The Iron Man Armory Interviews Kev Hopgood
Kev Hopgood pencilled Iron Man during a classic run in the '90s with writer Len Kaminski. The stellar penciller and creator of War Machine drew Iron Man 280-288, 290-297, and 299-306. He also did the covers for IM 280-306 and War Machine #'s 9, 10, 12, 13.
After leaving the pages of Iron Man, Hopgood all but left the comics industry transitioning into the world of computer games, working as a computer animator and game designer. Recently, he's been working as an illustrator and cartoonist.
In January 2007, The Armory interviewed Kev Hopgood from all the way in merry ol' England. Below, next to some of his greatest covers, are his responses as typed by his hands.
1. You were doing some work with Marvel U.K. and a few smaller publishers, how did you first get to work on Iron Man?
I met Nel Yomtov, the then Iron Man editor at a comic convention here in London. I showed him my portfolio, and luckily he liked what he saw!
2. Back in the day, did you work from full script or did Len Kaminski provide outlined plots/summary?
Me and Len worked using "the Marvel method." That is, he'd provide a plot outline for me to work from. Then he'd write the dialogue once he'd seen how I'd layed out the story.
3. I suppose this question applies to your illustration work now as well as then: How did/do you break a story down? How do you decide to frame the action and what the essential images are?
I always try to have one main panel on a page that the other panels revolve around, although I try not to let design decisions get in the way of storytelling.
4. When you received a comics script, did you read it and highlight the things that you knew you needed to capture on the page, maybe jot down notes or...?
I go through a script with a highlighter pen, indicating the main panels I want to emphasise. I also write notes to myself in the margins. By the time I'm done with it, the script's a real mess!
5. And then how do you break the story into panels--especially a frenetic action sequence? How do you choose your images (what to show)?
I wish I could say I had some method to this, but I rely mainly on gut instinct. I've read enough comics and watched enough movies that I've got a pretty good handle on visual storytelling.
6. Could you describe your working relationship with Len Kaminski? Was it collaborative in the sense that you helped plot the book or were you primarily bringing his stories to life?
Len and Nel had very clear ideas where Iron Man was headed, so I let them do their job and [I] concentrated on doing mine. Len's scripts were very easy to work from, so I didn't feel the need to be on the phone to him all the time. I used to get a lot of phone calls from Nel, usually cracking the whip!
7. How much freedom did you have with Len’s plots (to modify pages, pacing)?
I had quite a lot of freedom with the pacing of the stories, although I don't go in for modifying a writers work. That's the editors' job.
8. How did you typically work? You got Len’s pages and . . . ?
I break a story down in thumbnail version to begin with, then blow the thumbnails up to artboard size and lightbox them. I used to Fed-Ex them to New York in batches of five or so. If I got back into mainstream comics now I'd use e-mail a lot more for getting the pencils to the editor.
9. What was important visually about Tony Stark and Iron Man? Did something stand out as key? Was their some characteristic you tried to portray in both?
I used to enjoy drawing all the technology surrounding Iron Man and Stark Enterprises. In my own head, I was drawing a science fiction comic and not a superhero comic. I find the whole concept of putting on a uniform to fight crime a bit daft.
10. What’s your take on Iron Man and Tony Stark? What’s key to having a good IM story?
Len was very good at writing the supporting characters, I thought the relationship between Rhodey and Tony worked particularly well. I like Iron Man stories where the soap opera elements are juxtaposed with mind-boggling repulsor ray action!
11. Your Iron Man issues have a very technical sci-fi edge, full of gadgets and gizmos, not to mention the specialty armors—-did you always have an interest in technology or machines? And what was your inspiration for the tech? Where did you get your ideas?
I'm a big manga fan, so a lot of my inspiration came from things like Appleseed and Akira. Big Japanese robot stuff generally. Also movies that were out at the time like Terminator and Aliens.
12. War Machine was totally inspired. The whole concept was such a radical departure from anything that came before it, and it became an instant classic. First, where did that name come from?
I'm not sure if Nel or Len came up with the name. I think one of them got inspired when my intial designs came in.
13. Where did that design come from? Can you tell me about its creation?
The basic idea for War Machine was that he's a walking tank. I had Robocop at the back of my mind. The black and silver colour scheme is what made the design take off, I think.
14. Did the idea originate with Len and from the story (i.e., he said I've got this idea for a butt-kicking suit with rocket launchers on the shoulders and stuff) and then you brought it to life? Or were the rocket launchers et. al. your thing (i.e., something you had and wanted to put into a story)?
Len just said "Design something cool!" I think it was mentioned that the design had to "kick butt" as well.
15. And the color scheme, your idea?
Yeah, that was my idea.
16. What was Marvel's (Nel's) reaction to the black and silver scheme (which was a real departure from anything Iron Man had worn)?
I don't think Len was that keen to begin with, but Nel pulled rank and overruled him.
17. In general, when it came to the armors (War Machine, Hulkbuster, the Modular Armor) were these something that came about as a result of “spit-balling” between you and Len or did he come to you with concepts that you ran with or . . . ?
Len would come up with a one or two line description of the type of thing he was after, and I'd pick up the ball and run with it. On a good day, anyway . . .
18. Your run debuted several of the most memorable, fan-favorite armors. Could you take a few minutes and jot down what comes to mind about them?
Telepresence Remote Armor (from when Tony came back to life)
There was no real design work to this, but it was a nice cyber-punk idea that was fun to play with.
I still get a buzz from seeing this design in the animated TV show (although the show's looking rather dated now . . .). The main design feature of this one was the "connection points" [that] Iron Man's various gizmos can slap on to. I'd love to see Gene Colon draw this one!
It was fun beefing the Iron Man armour up to the max.
19. Do you have a favorite storyline or single issue?
My favorites are the three issues where we introduced War Machine. The whole thing hangs together and has an internal logic that works. Later on in my run we had "special guest appearances" forced on us that I don't think always worked.
More of the interview below . . .
20. Do you remember any plot lines that never came about or stories that ended up being totally different?
You'd have to ask Len or Nel that question. I just drew the thing
21. Do you still have any contact with Len or Nel?
I liased with Nel a while back about a potential comics project, but Len seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.
22. You did the covers from Iron Man 280 to 306, while handling the pencils on almost all of those issues, too. Of all the covers you did, which one is your favorite?
The cover introducing War Machine, the original of which is framed and hanging in a friend's toilet!
23. When creating a cover, how did you decide what one image could convey the story?
Nel would come up with a few ideas, and I'd pick the one which was least lame (only joking Nel!)
24. If you don’t mind me asking: You did a few comics after Iron Man(which was very popular at the time), and then you basically left the industry. Why? Where did you go? (You were in England at the time, right? Was it hard to stay in the New York comics scene? Was the computer animation/game industry a better job?)
I left Iron Man to work on a creator-owned project for Epic.
Original War Machine sketch done for the Armory by Kev Hopgood in 2007 (colors by Ian Sokoliwski).
25. What was the project? What was it about?
It was called "Chrome Inc." and about a bunch of guys in metal exo- skeletons. Not that I'm type-cast or anything . . .
I finished the four book mini-series, but when Epic went down the pan it never got published. This was the time of the big comic book crash of the early Nineties, so I decided to get out of comic books and get into computer games. While I was out of the comics scene, all my old contacts seemed to loose their jobs, meaning I was even further out of the loop.
From my computer games contacts, I got in with the guys at Games Workshop and worked on the Darkblade comic strip for them for a couple of years.
26. What are you working on now?
I'm just finishing off a series of four childrens' books called "Crime Files" for a UK publisher called Franklin Watts. I've also finished a book called "The Last Duel" for Barrington Stoke. I'm also doing a lot of educational work for Oxford University Press in New York (my editor there used to work at Marvel as Bobbie Chases's intern!).
27. Would you consider doing another stint on a Marvel book?
I'm not sure they'd have me, I think my style might be a bit old fashioned for them. But as James Bond said " Never say never again . . ."
28. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the Iron fans out there?
I had three great years working on Iron Man, and it's nice to know that some of you guys share my same fond memories.
This page is copyright 2007 Tim Rassbach
Iron Man and all associated characters are the property of Marvel Comics.