In preparation for OPERATION S.I.N.—the five-issue limited series starring Peggy Carter that launches January 2015—artist Rich Ellis shares with Marvel.com his designs for the cast, as well as an exclusive sneak peek with four pages of pulse-pounding 1950’s era action against the forces of HYDRA!
Marvel.com: Looking at some of the text you wrote next to your sketches, one cannot help but be interested in Peggy Carter. How much of your take on Peggy came about from early discussions you had with writer Kathryn Immonen about the story?
Rich Ellis: Most of it, Kathryn and I had some really helpful back and forth when I was attached to the project. We clicked really early about the direction of Peggy especially. It took me a little while to settle into a design that conveyed just the right amount of bad-ass; though Kathryn had a bunch of brilliant reference that gave me a really great starting point.
Marvel.com: Can you talk about your philosophy in designing Peggy’s period attire? How much research was involved and getting the 1950’s look of the story?
Rich Ellis: Dressing Peggy did take a fair amount of specific reference [research]. I wanted to strike the right balance between the fashion of the time—which is simply gorgeous—and some very practical clothes. If things are working right, you should get the sense that even when Peggy is wearing a high fashion dress, she’s made enough sensible alterations that she could still knock you out cold.
I’ve done a couple period pieces before, and I find that I gather the same amount of reference either way. I’m always looking at reference; the main difference I’ve found is that everything from cars to coats made in the 1950’s just looks cooler!
Marvel.com: While in some ways Howard Stark is like his son Tony, they are not the same person in many respects. How did you go about defining the look of Howard to make him stand out and not seem like Tony Stark Sr.? Also, the note about inventions—will OPERATION S.I.N. afford you the chance to draw some of Howard Stark’s inventions?
Rich Ellis: Setting Howard apart from his progeny is a subtle balance; I’m solidly aiming in a “Mad Men” direction for Howard’s tone. As for drawing his inventions, they will be plentiful and awesome.
Marvel.com: Please discuss your approach toward designing the look for Woody McCord in OPERATION S.I.N. Also how exciting is it to get to flesh out a pivotal character like Woodrow McCord, who was just revealed in ORIGINAL SIN #5, but who clearly is important to the Marvel Universe?
Rich Ellis: My designs for Woody are story appropriate. When Woody comes in, he’s been undercover in Russia for a while. Later on we get to see him cut loose and hop into an outfit closer to what he was wearing when we were introduced to him in Original Sin. I’m really excited about what Kathryn has planned for Woody.
Marvel.com: This is early in the life of Ursa Major, given that he is only 16. Indeed his changes in body types are drastic; what prompted you to make him grow more than a foot from human form to his grumpier form?
Rich Ellis: Ursa Major is a powerhouse; as an adult, he has gone toe to toe with The Hulk multiple times. I love drawing animals, and bears are awesome. I made Ursa’s bear form so large because I like the contrast it creates in the design. The real trick for me was finding a balance between an actual bear and the bear monster man of some of his earlier designs.
Marvel.com: The reader POV on panel 2 allows a glimpse from another room into the bathroom, how much did you try to map out the layout of Peggy’s place and how it might be decorated before drawing this scene?
Rich Ellis: In these first few pages I knew it was important to set the scene for the time period. I never sat down and drew out a floor plan, but I did take time to make a checklist of the character’s past that I wanted to hint at in the background. I really wanted her place to feel like it’s been lived in, and I made the conscious decision to put most of the war memorabilia under glass.
At this point in Peggy’s personal story the war is over, and Peg lost a lot of friends in the process. I thought it would be a good visual symbol of her trying to put those behind her.
Marvel.com: How much fun was it to sneak in Easter eggs into this scene, such as the items hanging over her nightstand?
Rich Ellis: I really took time to drop in some nods to Peg’s long history in the Marvel Universe. I love it. Peg is an old soldier with a long past. I only got to hint at it, before we blow it up, but I think it adds something to her narrative.
Marvel.com: The first two pages for the most part conveyed a level of home life tranquility; was that partially done to counterpoint the jarring ferocity of the home invasion that follows? Also, can you discuss when or how you realized that a character like Peggy would sleep with her boots by her bed—ready to quickly access for situations such as this?
Rich Ellis: The juxtaposition was absolutely intentional as was the destruction of a wall of war memorabilia and Peg’s uniform. Kathryn and I love Peg’s history, but this story is very much about a new start. Peg’s boots under her bed was a character point from the start. I would point out that going for the boots was her second choice, but apparently she doesn’t keep anything under her pillow anymore.
Marvel.com: The maneuver in which Peggy slides under her bed to get the jump on her attacker—did Kathryn ask for that in the script, or was that action choreography you suggested for the scene?
Rich Ellis: I wish I could take credit for that brilliant idea, or the visual of Peg in bed clothes and combat boots. Kathryn knows what she’s doing, and she’s been setting up some great stuff for me. I’m just drawing as hard as I can and adding as much magic as I can!
See Peggy Carter in OPERATION S.I.N. by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis beginning in January 2015, as well as on ABC in “Marvel’s Agent Carter” the same month!