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Interview with Jeff Suter, Senior Art Director for Marvel Comics

by Grant Friedman

on March 12, 2009

in Interviews

This week I had the opportunity to interview Jeff Suter (AKA @suterman), the Senior Art Director for Marvel Comics.  I’ve always been a huge fan of comic books, specifically comics from the Marvel Universe.  Who doesn’t love Spiderman or Wolverine? I mean really?  Anyhow, this is a great read for anyone interested in comic books or art direction.  Enjoy!

Jeff, thanks so much for participating in this interview.  Can you begin by explaining a bit about your background?  Where are you from?  How did you get your start in art and design?

Thank You for asking me! I grew up in Northern New Jersey, but spent a good deal of my childhood in New York City as a child actor and performer. I did lots of TV commercials, Broadway and tons of voice over work. I did an Underoos commercial in 1980 and I was fascinated by the animation guys on the set drawing the characters on the monitors for the director for camera positioning. I’m almost sure one of those guys was Joe Kubert. I told my Mother right there that I wanted to be an artist if I didn’t make it in acting.

My Father was a Print Pressman and we even had a 2 color AB Dick press in the basement, so I started stripping 2 color film and retouching logos and stuff for my Dad when I was in high school. After HS, I then took night classes at Passaic County College while working as an art director at a print shop during the day and moved on to run a photo-processing studio. I was lucky enough to take over as a production manager at that company when they “Went Digital” and have been designing marketing and print materials on the Mac ever since.

I can’t imagine there being a cooler job than working for Marvel Comics.  Can you tell us a little about your position as Senior Art Director?  How did you get involved with Marvel?  What are your responsibilities?  What is your typical day like?

Well, my main duties are overseeing design and execution of Marketing and Sales material. That would include ads for comic books that appear in comic books, fan magazines, trade magazines like Publisher’s Weekly and mainstream media like the New York Times and USA Today. This also includes sales materials used by retailers, like Marvel Previews, our monthly catalog, promotional posters, postcards, door hangers, online web ad material, book marks, t-shirts for conventions, convention booth design and execution, honestly the list goes on and on. When there is a need for promotion materials, I’m generally involved.

I also produce multi-media material, like Comic Book Trailers (which I produce the video and soundtracks), Podcasts (The Mighty Marvel Podcast, which I host, edit and mix.) Voice over work for commercial and Marvel.com use. I am also responsible for the multi-media displays at Comic Conventions, like New York Comic Con for example.

I also work on design of logos, trade dress treatments, variant cover design and execution, editorial pages like Bullpen Bulletins or Cup ‘O Joe. Really, anything materials that needs to be produced for publishing business development.

My day starts at my desk at 8AM until my eyes start going blurry.

ULTX100_VAR_COV.jpgA wise super hero once said “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Art directors typically have a lot of responsibility; the larger the company, the larger the responsibility.  What would you say is the most challenging aspect of being an art director for Marvel Comics?  What is most rewarding?

The most challenging thing about my job is juggling the amount of projects that are on my schedule. With that said, it’s the vast diversity of projects that make my job so rewarding. I literally can work on 8-10 different projects a day, so I never have that monotonous numbing feeling. I go from mixing a podcast to designing a 12-foot tall banner for a convention, to working on an ad for Wolverine to run in a magazine and then jump on a logo design for Ghost Rider!

In addition to your position as Senior Art Director you also host the Mighty Marvel Podcast.  Can you tell us a little about the Mighty Marvel Podcast?  Podcasting can sometimes be a little outside the scope of the typical art director role.  What was the most challenging aspect of stepping into this role?  What’s your favorite part of hosting a podcast?  Can you offer any tips for anyone wanting to start a podcast of their own?

Yes, I would say that Podcasting is certainly outside the typical Art Director role. I took on the podcasts because of my experience as a commercial actor and musician. I’ve been a musician for most of my life, so I had many years of recording experience, and that is why I was originally approached to produce the podcasts. There was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning, but I’d say that we have streamlined the program format to be exactly what we need it to be, another vehicle to promote Marvel Comics. We need to deliver content to the fan, especially the new fans, the younger, more online connected community of comic fans. That’s the most important thing, connecting to the fans and delivering entertaining, informative programs about Marvel. Plus, I love talking to the creators. I really do. I love getting story and character information out of them. And I think it’s great that we give creators a platform to sound off to the fans. It really is a blast.

Tips on podcasting? Well, write an outline of what you want to do a show about. Don’t record off the cuff. You need to know going in what you’re going to talk about. Sure, you’ll go off on other subjects, but you need to start with a plan. And be yourself.

VanLente_Podcast_shot.jpgMarvel is one of those companies where it seems like just about everything they do is awesome.  That being said, what have been your favorite projects to work on over the years?

I love composing music for the Comic Trailers I produce. That is something that is really satisfying to me artistically. I love the video and multimedia work. Really, there are no projects I work on that I don’t enjoy on some level. We all have tasks that are stressful (like during Convention season) but for someone in the creative community, I couldn’t ask for a more fulfilling position.

Most of my readers are aspiring artists or designers.  It would probably be tough for me to find a reader who isn’t a fan of at least one Marvel character or series.  For those of my readers who are not obsessed fanboys (or girls) can you recommend some comics with either compelling storylines or inspirational artwork for us to take a look at?

That is a really tough question, because there are so many excellent books being produced. I think it is a really exciting time to be in the comic industry, and the boys and girls at the creative plate are really knocking them out of the park. Really, the level of quality in Marvel books right now is mind-boggling!

A good start would be Ultimate Spider-Man, Wolverine, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. All of these books excel in comic book storytelling.

Previews_Sample.jpgEarlier I mentioned the responsibility that comes with being an art director.  How does an aspiring artist or designer prepare himself or herself for the role of art director?  What would you say is most important; a strong educational background, experience in the field, or a good eye for design?

I think anyone who wants to be in the design field needs to study good design. That may seem like an obvious answer, but you have to learn from what has come before. Typography is something that I think a lot of students tend to overlook in importance. If you are going to work in the ad field, typography might be the most important aspect to learn. I know it took me many years to recognize good design. Typography skill separates the men from the boys. And yes, stay in school kids!

What would you say is the future of Marvel comics?  Do you see a major transition from traditional mediums such as print to digital?  Do you think that more comic book titles might be adapted for Hollywood films?

Who doesn’t want to see the Marvel Universe on the big screen? As long as they write good scripts, and employ the best people in the industry, Marvel movies will be awesome for many lifetimes! The Marvel Universe is filled with ageless characters, telling ageless stories. The stories never end! No matter the medium, these characters will always exist to fight evil and save the innocent. You gotta love ‘em!

Podcast_2_NYCC_09.jpgFinally, do you own a mobile device?  If so, which one?  How do you use it to improve your productivity?

I own a pre-pay cell phone for emergencies. I only use it when I need to get in touch with my wife. In my opinion, a cell could never improve my productivity.

About Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.