Power Man and Iron Fist Artist Sanford Greene Reveals His Brand New Title
Fantasy and politics collide with action-packed results
Sanford Greene has been a comic book artist for over fifteen years, but his recent run with writer David Walker on Marvel’s critically acclaimed Power Man and Iron Fist has truly thrust him into the spotlight. His current popularity doesn’t mean Greene is resting on his laurels though—quite the opposite. Aside from his work at Marvel, he’s launching his own creator-owned series with LINE Webtoon this summer. 1000 is a passion project which has been percolating for years, and holds a highly personal resonance. MASS APPEAL got the chance to talk with the multi-disciplinary illustrator about the evolution of his style, his work at Marvel, and why this particular project means so much to him.
“The elevator pitch [for 1000] is… If you could take the concept of Final Fantasy, and put it into a current world setting; the political, social and economical climate we’re in right now”, Greene says. “Just imagine a world where dragons and warlocks and vampires and any kind fantastical characters exist, but they’re territorial— there’s monarchies, cold wars if you will—because everyone is trying to stake a claim to their existence. They want to be accepted. They want to matter. Some want to dominate through terror or are in that mind state, and this group will come along that’s going to be from different aspects of all of that.”
Greene choses his words carefully, taking time to formulate his thoughts while simultaneously trying to concentrate on a comic cover he’s finishing up for Marvel. He just came back from a con in Orlando, and his deadline is looming just hours from now. Pressing work matters and a long, tiring weekend aren’t the reason for the deliberate pace of his sentences though, at least not the main one. “The original co-creator, his name is Bruce Brown, no relation to Chuck Brown [writer of 1000]. He was an old friend, we went to college together, and had this idea. The original name of the project was Dragon 7, so that can give an idea of the time in which we created this idea. He took ill around 2006 and passed away in 2010, from cancer.”
They’d been developing and shopping their idea around for a couple of years, but it started moving a lot slower after Bruce Brown got sick and Greene’s career started to pick up steam. “We tried to come back together, but it was a little too late unfortunately,” Greene recalls. “When he passed away, I was left with the concept, but I think that was when I was more determined than ever, to get something out.”
Greene met with various writers and publishing companies, but no one felt like a proper fit, until it dawned on him that previous collaborator Chuck Brown might be the one. “He lives not too far away from me, we already have a good relationship and it was like a lightbulb came on. I realized ‘here is the guy who can help me take this thing where it needs to go.’” Now that the project finally has a home, it can exist as a tribute to his friend Bruce Brown. “The main motivation was to see something completed that we had started. Everything that came after that was a bonus.”
Greene has always had a knack for great action scenes: exaggerated angles, with kinetic lifework wearing an influence of animation, graffiti and other urban art on its sleeve, made him an artists worth paying attention too. Looking at his work at Marvel though, the energy of that older style, which he refers to as his ‘open style’ is retained, while his line work is softer, more detailed and allows far increased characterization.
“It’s a lot of what European comics were doing, long before what we were doing,” he says about this change in his artistic approach. “It was a lot more lively and a lot more expressive than the traditional American comic book.” Looking at how artists like Paul Pope broke into the comic book industry while incorporating those influences, and having started to experiment with it himself as well, Greene realized this could be opportunity for him. “I was discovering this new artistic license.”
Taking that artistic license paid off for him in a major way, especially through his run as on Marvel’s Power Man and Iron Fist. “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity of what I consider a dream project at Marvel. Power Man and Iron Fist; I grew up with those characters. Those are characters that spoke to me just as much as a Spider-man or a Batman. I saw those characters in Luke Cage, and I saw me. As a child that fascinated me. I had no idea who he was, but those visuals attracted me to him. To be able to work on that series was incredible. I learned so much on those projects over the last three years at Marvel, and to be able to take some of that, I’m excited to see what i can put into my characters.”
Looking at his work at Marvel, his growth as a storyteller is obvious in the more subdued scenes. Like a scene where Power Man and Iron Fist drink tea with Dr. Strange. The panels are brimming with storytelling detail, relayed through the facial expressions and body language of the characters. “Those quiet moments are things I, over the years, worked extremely hard on,” Greene says. Though the style for his new series hews close again to his old ‘open’ style, he’s sure the sensibilities he’s gained find their way into 1000 as well. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s not gonna be too many quiet moments in 1000. But there’s moments where the expressions, the body language, all those things, the elements are going to come into play.”
“I’m illustrating strictly digital, because it allows me to have the editing capabilities of moving things around a lot more freely than traditional storytelling or illustration, going on paper”, he explains. Working for a digital publisher, on a vertically scrolling platform like LINE Webtoon, also means a new approach to how a scene flows. “There definitely has been a rethinking on storytelling, and certain beats that would work in traditional may not necessarily be as effective in this digital format. At the same time, there’s other formats, that I couldn’t necessarily pursue from a printed standpoint that I can now. On top of that, there’s some interesting forms of visual communication that can come across in this format. Sound effects can be implemented, music can be implemented. Effects in general can be implemented, while the audience is viewing the story. That’s exciting, to know the possibilities are there to take this in a very interesting place visually.”
Another factor in choosing LINE Webtoon as a publisher was its head of content, Tom Akel. “As I continued to grow personally in my career, he would reach out periodically and talk about releasing 1000 in some interesting format,” says Greene. “His ambition to make this thing become something, was the lynchpin to seeing it come together like this.” Elaborating on what it was that attracted him so the the project, Akel says he’s known Greene for over a decade. “I’ve always loved what Sanford had in 1000—the characters, the world, and [main character] Son’s story—but I’m even more of a fan of Sanford himself and have always wanted to work with him. Getting to work with someone who you have the highest respect for, is at the top of their game, and is a long-time friend is actually pretty rare. Luckily, these things often come together at the right time in the right place.”
“As I continue to work on this, I’ll be dialing back my responsibilities at Marvel,” Greene says. Not because he isn’t enjoying his work there, but there are only so many hours in a day. “I’m not Jack Kirby,” he jokingly says, referring to the artist’s legendary work ethic in building both the Marvel universe and a cornerstone of DC’s. Still, he’s looking forward to developing his own characters. “There’s things that you’d love to do, but you can’t really pursue those avenues because you’re playing with somebody else’s toys. I started to grow into the deeper conviction that to get true satisfaction artistically, is to do my own work, my own project.”
“The main character, Dragon Son, he is the lynchpin to something greater. The reason we call it 1000 is he has to perform a thousand acts of penance, to return to his true form. As he goes about this, will he gain something greater, or will he not? There’s no guarantee.” A lot of world building went into this hero’s journey, and Greene is adamant people shouldn’t expect to know how it is going to end. He already knows how it will end of course, despite the fact that the road to that end may be years away, and there’s a staggering amount of roads Greene might explore in getting there. Who knows, it could be as many as a thousand.