but Sam is really digging inside his characters. Hank is a genius, of course, but I wanted him to seem really at ease with the technology, like an extension of his body: He lives, breathes, talks and plays surrounded by technology, even his best friend Vision is a machine! What will someone like this man, a digital pioneer, do in his private, deep and lonely moments? You’ll find it here!
How big of a switch was it to draw Avengers A.I., after the very different (and one of my all-time favorite series in recent years) Journey Into Mystery?
Thank you for your compliments, Tim. JiM was a milestone in my career, I loved the series, the characters and the team I worked with, so I’m always happy when I meet someone that loved it too. Of course it’s a giant leap from the fantasy mood of JiM to the sci-fi environment of Avengers A.I. but there’s something that the two series has in common: the humanity of the characters. OK, I know, “humanity” is a weird word referred to a goddess and a team of robots, but it’s true! I tried to make this new Avengers A.I. believable as real persons, everyone has different feelings and weaknesses, exactly as the Kathryn Immonen’s script required for JiM. Working with Kathryn, I learned a lot about how to express with body language and facial expressions for character’s emotions and it helped me to figure out the cast of Avengers A.I.
We cannot do an Avengers A.I. interview without getting your take on Dimitrios, since readers will learn even more about him in Issue 6
The cover of the book speaks for herself: You’ll see the man behind the iron mask! Moreover you’ll go closer to his real nature, his amazing abilities and more of his talents all packed in one of the weirdest sequences I ever did in my entire career! I can’t wait to know what readers will think about it. Definitely he’s one of the main characters in Issue 6.