BALTIMORE COMIC CON: Marvel’s New Mutants Panel | FanboysInc

BALTIMORE COMIC CON: Marvel’s New Mutants Panel

By Jeff Ayers

BALTIMORE COMIC CON: Marvel's New Mutants Panel

There was a small crowd gathered for the panel about the classic comic line The New Mutants from Marvel last Friday at this year’s Baltimore Comic Con.

The series started in 1982, and was co-created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod. It has boasted an impressive number of team members over the years, but it started out with only five: Cannonball, Karma, Mirage, Wolfsbane and Sunspot. This panel featured McLeod and the original editor Louise Simonson who shared some amazing insight in to the wonderful beginnings of this iconic comic book series.

BALTIMORE COMIC CON: Marvel's New Mutants Panel

The pair captivated their audience with some stories and visual aids consisting of early sketches done by McLeod. Before The New Mutants became a reality, McLeod was filling in to finish pencil work on X-Men, issues 151-152. When he was contacted to start working on this new idea for a comic line, there wasn’t a name attached to it. Yet, between the heads of Claremont and then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, they decided on The New Mutants because it was a nod to an original name that Stan Lee envisioned for his X-Men line.

Around this time in Marvel, they started publishing a graphic novel line. They needed something to fill a gap in the publishing schedule, so Shooter pushed to have the newly minted team debut in issue number four. McLeod talked about how at the time he really wanted to do the pencils and inks for the pages, but was still a little “green” at the time and wasn’t necessarily prepared for all that work. But the deadlines were met, and the newest mutant team was born.

BALTIMORE COMIC CON: Marvel's New Mutants Panel

It was really fun to see some of McLeod’s early sketches of these now iconic characters, and hear him talk about his process. The lanky, farm boy model of Sam Guthrie a.k.a. Cannonball stayed pretty true to his initial sketches, but characters like Rahne a.k.a. Wolfsbane took drastic turns. She originally started out as Iranian, which was neat to see her drawn so differently than what was finally agreed upon – she is Scottish with red hair and a distinctive accent.

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Both Louise and Bob remembered at that time in comics there weren’t a lot of black or Asian characters in comics, and The New Mutants served as a melting pot for many different races and creeds. They recalled how the two of them, along with Claremont discussed making this team concept involve a cast of characters that resemble the world around you, and what it would be like for normal looking and acting kids to suddenly get mutant powers. It was a wonderful window into a long lost time of creating comics in the 1980’s.

BALTIMORE COMIC CON: Marvel's New Mutants Panel

Some of the best information came after the pair opened the floor up for questions. I myself asked if their were any characters that Claremont and McLeod created that never hit the page, and McLeod assured me that Claremont had many characters, as he was a wealth of imagination. In fact, Claremont would turn in 30 pages of script for a 17 page story, so McLeod often found himself editing down Claremont’s story to the true meat of it. McLeod stuck to the stuff that needed to be shown, and tried to cut the rest out, making for a more action packed book. McLeod was also asked about his influences, to which he cited Neal Adams and John Buscema.

Speaking of Buscema, there was a funny story told by Louise Simonson about her husband Walter, as well as Buscema. It is common knowledge at this point that there just might be a New Mutants movie by 2017, fingers crossed. It was revealed at this panel that at the time of the inception of The New Mutants comic series, there were new contracts set in place that didn’t exist before in comics. They allowed the creators, writers and artists to start getting royalties for their work, as well as signing a clause that would guarantee them royalties if the property ever saw any form of theatrical release. But that wasn’t the case in the early days of comics. When the great Walter Simonson got into the game in the seventies, Louise recalled that he felt it was a dying business and he would have maybe five years in that job. He definitely didn’t get into to make money, as there wasn’t much money to go around in those days. But, as history has proven, he was dead wrong and the comic industry is alive and well to this day.

Also, Louise remembered asking the great John Buscema to do the Magik limited series for Marvel, telling him that he would receive royalties for his efforts. Well, that was a new idea at that time, and after the first issue, Buscema left the book because he wanted to work on Conan. Nine months later, Buscema received a substantial royalty check and called Louise telling her he now understood why she wanted him to do the book, and regretted leaving!

One of the most interesting parts of this panel was when the pair was asked about the process of killing off characters. The character of Karma was killed off very early on in the initial run of the series, and Louise hilariously stated it was because she was just so boring. Back in those days, the creative team of a book would decide who lives and who dies, whereas now it seems to be more of an idea that is handed down from on high. So the decision to kill Karma, as well as Doug, came right from Louise herself. Poor Doug, who was a very disliked character by the masses, was always known to just sort of stand around in panels and not have much to do. Louise recalled the multitude of letters the creative team would receive from readers expressing their intense dislike for the Doug, so the decision was made to kill him off. Yet, she received her favorite fan mail of all time after his demise, as someone expressed that now he was dead, Doug was their favorite character on the team! Bob Harris, a later writer of the New Mutants, hated Doug so much that he wrote a scene where another character dug up his dusty bones to show that he was indeed, still dead!

It’s panel’s like these that are gems at comic conventions, because you get an intimate look into the creation of such immense and important characters and storylines right from the mouths of the men and women who created them. The final insight from this panel dealt with the boom of the mutants at this time, how the race jumped from only a few to hundreds and then thousands. This stemmed from when Claremont was writing Uncanny X-Men, and wanted there to be a few mutants shown to be living in the tunnels of New York City. The artist at the time, Paul Smith, drew hundreds and hundreds of characters in the background of those panels, effectively engorging the ranks of mutant kind, and also creating the Morlocks as a large group. Claremont said there was only one thing to do with this little hiccup from his original idea: let’s kill them all! This led to the crazy plot of the Mutant Massacre that happened in the pages of Uncanny as well as New Mutants, and then led to “Inferno” which was a huge story arc for The New Mutants as well. The plan was always to grow the mutant population with The New Mutants series, and constantly morph the team and add and subtract members. It was a wonderful and eye-opening discussion from this panel that truly laid out the inner machinations of those ideas and how they have shaped the mutant population in comics today.

Jeff Ayers

Both my parents instilled in me at an early age the awesome power and incredible wonder of the written word. My father sat with me when I was four years old and taught me to enjoy reading with classic comic strips like SPIDERMAN, PEANUTS, B.C. and, later, CALVIN AND HOBBES. My mother exposed me to such classics of literature as Poe, Tolkien, Stoker and Doyle, and I started my own comic collection with allowance money from mowing lawns. I liked Wolverine before it was cool, I watched as Superman died and returned, and huddled under the covers as I turned the pages of SANDMAN. Reading is like oxygen to me, and all genres and formats are welcome and devoured equally. I am the co-host of The DW and Incredible Jeff Show, CEO of Permian Productions, and a reviewer at Graphic Novel Reporter. I am 34 and live in scenic Saratoga Springs New York, where I haunt coffee shops and dive bars and the best comic shop anywhere, The Comic Depot.

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