Talking Over Balloons: artist Reilly Brown

In the strange, painful, but wonderful career of comic-book penciling perhaps the most strange, painful, but wonderful job you can get is to draw a small 'tie-in' part of a larger ongoing crossover 'event' story. With dozens of comic-books arriving on different weeks, all expected to create one multi-angle story, scripts change, continuity flows, schedules are tight and the number of corrections any one artist must make to keep that ongoing continuity mostly accurate in any one comic could be staggering. And undoubtedly makes for a challenging assignment.

So The Long and Shortbox Of It has secured an interview with Reilly Brown, Marvel artist who was himself recently put into this challenging position. Reilly's (@Reilly_Brown) work can be seen in this year's Hercules "Heroic Age: Prince of Power" mini-series, the wonderful back-up story that appeared in "Chaos War" #1 and the upcoming "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" one-shot written by Jim McCann (@JimMcCann) hitting comic-book stores everywhere tomorrow!

Jon Gorga: Let's get right into the delightful muck of continuity right away, you drew the back-up feature in "Chaos War" #1 that explained where one of the central characters, Hercules, has been cosmically stuck since the events of "Assault on New Olympus" and you also drew the "Alpha Flight" one-shot coming out this week that ties-into the larger "Chaos War" 'event'. Now, as I understand it, despite the fact that you've had an involvement with the past and the present of this story as well as the character himself you would still probably find that if you draw Hercules into a page of "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" you would find some surprising notes about how he looks NOW: wounds, hair, bags under his eyes, damage to his costume and any number of crazy other things that can happen to a demi-god in the Marvel Universe. Without giving away anything you can't, is that an accurate assessment of the game?

Reilly Brown: The majority of the coordination of these events takes place with the editors and writers, so if you really want the nitty gritty on planning a crossover event, you should ask them.

For my part I'm mostly at the mercy of what's in the script, which do contain certain notes about characters to keep me up to date. For instance in the Chaos War event, Mikaboshi the Chaos King is constantly growing throughout the story, and that's something that the script for Alpha Flight mentioned, but I really didn't feel that was any different than any other note I might get in a story set in a shared universe like Marvel's. For instance, scripts frequently have reference photos attached to them, usually containing images of character's most recent appearances, so as long as I use that as a guide, I should be in the clear.

The most specific note I've seen went to another artist based on something I drew. The short Hercules story that appeared in Chaos War #1 was originally planned to appear in an earlier comic, so I actually drew it a while ago, while the last Incredible Hercules story, "Assault on New Olympus" was going on which was drawn by Rodney Buchemi. In the final issue, there's a scene where Typhon is breaking Hercules' bones, and the script was written to specifically match how I was drawing my story, with his left arm and right leg being the ones that were broken.

JG: That's an impressive display of continuity editing right there: two stories showing the same moment drawn in a different order than they were published, but specifically coordinated to match. Reilly, explain to us, for the hell of it and for anyone who isn't a huge follower of mainstream superhero comics, what is a crossover 'event'? Or perhaps, if you prefer, what are these things that Marvel and DC Comics produce that involve lots of different ongoing comic-books and mini-series woven together? I'm curious about the artist's point-of-view in this narrative machine.

RB: Ha! Does anyone not know? You can't even avoid them these days!

The simplest way to describe a comics "event" is to say that it's a story that takes place in more than one comic book series, and lately the main way to do that is to launch several new series that are specifically based on that event, such as my comic that's spinning off of Chaos War, Chaos War: Alpha Flight.

It's a story that doesn't just affect a single character, but an event that happens in the fictional world that effects everyone, and several characters will have their own stories about how they're dealing with the event.

In the end, if the characters were to meet up later, they could ask each other "what were you doing when the Chaos King attacked?" and we'd have their answer.

JG: That is about as succinct an explanation I can imagine, so tell us how "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" fits into the larger story of the main "Chaos War" mini-series?

RB: Without giving too much away, at one point in Chaos War #3, we've seen that the Chaos King attacks all the pantheons of the world, including all those pantheon's equivalents to heaven and hell. As Alpha Flight fans know, Snowbird is the daughter of an Inuit goddess, so this attack effects her directly. Also as Alpha Flight fans regretfully know, many prominent Alphas are dead, so when heaven and hell get attacked, this effects them as well.

JG: Did you communicate with the other artists like the main series' artist Khoi Pham and the artist on the excellent one-shot "Chaos War: Chaos King", Michael William Kaluta, about how they are drawing the characters, scenarios, objects and on and on required to make the story tick? Is simple comic-to-comic continuity for the things like where a shirt is torn or what time of day it is at any given time managed purely by the writers and editors or some combination of everybody? Where do those continuity notes come from?

RB: Keeping everything straight is really a team effort, but like I said before, it's the writers and editors who figure out most of the nitty gritty. From time to time I'll read the script and ask for more information about things, and the editors are always happy to provide it.

As Chaos War got bigger, someone put together a database with all the scripts and all the art that had been turned in at that point for easy reference, and that was really useful. Also, I'm good friends with Khoi Pham, so we're in frequent communication anyway, so I was always aware of what he was up to.

JG: Have you begun to feel a special connection with the son of Zeus? You've drawn him now in the "Prince of Power" mini-series and a few other places.

RB: Yeah, I've been drawing Herc on and off for a while. First in the Hulk vs Hercules 1-shot, then the infamous "Replacement Thor" story in Incredible Hercules (which was actually reprinted recently in a Thor vs Hercules greatest hits collection, which is pretty cool), then a few fill-in pages in "Assault on New Olympus," and the Agents of Atlas backup stories in the Hercules: Funeral for an Avenger issues, and then Prince of Power and the recent Chaos War short, including designing his new costume.

So yeah, me and the Lion of Olympus are pretty tight at this point!

Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak are great to work with, and have been doing an awesome job with all their Hercules stories, and honestly, working on Herc's the most fun I've had at Marvel since working on Cable & Deadpool a few years back, and some of the stuff I'm most proud of.

JG: That's always great to hear a creator say! I'd imagine after re-designing his costume yourself, you must have a rather detailed understanding of how it would be affected by different circumstances. Tell me, I'm also curious about the other end of the spectrum. What if you suddenly have to draw a corporate Marvel character you've never drawn before? Do you have an official character sheet from a database of some kind to use as reference? Or are you just expected to Google everybody as best as you can?

RB: Ha! Google really is the best reference you could ask for! The writers and editors are pretty on top of things as far as getting reference to me, and I can always ask if there's something else I need to know, plus I typically do my own research anyway-- usually based on Google and Wikipedia. was a significant resource to both me and Jim McCann while working on the new issue.

So to any fans out there-- keep your Marvel fanpages up to date!! The creators ARE looking to you for reference!

JG: That is very funny to me, because the first two sites I ever built were Spider-Man fan pages. I was probably twelve-years-old at the time! Are there more short back-ups coming from you in the "Chaos War" 'event'? What's next on your drawing board?

RB: Alpha Flight's the last Chaos War-related thing you'll be seeing from me. Next up for me are a couple of Amazing Spider-Man backup features, a cover to an upcoming Thor issue, as well as a creator owned thing I've been slowly working on over the past year that I'm almost ready to come out with. Expect to hear more about that in the new year.

JG: That is very exciting, Reilly! The Long and Shortbox Of It wishes you luck in expanding into this new stage of your comics career! New creator-controlled characters and stories are the backbone of any narrative art. We also thank you for making the time to do this for us, of course!

RB: It was my pleasure! Thanks for the interest in the project! We'll have to do this again sometime. And don't forget--Chaos War: Alpha Flight comes out on Wednesday! Look for it at finer comic book stores near you!

And there you have it Long and Shortbox readers! The artistic side of shared universe storytelling in its glory and complexities. A whole lot of work goes into them funny-books, right? When a crossover 'event' is carefully structured, marketed, scheduled, edited, written, drawn and colored, it is one of the most alive forms of fiction out there because it moves and changes on schedule with the real world!

Check out Reilly Brown's blog at Outpost 51 here on blogspot and his work in the Alpha Flight one-shot out tomorrow!


  1. That replacement Thor story was one of my favorites last year.

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