In early 2014, I contacted former Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (2) penciller Ernie Stiner. What follows is a short interview via email about his work on the series. Thanks to Mr. Stiner for taking time out of his schedule for this interview. Humberto M. Ferre'
How did you get your start in comics and what lead to you landing the job on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD? Were you a fan of Nick Fury before joining the art team?
Like every aspiring artist, I was mailing out tons of unsolicited submissions and showing my portfolio at every comic book convention I could get to. At a Chicago show, the magnificent Mike Mignola was impressed enough to take some of my samples and promote me to Bob Harras, at Marvel. A few months later I was offered a 4 page story in Uncanny X-men Annual #15. From that one short story I was offered the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD book. Don Hudson, who had inked the X-men story, came along with me to the Fury book. As fate would have it, just before this, I was offered the lead short story in Innovation’s Send Saddam Hussein to Hell one shot. So my first three professional jobs were: “Overkill” for Innovation, “The Origin of the X-Men” in the 1991 Annual and “Recruitment Drive” in SHIELD #27. Oh, and I was absolutely a fan of Nick Fury.
What was it like to work with the rest of the art team; Don Hudson, Steve Buccellato, Philip Felix, and Tom Vincent?
It was a blast working with all of them, especially Don Hudson. Unfortunately, I never got to interact with any of the team other than Don and a few short phone conversations with Dan Chichester.
You were the last artist to really work within the framework and plots of writer D.G. Chichester on that title. Did you have much contact with him? Did you enjoy the stories you worked on?
I LOVED the stories I did with Dan, though we never got to talk until after he was gone from the book. A bit of behind the scenes: Dan and the editorial team [Mike Rockwitz and assistant Barry Dutter] were trying to tighten the book up and find a successful direction beyond Jim Steranko homage’s. All of the plots were heavily worked and reworked and most were usually quite late into the deadline process. By the time the Deathlok story came along, the writer and editors had pretty much lost faith in the long developing direction they were going. Scott Lobdell came in to dialogue one of Dan’s last plots and then he plotted one quick issue to quickly kill off all of the failed direction. A ton of plot elements, including many pay-offs and resolutions, were simply abandoned. Unfortunately, Marvel chose to abandon ME when Scott set off with his new storyline - LOL
Any particular issue or issues that stand out in your memory; for better or worse?
Issues 27 and 28 were my favorite. Issue 29 staggered because very negative fan reaction was starting to come in on my first issue and I second guessed every line I drew. The first Deathlok issue was a mixed bag of desperate course corrections, but there are few panels I really love to this day. Issue 31 was just a rushed mess. Loved the Cover to 31 though!
Regarding this Image: I knew after the Deathlok issues, that Marvel was looking for a new direction for the Nick Fury book, and this drawing went with my suggestion. In that concept Nick’s team became a much smaller strike force within SHIELD - less spying, with more field operation action. The logo in the back would have been the insignia for this sub group - SWORD. If the letters stood for something, I no longer remember what.
|Who were your favorite characters to draw on the SHIELD side of the cast, like Nick Fury, Dugan, Kate Neville, etc?
Nick was the favorite, of course. Dugan was next, followed by Pierce – who was getting a lot of attention at the time.
Your stories were loaded with guest stars from outside the title, including Wolverine, Deathlok and Tony Stark. What was it like to draw those popular Marvel heroes?
Who wouldn’t love a shot at drawing Wolverine? I actually had more fun drawing Deathlok though, because Logan was out of costume in the stories I drew.
Your run was the last to utilize a supporting cast of Hydra villains that had started with the early issues of the title, including Garrote and Romulus. Any memories of drawing those characters?
I never felt that I got a handle on drawing Garrote. Romulus came together much better. This early in my career I was feeling intimidated so I was slavishly studying Guice’s interpretations rather than finding my own.
Of the three covers you did, which do you like best? Were you disappointed that another artist did the covers of two of your issues?
I choked on the first one, and then improved up to my favorite on issue 31. I was especially proud that that cover, as well as the opening splash to that issue, was used in Marvel Age Magazine to promote Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Frankly, I was so new to the business I had NO problem with cover help from Jackson Guice.
You had some impressive splash pages during your run, two that always stand out in my mind are Nick Fury barging in on the UN Secretary in your first issue (#27) and the full page in #28 where Fury ejects from the exploding the plane while making a Die Hard joke. What were the unique challenges to working on Nick Fury versus other titles?
Without a doubt - And I think every artist that has drawn the book beyond the first series will agree – the biggest challenge is following in the HUGE footsteps of Jim Steranko. My clever plan to deal with the Steranko Factor involved the misguided notion of, “if the ever-evolving James Steranko had stayed with the book, what would the look be today?” My answer was that it would look like his Outland movie adaptation. This is why the early books are very angular with slabs of blacks. Readers thought I was channeling Mignola, but it was just my poor interpretation of Jim’s Outland Style. This was NOT a popular choice. I started course corrections in the first Deathlok issue and my last issue was a hurried mess because the plot was super late as they worked to quickly dump the old direction.
How would you characterize your time working on the Nick Fury title?
As my first regular series, how could Nick Fury be anything BUT memorable? As an aside: I met Jim Steranko for the first time at the 2013 Pittsburgh Comicon and gave him copies of my first two issue of SHIELD. When he immediately ran over to excitedly show them off to his manager, J. David Spurlock, it became the highlight of my time with Agent Fury.
What led to your leaving the title? What led to your leaving the comics industry?
Marvel had to let me go from the Fury book – I was NOT pleasing the Readership. When the speculator market crashed in the second half of the 1990’s I simply did not have the fan following to continue in the ravaged marketplace.
What do you think of SHIELD and Nick Fury today in the movies? I really enjoy the movie version of Fury and SHIELD and the Ultimate versions that they are based on. That said, it’s kind of hard to compare them to the original version as I worked on it. The TV show is on past my bedtime and I have yet to hunt down any of the episode.
Do you follow any comics now? Truthfully, I tend to follow artists more than titles these days: Mignola, P. Craig Russell, Mike Oeming, Toby Cypress, Humberto Ramos and number of others who just don’t show up all that regularly. Beyond that I’m currently following Daredevil, The Sixth Gun, Jupiter’s Legacy, Locke & Key and the rare League of Extraordinary Gentlemen one-shots.
Can you talk about your work now as a draftsman and technical writer? Do you do commission work or convention appearances?
Well, I work for a nuclear custom fabrication shop, and with the blow that the industry has taken since the disaster in Japan, I will be ending that career when my plant closes in October 2014. All along I have been doing commissions, selling on eBay and doing the occasional show. Right now my plan is to attempt another [late-in-life] run at the sequential storytelling business. I’ll be doing more shows and sending out samples again.
I am currently developing a web comic, “The Clients of Todd Oddessey” which I hope to launch in late 2014: http://todd-odd.blogspot.com/2012/01/starting-thursday-march-1-2012-new.html .Legalities are such these days that few of the publishers will accept unsolicited submissions – certainly not the Big Two. The road into the big two seems to lead through some smaller publishers first, and the modern way to catch their attention seems to be via a web comic. Like all creators I have a drawer full of my own ideas. Taking a cue from my idol Mike Mignola I tried to figure out what I could do that would allow me to tie as many of my various ideas into a single strip / universe? So I came up with Todd Oddessey, a talent agent specializing is strange and “odd” clients: monsters, aliens, mutants, mythological beings and so forth. Todd is based on the late, legendary Hollywood talent agent, Irving “Swifty” Lazar. This strip will allow me to bring together my concepts: Dino Saurus / Dawna Saurus / Government Issue Grunts and several others. Todd Oddessey was supposed to be out there already, but I had over a year of eye issues – now nearly resolved - that postponed everything
I was just looking up your credits and I saw that you worked on the comic of one of my movie guilty pleasures, Freejack. I'm a huge Stones fan and I actually read the original novel the movie was based on; what was your experiences on that project?
I read “Immortality Incorporated” too – Truthfully the book was a hell of a lot better, and the movie was so far off from the book I have no idea why they even tied to tie them together. That adaptation was an odd thing. I had the first two issues drawn before we saw the movie in its general release. Suddenly we all realized that they had re-cut the movie from what our adaptation was written to and what we had put into two of three issues was not even getting us to the midway point of the movie.
The writer reworked the third issue to add in all of the new second half scenes but what he turned in had increased the page count beyond what the publisher, NOW Comics, could afford. NOW was in financial trouble. We creators had not been paid a dime on the second issue, and the writer refused to do any rewrites and bailed out. I stopped work for a few months waiting for often promised money to show up. I finally opted to retoolthe third book myself, compressing everything into the allotted page count without cutting anything, and then finished drawing the final issue. I took over three years to finally get all my money from NOW and I was pretty lucky at that.
A big thanks to Ernie Stiner for taking time to do this interview!