Marvel Sketch Cover Madness: Secret Wars No. 1!

This was a nightmare task to draw, and took over three consecutive hours.

This was a nightmare task to draw, and took over three consecutive hours.

“Secret Wars” is a 2015 comic book storyline published by Marvel Comics. It is not to be confused with the original but similarly-named 1984–1985 miniseries….you know the one that I’m doing a direct cover homage to it above. That art, by Mike Zeck, is frequently referenced and homaged, as well as used on t-shirts and merchandise. Secret Wars No. 1, from 1984, was a landmark in comics in that it was the first “event” book IN comics at all. The beginning of the idea of an editorially driven crossover, under Jim Shooter’s direction, to help market a toy line.

Now, thirty years or so later, the title and core concept are being used again, by Marvel, for the summer “event” driving their sales and editorial plan. The storyline involves the Marvel Universe combining with various other alternate universes (including the Ultimate Marvel, Age of Apocalypse, and Marvel 2099 universes) into “Battleworld,” a world that exhibits aspects of the various universes. This will result in a new, single universe that will become the status quo for Marvel Comics, similar to how DC Comics restructured its universe in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” in 1986.

Marvel assures all fans that unlike the “Crisis,” it is not a “reboot.” There will be a new status quo for Marvel, but nothing will be dropped or retconned along the way.

The first two issues have been pretty readable, which is amazing to me…since DC’s “Convergence” is a very similar plotline, and it has been…poorly received. Not just by me, but by the comics industry as a whole. Reports from retailers suggest that sales are down by 40 to 60 percent for DC’s “Convergence” event, which is not good for the company at all. Although sales of comics always ebb and flow, market shares are always fluid…that’s a huge, huge drop…which given the Marvel/Disney Machine, might be hard to recover.

About the art, drawn on Saturday….so hard. Huge respect to Mike Zeck on the original composition, but he did get to do it on a much larger surface. The problem for me with the sketch cover is that it is much smaller in space for me to draw on…especially given the space already taken up by the logo. Still, Zeck had to work out the placement of the characters, and draw “through” each of them, to create that crowd effect. At least I had his art to use as a reference…he had to do this from scratch. I am beyond impressed with that.

Midway through, I actually concluded that it would be so much easier to do digitally…and then immediately realized the problem with that. Drawing on the cover of an actual Marvel Comic is something that I just can’t do digitally…it demands the use of pencils and traditional media. That’s a huge deal, and I wonder how it affects artists at conventions. I mean, Greg Land and several others do a huge amount of their work almost entirely digitally. Do they even take the sketch covers as commissions? I have no idea.

In a related point…last Wednesday, Bleeding Cool highlighted a T-Shirt seen onsale at Wal-Mart which seemed to encapsulate fears about Marvel’s (or Isaac Perlmutter’s) attitude towards their characters whose movie and TV rights are not fully controlled by Marvel. It was a shirt using the famous Secret Wars No.1 cover by Mike Zeck that I have been praising, with the Fantastic Four, X-Men and other characters removed and replaced…with more “Marvel Studios-friendly characters.”

It seemed like a huge amount of effort to change the existing art instead of simply commission new art. Somebody had to be hired to go in and change the art, using Photoshop, placing in characters that Isaac Perlmutter actually likes. Why even use the Secret Wars image under those conditions? Mike Zeck didn’t even draw the characters that were pasted in, so the art becomes a little inconsistent, despite reflecting the Marvel “House Style” of the time.

As a curiosity, I found the shirt online, and one is en route to the Fortress of Togetherness as I type. Let’s take a look at the exhibits though…

The classic, often homaged, Mike Zeck cover.  A cover that I already have in T-shirt form.

The classic, often homaged, Mike Zeck cover. A cover that I already have in T-shirt form.

There it is…the cover to Secret Wars No. 1….the first time around, back in the eighties. It’s very familiar, it’s a classic. Note the appearances of Fantastic Four’s Human Torch and The Thing, as well as X-Men’s Wolverine, Cyclops, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. None of those characters can be used by Marvel Studios…Fox has the film rights.

Now the T-shirt…

That's the clearest image.

That’s the clearest image.

Note the removal of all Fantastic Four characters, and X-Men characters, replaced by Iron Fist, Power Man, Black Panther, Daredevil, Black Bolt and Doctor Strange – and the removal of Captain Marvel on top of that. This is basically taking away the non-Marvel Studios characters (and a Captain Marvel who might be confusing), and introducing characters to be seen in upcoming movies and TV shows. Even if those characters won’t actually be seen on screen for YEARS.

That’s a pretty cynical marketing approach…but consistent with the cancellation of the Fantastic Four, end of Wolverine’s series, and the downplaying of the X-titles. I don’t get it…it seems to me that more interest in comics is in fact, good for the industry, no matter what. What do I know…? I’m just a webcomic blogger and an English teacher.

I considered doing ANOTHER homage….instead of featuring the Cast of Adequacy prominently, it would be all the characters that Isaac Perlmutter is not okay with. That would be easier, because I’d be able to work it out in layers…but the art above was such a chore, I’m still debating a color version. Maybe that will be in the hopper for issue number 1100, which is coming up soon.

Maybe not.

It’s weird to see these kinds of corporate decisions affecting the plot of comics, and so forth. It’s not unlike the way various contracts and such affect teachers and students, with a set of considerations that seems almost separate from what the work really is.

Still…I enjoyed the finished product of the sketch cover, and also the idea of a new t-shirt with Power Man and Iron Fist on it. I don’t have one of those.

Excelsior, as Stan would say!

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2 thoughts on “Marvel Sketch Cover Madness: Secret Wars No. 1!

  1. Why does Spider-Man appear on the t-shirt? I thought Sony Pictures owned the Spider-Man film rights (which is they keep producing mediocre Spidey flicks).

    • That’s a very good question.

      When Marvel was bankrupt in the early 90’s, they sold the film rights to various licenses to whatever parties were interested, as a means of covering their overages. As a result, Fox wound up in control of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, and Sony in control of Spider-Man.

      Other agreements existed…but Marvel/Disney has mostly bought back those other rights.

      Spider-Man appears on the T-shirt, and in Marvel merchandising, for two reasons. One…Spider-man is their corporate mascot/logo, over at Marvel. Second…and more salient…is that the deal with Sony is more profitable to Disney. For instance, animated agreements are still in Disney’s hands, and further, they have agreed to share the film rights, and profits, to Spider-Man with Sony.

      Tricky, no? Blame lawyers.

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