by Abbie Willans
Skottie Young’s unique art is one of the most recognizable styles in comics today. He’s developed a devoted fan base through his original stories and the comedic variant covers he draws for Marvel comic books.
Young is so popular that some of his original sketches can cost more than $2,000. So when Ambrosia Grady took a piece of artwork that was possibly Young’s to his signing at Aw Yeah Comics in Muncie Saturday afternoon, she was excited.
“He’s my favorite,” she said of Young. “I saw a cover with his cutesy baby characters, and fell in love with it. He’s the only person I follow in comics.”
It turns out that the artwork was a very early sketch of Young’s, and he gladly signed it for her. The artist’s appearance at the comic shop attracted fans from all over.
“My fiance started collecting his covers and she’s actually picked up several series after he’d done the cover because he’d gotten her interested,” said Shane Miller. He came from Plainfield to get most of his fiance’s collection signed as a surprise for her.
Byte sat down with Young to discuss his art, as well as his new series “I Hate Fairyland.”
Byte: How did you come up with the idea for your art style?
Young: It developed over time. Like anything, just years and years of drawing and eventually your influences start to fall off and how you draw, kind of, happens. Early in my career, and this happens with a lot of artists, you’re very conscious of trying to draw in a style, but how you draw when you’re not trying is really what your style is.
Byte: Was it influenced by anything? Did any particular person inspire your art?
Young: There’s tons. Sam Keith, Bill Watterson, Dr. Seuss; there’s countless names and artists over the years. There’s probably little bits and pieces of all those creators somewhere in my work. Newer artists that come along still inspire me today, like Katie Rice, James Harrion. It’s good to keep things growing and not just stop on the ones that are past.
Byte: Did you start out as a comic artist? How did you begin this career?
Young: I always drew, and I always wanted to draw comics. It was really just a matter of me showing my portfolio at a convention once, and somebody finding it – right place, right time. I fell in at Marvel in 2001 and I’ve been there ever since.
Byte: Have you ever faced criticism for your art style?
Young: Oh yeah, for sure. Good first half of my career was very much people telling me that. I heard the term “too cartoony” a lot over the years. We were definitely in the part of the business that was very photo realistic at the time, with Brian Hitch and The Ultimates and that kind of stuff. People in American mainstream comics didn’t take to it, they thought it was manga or kid stuff. Definitely a struggle at the beginning but eventually everybody kind of came around and now it seems to be very much the opposite. They seem to enjoy all kinds of artwork.
Byte: Did you feel like you personally had to combat that and fight for your style, or had publishers and editors started backing you up by that point?
Young: I’d been with Marvel for almost 15 years so there were definitely people at Marvel who were kind of champions of mine. All the retailers and readers out there might not have been the loudest, but they were still there and I had a little rabid, cult fan base and that has grown. It was really just a matter of me sticking to my guns and hoping that the industry came around at some point.
Byte: Where did you come up with the idea for I Hate Fairyland?
Young: That came from me having a child. The story’s about a 37-year-old trapped inside of a child’s body and living in a world of kid make believe. That feels a lot like my life. I’m a 37-year-old who lives in a house that’s covered in colorful kid toys, rattles, bouncy seats, and shows like Yo Gabba Gabba are on repeat, which I love, but you’ve seen one episode 55 times. I love Dr. Seuss but I’ve read Cat in the Hat 300 times. I’d escape that and go to work, where I’m drawing Wizard of Oz, and little baby Marvel figures. I thought, ‘I am this giant adult male trapped inside of a little kid world.’ I thought that was funny, and then I started thinking about Alice in Wonderland and Sarah from The Labyrinth, and how annoying it would be to go to those worlds as an adult because I’m kind of going through that now. I cannot stand Caillou. What would I do to him if you gave me a big battle axe and sent me to his world? I thought it was fun to explore that material in a whimsical way.
Byte: What’s been your most difficult project?
Young: Everything in the first six years of my career was difficult because I was learning how to draw comics. The Human Torch was one of my early miniseries, it was kind of all over the map, and every issue looked a little different. Not only learning how to draw, but teaching myself to be disciplined enough to sit down at a table and draw every day like it’s a job and not just a hobby. Since 2008 when I started developing art work for Oz, I’ve had a pretty good grip as far as control and picking what I want to do that fits me. I really haven’t faced a big challenge as far as it being hard. Everything’s been fun. The only challenge is trying to do my best.
Byte: You were saying how much you draw the baby Marvel characters and Wizard of Oz. Do you ever get bored with that kind of thing?
Young: No. I get to do comic strips with Marvel characters. I get to do my version of Calvin and Hobbes and Farside, but with Marvel. I don’t think I can get tired of that. I get to do it exactly my way. I don’t even have to turn in cover sketches. I just turn in finished covers and they go to print, because I’ve worked with the company long enough that I know what I can and can’t do.
Byte: Do you prefer drawing for a script you’re given, or writing your own script?
Young: I prefer writing my own. Writing and drawing my own stuff is the perfect world for me. I also enjoy writing for other artists, but sitting in a room with blank pieces of paper and at the end of the day, it’s filled with a story that came from my brain and I didn’t have to run it by anybody else, that’s a good day.
Byte: What’s the cover that you’re most proud of?
Young: It’s an old one. It’s the first one that I started doing my comedy stuff with. Spiderman 611 – Spiderman dressed up in Cable’s gear and Deadpool’s looking at him like, ‘You look nice!’ It was the first time I asked if they minded if I did funny covers and that kind of opened the gate.
Byte: What inspires those? Does it take you a long time to come up with the cover ideas?
Young: It really depends on the idea or the character. You have characters that are just easy because there’s a lot of funny stuff about them, or what they’re going to do in the book. Sometimes I like to say, ‘Stop taking it so seriously’ because we often do that with comics. I did a Drax cover a few weeks ago and that was tough. I couldn’t find anything funny about Drax and that ended up being what was funny about him, and I made that joke. It took me a few days to come to that conclusion. Some of them are accidental. One time I did a Thanos cover and turned in such a loose sketch that someone asked, “Is that a death balloon?” and it wasn’t, but I was like, “Yup! It is!” and that ended up being the funniest part.
Byte: What’s something you know now that you wish you would’ve known at the start of your career?
Young: I wish I would’ve known to study writing more, early on. I would go around and talk to colleges, I used to only focus on telling up-and-coming artists to work on their sketchbooks and now the number one tip I give to artists is to study writing. Get better at writing alongside getting better at art because there’s nothing better than controlling and owning all your stuff, but also because it’s definitely becoming a writer’s world and you need to know how to get a complete story.
Byte: So it’s easier to draw when you’re writing your own story?
Young: Yeah, I’m only going to do what I draw best. I’m going to write exactly what I’m good at and not write what I don’t like drawing. You’re not going to see a lot of skyscrapers in books that I write. I also don’t have to try to interpret what the writer’s thinking, I already know it.
Byte: Do you have a favorite character to draw? Least favorite?
Young: My own, yeah, Gert. As far as Marvel goes, I like drawing little Cyclops a lot, just that massive visor, I don’t know why. You could probably ask me that each month and I’d give a different answer. I don’t like drawing Iron Man. The little version of him is fine but the adult costume of him is the worst. My style is like melted butter, there’s no straight lines, and he’s a machine. So everything is about being exact, so that’s a character that…we’re like oil and water.
Byte: How many projects do you work on at a time?
Young: I do about one cover a week. I write Rocket and Groot, and I write and draw Fairyland. So right now – write and draw one book, write a book, and two million covers.
Byte: Anything else you’d like to add?
Young: Just check out Fairyland. First arc is five issues and the next arc starts after that!
You can contact Young and browse his art at his website, skottieyoung.com.