Wednesday Interview: Gregg Schigiel

Chances are you are more familiar with Gregg Schigiel's work than you think you are. Not only is he the writer of Marvel's current X-Babies mini-series, he is also one of the official Spongebob Squarepants artists, and he has done an impressive mountain of licensing art for Marvel, DC, Nickelodeon, Disney, and other heavy hitters. He is also known as the guy who drew me a totally awesome Namor sketch at HeroesCon '09. X-Babies #2 drops this week, and I got to talk to Gregg all about those adorable little mutants.

How did you get to be involved with X-Babies?

By accident. Yeah, I had pitched something else entirely, a couple of times, with Jacob Chabot (the artist on X-Babies), a Spider-Ham mini-series. But because of other things going on that pitch wasn’t viable. The second editor we pitched it to, Nick Lowe, asked if we had any X-Babies ideas. In that moment I didn’t, but I went into brainstorm mode and came up with the story people are reading now. I ran it by Jacob and he was on board...and Marvel liked it to. Next thing you know, I’m being interviewed on Living Between Wednesdays.

Your Spider-Ham mini-series pitch to Marvel expanded the idea of Spider-Ham to create a whole Avengers team of animals. Although that wasn't picked-up, this X-Babies series is sort of in the same category of off-beat versions of Marvel heroes. Are you a big fan of the weirder elements of mainstream comics?

Oh, it was more than just an Avengers team of animals. The idea was the reinterpret the Marvel Animals (or AniMarvels, as I was calling them) as being essentially an alternate world/dimension where every Marvel Universe character had an animal counterpart, be they Avenger, X-Man, cosmic level dude...everyone. In the pitch I explained the equivalent of mutants on this world were birds, feared and hated for their feathers and flight...that sort of thing.

I like the weirder and more playful elements of superhero comics, and it seems as more and more attempts are made to prove how grown-up and realistic comics can be, much of even the basic tenets, like costumes, code names, using super powers, have become the weirder elements.

But if a concept or character are inherently weird or different, it’s fun to play them straight. If a character is a normal or typical thing, it’s fun to take them to weird places...if that makes sense. So the X-Babies...we’re playing this one relatively straight, but letting the quirkiness of these wee X-Men exist as they would. I don’t know if any of that made sense, but there you go.

I find it really interesting that you have done a lot of work for DC and Marvel, as well as Nickelodeon, outside of monthly comic books. You have done illustration work for colouring books, children's picture books, advertising, and guide books for both companies. For our illustrator friends out there, how did you get into that kind of work?

The terrible answer is the classic “it’s who you know”. While I was at Marvel as an assistant editor
I learned quite a bit about licensing art and that whole department and did work with them (there’s a drawing of Electro I did for them years ago that still pops up pretty regularly). So that was the first eye-opener to the world outside sequential comics specifically. Then, My old boss at Marvel, Tom Brevoort, knew someone at Nickelodeon looking, at the time, for freelance cartoonists to help out with licensing work. I was put in touch with that guy and that led to a full-time position there which eventually led to me leaving there to work as a full-time freelancer.

Though for the sake of our illustrator friends out there, the lesson should be: there are other opportunities to find work drawing for a living beyond specifically comics. I realize it’s hard to even think that way, especially when you love comics. And especially when the nature, at least of licensing work, is drawing to a style as opposed to in your own, personal style.

But it’s important to know it’s out there. And I think a way to approach looking for that sort of thing is contacting art directors and such at licensed publishing houses and asking to test for specific properties (which is to say you do samples to see how well you can draw something “on-model” (which is to specs so it looks like it does on TV, for example). That’s how they determine if you make the cut and then, maybe, there’ll be work there. A lot of companies might have in-house staff for their style guides and such, but you could still inquire with them as well.

I’m not saying it’s all a guaranteed pot of illustrator gold out there, but there are opportunities, certainly. You just gotta keep your eyes and mind open.

Who is the most adorable X-baby?

Of the X-Babies proper, Jacob’s version of Kitty Pryde is super-cute, no question about it. Of the Adorable X-Babies, who we first met in X-BABIES #1, Jacob’s design for Stormy, as she’s called in that form, is brilliant with the pacifier and onesie. But in issue one we only showed you some of the Adorables...

What other projects are you working on now?

These days I’m working on the last chapter of my 5-part back-up comic, PIX: TEENAGE AMERICAN FAIRY, for Chris Giarrusso’s G-MAN: CAPE CRISIS mini-series, which is a really great book that I’m very pleased and honored to be a part of...the fourth issue of which I believe is on sale next week.

I’m also starting work on some books in the animated Batman and Superman styles for DC Comics’ licensed publishing group, some early-reader chapter books, as well as working on a comic for a fast food chain that’ll be part of their kids meals in summer 2010 (I can’t say which chain though, yet). There’s some SpongeBob stuff around the corner. And I’m sure there’s something else I’m forgetting...