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The origin of artist Todd Nauck from ‘What The--?!’ to ‘Nightcrawler’ and more

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If you attend any comic book convention there is a lot of buzz around the tables of the comic book artists collectively known as Artist’s Alley. At the Long Beach Comic Expo 2014 the buzz was considerably greater around table 8004, the table of “Nightcrawler” artist Todd Nauck. There was a constant stream of fans stopping to talk to the veteran comic book artist whose energy and enthusiasm for comics is a fresh jolt of positivity on the convention floor.

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Nauck entertains his fans as he draws convention sketches discussing his drawing and storytelling techniques. Nauck’s sketch list fills quick as he creates drawings for the fans of the world’s most famous characters from Spider-Man to Dr. Who to his favorites the X-Men. Nauck delivers the convention experience outside of con floors too through his "Sketch Retweet Contests" on Twitter (@ToddNauck), shows off his stunning art on The Art of Todd Nauck Facebook Page, and a YouTube Channel with tutorials and art videos.

Saturday at the Long Beach Comic Expo, Nauck took a break from drawing his amazing sketches to talk about his career in comics from his beginnings in Texas to his current work with comic legend Chris Claremont as the artist on “Nightcrawler” for Marvel Comics (issues 1 and 2 are available now at your local comic book retailer). The “Career Spotlight: Todd Nauck” panel was hosted by Kevin Knight from EatGeekPlay.com.

Nauck is from a small town near Dallas, Texas named Tyler. The artist says he was practically born with a pencil in his hand as some of his earliest memories involve sitting at a table as a young scribbler drawing hamburgers. His parents were both artistically inclined showing a predisposition to drawing.

At a young age Nauck was a huge fan of the “Star Wars” movies. He was a collector of the action figures up through the release of “Return of the Jedi.” As no more movies were being made the action figure releases stopped as well. With no new figures to spend his money on Nauck had more disposable income. In eighth grade he stumbled upon a three pack of “Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars” and immediately became hooked. He then subscribed to his first series “Uncanny X-Men.”

Nauck’s art progressed as he drew different characters at different stages in his life, starting with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Toons, moving onto Dungeons and Dragons, and then finally superheroes and Transformers. Despite being one of the best artists in his high school, Nauck was not making comics.

It wasn’t until a friend pointed out to him that his love of comics and his love to draw should be put together and he should make comics. That lit a light in Nauck’s head. He went home and drew his first eight page mini-comic. It was a funny animal parody titled “Indiana Easter Bunny,” a title and comic that Nauck had kept locked away for years.

Nauck had a lot of fun making dozens of mini-comics that were funny animal themed. He sold the books to his friends but he realized he needed to find out how to make them for a living. Following high school, for about a year and half, Nauck would travel to the Dallas Conventions seeking critiques from comic professionals on his artwork. He took their critiques to heart but he was not making the progress he would have liked.

Nauck was working at night at a local movie theater and sitting on the coach during the day. He realized he needed some formal training to take his art to the next level. This came at the Art Institute where he took a variety of classes and with each one he tried to incorporate that instruction into making comics books.

Nauck’s course load consisted of the five required classes per term, as well as him self-teaching himself the art of comics, something discouraged by the Art Institute. He would draw his comics while at the movie theater and that is where he first started making “Wildguard” comics a story he would go on to produce later in his career.

It was at one of his regular visits to the Dallas Convention circuit that he met Stan Sakai (“Usagi Yojimbo”) that Nauck received his best advice. Sakai pointed out to Nauck that the funny animal stories he was telling were okay if he likes doing that sort of work but it is a very small niche. That to get more work he’d need to do super heroes.

Nauck realized that he had been avoiding drawing the faces of superheroes out of fear. Facing this fear was a realization that put him on the path of making superhero comics. He stopped drawing the funny animal books and aside from the occasional Ninja Turtle or Rocket Raccoon does not draw animals anymore.

In his second year at the Art Institute, Nauck had to face the music about making comics at a place that frowned upon the creation of comic books. The general wisdom was that comics were a limited field and that the work was tough to come by and that the artists should work on getting into graphic design professions. Nauck felt that the competition for graphic design jobs was just as intense if not more as the comic industry so he kept focusing on his comic art.

One day his art teacher took his comic book sketch book and walked out of the classroom. Nauck thought he was done. He figured she’d taken it to the principal and that he’d get dismissed for not working on the projects they encouraged. He was called to meet with the principal and instead of expulsion for his comic art he received something else. The principal recognized his talent and instead offered to make him an exception to their rule and allow him to graduate with a degree in comic making.

After getting on the path to his comic book degree Nauck landed his first paying work while still at the Art Insitute with Marvel Comics in an issue of the parody book “What The--?!” due to his persistence of submitting his work to a Marvel Editor from Dallas who frequented the conventions he attended.

Following graduation, the Nauck family relocated to Pittsburgh where Nauck worked as a camp counselor at the camp his parents ran. He kept sending out his sample artwork to all the major publishers especially Image Comics who had risen to become the third publisher in comics based on the strength of their artists. All the while he was still making his mini-comics.

In 1993, Nauck went to New York Comic Con to meet with the various editors. There he met Fabian Nicieza an editor for Marvel who liked his work enough to take an interest and send him sample scripts to work on. One of the sample scripts was for an X-Men comic and Nauck dove right away into that and sent it back. He received his pages back several weeks later with notes for items he needed to work on.

But it was when Dan Fraga got a hold of one of his mini-comics and gave it to Rob Liefeld, Image Comics founder and owner of Extreme Studios, that Nauck got his big break. Liefeld called up Nauck with the offer to come out to Anaheim and work in the Extreme Studios office. Nauck accepted a two year offer and was in Anaheim where the energy in the office was electric.

Nauck began working at Extreme in April 1994 and stayed until the company shut down in late 1996. Nauck worked on a number of properties from “Badrock” to “Youngblood” to “Power Rangers.” Some of the work never saw it to print due to the shut down.

After Extreme Studios, Nauck was back to square one looking for work, but this time he had a full resume of comic work to support him. He started doing the occasional issue of “Legion of Super Heroes” which led to him being asked to work on “Young Justice” at DC Comics with writer Peter David. It was a dream come true working on the sidekicks and former Teen Titans all in one book with a great writer.

Nauck had really wanted to work on the “Impulse” comic from DC Comics since he had been a huge fan. But he was not chosen following Humberto Ramos’ departure. With “Young Justice,” he got to work on Impulse and a whole bunch of other characters. Impulse was one of the reasons he chose to work on “Young Justice” passing on the chance to work on “Sensational Spider-Man” for Marvel Comics.

The other reason was the chance to build the series from scratch and start at the very beginning of the story. Nauck wishes that DC Comics would collect the series in some format but there are currently no plans. (The series is currently available digitally through ComiXology.com.)

The “Young Justice” series experienced a resurgence when Cartoon Network debuted a cartoon series of the same name featuring many of the characters he had a hand in developing. Fans who loved the show wanted more and they discovered the comic series and ran out to build a full run of the series.

“Young Justice” still has a rabid fan base and Nauck said he is not at all tired of the characters after 55 issues and assorted specials he would have worked on the book forever. The characters were like children to him. Nauck attributed that to the great rapport he had with Peter David.

Nauck is now working on “Nightcrawler” for Marvel Comics. Nauck said when he got the offer he had just wrapped up a 12 issue stint on “Invincible Universe” for Robert Kirkman. An editor in the X-Office at Marvel called Nauck up and offered him the chance to draw “X-Men Legacy” which was being pitched then as a Nightcrawler and Wolverine buddy-book. He was giddy and since it was December, Nauck felt Christmas had come early, because now he got to work with Chris Claremont and his favorite characters the X-Men.

When offered the job to draw the “Nightcrawler” series, Nauck was told they were looking for the classic look for the X-Man while bringing Nauck’s own flavor to the art. An editor described Nauck’s work as “classic without looking old.” Originally the plan was for Nauck to rotate story arcs with other artists, but as the series took shape the plan is for the series to be built around a steady creative team so keeping Claremont and Nauck together for a long run on the title is very important.

Nauck said he got to draw the cover to “Nightcrawler” #6 which will be released soon and he would like to draw more if the fans demand it of Marvel. But for now he is thrilled to draw the interior pages and tell Nightcrawler’s story.

“Nightcrawler” was the second time Nauck had been invited to work on one of comics' greatest icons. The first time was ten issues of “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” based on the recommendation of Peter David who he had done five years of work with on “Young Justice.” The ten issues helped lead to Nauck’s biggest work when Spider-Man met President Barack Obama on inauguration day 2009 (“Amazing Spider-Man” #583, (March 2009)). It was a great experience and Marvel worked closely with the Obama Administration on the book to get it right.

Nauck’s “Wildguard” series from his movie theater days came about when his time drawing “Young Justice” came to an end he knew it was time to start working on this series. At the time “COPS” was a huge hit and he wanted to do a super hero version of it with cameras following the heroes everywhere. As he was preparing the series to be his first creator owned work Reality TV exploded so the first arc turned into an “American Idol” type try-out contest with several dozens of characters who did not make the team. He is not sure when “Wildguard” will return but he is always sketching and writing out ideas so when he has the time to return to them he will.

Nauck was asked who his artistic inspiration came from and he cited a quartet of artists who have put their stamp on the X-Men: Arthur Adams, Rick Leonardi, Alan Davis, and Walter Simonson. One of the great things about working on “Nightcrawler” was going back to read all these stories as research and enjoy the artwork all over again.

To get the full convention experience be sure to see where Todd Nauck will be apearing next by visiting his website ToddNauck.com. The website will lead you through all of Nauck's work and current goings on.

All artwork that accompanies this article is courtesy of The Art of Todd Nauck Facebook Page, used with permission and is not to be reproduced.

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