Interview: Todd Nauck on WildGuard, American Dream and Teen Titans Go!
A quick scan of the shelves at your local comic shop this month should be all it takes to realize that writer/artist Todd Nauck has been keeping busy. The popular Young Justice artist’s name graces the cover of four different issues in a five-week span, including the launch of two new miniseries and the grand finale of another series.
One of those new miniseries marks the return of Nauck’s popular creator-owned series WildGuard to comic shops, and provides yet another look at a world where superheroes are chosen via American Idol-esque competitions and readers have helped determine everything from storylines to costumes.
Nauck also lends his considerable talents to the first two issues of American Dream this month, featuring the alternate-reality heroes of Marvel’s MC2 universe — specifically, the female Captain America. The first issue was a sellout for Marvel, with rave reviews for the work of both Nauck and series writer Tom DeFalco.
However, it isn’t all new beginnings for Nauck, as he helps close the door on the cartoon-inspired DC series Teen Titans Go! with issue #55 at the end of May. The kirds-oriented series has had Nauck embracing a new artistic style — one that’s now turning up in his other projects, too.
I spoke with Todd about nearly achieving the "quadfecta," finally finding time for more WildGuard and juggling the different artistic styles required for each of his very-different projects this month.
COMICMIX: When we spoke during New York Comic Con, you were excited to have the "quadfecta" schedule this month, with an issue hitting every week of May. Although some last-minute scheduling shifts pushed up one of the release dates, it’s still an impressive run of four comics in five weeks. When you first found out there was a chance of the schedule lining up like this, did you push for the quadfecta or was it entirely by chance?
TODD NAUCK: Entirely by chance. I couldn’t have planned it. The only book I could have a say in the release date was WildGuard: insider since that is my creator-owned book. I had the release date on May 14th for WildGuard: Insider #1 set around December or January for solicitations.
Then I come to find out my Marvel series American Dream is coming out bi-weekly with issue #1 out May 7th and issue #2 out May 21st.
Then I had to find out when Teen Titans Go #55 (the last issue of that series) was coming out. As I frantically flipped through the DC section of Previews I was hoping it would be May 28th. And wouldn’t you know, that was the exact date for Teen Titans Go #55.
I had hit the "quadfecta!" Four books, each coming out in a different week of the same month.
WildGuard: Insider #1 did get released early for Free Comic Book Day, though. But a lot of WildGuard fans probably expect it in their pull boxes for May 14th. So it’s still quadfecta-ish!
CMix: Be honest with me, Todd – is this all part of a campaign to be the artist on the next big weekly book?
TN: I didn’t intend on that. But I’m willing to give it a shot!
CMix: The range of comics with your name on them this month is worth noting, too. You have original characters of your own design (WildGuard), different takes on classic characters (American Dream) and classic characters geared toward a younger audience (Teen Titans Go!). What is the creative process like when you’re required to switch gears and change styles between projects so often? Is it refreshing to change things up and use different approaches or do you find yourself having to stop and re-acclimate yourself to a style every time you switch projects?
TN: The traditional style feels like second nature. It’s the way I draw. The Teen Titans Go style took a little getting used to at first. But those simple graphic shapes became very comfortable to me. I just got a feel for it.
So by the time I was juggling WildGuard, American Dream and Teen Titans Go, it was very easy to switch styles on and off.
I actually like it. It gets me thinking and seeing my art in new ways each time I switch. I bring things I learn from the traditional style to the animated style and vice versa.
CMix: WildGuard: Insider was the first of the quadfecta issues to hit shelves. Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of this project? Where does it fit in the overall WildGuard universe?
TN: WildGuard: Insider is a collection of short stories that focus on different characters of my universe where the title team, WildGuard, is a reality TV superteam.
This three-issue miniseries also collects the exclusive online WildGuard comic strips from the WildGuard site: wildguard.com.
I did these comic strips in between the first few WildGuard mini-series. They kind of flesh out or fill in the gaps between comic book stories. They are all part of the overall WildGuard story.
The short stories are all new content. The lead story is written and drawn by me, where I focus on a WildGuard team member. I also wrote two “Where Are They Now?” stories that spotlight rejected contenders for the team. I was able to get some great artists to contribute the art for these stories.
This series can be a great jumping-on point for new readers. They will be introduced to the characters and the online comic strips give a fairly good explanation as to what has gone on before.
CMix: You started WildGuard when the Reality-TV craze was still in its infancy. A lot has changed in TV since then, but Reality TV seems to have an even stronger foothold now than ever before. How has the evolution of Reality TV and TV culture in general shaped WildGuard? What other elements of TV culture can we expect to see reflected in this and future WildGuard stories — less Real World and more Fear Factor, perhaps?
TN: I created WildGuard while at art school in 1992. Reality TV was pretty much COPS and MTV’s Real World. That was the inspiration for WildGuard.
I draw from Reality TV concepts when it fits the story, like American Idol was the template for the first miniseries, WildGuard: Casting Call. The concept of American Idol really helped tell the origin of the team. WildGuard: Fool’s Gold was loosely inspired by America’s Next Top Model though the story did not contain models being cut from a competition.
WildGuard, though inspired and based on Reality TV, is about superhero adventures framed in TV and celebrity. I can utilize current or previous reality TV genres or archetypes where necessary. But it’s pretty much a superhero version of COPS/Real World.
CMix: Any plans for future user-generated direction in WildGuard, like you did with Casting Call in order to choose which characters made the team, or like you did with choosing costumes, etc.?
TN: I’m open to doing more of that! Letting the readers vote in a team member was a very interesting process. If it would fit in the story, I’m up for doing it!
CMix: As someone who keeps a close eye on the webcomics scene, I was really intrigued by your decision to run those original WildGuard strips on the website. How did you decide to do that, and how do you feel about how it’s gone thus far? Was the online comics experience what you hoped?
TN: I wanted to keep WildGuard as fresh in the readers minds as possible as I produced the next story. But I was also working on other DC projects at the time. So, the webcomics kept the WildGuard fans coming back and it introduced the concept to new readers who could follow a link to the online store and pick up the back issues.
It definitely met my expectations!
And the fans really wanted these in print. So, I’m glad I can finally collect them in WildGuard: Insider.
Now, that I’ve been so busy with my DC and Marvel projects, plus trying to put out more WildGuard stories, I just haven’t had the time to produce more webcomics. But I would love to revisit the idea of doing more webcomics sometime. Maybe a long serialized we comic.
CMix: Any favorite characters from WildGuard?
TN: That’s like asking a parent who their favorite kid is! I like different WG characters for different reasons. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Ignacia. She’s a character I’ve had since 1991. So she’s pretty special to me.
In fact, Ignacia will be a part of Shocker Toys "Indy Spotlight" line of action figures. Find her in Wave 2 with The Tick, Lone Ranger and Jack Staff.
CMix: In American Dream, your second title to hit shelves this month, you’re working with the female Captain America from the MC2 universe. Is there any added pressure or extra concerns coming into this project because of the character’s status in the regular Marvel U?
TN: Not really. Though she is the female Captain America, I see her as someone who can stand on her own merits. I just looked to tell the story the best I can and have as much fun as I can drawing it! I’m really happy with the finished product.
CMix: What excited you the most about American Dream?
TN: The editor told me the book was going to be fun action and adventure in the classic Marvel fashion. That’s just the kind of stuff I started reading in high school! And I love the idea of a female Captain America.
CMix: You mentioned in another interview that you’ve been incorporating some of your Teen Titans Go! art style into other projects, and I thought that was really interesting. Can you elaborate a bit? What have you learned about the TTG style and why is it finding its way into other projects you’re working on?
TN: I learned a lot from working off the animated style. It’s all about simple shapes, less rendered detail, and wild gestures and movement. I find this style very free and easy to work in. I can actually draw the pages more quickly than my traditional style.
So I started to incorporate the animated style into my traditional style to create a third hybrid style that I began using in WildGuard: Insider. I plan to use this hybrid style in future WildGuard stories to try to get more out there!
CMix: With Teen Titans Go, you’re working with some characters that you have considerable experience with already — how do you approach them differently this time around?
TN: Pretty simply, I shoot to make the characters look like they do on the cartoon. The nice thing about the comic book is I can bring my own flavor to it and make it my own.
Though I spent five years drawing the DCU teens in Young Justice, the Teen Titans cartoon is a separate world. I see Teen Titans Go Robin as almost completely different than the original DCU Robin. They are both Dick Grayson, but they are their own character.
I had to leave my DCU experience out of it and let the Teen Titans Go book be a completely different universe.
CMix: Finally, what are you excited about in comics these days? Are there any stories you really look forward to or are following closely?
TN: I’m enjoying Secret Invasion and finding out which Marvel characters were replaced by Skrulls. And I’m a big fan of Robert Kirkman’s Image Comic, Invincible. It’s my favorite read!
Todd Nauck’s WildGuard: Insider #1 and American Dream #1 are currently on the shelves of fine comic shops everywhere, while American Dream #2 is scheduled for a May 21 release. Issue #55 of Teen Titans Go! hits shelves May 28. Not a bad five weeks, eh?