Behind the scenes of Ultimate Spider-man Infinite & Amazing Spider-man: Who Am I? with layout artists Geoffo and Mast
Long time comics fans will be used to the familiar credits on a opening splash page that list everyone who made the issue from writer and penciller to inker, colorist, letterer and more. But in the world of Infinite Comics there is a new job title on those credit pages – layout artist – and two of the best in the business right now are Mast and Geoffo, who alongside digital comics pioneer Yves ‘Balak’ Bigerel make up Turbomedia. With their work already appearing in Iron Man: Fatal Frontier and about to debut in the new Amazing Spider-man: Who Am I? and Ultimate Spider-man Infinite comics we got in touch with Mast and Geoffo to find out the secrets to being a Marvel Infinite layout artist.
The job of layout artist may be a new one to comic fans, tell us a bit about what is involved and what do you bring to Infinite comics that a traditional artist might not be able to?
MAST : Hah ! Well, first maybe we should tell more about the Turbomedia method, developed by Yves “Balak” Bigerel, Turbomedia is a method of graphic storytelling for digital stories that uses narrative tools from comics, animation, and video games.
GEOFFO: Yup, basically, it’s creating original stories for the screens, developing never-seen content for Internet and tablet/mobile platforms. The thing of course is, you don’t tell a story FOR the screens (landscape format) the same way you do for something that’s going to be on print/portrait format.
MAST: That’s where we come into play. As layout artists, we have to come up with dynamic storytelling, exploiting technical possibilities that digital offers and finding new transitions and effects that are useful to the story – not some stupid fancy gadgets.
GEOFFO: Our work for Marvel is at the crossroad between what a storyboard artist and a movie director can do.
MAST: We’re James Cameron.
Tell us a bit about your backgrounds in comics and how did you get involved in working on the Infinite titles?
GEOFFO: First, we’re both Frenchies (Balak as well). We’ve been reading comics since we were kids and we met on Marvel comic-book related internet forums while in high school, around 2002.
MAST: Since 2002, we’ve been writing and drawing webcomics and I guess it’s been three or four years now that we’ve been wanting to do this professionnally. Our first *serious* project together, back in 2011 was already using the Turbomedia format.
GEOFFO: Again: “Turbomedia” is how we call the Infinite Canvas/ Guided.
MAST: Cheap plug – sorry –, you can learn more about the history of stories created with digital in mind by looking at that timeline we did for the five years anniversary of the Turbomedia
GEOFFO: So, yeah, we did that first project back in 2011, showed it to Balak in April 2012. One month later, he sent Mast a Facebook private message asking if we wanted to pitch a Turbomedia project to Mark Waid for his newly launched Thrillbent comics.
MAST: I was at the self-service laundry at the time and I just, you know, jumped up and down, like a crazy man. I always loved Mark Waid work. His Captain America run was one of the first comics I ever read, Flash, Kingdom Come… This was like pitching something to Steven Spielberg.
GEOFFO: In 24 hours, we came up with three potential projects to present to Balak, he liked one of them named Pax Arena. We did the first pilot episode and Mark agreed to put the first season of eight episodes on Thrillbent.
MAST: Those were the good times, before the drugs, the sex and Miley Cyrus.
GEOFFO: Then Mark Waid and Christy Blanch (check out her series “The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood” on Thrillbent, well worth it!) introduced us to Steve Wacker, during Thought Bubble 2012, in Leeds. At the time, Steve was senior editor at Marvel Comics, editing some critically acclaimed titles like Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Superior Spider-Man.
MAST: Marvel was already working with Balak, who did storyboards for the earliest Infinite Comics: Avengers vs X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted… We showed Steve our work on Pax Arena, he told us Marvel was looking for more layout artists. And that was it.
Marvel are really making a push for more Infinite comics this year do you approach titles with a longer story arc differently to a one shot?
MAST: Not really. We always try find a new transition/ effect for each episode, but since scripts are coming up one at a time… We do make sure to always have an epic ending cliffhanger when working on a series.
GEOFFO: Marvel is doing more Infinite Comics and tries new methods for delivering the content. “Amazing Spider-Man: Who Am I?” will follow the Netflix way: drop a big bunch of episodes on a same day.
Is it important to get the balance of fancy transitions vs good story telling right first or do you think it is always about what has the most impact when it comes to Infinite comics?
GEOFFO: I’d say good storytelling comes first. Readers shouldn’t notice the fancy transitions. The Infinite format provided a more immersive experience for the fan. You don’t even need sound: onomatopoeias are much more efficient.
The Infinite comic is still a relatively new art form, how important is it for you to push the boundaries of what makes an Infinite comic?
GEOFFO: Back in 2011, we only used the basic diaporama to tell our stories. After learning how to tell basic stories for the screens, we started to add the transitions and animations. We took the time to learn the grammar and now we know where are the boundaries and where to push.
MAST: When we started to test this format back in 2009, it felted like an all-new territory, a virtual blank canvas. Now, we have worked on almost a hundred Turbomedia stories, we’ve learned the basics and I believe it’s been one year now, that we really know what we’re doing and why we make some of the storytelling choices we make.
What are some of your favourite Infinite titles so far?
MAST: “Avengers Versus X-Men: Nova“. It’s the very first Infinite Comics, by Mark Waid, Balak & Stuart Immonen. I already feel nostalgic for those times.
GEOFFO: Damn I wanted to say that one. The second AvX Infinite, with Cyclops, especially the beginning, with the voices screaming. Also, even if this was looooong before the Infinite Comics line, I loved the Marvel Cybercomics: Daredevil Zero by Smith, Quesada & Palmiotti.
And what about non-Infinite titles, which digital comics do it well in your opinion?
MAST: MediaEntity. It’s available on comiXology, in English and French. Read it.
GEOFFO: Insufferable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause, Malec and Balak’s blogs who are adding loop & Flash animations to their Turbomedia, Moth City, The Endling… Well, if you want to see digital comics done right, going on Thrillbent is a first step.
You’re working on the new Amazing Spiderman series, how was it working on such a high profile character? How much room were you given in terms of what you could do with the story telling?
MAST: Steve Wacker & Tom Brennan gave us Josh Fialkov & Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man Infinite as our first official job for Marvel. And it was PETER PARKER. The real one. Funny thing, I was again at the laundry when Steve & Tom told us.
GEOFFO: You should go there more often. As for how we worked with the editorial, artistic and production team, it’s – well, it’s teamwork, really. Everyone has been very supportive and motivating. The writers give us a plot for one episode, we interpret it for the digital comic medium, then then put in dialogue using our layouts and the penciller and colorist do their magic. We then make sure each finished episode reads okay, sometimes it needs some retakes… Sometimes the way pencillers draw will bring new ideas (do a pan-shot instead of a reveal effect)
MAST: Make sure the lettering works fine…
GEOFFO: The Marvel Way!
MAST: Haha. The biggest thrill so far was working on Ultimate Spider-Man Infinite. It was the perfect project for big Turbomedia storytelling fans like us. It’s based on the Disney XD TV show and introduces new villains never seen before it the animated show.
GEOFFO: We’ve been really fortunate to work with Eugene Son, who also writes for the TV series.
MAST: All the writers have been great, really. It’s All-Ages but they’re not dumbing down the story. I really can’t wait for people to read those 24 episodes, which will be available in 13 languages, FOR FREE.
GEOFFO: For free?
MAST: FOR FREE!
How was it working on one of the early returns of Peter Parker to the Spider-suit and were you a fan of the Superior series?
MAST: When Superior was announced, I wasn’t convinced. AT ALL. I was one of the guys saying “Can’t wait for Peter to come back”. But I read Superior. And issue after issue, I became a believer. Dan Slott and the artistic team really pulled it off. I’m really going to miss SpOck. That witty smartass.
GEOFFO: Dan Slott is crazy.
How receptive were writers Dan Slott and Josh Fialkov to the world of digital comics? I know Josh has some experience with his superb series The Bunker, but what about Dan?
GEOFFO: They’re both very opened to digital comics, Josh especially. He has a great understanding on how to publish webcomics and make them genuinely appealing. So many good indie comics don’t get any success so it’s always great to see fantastic stuff like “The Bunker” getting so much recognition.
Tell us a bit about your Thrillbent series Pax Arena and why should readers check it out?
GEOFFO: Pax Arena is a noir/space opera police procedural in black & white, that takes place in a space station called Pax Arena. Agent Zoë investigates the murder of Pal Peleri, an innocent accountant. She believes Pax Arena’s very own administrator administrator, Kelvin Palance is involved.
MAST: Sooner than later, there should be a new version of the first eight Pax Arena episodes, with new drawings, new lettering and a loooot of exclusive contents like articles about the history of digital comics, a list of storytelling effects and transitions we use on our work, a look at our storyboards…
GEOFFO: It’ll be first available through comiXology and later on Thrillbent.
MAST: We really did our George Lucas’s on this. We added at least 16 scenes with Jar Jar Binks in it.
GEOFFO: Also, have a look to our others Turbomedias: The Walking Pandas on Thrillbent & comiXology (it’s The Walking Dead, with Pandas!), The Pandas Show, Bouncer: Ghost Story (with Alejandro Jodorowsky and François Boucq), a fun digital comic trailer for Scott Pilgrim.
MAST: And of course, our Marvel Infinite: Iron Man – Fatal Frontier #12 & 13; Amazing Spider-Man: Who Am I? #1-13; Ultimate Spider-Man #1-24 and, it was just announced, Original Sin: Secret Avengers #1 & 2.
Amazing Spider-man: Who Am I? and Ultimate Spider-man Infinite will be available via ComiXology and the Marvel Comics app – where you can already get Iron Man: Fatal Frontier. You’ll find Pax Arena on Thrillbent and for more on the guys visit the Turbomedia site for their latest web comics or their own sites www.jlmast.com and Geoffo Arto on Facebook