Painting the Fantastic Four

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mythos: Fantastic Four Cover. 2007.
Acryla Gouache on masonite, 16 × 24″.

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors — An Illustration Collective.

After 10 years of drawing no dragons, I actually had to draw several last week, including Lockheed from the X-Men and the "fell beasts" from The Lord of the Rings. Go figure. But now that dragon week(s) is over, I thought I'd get back to the mini-retrospective of my Marvel career.

By 2007, I was pretty set in my ways. Fantastic Four was the penultimate issue of Mythos and I was pretty anxious to finish the gargantuan project. I also started dating my now-fiancee at the time, so I finally had a reason to get out of the house. I still don't get out much, but at that time I was basically the Mole Man.

Mythos: Fantastic Four Title Page. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 5″.

Starting with Mythos: Hulk, I made cutesy title pages featuring all the major characters in the issue. These weren't in the budget (i.e. Marvel didn't ask for it and I didn't get paid for them) but I felt like they were a nice intro and I could usually sell the original art. When my Mom saw these for the first time, she said it looked like Mitt and Ann Romney. I only listened to NPR, so I had no idea what they looked like back then. I know better now. (You can see my reference for Mr. Fantastic here.)

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 17. 2007.
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Despite the super-heroic subject matter, much of the imagery in this issue was relatively mundane. As a result, I lavished detail into the few pages that featured fantastic imagery. I always have a grand ol' time painting fire, so the Human Torch was a delight. (He's totally naked in this pic, by the way. I've always wanted to repaint it for a Marvel Max special edition.) This scene depicts the first time Johnny Storm "flames on" and the nurse behind him is just about to extinguish him. In the foreground, I painted a shocked Reed Richards, whose jaw has literally dropped to the ground. I talk more about making things "glow" here.

Digital Color Study

The secret to painting fire is making everything else darker, so color studies are especially helpful for planning your palette. I had an intern that summer, Orpheus Collar, who still flats my colored pages to this day. He would take my layouts, add a layer of color in Photoshop, and I'd take it from there. It also helps to have great flame reference, which I posted here.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 1. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

The narrative was structured around a senate hearing where the Fantastic Four recounted the extraordinary events that gave them their powers. This meant finding a lot of reference for the Dirksen building where they hold inquiries of all sorts. (I only know things like that because I'm a comic book artist.)

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 18. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

At the time, part of me dreaded the congressional scenes because it was page after page of people sitting in a court room. I think I could have a lot more fun with it now. One thing worked out: it went with the blue and orange color scheme that I mapped out for the book. I also had to design a rocket that could transform into a rotating space station once in orbit. That was hard.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 12, Panels 1-2. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

The rocket had to have an escape pod that looked a lot like the Space Shuttle. After getting bombarded by cosmic rays, it lands safely on autopilot, and I got to draw lots of people in colored suits. That's one reason it's so fun for me to paint superheroes — it's one big excuse to use the brightest of pigments.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, Page 19. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Every good comics deserves a montage, and this one encompassed all the FF history I could fit (and was familiar with). It's sort of a confusing image, but the writer, Paul Jenkins, asked a lot of me: the team looking through glass doors at the horde of reporters outside, while their epic future is reflected about them. My favorite part is the 2-parallel-lines-mean-glass turning into the speed lines for the Silver Surfer.

Mythos: Fantastic Four, The Baxter Building. 2007. 
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

My one request from Jenkins was that he leave me an extra page in the script where I could paint my version of the Baxter Building, the FF headquarters. It took a hell of a lot of time, but I loved every painstaking minute of it. I also got some pro-bono typographic help from my wife-to-be. You can see the step-by-step process here.

And finally, I'll leave you with the Super Sculpey Firm maquettes that I sculpted for reference (more pics here). These were a great help in lighting and likeness. The Thing was the most fun, but when I imported the pics into iPhoto, his was the only mug that wasn't recognized by the software as being a face. Poor, poor Benjamin Grimm.


  1. Paolo, it's always a pleasure reading about your process!
    Congrats on the engagement.

  2. You guys were only dating for 5 years?! It feels longer. Love your artwork. If you ever need empty wall space to hang some of them, I'm volunteering my house. Seriously.

    1. Yep, just 5 years. We met in May of 2007, and she's been hearing my excuses ever since. Will have to see about your surplus wall space problem.

  3. That Baxter building is redonkulous!


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