Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
To round out the series of interviews with Archaia, Emertainment got to sit down with Marcus To, the artist of Cyborg 009. Marcus is no stranger to the comic book world, having drawn for series such as Fathom, Soul Fire, Red Robin, and Huntress. He was a pleasure to interview, down-to-earth, and we could really see how much he genuinely loves comics.
Emertainment Monthly: What has your career been like—you’ve worked on Red Robin, Huntress, Fathom, and Soulfire to name a few—how has it been to work on such iconic characters like Timothy Drake, Barry Allen, and now the cast of Cyborg 009?
Marcus To: It’s interesting because I got into drawing comics because I really wanted to draw these characters in the first place. Drawing characters like Robin and Batman and the cast of 009—these characters and their stories and adventures really sparked my imagination as a kid. They’re the reason why I picked up the pencil in the first place. Getting the chance to draw these characters has been a dream come true.
I started off with Aspen Comics and drawing characters I really didn’t know. It was a transition—almost backwards—you had to do other stuff before you get your hands on the iconic characters. I’ve been in the industry for 9 almost 10 years, now; it’s continually been an evolution of getting my hands on characters I’ve loved since I was a little kid. It hasn’t stopped, I don’t think it will stop, and I’ve always loved drawing these characters. There’s still so much more to draw.
What has it been like to work with Archaia Comics? Has it been a more positive experience than your work at DC Comics or other publishers?
I got in contact with Archaia through Ramon Perez—he did Tale of Sand with Stephen [Christy]. When Cyborg started out, we talked about all the ideas we had about the book. From the beginning, it was really cool, because they gave me a lot of creative freedom and leeway for letting my own ideas take form. That was something a little bit different—I’ve never actually inked my own work before Cyborg 009, besides a couple covers and pin-ups. The ability to work with Ian Herring… I’m not used to having so much control over the creative process—a lot of the time when Ian was coloring the book, I would give my input, give him ideas and what I thought the overall feel of certain pages should feel like. I’ve never really had the chance to do that at DC. I had a lot more input in the final product, more than any book I’ve ever done. So, Archaia gave me that opportunity.
How did you develop your artistic style?
I still feel like I have problems drawing hair and hands. Not every time I’m happy with how it turns out—I think that’s the key though: every time you draw a new face or character, it always becomes different. Something so small can be a different challenge each time you draw it. A lot of times, I like to think I go into each page with something new—I try not to draw the same thing over and over again. There are some artists that reuse hands and such—and I do, too—but I always try and think of something different every time I have to draw a different part of the body. It also helps me stay interested. If I drew everything the same, it would be boring, and I’m sure that if the reader saw me draw everything the same way every time, it would get boring for them.
I never thought about drawing in a specific style, per say. I’m a very technical kind of person, in a way. I’m not the kind of artist who can look at something and just understand it. When I learned how to draw, I had to break everything down to the core and understand how it functions before I could redraw it in flesh and blood. Once I understood how hair functions, I got better. If you look at my time at Aspen, there were problems with hands and hair. Every page you draw, you gain a little more understanding of how everything works—muscles, skin, hair, and everything like that. It’s constantly a learning process, and hopefully it evolves in the future.
What’s the process going from text to art? When you get the script how do you make decisions and turn it into pictures?
At first, when I started out working, I would always try to choose the perfect panel and the perfect page layout, and the perfect everything I could think of. I would have multiples of panels, drawn from different angles. Now, there’s so many ways to draw a page, so many angles, that how could choose, really? Nowadays, I go with my gut feeling. Usually, right off the bat, I’ll see which angle I think would be best and throw it on the page. I draw in rough stick figures to see if it works—sometimes, I’ll put it aside and then go through the entire script that way and then I’ll go back and see how I feel again. Usually, though, I go with my gut feeling and what works with the story. That comes from experience, but also working with stories you enjoy. You learn how to tell a story when you learn what you like from watching movies, reading, and listening to other people.
How has it been translating Cyborg 009 from a manga to a western graphic novel? What was your decision process in how you designed these characters—were you using the source material at all?
I was constantly reading the back issues—thankfully, Comixology had recently put them online. You can’t find the older issues here in the States anymore. I went on the internet and tried to find old Toonami Cyborg 009 episodes. I was frequently watching and reading the material to get a feel for it—there’s so much history behind these characters. Even if you’re trying to remake a property, you have to understand the core and understand why these characters do what they do. If you change the overall packaging of characters, it’s alright if you at least understand the motivation behind why they do things and know what they would actually do. It helps tell the story better, and, hopefully, the fans will still see that.
If you look at my stuff as opposed to the original, I’m sure there are a lot of fans of the original that will hate it. But, I hope that once they read it, they’ll see we’re staying true to these characters. Even the designs, I tried to keep as many features that made certain characters so distinct. I tried to stay true and incorporate it into my own work.
What are your goals for Cyborg 009?
The goal is, number-one, to share the story of 009 with an American audience that might not have known that it exists. The original material is so good and so classic—Ishimori’s work should live on. He created so many amazing characters, that’s why they called him the Stan Lee of Japan. He had so many classic characters like Kamen Rider and 009. If at all possible, maybe—if at all possible—we can try to do what we did with 009 with other creations of Ishimori as well. Hopefully, those who don’t take Japanese comics seriously can take another look at it—there are so many stories in Japanese manga that anyone can enjoy.
Overall, how do you think you did on Cyborg? What are you most proud of and what would change, if anything, a second time over?
I actually hate looking at the stuff I draw. Sometimes I’ll even wait a year to take another look, because I know I’ll hate it, because there are so many things I’d want to do again. For the sake of my own sanity, I don’t look at it. Sometimes, I’ll flip through it, so I don’t stick to one page. There are a lot of things I wish I could redo. My inking has gotten better since then, some of the faces and some of the characters I wish I could tighten up. But, that’s with everything I do. I’m never all that happy with what I do, but I am proud of the overall teamwork we all put in to create this book. So, there’s that! I hope we get a chance to do these characters again, because that would give me another opportunity to improve. So, maybe another day we’ll revisit this.
Out of everything you’ve done, who’s your favorite character to draw and why?
You know, that’s such a tricky question. I get asked that a lot. I can be very fickle in general—from time to time, I’ll like drawing different characters for different reasons. One day, I’ll want to draw Aquaman, another Cyclops—I don’t know. It has to do with their color schemes and what’s fun to draw. I mean, I have to say that one character I do miss a lot is Timothy Drake. He is the book that made people notice my work, so he has a special place in my heart. I would draw him in any book at the drop of a hat.
We expect great things in your future, Marcus! Great job on Cyborg 009. If you’d like to know more about Marcus, go to his website here. If you’d like to learn more about Archaia, you can go to their website here.